Well, it used to be and it wasn’t even that long ago. Unfortunately, you cannot currently see lava flowing at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, at least not cheaply or easily. I’ll be honest, that news broke my heart a little when I heard it. Before coming to the Big Island I imagined myself kneeling dangerously close to some slowly oozing lava. I wanted to get a picture of it dripping down the mountain or falling into the ocean. Pele and I were going to be besties. I just knew it.
But the last bit of lava flowing into the ocean stopped in 2013. I missed it by two years.
Fortunately, there are still plenty of other interesting things to see at Volcanoes National Park, and a $15 entrance fee gets you in for 7 days. There is a road that goes through the park called Chain of Craters Road. It’s a little over 20 miles long with several overlooks and small hikes along the route. We’ve spent the last few days exploring. Here are our recommendations:
Hike across Kilauea Iki crater. It’s only a 4 mile hike, but you do have to get down into the crater so it’s a bit of a workout. After all, what goes up must come down or, when hiking, what goes down must climb back out again. The crater floor is like some crazy badlands. I spent the hike imagining myself in some dystopian western. Patrick imagined himself adventuring to an evil lord’s spooky castle. I think he mentioned Conan at one point.
Hike Ha’akulamanu (Sulfur Banks). My second favorite hike was actually an incredibly easy hike. It starts at the visitor center, and your grandmother could probably manage it. The rocks here are colorful and sulfur-scented steam billows up all around the trail. At the end you get to a overlook of the Halema’uma’u caldera.
See ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs. Pu’u Loa is a short hike along the Chain of Craters Road. It’s a bit rocky, but not terribly difficult. Neither of us were particularly excited about this hike, but it turned out to be pretty interesting. You get to see quite a few petroglyphs.
Watch the Volcano Glow. This is far and away the highlight of any visit to Volcanoes National Park (Show ’nuff!). Kilauea has been erupting since 1983. Currently there are two active areas (although the park constantly updates their information here). One is in Pu’u O’o, which is outside the park and on private land. You can’t really see it unless you hire a helicopter. The other place is at Halema’uma’u crater, which you can see from Jaggar Museum inside the park. The park stays open 24 hours a day specifically so you can watch the glow all night if you so desire. It’s awesome, and worth every penny of the $15 you paid to get in.
Volcano Winery. So this isn’t actually inside the park, and doesn’t really have much to do with volcanoes. It is, however, a great place to stop after a day of hiking. The winery is located just outside of the national park. They offer wine samplings of 7 wines for $5, including some Hawaiian wines made with guava or macadamia nut honey. It ended up being quite a bit of wine. Fortunately, they also have cheese plates for sale.