Blogger Paula at Kilauea crater at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

Things to do at Volcanoes National Park in Hawai’i

Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii offers so many cool things to do! Hiking by a living volcano, walking through a lava tube or seeing the lava flow are just few of them. One of the best parks we have ever been to!

*We use ads so we can pay for our travels and continue to bring you free travel advice. We also use affiliate links.
If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you

We have been in Volcanoes National Park in Hawai’i more than once. Our first visit was on our honeymoon and we had such a great time there that we knew right away that we will be back someday.

The official name of Volcanoes Park is Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. It is localeted in Big Island which the locals call simply Hawai’i. Big Island is the biggest of the Hawaian islands.

Volcanoes National Park is one of the most uniques parks we have ever been to. The huge, black lavafields will make you feel like you just landed into the moon. But then the other side of the park is green and lush rainforest with great trails and lava tubes.

And of course the main attraction is the living volcano which is sending sound smoke in the air at the background. The luckiest visitors might even see some red lava flow.

So no wonder the Volcanoes National Park has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

These are the things everyone visiting Volcanoes National Park should go see and some tips how to make your trip there succesful.


✔️ Stop at the Kīlauea Visitor Center and overlook
✔️ Check out the Steam Vents and Haʻakulamanu Sulphur Banks along the Crater Rim Drive
✔️ Walk through the Thurston Lava Tube
✔️ Hike along the Crater Rim Trail
✔️ Drive down the Chain of Craters Road
✔️ See the Pu’uloa Petroglyphs
✔️ Visit the Hōlei Sea Arch

Getting to Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is located at the south side of the Big Island. Since we stayed at Kailua-Kona there was basically two routes we could take. The other one goes through the island into the town of Hilo and then to the park from there. And the other one follows the coast. Timewise they are almost the same.

We chose to drive through the island so we could see the other volcano, Mauna Kea. We drove thru old lava fields which had already started to grow some grass, and thru some newer ones that were pitch black. We saw many old volcanos and also Mauna Kea, which we didn’t go visit at this time.

Mauna Kea is one of the rare places in the world where you can reach over 14 000 feet within 2 hours. The risk of altitude sickness with such a rapid climb is very high. It is not recommended for anyone under 16 years old pregnant or people in poor health.

Closer to Hilo it started raining. We knew, that this side of the island is partly in a tropical rain forest so the rain did not surprise us. We have visited Hilo before and it was raining then too. This time, we only stopped there for a cup of coffee.

The road to the national park soon dives into a rain forest and you will start to see various kinds of plants. That’s your sign of the national park being pretty close.

If you take the route to south along the coastline you will be passing the southern most point of the United States, South Point, a black sand beach (Punaluʻu Beach) and a rare green sand beach. I recommend making a separate trip to see them because seeing everything at Volvanoes National Park will take a lot of time.

The Green Sand Beach, Papakōlea Beach is definitely a bucket list item since there are only three beaches in the whole world with green sand! Read about how to get there and how our visit to Green Sand Beach was from here.

What to see and Do at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Kīlauea Visitor Center

After you arrive to the national park you will first arrive to the Kīlauea Visitor Center. I recommend stopping there before heading down to the park. Kīlauea Overlook is also a worth a stop as it has a great view to the crater.

The rangers can give you more information about the hiking trails and the conditions in the park. Sometimes certain areas in the park can be closed for vistors due to volcanic gas. Also if the volcano is erupting they might close the park or portions of it.

We have never been lucky enough to be at the Volcanoes National Park during an eruption. Last time the eruption started one week after we had left Big Island. We were sad that we didn’t see the lava flow or the red glow in the crater.

If you are pregnant or traveling with kids, rangers might advice you to stay away from the steam vents and keep car windows closed when passing by them. Sometimes you can see this “vog” also in other parts of the island.

We stopped to get rain jackets since it was still raining and we only had kid’s umbrella with us. It is very common to get some rain in the Volcano’s National Park and once you drive further, the weather might completely change, but it is good to be prepared when you arrive. 

Kīlauea caldera smoking at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.
Halema’uma’u Crater at Kīlauea caldera
Blogger Paula standing in front of smoking Kīlauea caldera at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

Jaggar Museum

I would recommend visiting the Jaggar Museum but unfortunately the eruption in 2018 changed things permanently. Due to multiple earthquakes from the eruption both the museum building and the observatory got damaged. And when the caldera finally lapsed, the buildings were left too close to the edge. So the museum is no longer open.

Jaggar Museum overlook also had one of the best views to the caldera and people gathered there in the evenings to see the red glow of the lava.

We really loved this museum and the exhibition they had. I hope they have been able to find a way to showcase some it somewhere else.

Pele's hair which is formed in an volcanic eruption in Jaggar Museum in Volcanoes National Park.

Crater Rim Drive

Crater Rim Drive is the main road at the Volcanoes National Park. The road follows along the Kīlauea Caldera and the views down to the volcano are amazing. There is a lot to see along this road, I recommend parking the car every ones in a while and exploring the place with foot in order to see things from closer.

A great place to stop is for example the Steam Vents. They are cracks on the ground that release some volcanic gas. They are quite interesting but if you suffer from astma or you are pregnant, you might want to see them just from the car.

Very close to the steam vents is also the Haʻakulamanu Sulphur Banks where you can see even more of these vents. Sulphur Banks has a short, about 0,6 mile (1 kilometres) long hiking trail.

At these areas you can clearly smell the volcanic gas which is almost like a rotten egg smell.

Steam vents by the Crater Rim Drive at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii
Steam vents by the Crater Rim Drive at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii
Steam vents by the Crater Rim Drive at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii

The next place not to miss is the Nāhuku aka the Thurston Lava Tube. This kind lava tubes or tunnels are formed when the hot lava flows underground of hardened surfice. When the flow ends the empty tunnel remains.

This lava tube is easy to get to by car. Sometimes the parking lot gets full though and you might have to park further away and hike through the lush rain forest to get to it like we did. It was a fun and short hike. The lava tube is lit and it was easy to move around there.

Entrance to the Thurston Lava Tube in Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.
My husband inside the lit lava tube at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

While driving on Crater Rim Drive make sure to stop at the lookouts to see the views. Or you can park your car and do some hiking. One of the best hikes is on the Crater Rim Trail which goes along the crater and the road. If you don’t want to walk the whole trail back and fort, you can just do part of it.

Chain Of Craters Road

Chain of Craters Road starts from the lähtee Crater Rim Drive towards south. Just like its name implies, along the road there are several old craters. It is interesting to see them all and read the signs to find out what year did the eruption or lava flow occured.

The views along this road are incrediple! The road goes through many lava fields and it literally feels like you just landed in the moon. There is black lava everywhere! It reminded me a little of Iceland but these fields were bigger.

Chain of Craters Road going through black lava field in Volcanos National Park in Hawaii.
Chain of Craters Road

You can stop to different overlooks and craters along the way. And you can hike down to Pu’uloa Petroglyphs, the archaeological site that contains over 23,000 petroglyph images. We have seen something similar at Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico, Mojave National Preserve in California and in Norway.

The park ends by the ocean where lava flow has closed the road going around the island. This must be one the most photographed spots in the whole island.

Black lava blocking a road in souht of Big Island in Volcanoes National Park.
Road closed sign that was left in the black lava when it blocked the road at Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii.

You then should walk by the embarkment and look down, you will see an amazing Hōlei Sea Arch formed from black lava rock in turquoise water. It is about 90 feet (27.4 meters) high and looks amazing. Unfortunately, due to erosion it will someday collapse and become part of the ocean rocks.

The black embarkment at Big Island with the Pacific Ocean is just beautiful.
Hōlei Sea Arch at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

Volcanoes National park is very versatile and also many animals live there. One them is Nēnē, the State Bird of Hawaiʻi. This Hawaiian Goose is an endangered species and can often be on the road, so please keep your eyes open while driving.

Two nenes walking on the lava field in Volcanoes National Park.
A red flower blooming in the black lava field of Volcanoes National Park in a rain.
We also got rained on at this part of the park.

Tips for visiting the Volcanoes National Park

  • Reserve at least one whole day for this visit. The park is big and even if you would just drive around without hiking, it will take a while.
  • Go hiking! There are many things you can’t see unless you go off the trails. Good shoes on the volcanic roacks are a must! You can read our tips for hiking with kids from here.
  • Volcanoes National Park is great for kids but inhaling volcanic gas is not recommended for small kids or pregnant women. You can also see them from your car.
  • Bring lots of water, sunscreen and a sunhat. Even at overcast weather the sun can quickly burn your skin.
  • It often rains in Volcanoes Park so bring rain coat or spare clothes. Check the forecast before going and if you can, choose your visit according to weather. We bought rain coats from the visitor center because it rained during one of our visits.
  • There is no cafes or vehicle services in the park, so make sure you bring some snacks and water, and arrive with a full tank of gas.


Many Big Island visitors dream about seeing the lava flow while there. The current conditions at the park and information about the volcanic activity can be found at the Volcanoes National Park website. The lava flow is not always in the area that is accessible or safe, or there just isn’t any at all.

If you are very lucky you might be visiting Big Island when the lava flowes to the ocean. Then they usually sell boat trips to see it and also helicopter rides are a popular way to see the lava flow.

There are also many ready tours you can take to see Volcanoes National Park if you don’t want to drive:

Enjoy this wonderful and unique national park!

There is so much to do and see at Big Island and the Volcanoes National Park is just one of the amazing places there! We also visited Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historic ParkPu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, and they were all very interesting.

We have since visited also the island of Oahu but we felt that Big Island had more to offer, and we would love to go back there again someday.

🗝 We use this site to book hotel rooms when ever we travel.
🚗 We use DiscoverCars for car rentals everywhere in the world.
🗺 When looking for tours we use either Viator or GetYourGuide. They are both great.
✈️ With Priority Pass membership you can access over 1300 airport lounges all over the world.
📞 If you need a data package to navigate or make calls, Airalo works well for that.

Have you been to Volcanoes National Park or other similar volcanic park somewhere else?

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *