Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of only two national parks in the islands of Hawaii. With the exception of Alaska, it is the only national park in the United States with volcanic activity viewable from the surface. It is located on the Big Island of Hawaii and features two active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Kilauea Volcano is considered the most active volcano on Earth as it’s been erupting almost non stop since 1983. We visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in March of 2022 and were lucky enough to watch the lava flow from Kilauea at nighttime. To help plan your visit, I compiled the perfect one-day Volcanoes National Park Itinerary.
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Where is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and how to get there?
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the southern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. To get there, you will need a car. There are no public transport to and from the park or within its boundaries.
When you fly into the Big Island, you will land in Kailua-Kona, 95 miles northwest of the park. From Kona, it takes about 2 hours to reach the park entrance. Unlike many other national parks, there is only one entrance into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The entrance is located right off Highway 11, which joins Hilo and Kona on the south side of the island. If you are staying in Hilo, it will take you approximately 45 minutes to reach the park entrance.
Related: Ultimate 5-Day Big Island Itinerary
When to visit?
There is no bad time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The weather is extremely pleasant year round. During the winter months, you might even spot humpback whales wintering in the warm Hawaiian waters. I would only suggest to avoid school breaks as Hawaii can get quite busy during those times. Airfare is also much more expensive during the summer and winter holidays.
How long to stay?
One full day is enough to hit all the highlights in the park. If you are traveling from Kona, keep in mind that you will be adding several hours worth of travel time to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park into your itinerary. For this reason and to maximize your chances of seeing the lava flow, I highly recommend staying near the park.
Where to stay?
There are two locations I would recommend to those wanting to visit Volcanoes National Park.
If you are looking to travel on a budget, I highly recommend the Holo Holo Inn, just 5 minutes from the entrance of the national park. It was perfect for us as we left the national park quite late after viewing the lava flow and having dinner. Satoshi’s hostel is located in a secluded area and offers both private bedrooms and gender-specific dorms for a bargain price.
If you are looking for more modern and luxurious accommodations, splurge on a stay at the Volcano House, the only hotel restaurant in the national park. The food is great, and the proximity to the lava flow simply cannot be beat.
Related: Hawaiian Food Bucket List
How much does it cost?
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has a an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, $15 per person, and $25 per motorcycle. The Hawai‘i Tri-Park Annual Pass costs $55 and grants you access to Haleakalā National Park, and Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.
Related: The Perfect 5-Day Maui Itinerary
However, if you plan on visiting more than two other national parks in the next 12 months, I highly encourage you to get an America the Beautiful Pass or National Park Pass. This pass costs only $80 per year and is valid until the end of the 12th month. For example, if you purchase a pass on April 1st of 2023, it will be valid until April 30th 2024.
This pass also allows you to visit all sites managed by the National Park Service such as national historic sites, monuments, preserves… Certain state parks such as Sedona’s Red Rock State Park even allow you to use your national park pass in place of their state park pass. It is seriously one of the best travel deals out there. We purchase a national park pass every single year and have visited almost a dozen state and national parks with it this past year.
Other passes exist for seniors, military members, those with a disability, and more. For more information on Interagency passes and where to purchase them, click here.
Where to eat?
Volcano House is the only place to eat in the park. I recommend packing a picnic lunch and enjoying a nice sit-down dinner in the evening. There are few restaurants around, and you would waste a lot of time going in and out of the park to grab a bite. Plus, there are plenty of picnic areas for you to enjoy lunch with a view!
What we did:
We packed sandwiches, lots of water and good hiking shoes to make the best of our day. Then later that evening we ate some delicious Kalua Pork at the Volcano House before heading to watch the lava flow at night.
What to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
Though the park covers over 500 square miles (1,300 sq km) and 1/7 of the entire island, it can easily be visited in just one day. Here is the perfect itinerary to spend one unforgettable day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center
- Kilauea Overlook
- Kilauea Iki Trail
- Thurston Lava Tube
- Chain of Craters Road
- Pu’uloa Petroglyphs
- Holei Sea Arch
- Watch the lava flow
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center
Your first stop should always be the visitor center to inquire about current lava flow and possible road closures. Plan your Volcanoes National Park itinerary accordingly, but keep in mind that the lava flow is much more impressive in the evening/ night. I recommend spending your time admiring the park’s sights during the day especially if you’re short on time. Also make sure not to forget a map. Checking the map and the age of the different lava flows was one of my favorite things to do as we drove down Chain of Craters Road.
After getting all the information you need, head to Kilauea Overlook along Crater Rim Drive. On the way to the overlook, enjoy the view of Sulphur Banks and Steam Vents overlooks.
Kilauea Iki Trail
Once you leave Kilauea Overlook, turn around and continue down Crater Rim Drive. If the skies are clear, I recommend hiking Kilauea Iki trail. This is one of the best things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The sky tends to be clearer in the morning than in the afternoons, so don’t wait too long to begin this 3.2 mi (5.1 km) loop trail. You’ll walk through a volcanic rainforest along the Kilauea Iki crater before climbing down onto the old lava floor. There you’ll see tons of ahu (stacked rocks) marking the way as well as ʻŌhiʻa trees.
These vibrant green and red tinted plants have survived in adversity but are facing extinction. Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD), a fungal disease is devastating to the indigenous ʻŌhiʻa trees and kills them at an alarming rate. To prevent the death of ʻŌhiʻa trees, you will find several shoe-scrubbing stations throughout Hawaiian state and national parks.
Thurston Lava Tube
After climbing out of the crater, you’ll reach the parking lot of Thurston lava tube. Cross the parking lot and walk an additional 0.4 mile (0.6 km) loop into the lava tube. You’ll then take the 0.5 mile (0.8 km) trail to the right of the lava tube parking lot. This trail will lead you back to your vehicle.
Chain of Craters Road
After leaving the Kilauea Iki trail parking lot, we began our drive down Chain of Craters Road. As you drive down this road toward ocean, make sure to stop at the many roadside pullouts to admire the view. Stretching before you are countless Maunaulu lava flows from the previous seven decades. Among the different shades of black, you’ll spot bright green plants that have managed to survive in this barren landscape.
This area was probably my favorite in the park along with the old Kilauea lava bed. I found it fascinating to contemplate how much each lava flow had affected the landscape over the last decades and centuries. Using the national park map, you can identify exactly how old each flow really is. It probably helped that this is where we were also able to enjoy blue skies for the first time that day.
Shortly before reaching the shoreline, we stopped at the Pu’uloa Petroglyphs pull out. This short and easy 0.7 mile (1.5 km) hike will take you through the lava floor and onto a viewing platform. I highly recommend you do this hike to learn more about native Hawaiian history and this sacred site.
Holei Sea Arch
After visiting the Pu’uloa Petroglyphs, get back in the car and drive all the way down to the coast to view Holei Sea Arch. You’ll need to walk a short distance along the shoreline to admire the waves crashing below the sea arch. Make sure not to miss the patch of palm trees located left of the Holei Sea Arch viewpoint.
If you are visiting between November and April, keep an eye out for humpback whales enjoying the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Watch the lava flow
When we visited in March 2022, the only location to view the lava flow was near Keanakāko’i Overlook along the old Crater Rim Drive about 1 mile (1.6 km) from the parking lot. This was a unique experience that I recommend to anyone visiting the Big Island and this national park. However, make sure you arrive early as parking lots tend to fill up quickly! We learned this the hard way and had to walk an additional mile along the Devastation Trail to reach the viewpoint.
This concludes our Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Itinerary. Now, what should you do next?
From Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can head east to the Hilo rainforest or west to the green and black sand beaches of Ka’u. Check out our complete Big Island itinerary below for more information.