Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is a land filled with active volcanoes, lava fields, and various ecosystems, including ash-covered deserts, alpine tundra, rainforests, ocean, and coastline. This national park brings in over a million visitors each year from around the world. This magical place is filled with awe, wonder, beauty, and history just waiting for you to discover.
How To Get to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Where Is Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park?
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is located on the southeastern shore of the Big Island of Hawai‘i. The park encompasses 523 square miles of lava fields, ocean waters, forests, deserts, tundra, and coastline.
Nearest Airports to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Flying into Hawai‘i to visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is obviously a must, but there are 2 airport options to choose from. Each airport has its own perks and drawbacks, so it is important to thoughtfully consider which will work best for your vacation needs. Take a look at the airports that are most commonly used by travelers coming to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
Hilo International Airport (ITO)
Hilo International Airport is the closest airport option to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This airport is located on the east side of the island of Hawai‘i, about 30 miles from the park. Hilo International doesn’t offer many flights each day but has a few flight options to and from Honolulu (HNL) daily. Airlines served by this airport include Hawaiian, Mokulele, Southwest, and United.
Once arriving at Hilo International Airport, there are plenty of options for renting a car to help you get to the park. Some of the rental car companies serviced by this airport include Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise, and Hertz.
If you are looking for the closest airport option to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, look no further than Hilo International Airport. From this airport, you are just a hop, skip, and jump from the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and experience a trip of a lifetime.
Kona International Airport (KOA)
The Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport is the main airport on the island of Hawai‘i. This airport is located 102 miles from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in the city of Kalaoa. It takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes to get to the park from this airport.
Kona International Airport offers several flights a day to and from Honolulu. This airport services 10 major airlines, including Air Canada, American, Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest, and WestJet.
This airport has several options for renting a car and customer service representatives that are eager to help you secure a vehicle for the final leg of your journey. Kona International Airport services major rental car companies such as Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz.
Most visitors to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park choose to fly into Kona since it has more flight and airline options than Hilo. The drive to the park from this airport is an easy one, filled with beautiful sights along the way.
Driving to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
There are several different routes for arriving at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park; it just depends on the area you are driving in from. The major highways used include Highway 19 and 11 for those coming from the Kailua-Kona Area, Highway 200 if you come from Waikoloa, or Highway 11 for those driving from the Hilo area. The sights and scenery along the way make every moment of the journey worthwhile.
Taking the Bus to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Hele-On is a bus service that provides transportation to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park every day of the week. Visitors are picked up at the bus terminal in Hilo or any bus stop on the route. This free service is a great way to travel to and from the park and not have to worry about the stress of navigating and traffic.
Getting Around Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
There isn’t a shuttle or transit system throughout the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, which means the best way to get around the park is by private vehicle, bicycle, or on foot. There are scenic drives and parking lots, as well as miles and miles of hiking and biking trails that are perfect for exploring the park. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan your park excursions.
What To See and Do in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is teeming with adventure and excitement. There’s no shortage of activities to participate in this national park. No matter what your interests are, you will find something right up your alley at this national park.
Crater Rim Drive
Crater Rim Drive is one of the main roads that runs through the park. This drive is 11 miles long, and it circles the summit of Kilauea. There are many amazing places to stop along the way, including the Uekahuna site, the Kilauea Overlook, Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff), and Ha’akulamanu (Sulphur Banks).
Chain of Craters Road Tour
The Chain of Craters Road Tour is one of the 2 scenic drives through Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This road is nearly 20 miles long and leads to some of the most famous highlights of the park.
Some suggested stops to make along this road include the Puhimau Crater, Kealakomo Overlook, and the Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs. Touring Chain of Craters Road will leave you with spectacular memories and mesmerizing photographs, should you stop to capture the park’s beauty along the way.
The rangers at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park lead a variety of guided programs and tours throughout the park. Participating in one of these tours is an excellent way to learn about the natural and cultural history of the park.
Some of the favorite guided tours in the park include A Walk into the Past, Explore the Summit, Coffee Talk at Kahuku, and Kahuku Hike. These programs are an amazing way to interact with the park staff and get a deeper understanding of the wonder of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
There are over 40 different hiking trails in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. These trails range in difficulty from simple to strenuous and take visitors to some of the most incredible areas in the park. Popular trails in the park include Crater Rim Trail, Halemaʻumaʻu Steam Bluff, Kilauea Iki Trail, Sulphur Banks Trail, and Thurston Lava Tube Trail.
Visitors who spend time hiking in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park are rewarded with stunning views of the caldera, the volcanoes, steam vents, wildlife, and the plant life of the park. The hiking trails are the best way to appreciate the beauty of this national park.
Kilauea Visitor Center
Starting your Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park visit at the Kilauea Visitor Center is a great idea. This small visitor features informative displays and a bookstore and is staffed with park rangers and volunteers.
The rangers and volunteers are eager to help you plan your day and answer any questions you may have regarding current conditions, ranger-led activities, hiking information, or anything else about the park. The Kilauea Visitor Center is located near the entrance station right as you enter the park.
The Kahuku Unit is a wonderful place to explore while visiting Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This region is located on the shoulders of Mauna Loa. The Kahuku Ranch is located in this area. This ranch was at one time one of the biggest cattle ranches in Hawai‘i. Beef and hides were produced at this ranch for over 150 years. Today, visitors are able to explore the area or even take part in volunteer projects with Stewardship at the Summit.
Volcano House is a historic area in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This area of the park features a historical retreat and options for lodging, camping, and restoration. This is a wonderful place to explore and walk along the edge of an active volcano.Hot Tip:
Should you get hungry while visiting this area of the park, the only restaurants in the park are located in this district.
Best Times To Visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is an incredible place to visit no matter what time of year you are able. If you are hoping to experience a specific event or activity at this national park, there may be a better time than others to plan a visit.
Best Time To Visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in Winter
The best winter month to visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is in February. February is less crowded, has incredible temperatures, and is the month with the least rainfall throughout the year. February also offers some incredible park programming and tours. If you are hoping to take a trip to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in the winter, try booking your trip in the month of February for a spectacular time.
Best Time To Visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park To Avoid the Crowds
If you are hoping to visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and avoid crowds, the best month to visit is in December. The park is less crowded due to the holiday season, making it an opportune time to explore it at your own pace. Not only are there fewer crowds, but the humidity and chance of rain are also decreased at this time as well.
Best Time To Visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park for Whale Watching
Whale watching is a popular activity at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. If you want to plan your trip at a time when it is highly likely that you will see these magnificent marine mammals, you should plan to visit during the month of March.
This is when guests are likely to see humpback whales and other whales migrating to and from their homes in the waters surrounding Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Other animals that you will most likely spot while whale watching include Hawaiian Monk Seals, green sea turtles, the endangered Hawksbill turtle, and sea turtles.
Cheapest Time To Visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Saving money while traveling is always an added bonus. If you are hoping to go easy on your budget when visiting Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, you should plan a trip in mid or late-September. This is the absolute cheapest time to visit this area of Hawai‘i and has shown cheaper flight and hotel rates. If you are able to save money during this national park vacation, it is a win for sure.
Annual Events in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park offers programming and events on a regular schedule throughout the year, but there are also several events that take place on an annual basis.
Kīlauea Cultural Festival and BioBlitz
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park has hosted an annual cultural festival for over 40 years. This free event takes place each year in August. Attending the festival is a great way to learn about Hawaiian culture. There is traditional island music, hula dancing, crafts, and food. A trip that falls during the week of the cultural festival would provide you with an even more exciting time than usual.
Merrie Monarch Festival
The Merrie Monarch Festival takes place near the park in the town of Hilo each April. This weeklong event is filled with a variety of events honoring King David Kalākaua’s legacy. This king inspired the traditions, arts, and native language of Hawai‘i.
The Merrie Monarch Festival consists of a Hawaiian arts fair, an international hula competition, and a parade through the town of Hilo. If you want a true glimpse of the culture and history of Hawai‘i, planning a trip during the Merrie Monarch Festival is ideal.
National Park Week
National Park Week takes place at all U.S. national parks in late April. This is an excellent time to visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, as there are additional programs and activities that teach about the culture and history of the park. During this week, all entrance fees are waived, which is an added bonus for your budget.
Where To Stay In and Near Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
There are plenty of places to choose from when looking for accommodations for your Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park vacation. There are several accommodation options inside the park and many others nearby.
Inside the Park
For visitors who want to stay within the park’s boundaries, there are 3 options to choose from, including 2 campgrounds and a historic retreat. Setting up a home base inside the park is an excellent way to make the most of your stay.
Kulanaokuaiki is a drive-up campground that is 5 miles down Hilina Pali Road. This campground is 2,700 feet in elevation and has 9 campsites for guests to choose from. The sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so there is no need to make reservations in advance.
Camping at Kulanaokuaiki is a primitive experience as there is no water, and the only restrooms that are available are pit toilets. This campsite does not permit pets, and fires are prohibited. If choosing to stay at Kulanaokuaiki, extra planning is critical in order to have everything needed for a successful camping trip.
If you enjoy primitive camping in some of the world’s most beautiful places on Earth, you will want to stay at Kulanaokuaiki Campground during your Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park vacation.
Nãmakanipaio is a campground that is located at 4,000 feet in elevation on Highway 11, 31.5 miles south of Hilo. This campground is a spacious grassy area with eucalyptus and õhi’a trees surrounding it.
This campground can be used for tent camping, and another option is to stay in one of the rustic camper cabins located around the campground. Nãmakanipaio is open year-round and features restrooms, picnic tables, barbecue pits, and water. Camping at Nãmakanipaio is a wonderful way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life and take in the beauty of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
Volcano House is a historic retreat that has been in a variety of locations at the summit of Kilauea. This hotel has been serving visitors from around the world since 1846. Volcano House sits on the edge of one of the most active volcanoes in the world. This lodging option is ideal for visitors who want to stay within the boundaries of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
Volcano House is comprised of guest rooms, cabins, and campsites, so guests can choose the accommodation that fits their vacation needs best. Each option offers spectacular views of the nearby active lava fields. No matter if you choose to stay in a vintage guest room, rustic cabin, or at the campground, you are guaranteed a unique experience in this historic and volcanically lively area.
Each accommodation features a distraction-free experience, as the retreat does not offer televisions or other forms of wired entertainment. Your stay at Volcano House is meant to bring you closer to nature and offers a deeper appreciation of the beauty of Hawai‘i.
Towns Near Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
There are 3 towns near Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park that would make a great base camp during your vacation. No matter what kind of stay you desire, you can find something that meets your needs in one of these surrounding towns.
Hilo is 45 minutes south of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This beautiful town has many options for visitors who want to stay close to the park. Hilo has many styles of accommodations, including luxury resorts, quaint inns, and well-known chain hotels. Whether you are looking for a quiet retreat or an inclusive stay, there are plenty of options to choose from in Hilo.
The food scene is remarkable in Hilo. There are many amazing restaurants to choose from, including cafes, fish markets, diners, and restaurants serving authentic cultural cuisine. The hardest decision at mealtime will be choosing where to dine, but you can rest assured that you will have some of the best food of your life when dining in Hilo.
Hilo is in an incredible location for exploring Hawai‘i. There are zoos, botanical gardens, and caves nearby. There are also other parks nearby for sightseeing and adventures. For history buffs, a visit to the Lyman Museum can teach about the history of the area, and a stop by the Pacific Tsunami Museum or the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center can keep you busy for hours.
With its convenience to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and the long list of places for lodging, dining, and recreation, Hilo makes an excellent choice for staying close to the park.
Pahoa is located 32 miles from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Pahoa has been dubbed a hippie town and is a dream destination for travelers who love nature and history.
The accommodation options vary greatly in Pahoa — you won’t find any chain hotels. There are hostels, homes, inns, and cottages to choose from, meaning that no matter where you stay, you are guaranteed a one-of-a-kind experience. The restaurants in Pahoa are just as unique as the lodging options. This town is filled with small, locally-owned restaurants serving local culinary creations made with the fresh catch of the day.
An added bonus of Pahoa being your base camp during your Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park vacation is the vast array of available activities and places to visit. Some of the most popular attractions and activities in Pahoa include snorkeling experiences, luaus on the beach, mountain climbing, and stargazing tours. Isaac Hale Beach Park is a major attraction for those staying in Pahoa. This beach park was formed when hot lava touched the ocean and is truly one of the most mesmerizing beaches.
Volcano is located right next to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, about 10 miles from the entrance. This small town is an excellent location for a home base during a trip to this national park. There are a few hotels in the small town of Volcano, as well as several bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals. While there’s not a lot of variety, you can rest assured that you will find something to meet your lodging needs in Volcano.
This remote town has a few options for dining, including authentic cultural restaurants, gourmet cafes, and food trucks. Whatever you have a craving for, one of the local restaurants is sure to have something perfect to tickle your tastebuds.
For entertainment and recreation, visitors to Volcano enjoy spending time at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, perusing the farmer’s market, touring wineries and sampling the local wines, and visiting Orchid Farm, the native Hawaiian Ola’a Rainforest Reserve.
Volcano makes a perfect location for a home away from home during a trip to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Don’t be fooled by its small size; there’s something for every traveler in this charming village.
Where To Eat in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Choosing where you will eat during a vacation is almost as important as deciding where you will set up a base camp. When hunger strikes while visiting Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, you are in luck because there are 2 options within the park boundaries and many more in the nearby towns.
Ohelo Café is just 3 miles from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in the town of Volcano. This locally-owned café serves lunch and dinner from Thursday to Monday.
The menu at Ohelo Café features wood-fired pizzas, dishes made with fresh, local ingredients, and an impressive drink menu that offers signature cocktails, local craft beers on tap, and fine wines. Customers rave about the wood-fired baby back ribs, Kaua’i shrimp risotto, Chef Mike’s Guava Bacon Jam Burger, and the seafood pasta.
Be sure to stop at Ohelo Café when visiting Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park for a culinary treat you won’t forget.
The Rim at Volcano House
The Rim at Volcano House is a restaurant located inside Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It features a lovely selection of freshly caught seafood dishes, top-quality meats, and local produce.
This 5-star restaurant serves an extensive menu that offers something for every palate. Some of the most popular menu items from The Rim at Volcano House include the stuffed Big Island chicken, the Hawaii Ranchers 12-ounce New York strip steak, the Volcano House pasta, and the local fresh catch of the day.
Not only will you enjoy the exquisite meals at The Rim at Volcano House, but there is also live music and an authentic island vibe with the Kilauea caldera and billowing puffs from the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater in the background.
TukTuk Thai Food Wagon
Tuk Tuk Thai Food Wagon is a gourmet food truck that is located in the town of Volcano near Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This food truck operates Wednesday-Sunday and serves authentic Thai food conveniently near the park.
Those who eat at Tuk Tuk Thai Food Wagon say it is the best Thai food in the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park area. Some of the most popular dishes include the massaman curry, pad thai, and tofu cashew nut vegetable stir fry.
Uncle George’s Lounge
Uncle George’s Lounge is another restaurant option located in the Volcano House area of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This restaurant offers a lighter fare as well as catching the big game on the wide-screen TVs around the lounge. This restaurant is open daily for early lunches to late dinners.
The menu at Uncle George’s Lounge features appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, gourmet pizzas, famous specialties, and of course, cocktails, wines, and craft beer. Visitors love the unique options like the macadamia nut and coconut-crusted fish, the Big Island Burger, and the Knickerbocker pizza.
Whether you want to sit down and relax after a long day of park excursions or grab a bite on your way out, Uncle George’s Lounge has exactly what your tastebuds crave.
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park Facts
1. A New National Park
President Woodrow Wilson established Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in August 1916. This park was the 13th national park in the National Park System.
2. A Land of Active Volcanoes
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park has 2 major volcanoes within its boundaries. These volcanoes are named Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and they are 2 of the world’s most active volcanoes. Over the last 200 years, these volcanoes have erupted on average every 2 to 3 years.
3. An Abundance of Wildlife
Since Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park has so many different ecosystems throughout its boundaries, it also has an abundance of wildlife. Many kinds of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles make their home in the park. Some of the most common animals you will see during a trip to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park include sea turtles, bats, seals, and whales.
4. Endangered Species
There are 47 animals on the endangered species list living in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Some of these endangered animals include a native goose called the nene, the hawksbill sea turtle, and the Hawaiian petrel. The nene geese are frequently spotted wandering throughout the park.
5. Volcano House
Volcano House is located near Crater Rim Drive. This area of the park is situated at the summit of Kilauea. This volcano is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. This area was established as early as 1846 and has been luring visitors into Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park ever since. This is the only park area offering traditional lodging services and dining establishments.
6. World Heritage Site
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Parks was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. This park was Hawai‘i’s first site to receive this prestigious honor. This title was given to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park because it preserves the connection between the natural history of the area and the Native Hawaiian culture.
7. International Biosphere Reserve
In 1980, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park was given the honor of being named an International Biosphere Reserve. This means there is a continual focus on protecting and managing the endemic biological diversity and public education of Hawai‘i’s natural history.
8. The Original Hawaiians
The original people of Hawai‘i were Polynesians that came from the Marquesas Islands. This people group was the first to settle in Hawai‘i. Research shows that the early settlers arrived from 1700 to 800 years ago. The original inhabitants had a society of strict caste systems.
There were chiefs that were the rulers of the land, professionals that specialized in trades and services, and commoners who farmed and fished. Today, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park works hard to preserve the history of the original people of this area, which is why the park has received the honor of being a World Heritage Site.
9. Celebrity Status
Over the years, many famous people have visited Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Some of these famous visitors include Mark Twain, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Amelia Earheart, and Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani.
10. Clues to the Past
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park has some fantastic clues to the past within its boundaries. One of the most noteworthy attractions is the Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs. Visitors can see this petroglyph attraction on the southern flank of the Kilauea volcano. There are over 23,000 petroglyph images in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. When viewing these ancient markings, you can’t help but envision what life was like for the original Hawaiians and try to decipher their meanings.
11. Highs and Lows
The highest elevation point at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is the Mauna Loa summit. This summit is 13,667 feet in elevation. The lowest point at this national park is at the Pacific Ocean, which is at 0 feet in elevation.
12. Invasive Animals
There is a great number of invasive animals that make their home in the park. These species include little fire ants, pigs, coqui frogs, cats, mongooses, kalij pheasants, and goats. Each of these animals has had a negative impact on the park, whether it be destroying native plants, introducing diseases, or killing native species that make their home in the park. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is working hard to rid the premises of these invasive species, but it is proving to be a difficult task.
13. Ecosystems Galore
There are 7 types of ecosystems in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. These ecosystems include upland forest, alpine, subalpine, rainforest, seacoast, mid-elevation woodland, and lowland. There is also a wide variety of plants and animals in this national park due to the variety of ecosystems present.
14. Recent Major Eruption
The most recent major eruption in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park was Kilauea in 2018. The lava flows resulting from this eruption covered the land in the southeast region of the park. This eruption destroyed over 700 homes and many residential areas in the Puna District.
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is the best way to get an up close and personal view of one of the hottest places on Earth. This park has endless opportunities to learn, explore, and discover the active volcanoes and lava flows. Book your trip to this national park today and experience a trip of a lifetime with sights that will take your breath away and leave you inspired.
Featured Image Credit: Cedric Letsch via Unsplash
Frequently Asked Questions
A standard entrance pass ranges in price from $15 to $30. If you are driving in, the fee is $30 per vehicle, and if you are walking in, the fee is $15. The entrance pass is valid for 7 days.
There is so much to see and do at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park; the longer you stay, the better your experience will be. At a minimum, guests should try to spend 2 full days at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Since there is so much to see and do, a better recommendation is to stay 3 to 5 days.
The weather doesn’t vary too much throughout the year at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Daytime high temperatures are typically in the upper 60s or low 70s, and nighttime lows are in the upper 40s to mid-50s.
Public Wi-Fi is available at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park but is not always reliable.
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