Evidence of Hawaii’s volcanic past—and present—is visible throughout the islands that make up our 50th state. But nowhere is Hawaii's legacy of fire more apparent than at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the southern edge of the Big Island. In and near the park, lava flows from the Kilauea volcano enter the Pacific Ocean where the lava hardens to black volcanic rock that adds to Hawaii's acreage with every passing year.
Elsewhere in the park, it's possible to view ancient petroglyphs, hike across the floor of a dormant crater, view steam vents, and take a stroll through a primeval rain forest to an equally ancient lava tube. Wildlife are fairly abundant here, including some endangered endemic species like the Hawaii honeycreeper and the Hawaiian goose (nene).
The park is easily viewed by car. The Crater Rim Drive takes visitors around the dormant crater, with plenty of places to park and walk around, and the Chain of Craters Road takes visitors down the volcano to the ocean and the hike to the lava flows. To really get a feel for this dynamic and fascinating landscape, you'll definitely want to spend some time outside of the car, and there are a number of trails to suit anyone from the casual day-tripper to the dedicated hiker.
—Laura Connors, NPCA
If You Go
Parts of the park are considered rain forest. It does rain fairly frequently there, so you’ll want to have a lightweight raincoat or umbrella.
Some areas, particularly around the Crater Rim Drive, emit noxious fumes (this is an active volcanic area), so pay attention to the signs, particularly if you have any respiratory difficulties.
It is usually possible to hike from the end of Chain of Craters Road to a point where you can see the lava flowing into the ocean. This several-mile hike, which goes over jagged volcanic rock, varies in length depending on the site of the lava flow, so make sure to have very sturdy shoes. Also, if you plan to either hike out (or stay out until) dark—which is the best time to view the lava flows—make sure to bring a flashlight. There is no artificial lighting on the Chain of Craters Road or the hike to the lava views, and the nights are very dark!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has among the highest number (54) of threatened and endangered plants and animals in the National Park System, largely due to non-native species, which the National Park Service is working aggressively to eradicate. But because of a lack of funding, the park can only actively monitor and protect four (out of 54) species that it identifies as flagship species: the hawksbill turtle, Hawaiian petrel, Hawaiian goose, and Mauna Loa silversword plant.
Air pollution is among the most serious threats to national parks. The National Park Service has established the NPS air quality webcam network to show “live” digital images of more than a dozen parks. Click here to see current air conditions at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.