No island adventure is complete without visiting a volcano! For just $15, enter a national park of 323,431 acres filled with unusual hiking trails and camping opportunities. You will definitely want at least a whole day dedicated to checking out the trails, sights, and exhibits.
The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is celebrating 100 years in 2016, founded in 1916. It encompasses two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive subaerial (formed on the earth’s surface, not underwater or underground) volcano.
My mother and I went to the park at the beginning of July and the weather was perfect. Clouds blocked the sun – perfect because the sun doesn’t love me – and soft breezes accompanied us throughout our hikes.
Before setting out on hikes, we visited some of the exhibits in the Kīlauea Visitor Center and learned about the surrounding area. They had information and lots of art on Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess. There is also a ton of info on Hawaiian plants on the hiking trails such as hāpu’u pulu, ‘ama’u, ‘uki, kōlea lau nui, pilo, uluhe, ʻōhelo kau lāʻau, hoi kuahiwi, and ‘ilihia. There are also endangered gooses called nēnē that live in the park.
If you traveled to the park with only a day to check this place out like me, I’d recommend the sulfur banks as a first stop. They were just a short walk from the first exhibit we passed, and while this is an easy, 1-mile walk, you must be in good health to visit this part of the park. There were caution signs everywhere with constant warnings of possible death:
If you can make it, definitely go. Seeing the sulfur dioxide escape from the underground as white smog was like entering another planet. I don’t recommend breathing in the stuff though, as it’s heated and smells like foul gas. Important note: stick to the trails for this adventure. You can become seriously injured with burns if you step off the trail. In 1996, a boy slipped his leg into a steaming ground crack and with a steam temperature of 150℉, causing serious injury.
If you want something less gaseous, I recommend the Thurston Lava Tube. There’s a 20-minute, 1/3 mile trail through lush forest before you come to a primordial-looking cave. It’s a beautiful short walk through the tunnel with dim-blonde lights to guide you through. My favorite parts of the tunnel were tree roots dangling down through the ceiling.
My mother and I hiked around the crater a lot. The Kīlauea Summit Trails offered epic views of the volcano and lush surrounding forest. The Halema’uma’u Trail had moderate difficulty featuring a lovely moss tunnel. We only walked part of the Crater Rim trail, as the whole thing is around 11 miles, perfect for those desiring a bigger challenge. But there were many more trails, including one called Devastation Trail that’s paved with wheelchair access. There are also biking trails, so explore!
There are also places to chill, like the Volcano House where I ate dinner after hiking the trails. Their food was fantastic and the seating had a view of the crater (at least I think it did, it was a little foggy) and lush land. I had a Lilikoi soda with my meal, which I recommend if you want some you can’t normally have outside Hawaii. There were also shops filled with books, posters, and handmade crafts.
My highest recommendation for this park is to stay until nightfall. For me, that was around 7:30pm. Bring a light jacket, as the park gets cooler when the sun sets. Go to the Jagger Museum where you can check out the souvenir store and read about the geography and history of the area. Just outside the museum is a view of the crater. When the fog dissipated from the dark, I saw the lava glow.
I wasn’t the only person who has been told about this, so there was a crowd checking this scene out. It might be worth coming early. The glow was superb, like a giant bonfire and I wished I stayed to stare longer.
If you ever find yourself on the big island of Hawaii, check out the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. It may even be a reason to just to visit Hawaii on its own. I’m sure what I’ve experienced was only a taste of that park. There are also camping opportunities, tours, lodging, and zip-lining. So go for it! A volcano-island adventure awaits!