Things to See at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Last updated: December 12th, 2023 | Originally published: March 1, 2023
Volcano National Park

The Big Island of Hawaii is home to Kiluaea, the world’s most active volcano. Over the past few years, Kiluaea has been very active, putting on shows in the crater and at the ocean’s edge. In this article we’ll talk about the Kiluaea Iki hike as well as the best things to see and do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

In 2018, the park experienced 10,000 earthquakes, which triggered significant lava flow. The floor of the Halema’uma’u Crater dropped nearly 2,000 feet.

The park had to close for 134 days because of the damage caused by the quakes. The Jagger Museum and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory were damaged, perhaps beyond repair. Crater Rim Drive, a loop road that encircles the central crater in the park, is now a dead end. Hundreds of nearby homes were destroyed during the peak of the eruption.

However, since May of 2021, Kiluaea has been quiet, because this is when the Hoffmann’s decided to visit the island. You’re welcome!

Two other active volcanoes are found on the island, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the two tallest mountains on earth (when measuring from the ocean floor). Mauna Loa’s last eruption was in 1984. Mauna Kea last erupted before the birth of Christ.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is 505 square miles of rain forest and scorched earth. In 1987 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Below are a few essential things to see and do at Hawai’i Volcano National Park.

1. Kiluaea Iki Hike

Volcano National Park
things to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Kiluaea Iki hike might be the best thing you do on your Big Island Hawaii vacation.

Halema’uma’u Crater is the main crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A thin ridge of land separates this massive crater from a smaller, more accessible crater known as Kilaeua Iki Crater.

The Kilauea Iki hike is the best hike in the park, and one of the best hikes in all of the Hawaiian Islands.

Hiking through the rain forest around the rim of the crater, one cannot help but think of a time when the Kilaeua Iki Crater beheld a massive lake of molten earth.

Where trees now flourish was once a wasteland of inchoate rock spewed across the mountainside. Reaching further into the annals, the creation of the earth would have made quite the volcanic spectacle, land exploding into existence amidst sulfuric steam.

On either side of the caldera is a steep trail with stairs, and connecting the two stairways is a well-worm foot path across the valley floor.

As you walk across the crater floor it is obvious what happened here.

To stroll within this ancient beast is something you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Volcano National Park
Kiluaea Iki Hike

2. Steam Vents

Volcano National Park
things to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

If you take the path west from the visitor center, one of the first things you’ll see are the steam vents. The steam is created when freshwater seeps into the ground and is heated by the volcano.

In Hawaiian they are called Wahinekapu, which in English means, “Watch your step, fool.”

The landscape varies across this part of the park, changing from tall, grassy fields to forested trails. In some areas steam escapes all across the panorama; in others it bellows from frightening chasms.

Don’t miss this incredible thing to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

3. Volcano House — Volcanoes National Park

Volcano National Park

The Volcano House is a hotel inside the park. A restaurant called The Rim, and a much better gift shop than than the one at the visitor center can also be found here.

The view from the backside of the Volcano House is one of the best views you will find at Volcano National Park — for the view alone it is worth the stop.

If you are interested in staying at Volcano House, their information can be found here.

Volcano National Park
things to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

If you love to travel, we have something we would like to give you. It is our professionally designed e-book and it is FREE of charge. We think it’s pretty great, and we’re hopeful you’ll like it, too. It’s called, “Cultivating a Lifetime of Travel”. Click HERE. and we’ll send it on over!

4. Kilauea Overlook

Volcano National Park
Kiluaea Iki Hike — Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

You’ve come all this way to see a volcano, right? This is the Halema’uma’u Crater, the active site of the most recent eruptions. It is here that the crater floor dropped 2000′ feet during an earthquake that set off the eruption.

While no lava is currently spewing from the crater floor, there is some visible smoldering steam.

The best look into the crater is from the Kilauea Overlook at the far west end of Crater Rim Drive.

FYI: Crater Rim Drive normally forms a loop around the park, but it is currently closed near the Kilauea overlook. The nearby Jagger Museum is also closed for now.

Volcano National Park
things to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

5. Sulphur Banks Trail — Volcanoes National Park

Volcano National Park
what to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

If you park at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center and walk west between the road and Volcano Art Center Gallery, you will quickly find yourself on the Sulphur Banks Trail. A 10 minute clip down the path and you’ll come to the above setting, which is very cool.

Volcanic gases seep out of the ground along with groundwater steam. These gases are rich in carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. Some sulfur gases deposit pure crystals at Sulphur Banks. Other sulfur gases form sulfuric acid which breaks down the lava into clay. This clay is stained red and brown with iron oxide.

Visitors with heart or respiratory problems (such as asthma), pregnant women, infants, or young children should avoid this walk.

If you continue along this path, you will wind through the steam vents to an overlook of the Halema’uma’u Crater. From there, head east along the crater rim back toward the Volcano House. This loop trail is a must-do when visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Volcano National Park
things to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

6. Thurston Lava Tube

Lava tubes are cool. The one at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is short and sweet (and wet). Don’t miss the experience of strolling through a verdant rainforest and then into a dark hole in the ground. It’s simply too easy to do.

We aren’t going to lie and say this is the greatest lava tube in the world. It’s not. If you look in the below left photo you will see a cyclone fence behind Monica. Behind that fence is another lava tube. Supposedly it is much more natural and dangerous. As you can see, the park rangers are keeping that one for themselves.

The Thurston Lava Tube is across the street from the Kiluaea Iki Trail, and the two combine nicely.

An Honest Conclusion for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

We believe Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an interesting place to visit, even when the volcano isn’t putting on a show. Admittedly, it was a bummer we missed it. The next time we hear the volcano is erupting we’re going to stop whatever silly thing we’re doing and grab the next flight. And when we go we’ll stay at one of the Waikoloa Beach Resorts.

If you would like to learn more about the Beautiful Things to do on Hawaii, Big Island, please check it out. We learned a lot on that trip, and think it could be helpful information for anyone looking to travel to the Big Island.

Also, if you would like to learn more about how Monica and I keep our marriage spicy, check out our satire, The Right Hawaiian Beach for your Argument.

Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!

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