Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park finally partially reopened on September 22, 2018 after several months of closure following the eruption of the Kilauea in the Leilani Estates district. Before starting our article, here is first a statement from the authorities recalling the situation with some essential safety rules to follow, as well as the list of open sites. It should also be noted that there is no liquid lava visible in the park for several months.
Announcement of the Volcanoes NP
Most of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park closed on May 11, 2018 due to increased volcanic and seismic activity at Kīlauea Over the next twelve weeks, large lava flows covered areas southeast of the park (outside the park), destroying more than 700 houses and devastating thousands more in residential areas of the Puna district. At the same time, the area at the top of the park was shaken by tens of thousands of earthquakes, huge ash plumes and 62 massive collapse explosions.
These events caused unprecedented damage to infrastructure, the first in the park's 102-year history, including building damage, landslides, rock falls, deep cracks in roads and trails, and numerous breaks in water and sewer pipes. Now, since the eruption is considered "paused", there is no liquid lava to observe in the park.
As the park reopens, visitors must take extra precautions to stay safe during their visit. Visitors should expect difficult access to services and parking, long queues and a lack of clean drinking water in the park.
CAUTION: Some areas of the park remain unstable and unsecured due to hundreds of earthquakes:
- STAY ON THE PATHS AND OPEN ROADS! Trails and closed roads are considered dangerous, respect the restrictions.
- TAY AWAY FROM CRACKS AND COLLAPSES. In the past, reckless people have killed themselves by falling through cracks. They have unstable edges, so don't go near them.
- ROCK FALLS ARE UNPREDICTABLE. Be careful not to approach steep areas.
- WARNING SOLID FOOTWEAR AND LONG PANTS, falling on lava rocks is like falling on pieces of glass.
- DO NOT HIKE AT NIGHT. Even if you are familiar with some areas of the park, you may be surprised by the evolution of the underground.
Opened areas of the Volcanoes NP
Despite the park being reopened, there are still some closed areas that have either suffered very significant damage or have not yet been secured. Here is the list of infrastructures, roads and hiking trails that are currently still closed.
- Jaggar Museum (indefinitely)
- Crater Rim Drive between Kilauea Military Camp and Jaggar Museum is closed
- Hilina Pali Road past Kulanaokuaiki Is closed to vehicles (it is open to pedestrians and non-motorized bicycles)
- Crater Rim Trail beyond Kilauea Military Camp
- ʻIliahi Trail
- Crater Rim Trail from Volcano House to Kīlauea Iki
- Nāhuku - Thurston Lava Tube
All other infrastructure, roads and trails are now open.
A bit of goelogy...
If you are a regular visitor to the site, you may have noticed that we tend to be slightly attracted to "volcanic" countries. Certainly because what animates the soils of the places we visit also animates us. After Japan and Iceland, Hawaii is something that trotted through our heads for its geological richness. Far be it from me to give you a lecture on volcanoes in the Pacific zone, but let's focus for a few seconds on the mid-Pacific archipelago.
The Hawaiian islands were born from a single hot spot, the Hawaiian hot spot. As a result of the movement of the Pacific plate, the islands of the archipelago have exited one after the other from the ocean in a southeast/northwest direction. A little google map tour in satellite view, and the effect of the hot point on the ocean floor is immediately obvious. We immediately notice the alignment of small islands from Big Island (the most southeast island of Hawaii) to the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia (small, wild spot that also thrills us ^^).
This hot point is still active and at work. It continues to extend southeast of Big Island from Kilauea, evacuating through various craters such as Pu'u'O'o active until 2017 or fissure 8, a new mouth created following the events of 2018, which produced the lava that buried a part of the Puna Peninsula between May and July.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was created around the Kilauea caldera, and allows to get as close as possible to recent lava flows. It is also possible to approach flows that are located outside the park.
It is important to understand that volcanic activity varies greatly and will not be the same over days, months and years. Lava does not flow every day in the park and its activity is monitored at the Visitor Center. Until May 2018 it was possible to admire the bubbling lava lake of the Halema'uma'u crater from the Jaggar Museum. Since then, the crater has collapsed and the lake has completely drained. Lava is no longer flowing at Volcanoes National Park but could return... without us knowing when.
An area of all records!
Did you know that Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in our good old world? Its eruptions are known to be spectacular! But rather than a long speech, I invite you to take a look at the Kilauea Wikipedia,"eruptive history" section, to see the forces present in the region, such as the phenomena observed during the eruption of Kilauea Iki in 1959, which will generate a lava fountain 580m high!
So you will understand that we are dealing with a seriously unstable area under constant surveillance. So don't be frustrated when you visit the park to see that some areas are closed to the public because of soil instability or other toxic vapours.
Prepare your visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The 3 zones of the Volcanoes National Park
The park is quite large and extends to the sea. It is divided into three parts:
- The main area is located around the Kilauea crater. The main points of interest are served by Crater Rim Drive, a 17-km road that once circled the caldera before it was partially closed due to excessive danger. Today, part of this road has collapsed in the caldera following the 2018 earthquakes, which greatly increased the size of the crater.
- The second area descends from Kilauea to the sea via the Chain of Craters Road, a 30-km road that crosses many lava flows and ancient craters.
- Finally, the last part is located in the far north. It is accessible from Mauna Loa road. We will not talk about this part because we did not have time to explore it.
In view of the size of the park and the difference in altitude (more than 1000 meters between sea level and the entrance to the park), we recommend that you come by car/motorcycle, or by bike if you are sporty. Please note that there is no shuttle bus in the park, so a walking tour will limit you to the few points of interest located near the caldera.
During your first visit to Volcanoes NP, we recommend that you stop at the Visitor Center, which is located very close to the entrance. You will discover interesting information about the geology of the park, some short films to better understand the forces, and gather information of the day such as weather, volcanic activity and accessible areas of the park.
How much time should I spend at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
The park is quite large and has several points of interest which are to be done during the day but also at night when the liquid lava is visible in the park (but this is not always the case).
In order to fully enjoy the area we recommend that you spend at least 2 days on site, and more if you wish to hike longer.
Due to lack of time, we only did the trails that seemed interesting, accessible and short enough. I will nevertheless detail below the hikes that seem worth the detour and there is enough to do with the ten Day Hikes in the park! See the hikes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park .
How much does it cost to access the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
The entrance fee for a car will cost you $25 and will allow you to visit the park for 1 week, and $20 for the bikes.
If you are planning to discover Maui Island during your trip, it will be more interesting to buy the Hawaii Tri-Park Annual Pass at $50. It is valid for 12 months and allows a car to enter the Volcanoes National Park as well as the Pu'uhonua O' Hōnaunau National Historical Park (near Kona on Big Island) as well as at Haleakalā National Park located in Maui. This pass allows you to save $15 if you want to discover the 3 parks. Remember to ask for it when you first go through the counters at the park entrance.
If you already own the America the beautiful, know that it also works in at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but it is very difficult to find this pass for sale in the Hawaiian islands.
As the park is located in a very active area, it is highly likely that some areas will be closed due to the risk of toxic fumes or collapse. In this case you will be stopped by yellow police ribbons (do not cross). For more information, we recommend that you visit the Visitor Center.
Following the events of 2018, the park is healing its wounds and gradually reopening. However, many areas and trails remain closed until the rangers carry out security operations on the premises and trails. We have indicated them at the beginning of this article.
Where to sleep near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
You will find some accommodation near the park at Volcano Village. The advantage is that you will be very close to the park, which is very convenient if you have to go there at nightfall to see the glowing lava. However, there are not really any supermarkets in the area, so remember to stock up before you arrive.
It is also convenient to stay in Hilo, which is 45 minutes from the park by car. The road is easy and is good even at night. Hilo is a good base from which to reach the entire southern and eastern sector of the island, including climbing to the top of Mauna Kea.
Points of interest and hikes to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
In this section we will detail all the points of interest and hikes to be done at Volcanoes National Park in the first two areas of the park, from the crater to the sea (not having had the opportunity to go to the northern area). So let's start with the area around Crater Rim Drive, near Kilauea.
Here vapour fumes come out of the bowels of the earth. They are located in the immediate vicinity of the road. A path will take you to the edge of the caldera of Kilauea from where you can have a wide panorama (but you will not see the lava lake of the Halemaumau Crater) and discover other emanations.
Just before arriving at the Jaggar Museum, the Kilauea Overlook gives you another panoramic view of the caldera of the Kilauea and the Halemaumau Crater.
Crater Rim Trail (open to the Military camp)
The Crater Rim Trail allows you to walk along the edges of the caldera of the Kilauea. We didn't find it interesting to use it because the road leads directly to the main viewpoints on the crater. However, if you have time in front of you, this can be an interesting alternative to find yourself "alone" in front of the beauty offered by nature around the Halema' uma' uma' u Crater to reach the Jaggar Museum through the Steam Vents.
The Jaggar Museum is a must do! It is first of all a small museum open every day from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Here you will learn a lot about lava types, the seismic activity of a volcano, and monitoring the area. There are even seismographs that record the seismic activity of the park in real time. So we were able to see that a small earthquake of magnitude 3.2 had taken place the day before! Don't hesitate to ask the Rangers, they will be happy to help you.
The Jaggar Museum is also the best viewpoint on the lava lake of the Halema' uma' uma' u Crater, at the bottom of the caldera of Kilauea. A show to see during the day, and to rediscover the night. Here we are very close to the house of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. She lives here in Halema' uma' uma' u, so this place is very sacred.
Arm yourself with your most beautiful tripods, telephoto lenses and binoculars to immortalize this unique moment of being able to observe the lava spouting from the bowels of the earth. But above all, enjoy it with your eyes, engrave these images in your memory, take out your plaid if it's a little chilly, and enjoy this show alone or with two of you under a starry sky, I guarantee you will never forget it.
Note that the lava lake level varies from day to day. In fact, we observed that the lava was much higher during the day and that it had fallen well when we went back at night.
This is a 6.4km loop that takes you to the heart of this volcano which was in the spotlight in 1959, when it erupted after 3 months of seismic tremors that went crescendo. This volcano holds a record high eruption height of lava, or lava fountain, with 580 meters (!) of height reached on December 16 of the same year. Some fumaroles were still active at the bottom of the crater.
The trail descends into the crater from the car park and crosses it from one end to the other, going up into the forest to the north. There's nothing to stop you from starting with the forest and ending with the crater.
Our opinion: we just took pictures from the belvedere next to the car park, and only took the time to read the information panels because the day was already well advanced. We think that taking an hour and a half to 2 hours to cover the volcano is clearly worth it. It's not every day you walk around in a crater... active!
This small loop of 500m will take you to a place that you will rarely have the chance to visit. An ancient lava tunnel of the Kilauea 150m long, lit day and night, one more facet of Hawaii's volcanic activity open to visitors.
In the tunnel formed 350 to 500 years ago, the level of lava that once flowed through it is noticeable. Incidentally, its slope was only 2%. Also look at the ceiling and you will see roots! But before you reach the tunnel, you'll have to cross a rainforest. The trail is paved.
As the area is very busy, we recommend that you discover the tunnel at the beginning or end of the day. If, like us, you decide to venture there at night, don't forget your headlamp (or smartphone lamp) to light up the path to the tunnel entrance.
For the more adventurous, it is possible to ask exceptionally to open the other part of the cave, which is not open to the public, to explore in a more intimate way this mysterious place where the traces of the last flows that took place here are still visible.
This short 1.6km round trip takes us to a small desert area leading to the Pu' u Pua' i Overlook, which is normally also accessible by car.
Our opinion: we expected a lot from this trail. Unfortunately for us, the path was closed shortly before the point of view of Pu' u Pua' i Overlook, which we felt was THE point of interest in this area, the path is not exceptional in itself. No sign informed of the trail closing!
From the same car park as the Devastation Trail, it is also possible to take the Halema Uma'u Byron Ledge Trail.
The road then goes down to the sea via the Chain of Craters road. Here are the points of interest and hikes you will find along this route.
Along Chain of Craters Road, you will discover a myriad of old craters and more or less recent lava fields. Signs indicate the places, do not hesitate to stop there. As you descend, you will see the smoke plume marking the entrance of the Kilauea lava in the ocean (if it flows when you come).
Here is actually the departure point of several trails, or at least a long trail, the N?pau trail which serves several points of interest: Pu'u Huluhulu, Mauna Ulu and Nāpau, which follow the same path in their first part, up to Pu'u Huluhulu.
The Pu' u Huluhulu is actually an old crater covered with vegetation from where you can observe the area that extends to the Puuu `Ō`ō, the currently active volcano of Hawaii, when weather permits. Don't expect a grandiose view, it is a promontory at the top of which you can see the smoke from the crater in the distance.
We then joined the Mauna Ulu, the highest volcano in the area, which is an unofficial trail even though the cairns indicate that a path seems to pass through it. The crater's bowels are still released from toxic fumes. Also watch out for the crater's surroundings, which are very unstable.
The access is from the Napau Trail by making your way through the lava field. From here you will have a 360° unobstructed view of Puuu `Ō`ō, the smoke plume of the lava entrance into the ocean, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea in very clear weather, and the more difficult it is to guess the caldera of Kilauea.
And to finish the Nāpau Trail will take you on or near a succession of volcanoes: Pu' u Huluhulu, Mauna Ulu, Makaopuhi and to finish the Nāpau. You will be here almost alone in the world and as close as possible to Pu`u `Ō`ō`, the area that surrounds it being closed. You are almost in communion (4.5 km away) with the most active volcano on the planet. Unique.
The whole trail will take 19 km to go back and forth, 6 hours of walking, but you can stop at Mauna Ulu which is only 2 km away.
The path is easy to reach Pu'u Huluhulu where numbered terminals will give you information about the consequences of the eruption of Mauna Ulu between 1969 and 1974 (small paid paper guide).
Our opinion: once again pressed by the sunset, we almost accidentally went to the top of Mauna Ulu and enjoyed the view, despite the slight fog, and admired Pu`u `Ō`ō We were alone, amazed by the show in front of our eyes and also a little bit cold, the night arrived quickly on us (we finished the walk with the lamp of the smartphone...). But what a pleasure to be up there far from the crowds, with the scenery of this landscape tormented by the forces of nature. A real crush. We regret that we did not have an extra day to cover the whole hike.
Just before arriving at the seaside, you can stop to observe ancient petroglyphs engraved by the first civilizations. This is the largest concentration of petroglyphs in Hawaii. To discover them, a small loop of 1.5 km allows you to reach the area.
See the 2003 lava flow
It is possible to observe the flow that cut the road here in 2003 from the small car park at the end of the Chain of Crater Road where a "mini" Visitor Center awaits you and amenities. You will also find all the information you need to get to the lava flows from the rangers, but don't come too early because before 9am-10am there is no one on site.
Access to active lava flows
If the lava is present in the park, there is a good chance that a lava flow will flow into the sea. From the end of Chain of Crater Road, it was possible to approach the area where lava was spilling into the ocean between 2013 and 2018. In April 2017, this point was 8 km from the car park, or 16 km round trip. From now on, there is no lava flowing into the ocean (but the lava could come back one day).
It should be noted that the area has no shade and the ground being black, the heat is all the more intense.
Just after the parking lot at the end of Chain of Craters Road, take a look at Hōlei Sea Arch, a volcanic arch formed by ocean erosion.
See lava flow dipping into the ocean (lava no longer flows into the ocean)
Located near Kalapana, east of the 2003 flow, the Pacific entrance of the lava is a unique spectacle. If volcanic activity is present, you will see the plume at a distance of about 300/400m (depending on the random orientation of the flow).
It all started in the old town of Kalapana, which was buried after a lava flow in 1990. Today, nature is trying to regain its rights and some people have rebuilt their homes where they used to live.
It is advisable to come here a little before sunset to enjoy it with daylight, and to contemplate the reddish plume at night, adding a little magic to the scene. Cross your fingers so that the south/south-east wind is in the area to clear the spotless smoke.
The show is magical. Expect to sit for more than an hour to watch the show and occasionally admire a few small streams of lava.
Please take a look at the following video if you would like to learn more about access conditions, the viewing point and hiking in the lava field.
Please note that access to the Kalapana car park is only accessible from 3pm. Parking spaces are limited. First come, first served. Don't delay too long, as there is a risk that you will no longer have room or the possibility of renting a bicycle (see below).
3 options to admire the lava enter the ocean
It's free, but long, it takes about 2 hours to get there from the car park (6.5km) and beware, there is no shade on the way. Include all the necessary equipment: good shoes, lots of water, binoculars, camera with telephoto lens, blanket and especially headlamp, especially if you want to explore the lava fields at night (orange beacons blink for lost people).
By bike (our recommendation)
At the end of the parking lot, you will find a palanquée of bike rental companies, between 15$ and 30$ per bike, with bicycles more or less well maintained (and more or less all terrain). Don't hesitate to negotiate! Depending on the rental companies, you will also have to return your precious machine before 9pm or 10pm. Allow 30 minutes to cover the 6.5km from the car park. The outward journey goes up a little more than backwards, but overall expect to go up and down the whole route. For the material, same as above. Once you reach the end of the road, leave your bike and continue on foot. The point of view is only a few dozen meters away.
The path leading to the area is wide and covered with small gravel. Dry toilets are installed at the beginning and at the halfway point. Be careful, there's no water point.
Are you loaded with money? This solution is for you! You can go rubbing against lady nature and approach the flow at best (a few tens of meters only!). You will have to go to Kapoho and pay about $200 per head to have the privilege of being in the front row seats. Be careful though, if the wind is not favourable, you may not fully enjoy the show. Finally, prefer in the evening so that darkness will increase the beauty of the place tenfold.
See lava flows on the surface (no visible activity in the park at this time)
Near the lava flows, you can walk through the ancient lava flows that have recently solidified. If you're lucky, you'll even be able to admire fresh flows and see lava in front of your eyes. To do this, walk or cycle to the end of the trail, near the area where the lava enters the ocean (with good facilities). But instead of heading south to the ocean, head north.
Now try to spot active flows, which can sometimes be several hours walk away! Know that there is no route, just indications on a sign to give you some clues to locate the flows. During the day, pay attention to the noises. At night, you will be able to spot the flows more easily thanks to their red glow.
Also be prepared not to see any red lava, because if, as for us, the activity is low on that day, it is very likely that you will not see anything. But in any case, the walk on the recent lava field will be very interesting.
Please note that excursions are proposed, accompanied by a guide who will take you to the right place (count $60-80/person).
If you wish to go alone, I can only warn you about the dangerousness of the area. It is an area where the ground is unstable and hides many caves of lava that have emptied themselves and are only waiting to collapse under the weight of an adventurous hiker. Gas pockets may also explode. Accidents are rare, but they do exist, so be careful.
Don't worry, you will feel the warmth radiate from the ground before you set foot in a flow.
If possible, follow the tracks of other hikers, or ask for directions to the hikers you will meet in the opposite direction. The advice is not easy to give as the layout of the flows changes from one day to the next, or even several times a day.
Smoke coming out of the ground is already a good indication of the hot spots you may encounter. Since these fumes are toxic, avoid inhaling them as much as possible. Last but not least, if you venture here at night, take care to memorize your trip and at least keep an orange flashing beacon in sight. This will save you from spending the night wandering around in a lava field, even if it will make you feel crisp when you get home!
Have you ever had the opportunity to observe active volcanoes so close up?