Unsurprisingly, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on Hawaiʻi Island is one of the state’s most popular attractions.

This incredible landscape is home to two massive volcanoes – Kīlauea being one of the world’s most active – and stretches from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa, one of the world’s largest. Sprawling across 333,259 acres on the island's southeastern side, the park is one of the most dynamic and diverse in the US.

Its ever-changing landscape boasts an assortment of terrain, from lush rainforests and barren lava fields to a volcano often dusted with snow every winter. Yes, even in Hawaiʻi!

So grab those hiking boots and binoculars and use our insider guide to get the most out of your first trip to this unique national park.

Illustrated map of Hawaii
© Michael Parkin, Folio Art

When is the best time to visit Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park? 

There isn’t an especially bad time to visit the park, which sees nearly two million visitors annually. The weather on the Islands doesn’t vary much, with temperatures fluctuating between 66-85°F throughout the year. Winter and early spring, though, tend to be rainier and cooler than other times of the year and hurricane season runs from June to November, which can mean tropical storms, whipping winds and torrential rain.

The busiest travel seasons in Hawaiʻi are summer and winter – summer is peak vacation time for families and winter lures travelers eager to escape colder climes. Expect more people on trails and longer waits for parking during these periods.

Spring and fall are slower travel months and ideal times to visit the park. Trekking conditions are much more comfortable without the intense summer heat and you’ll likely find better airfare prices and hotel rates at nearby hotels. The park does get a surge of visitors during spring break and around the weekend of the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, a week-long hula competition based in Hilo around late March or early April.

Tuesday is the busiest day at the park – pick another day if at all possible. This is when the Pride of America, a cruise ship that sails around the Islands, docks in Hilo. Many of its 2000 passengers head to the national park, hitting popular stops like the Kīlauea Visitor Center, the Kīlauea Iki Trail, and Nāhuku (otherwise known as Thurston Lava Tube). Winter brings yet more cruise ships to Hawaiʻi Island as thousands of North Pacific humpback whales migrate annually from Alaska to the warmer waters surrounding the Islands.

Though Kīlauea stopped erupting on Sept 16, 2023, the volcano still attracts visitors despite no visible lava fountains or flows. And it’s likely it will erupt again – the Puʻuʻōʻō eruption, which began in 1983 and lasted 35 years, ranks as the longest and most voluminous known outpouring of lava from Kīlauea’s east rift zone in more than 500 years. “If there is an eruption,” says Jessica Ferracane, the park’s spokesperson, “it is busy all day, every day, especially if it’s at the summit of Kīlauea.”

Planning tip: The park is currently undergoing a big disaster recovery project following the 2018 Kīlauea eruption and summit collapse. There could be temporary area closures, lane closures, reduced parking and other limited services for the next two years. Check the park website to check for construction closures and delays

Find out everything you need to know about what's happening in Hawaii throughout the year in our guide to the best time to visit the Aloha State

How much time should I plan to spend at the park?

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park may not be as huge as Alaska’s 13.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve – larger than Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park and Switzerland combined – but it does stretch from sea level to the summit of 13,681-ft Mauna Loa and across seven different ecological zones. You’ll need at least a full day to explore all the best parts of the park but two days are even better. 

Park staff recommend that visitors arrive by sunrise to hit the park’s most popular trails first – it's open 24 hours to allow everyone to maximize their time. Dusk is also a wonderful time to go exploring – the lack of light pollution provides dark skies that are perfect for stargazing.

There are a variety of hikes within the national park, from the easy 1.2-mile Kīpukapuaulu Trail to the challenging backcountry treks up Mauna Loa that can take two days. And having an extra day means you can visit the park’s quieter and less crowded Kahuku Unit on the southerly slopes of Mauna Loa. This 116,000-acre former ranchland is about an hour's drive from the Kīlauea Visitor Center and is open to the public five days a week. You can hike to the top of an old cinder cone, trek through a pristine Hawaiian rainforest or bike through scenic pastures with panoramic views of the ranchlands.

The tiny town of Volcano Village just outside the park is also well worth a visit, with its laid-back eateries and food trucks, art galleries, and a vineyard and winery.

Is it easy to get in and around the park?

The nearest airport is Hilo International, about 30 miles northeast of the park (you can fly into the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole, but the drive from Kailua-Kona will take about two hours). Getting to the park from Hilo is easy – take Route 11 (Hawaiʻi Belt Road) west until you reach the main entrance. The drive takes about 45 minutes.

Hele-On Bus is the island’s only public bus service, operated by Hawaiʻi County. The No. 11 Red Line runs between Hilo and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, stopping daily at the Kīlauea Visitor Center. The bus schedule is subject to change, so check ahead. There is no public transportation or shuttle service within the park, so you’ll need a car to get around.

Two women walking across a rocky landscape with cliffs in the background
Hiking on the Kilauea Iki Trail © Maridav / Shutterstock

Top things to do at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Kīlauea Iki Trail

One of the most popular hikes in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is the 4-mile roundtrip Kīlauea Iki Trail. The terrain is varied – it starts in a forest of native ʻōhiʻa trees and hapuʻu (Hawaiian tree fern) and ends with a walk across an otherworldly crater floor – and it’s short enough to complete in a few hours, giving you plenty of time to visit other parts of the park.

The trailhead is at an overlook of the crater formed from an eruption in 1959 that was marked by fountaining lava over a half-mile long and a plume reaching a world-record 1900ft high. The first part of the trail is a descent through a lush rainforest lined with native ʻōhiʻa and koa trees. Look for the white-rumped ʻapapanae, a nectarivorous Hawaiian honeycreeper, often found flitting from tree to tree. The switchbacks end at the crater floor, a vast moonscape that sharply contrasts with the surrounding native forests.


This lava tube – also known as Thurston Lava Tube – was created by a river of 2000°F (1093°C) molten lava about 500 years ago. Discovered in 1913, this massive lava cave is very accessible, with a flat rock floor and ceiling height of more than 20ft in places. Electric lights illuminate most of the path, though you may want to bring a flashlight – it takes about 20 minutes to stroll through the tube. The rainforest that surrounds Nāhuku is brimming with native birds, including the scarlet ʻiʻiwi, a Hawaiian honeycreeper listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Hōlei Sea Arch

At the end of the Chain of Craters Road – about 18 miles from the Kīlauea Visitor Center – is the Hōlei Sea Arch, a 90-ft-tall rock formation cut into the cliff of an ancient lava flow about 550 years ago. In 2020, the park opened a new viewing area about 1000ft past the gate at the end of the road and set back away from the cliff edge.

Puʻuloa Petroglyphs

There’s an area of Pānau Nui on the southern flank of Kīlauea with numerous pecked images, or petroglyphs, in the hardened lava. Puʻuloa, which translates to “long hill” in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (the Hawaiian language), is a sacred place to Native Hawaiians. The archaeological site here boasts more than 23,000 petroglyphs – the largest collection in Hawaiʻi – with motifs of circles, canoe sails, human forms, feathered capes and other geometric shapes.

Devastation Trail

This half-mile hike is suitable for everyone as it's wheelchair and stroller accessible. The paved path meanders through a stark yet beautiful landscape buried by falling cinder from lava fountains of the 1959 Kīlauea Iki eruption. You might find volcanic debris in the form of glass-like droplets and strands called Pele’s Tears and Pele’s Hair, respectively, named after the revered Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. Nēnē (Hawaiian geese) frequent this area; refrain from feeding or interacting with this threatened species.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park forest
The park's protected forests allow the native bird species to thrive in peace © Westend61 / Getty Images

My favorite thing to do at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Unfortunately, there aren’t many places in Hawaiʻi where you find native forest birds anymore. Their populations have plummeted due to habitat destruction, predators like feral cats, mongoose and non-native mosquitoes that spread avian pox and avian malaria.

But at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, where native habitats are protected and able to thrive, you can see – and hear – a variety of these special birds, from the friendly ʻelepaio (Hawaiian flycatcher) to the elusive ʻōmaʻo (Hawaiian thrush), which can only be found in the montane rainforests on Hawaiʻi Island. The bright orange ʻākepa, an endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper with an odd-shaped beak, can be spotted in the high-elevation forests of the park’s Kahuku Unit. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the endemic ʻio, the only hawk species native to Hawaiʻi.

I love wandering along the 1.2-mile Kīpukapuaulu Trail, an easy loop through pristine native forestland in an area known as a “bird park.” A kīpuka is an area of land that’s surrounded by younger lava flows, like an “island” within a sea of lava. There are more native tree species per acre here than any other forest in the national park, which means you’ll find native forest birds that rely on the native trees that grow here.

How much money do I need?

Park entry costs $30 for a private car, $25 for a motorcycle, and $15 for pedestrians and cyclists. The park has gone cashless, so payment has to be made with debit or credit cards in person or online.

If you're also planning to visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park near Kailua-Kona or Haleakalā National Park on Maui, consider buying the Hawaiʻi Tri-Park Annual Pass for $55. This allows you to enter all three of these parks in a single, private vehicle.

The National Park Service offers free admission to everyone on the following days: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week in April, Juneteenth, the Great American Outdoors Act, National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day.

Average costs at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

  • Basic room for two at Volcano House: $80 to $385 per night
  • Airbnb in Volcano: $150 average per night
  • Cup of coffee: $3.50
  • Midrange meal: $15-$20 per person
  • Local beer: $10
  • Gas (regular) in Hilo: $4.81 per gallon
Petroglyphs carved into a rock
It's important to be respectful of the culturally significant sites within the park © mhgstan / Shutterstock

How to travel in the park consciously

With two active volcanoes and ongoing construction to repair damage caused by the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, it’s important to stay on marked trails and overlooks and keep out of closed areas. And no matter what you may have seen on social media, please leave the rocks alone and unstacked. Park staff often use ahu (stacked rocks) to mark trails; it’s not an invitation to do the same. Not only is it culturally insensitive but it can be disorienting to hikers who rely on the ahu to guide them along trails. It’s also long believed that taking lava rocks brings bad luck. Hundreds of people return rocks they’ve taken from the park every year.

There are many culturally significant sites within the park, itself a Unesco World Heritage Site. These include petroglyphs, historic trails, fossilized footprints, shelter caves, heiau (Hawaiian temples) and stone walls of canoe sheds and corrals. Many of these sites are listed in the National Register of Historic Places – please be respectful when you get the chance to see them close up.

The land within the park is sacred to Native Hawaiians, with moʻolelo (stories) and mele (songs) tied to this area. They believe Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, lives in Halemaʻumaʻu Crater at the summit of Kīlauea. If you come across Native Hawaiians performing cultural rituals in the park, keep a respectful distance. Let them – and others – connect undisturbed with nature.

This article was first published Sep 14, 2021 and updated Apr 18, 2024.

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