You surely have seen those mesmerising videos of the slow lava flowing all over Volcano National Park in Hawaii, what a wonderful display of nature! sadly it doesn’t happen on demand so even if you go when there’s no lava flow (as it happened to me) there’s so much to see on this incredible sight of Our Planet!
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Prepare yourself a couple of days to spare on your Hawaiian holidays as there are many things to do in Volcano National Park!
How to get there
The Volcano National Park is located in the south of the Big Island of Hawaii, at just under 100 miles from Kailua Kona. If you go by car it should take you about 2h30min, take a look at rental cars if you’re travelling with 1 or more friends as you may find some cheap rental car deals at the airport.
Your can also take the Hele On Bus, but I found its timetable (and website) not very user-friendly and the Volcano Park is pretty big so you better have a way to move around. You can also hitchhike though, it’s super easy to do it on the Big Island as everyone is used to pick up travellers.
I went on a little adventure on its own as I took a small moped from my Workaway hosts, it took me 4 hours to slowly get there!
If you plan to go with a scooter, make sure to always stay on the shoulder of the road for your safety and to be considered to other road users. Take a look at where gas stations are located as there is a stretch of the highway with none at all for a few miles!
On the way down to the park from Kailua Kona you will find quite a few coffee farms. Make sure to stop in any of them for a coffee tasting! you may also find mac nuts and super cheap avocados! (4 for $1!)
The road is super scenic as well!
Where to stay
Inside the Volcano National Park you can find the Volcano House Hotel, they also manage a campsite with cabins and you can even rent a tent with all the amenities for a sort of glamping experience. You can also find a few places to stay in the town of Volcano which is a mile outside the park.
There’s another campsite inside the Park, the Kulanaokuaiki Campground, this one seems to be more basic and with no running water. On the National Park Service’s website it says that it cost $10 per night, although some google reviews mention that is free. I guess it depends on the park rangers going there and checking…
I stayed at Namakanipaio Campground, which is managed by Volcano House, this campground do not take bookings either and it’s on a first-come-first-served basis.
The campsite is located just a mile or so before the entrance of the Volcano National Park. The night there costs $10 and each campsite comes with a picnic table. There’s also a roofed area in case of heavy rains and the toilets were nice and clean.
MY CAMPING ESSENTIALS
When you arrive to the Namakanipaio campsite you will find some posters mentioning on how to pay. Make sure to have cash as you will have to fill a form and leave the $10 inside an envelope.
You can also fill a form for the obligatory Volcano National Park entry fee ($25 non-commercial vehicle, $20 motorcycle, $12 pedestrian/bicycle) and then keep the receipt and get the official entry ticket at the Park’s gate.
Once you pitch your tent it’s time to explore this wonder of nature!
What to take to go Hiking in Volcano National Park
Although you will be doing mainly short hikes, you can count on being out all day long, and even a second and third day! so make sure to take plenty of water with you. I always love going with my Camelback Reservoir as it’s the handiest thing to hydrate on the move.
Inside the park there are no many options to eat, take plenty of snacks as otherwise you may have to drive out of the park towards the town of Volcano where you will find a few, but not many, restaurants and a couple of grocery stores.
Hiking in Volcano National Park
At the park’s gate or at the visitor’s centre they hand maps of the park, they will also explain which roads are open as after the 2018 eruptions many roads and trails are still closed (in late 2019)
If you go early in the morning and need a coffee to start your day, make sure to go to the Volcano House Hotel, the coffee is just the excuse to go there, but they have a lounge area to sit overlooking the Kilauea Caldera that is pretty scenic!
After the coffee, it’s time to explore!
After admiring it from the Volcano House, it’s impossible not to go straight to this spectacular sight.
About 500 years ago, the summit of the Kilauea Volcano collapsed, forming a huge depression. The caldera was initially some 600m deep and has been slowly filling up with eruptions and now it’s about 120m deep which makes it still a pretty incredible place to witness.
There is a trail that covers about Km or so around the caldera rim, along the way you will see lots of steam vents that contain sulphurous gases. All over the caldera it just looks like a different planet.
There are a few secluded lookout points where not many people makes it, I found these perfect to sit a enjoy this wild scenery.
Sulphur Banks Trail
Leaving the Kilauea Caldera trail from the parking area, cross the road and you will find the Sulphur Banks, this is a short little trail that will not take you more than 20-30min to explore.
There are lost of little steam vents and one area has some large sulphur banks which I actually found quite beautiful to admire.
On this walk I found more stinky vents so don’t stay too long breathing the sulphur gases.
From this point you can keep walking towards the visitor centre or grab your car/motorbike and head there to find out more info in case you didn’t already go at the beginning of your visit.
The visitor centre has a small exhibition with videos showing the incredible power our planet has. There are also regular talks by the park rangers which I found really interesting as they were mainly talking of what happened in 2018 with all the lava flows. It’s quite shocking to see the before and after images of that event.
After wandering along the Kilauea and Sulphur Banks it’s time to go to the Devastation Trail. To get there you need to drive along the Crater Rim Drive until you find a parking area.
The trail is the result of a 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki. It’s a short walk on a paved trail of just under 1Km each way.
Back on the parking area, you can keep walking and enter on foot a section of the crater rim drive that is closed for vehicles and will take you to the Keanakako’i Overlook. I liked this little walk as even that it was on a paved road it shows how the several thousand earthquakes that this region suffered in 2018 cracked the asphalt.
After 10-15 min or so from the parking lot you arrive to the overlook which is another incredible sight.
Go inside a volcano! do the Kilauea Iki Hike
The Kilauea Iki Hike was my favourite for sure of my time in Volcano National Park! this 6.4Km round circuit is incredible simply because you go down to the bottom of the crater!
In 1959, Kilauea Iki erupted for 36 days and it took 36 years for the molten lava deep inside the lake to harden.
The lake is solid now, but its core is still hot.
The hike starts at the top of the crater and you go down 120m through a dense forest trail which is almost ironic to find so much lush when you’re going straight to the inside of a volcano!
The reports of the latest eruption say that back then, there were lava fountains spitting up to almost 600 meters high! WOW!
Walking inside the crater felt incredible, the sinuous shapes the lava created are so beautiful!
Expect to spend between 1.5 and 3 hours on this little hike as you will not stop taking photos everywhere!
Hike the Ka’u desert trail
I leave for the end the trail that I actually did first.
The Ka’u Desert Trail is a proper long day out hiking which sadly I didn’t prepare for so I only hiked a short section.
This trail traverses a starkly beautiful landscape. In this harsh environment of heat, wind and sulphuric acid rain only the hardiest plants and animals survive. The trail starts out through a 400-year-old lava flow, crossing over intricate lava formations enroute to Mauna Iki.
At Mauna Iki the trail splits. the main distances on this trail are:
Trailhead to Mauna Iki: 2.9Km. Flat terrain
Mauna Iki to Hilina Pali Road (east diversion): 11.2Km. Mostly flat
Mauna Iki to Pepeiao (south diversion): 11.8Km. 410m elevation decrease.
It used to be possible to go from Mauna Iki to Kilauea Caldera but that trail is now closed.
I did only a small section of this hike as I had not yet pitch my tent when I went there so I wanted to make sure that I’d have a place to sleep! 🙂
Visit the Volcano National Park!
As you can see, even with some road closures around the park, there’s still a lot that can be seen on this part of our Planet that helps as a reminder of how small we are compared to mother nature and that if we keep squeezing indiscriminately our natural resources there’s not much we can do once nature decides to step up and impose its strength.
I really hope that all visitors to the Volcano National Park take some meaning back home and start caring more for our Planet, it all starts with small changes on our lives!
Found this post useful? share it! got any questions? drop a line! want to make more plans in Hawaii? make sure to read my other posts about backpacking in Hawaii!
Happy adventures! 🙂