big island volcano national park

Best Things To Do On Big Island Hawaii

Visits to Big Island Volcano National Park can be pretty safe and memorable if you keep up with weather updates and simply stick to all safety precautions.

The Volcano National Park is great for visitors who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, but just ensure to follow any posted signs, stay on designated trails, and heed the advice of park rangers. 

With 137 big and small islets to pick, big island volcano park stands out as the best island to visit in Hawaii. Rand McNally had a point when he quoted “Hawaii is a paradise born of fire”.

Hawaii National Park located on the big island provides magnificent volcanoes settings, unique species of plants and insight into the traditional Hawaiian culture associated with these landscapes.

It’s a must-go for anyone who want to experience hiking and spectacular lava flows. The park features Kilauea Halema’uma’u Crater which is the second largest active volcano in the world.

This is one of best vacation spots to go on holiday where you can get a clear view of the lava flowing out of the volcano in Hawaii’s Big Island.

The best time to visit Big Island Volcano National Park

The best time to visit Volcano National Park is from April to May as well as September to October because the big island would be less crowded. The weather is great with beautiful sunset and hotel’s accommodations are cheaper.

The west coast of the island is substantially drier than the east side but the temperature is pretty pleasant between 23°C and 30°C. This is the most ideal time to go on the big island volcano tour.

best hiking trails in Big Island Volcano National Park

Kilauea Iki Trail

Hiking the Kilauea Iki Trail in Big Island Volcano National Park was by far the best hike I did, and I think it’s the most popular hike in Hawaii.

The trip begins at Kilauea Iki lookout point and descends 400 feet through the lush rainforest, past lava debris, flora and fauna before descending to the crater floor.

In some places, steam can be seen at the bottom of the crater, and it is interesting to see how the crater has formed as you follow the trail.

After wandering around for a while at the bottom of the crater, you can climb up the other side and do a loop, eventually landing on the other side.

The total distance of the hiking trail is about 4 miles and I would say it’s of medium difficulty as the 400 foot climb through the terrain is pretty challenging.

Other than that, it’s pretty simple. I highly recommend taking a guide with any outdoor activitiy as it really enhances and enriches the experience.

Pu’uhuluhulu Trail

I walked this way on a clear day and been able to see Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Pu’u ‘Ō’ō and the Pacific Ocean. It was great to see humongous craters along the way, which gave this hike an advantage over other shorter hikes. 

The steepest of these craters is just a mile from the parking lot. If you arrive on a cloudy day or don’t feel like hiking to Pu’uhuluhulu, you can always check out the craters and turn back.

To reach this trailhead, walk down Maunaulu Road to the parking lot. However, the trail might be a bit complicated. Suggest, you engage a local guide or check out the driving tip app.

Although the hike is not totally long, the majority of the landscape is not well shaded. So water-bottle and hiking essentials are advisable to prevent heat stroke or fatigue.

Day trips from Big Island Volcano National Park

The Holei Sea Arch is actually located at the end of the Chain of Craters road. A trip to this 27 meters high natural arch kills several birds with one stone.

You can travel the entire Great Crater Range Road and stop at other sights along the way. It’s one of the best places to visit for couples in Hawaii looking to spend some quality time. 

The Holei Sea Arch is a beautiful sight in itself, but what I liked most was the view of the volcanic rock at the edge of the ocean. Saltwater erosion gave birth to a unique rock structure.

map of big island

When you are on the big island in Hawaii for the first time, you’ll notice that you’re surrounded by sea but much of Volcanoes National Park looks like a combination of rainforest and barren desert. 

If you wish to explore the island on your own or self drive, I suggest getting this cool all-you-need-to-know driving trip app, containing specific GPS on every turn, places to visit, in-depth information and much more.   

Things to do in Big Island Volcano National Park at night

The Halemaumau Crater in Kilauea is such an obvious choice for one of the top vacation spots in Hawaii. So my recommendation is to proceed just before sunset to watch the spectacle show at night.

New eruption on the Kilauea volcano always draws crowds of visitors to see the plume of gas by day and the glowing lava in the crater by night. (Visit the park’s website for current flare conditions).

The main draw is the fascinating glow that emerges from the lake and radiates on the clouds above at nightfall. During the day, it’s not totally impressive but when the sun set, it gets more sensational by the minute.

The vast majority of visitors to Big Island Volcano National Park will go to the Jaggar Museum hoping to catch the eruption and lava flow from the crater. Instead of braving the crowds, head to Kilauea Iki Overlook to watch the action. 

Other viewpoints to observe the volcano eruption include Wahinekapu, Keanakakoʻi, Waldron Ledge, and lookouts along the Crater Rim Trail. Don’t be despaired if you visit the park when there is no reported lava flow.

Just like my other post about chasing Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) over Gullfoss Falls in Iceland, the roaring volcanoes eruption in the big island are elusive and unpredictable. 

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers many other things to do especially if you like outdoor activities. I recommend Volcano Village near the park. There are excellent restaurants and art galleries as well.

Photography guide to Big Island Volcano National Park

1. Thurston Lava Tube Big Island

Experience the wonder of this natural phenomenon as you explore the underground tunnels formed by flowing lava creating the popular attraction, Lava Tube in Hawaii.

Exploring the lava tube at Big Island Volcano National Park was an interesting experience. From the parking lot, you begin descending through the dense rainforest and encounter an opening that leads to a cave which is essentially a tube cave (lava once flowed through it).

If it weren’t for ramps, lights and stairs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a silhouette of a monster on the blind side of the cave because it looked like something out of Jurassic World.

The descent and passage through Thurston’s lava tubes is fairly easy and only takes about 30 minutes but there are other places to go if you want to extend your photography experience.

2. Jaggar Museum and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

The Jaggar Museum is a combination of beautiful art exhibits and geological and cultural education exhibition.

When the schedule is available, you can attend the National Park Rangers presentation, which I found very interesting. (The ranger was very enthusiastic about the national park and had a nice personality too).

This is the closest view to the Halemaumau Crater in Kilauea, so you’ll want to stop here anyway.

3. Wahinekapu Steam Vents

There are two ways to view the volcano steam vents. An easier option is to park at the Steam Vent stop on Crater Rim Drive and walk a short distance from your car.

Several of these chimneys like vents lead to the edge of the ring, where you can catch a view of the Volcano House behind them.

Another more interesting option is to leave from the Kilauea Visitor Center parking lot, located next to the Volcano Arts Center gallery, and walk 1 mile in any direction on the Haakulamanu Trail (Sulphur Shoals).

4. Birdwatching in Big Island Volcano National Park

The endangered Hawaiian goose (Nēnē) is the official state bird of Hawaii and is quite common or at least as common as you would expect from an endangered species. With fewer than 2,000 left in the wild, these pretty docile birds needs protection to survive.

There are signs all over the Volcano National Park warning drivers to be careful, and that’s good advice. These heavy birds seem to be attracted to roads (which may be part of the reason for their endangered status).

One morning, I saw three different groups of Nēnē on the road near the crater’s area. The grasslands (only a few) along this road seems to be the best places to view these endangered birds.

In the end, I thought it’s best to go to the park’s visitor center and talk to a ranger. The ranger I spoke with was very knowledgeable about current conditions and suggested several ideas on some other beautiful places and things to  do on the big island volcano park.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park lodging

An excellent lodge to stay is at Volcano Village Estates, just 5 minutes away from Hawaii National Volcanoes Park. Highly reviewed and rated at 9.4, it’s also near to Hilo International Airport, and the Black Sand Beach (48.3km).

For most visitors, one or two days is enough, but you can spend an entire week in the park as well. The lodge has a fireplace with garden vibes setting and great amenities. A remarkable place to stay for couples and family with kids.

Volcano cabins Big Island

On the eastern side of the Big Island lies the Hawaii Paradise Park. It’s 15km from Hilo National Airport and 39 minutes drive from Volcano National Park. 

Hale Paradise Guest House is cheaper than other similar accommodations, and also has a friendly and accommodating host. The cabin is pretty peaceful and pleasant with laid-back vibes. Clean, well maintain rooms with balcony and pool view.

Superb F&B with hotel standard amenities. It’s a nice vacation place to unwind and relax, and it’s close to all the island’s attractions as well.

Your Travel Planner:

  • Check out popular affordable tours at Viator
  • Craving for sumptuous local food? Go with eatwith
  • Rent yourself a comfortable car for trips to top attractions 

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