Hawaii, Itinerary

How to Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in One Day

The Big Island of Hawaii is not only known for its colorful sand beaches and its stunning waterfalls but mainly because it is home to the most dynamic national park in the US, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is renowned for having one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and the largest subaerial volcano in the world, Mauna Loa. I don’t know about you guys but I don’t need a volcanologist to tell me that’s pretty awesome!

If you’ve been following my blog for quite sometime, then you should know that I love all things national park. So exploring Hawaii Volcanoes is definitely a no-brainer. Despite not having the best weather during our trip (it rained a lot), we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the island and part of it is because of this national park. The park encompasses over 300 thousand acres of land and offers over 100 miles of hiking trails. A few days should probably do the trick but if you’re like us and only have a limited time in the island, a day trip would be more appropriate. 

Early Morning: 

  • Hike the Kilauea Iki Trail (4 miles RT; Difficulty – medium)

How cool would it be to walk across a once-molten lake of lava? Start your day early and hike the Kilauea Iki Trail. The trail takes about 2-3 hours to finish and begins at the Kīlauea Iki parking lot on Crater Rim Drive. The trail will lead you through a lush rain forest where you can get a glimpse of the crater via the overlook and then down to its still-steaming crater floor. Like with most hikes that I do, it’s best to start the hike early in the morning to beat the heat and avoid the crowds. Always be prepared for any sudden changes in weather condition (bring protection from sun and rain) and oh, don’t forget to bring water and snacks.

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Photo via Flickr by TaylorandAyumi

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Photo via Flickr by TaylorandAyumi

Before Noon:

  • Walk inside a Lava Tube (1/3 mile; Difficulty – easy)

One of the main attractions in the park is the Thurston Lava Tube. This lava tube dates back to 350-500 years and was named after Lorrin Thurston, a local news publisher who discovered it. So what exactly is a lava tube? “A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. Tubes can be actively draining lava from a volcano during an eruption, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled and left a long, cave-like channel.” Pretty interesting, right? The best time to to explore this lava tube is before noon. We made a mistake of coming here late in the afternoon and it was too crowded! Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this unique experience. Don’t forget to stop and listen while you walk through the tree fern forest. You might hear one or two red apapane birds chirping away.

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Afternoon:

  • Stroll through the Sulphur Banks trail (1.2 mile RT; Difficulty- easy)

After lunch, you can either check out the Kilauea Visitor Center for some souvenirs or you can stroll through the Sulphur Banks trail. It is an easy and short hike that is accessible from the Visitor Center parking lot. This place, also called Ha’akulamanu or “gathering place for birds”, is well known for its steaming cracks and vibrant mineral deposits. Although the fumes were a bit overwhelming at times, it was still a nice filler hike before we ended our day at the Jaggar museum. Just a little bit of caution: visitors with breathing and heart problems, pregnant women and young children should avoid this area due to hazardous volcanic fumes.

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Evening:

  • Catch the glow of Halemaumau crater

One of the best things you can do in the park is catch the glow of Halemaumau crater from the Jaggar museum. The museum has a great display of equipments used by scientists, working seismographs, clothing and gear exhibits from scientists who got a bit too close to the lava. “The overlook offers the best views of the volcano and interpretative displays about Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.” [.] This is one of the best memories I have of the Big Island. It’s not everyday we get to see an active crater up close..And to think we almost went home without seeing it! It rained a lot during our visit and the fog was really thick throughout the whole afternoon. We were worried that it wouldn’t clear up but good thing we stayed past sunset because we were rewarded with incredible views of the crater. Although this isn’t the place where you get to see the actual lava flow, I loved the experience anyway. But if you really want to see the actual lava flow, you can do so by either going on a helicopter tour, boat tour or guided hike tour.

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Photo via Flickr by Sodai Gomi

Cover Photo via Flickr by Sodai Gomi

Alternative:

  • Drive Chain of Crater’s Road

If you don’t feel like hiking, a great alternative is to drive the Chain of Crater’s road. The 18 mile scenic drive has several scenic stops and side trails to keep you busy throughout the day. Among the stops are: Lua Manu Crater, Hilina Pali Road, Pauahi Crater, Mauna Ulu, Mauna Flow, Mau Loa, Kealakomo Lookout, Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs and Holei Sea Arch. For more information about each stops, visit this link: Chain of Crater’s Road.

Tip: Make sure you stock up on some food and gas before you do this drive. Bad news: There are no gas stations and shops along the road. Good news: public restrooms are available at the bottom end of the road.

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Photo via Flickr by Robert Linsdell

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day

Photo via Flickr by Daveynin

Things to know before you go:

  • Address:1 Crater Rim Drive Hawaii National Park, HI 96718
  • Phone No:(808) 985-6000
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24/7, including ALL holidays.
  • Park entrance for private vehicles is $20 and is valid for 7 days. If you have the national parks pass ($80 – annual pass), don’t forget to bring it! America the Beautiful passes are accepted here.
  • For more information, pls visit their official website: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day


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68 Comments

  1. Katie

    September 16, 2016 at 8:41 am

    Beautiful photos! Love those misty Sulphur Banks Trail. When I make it to Hawaii one day, this national park would definitely make my must-see list, too!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks Katie! Same here, I actually liked that trail. It was easy and enjoyable despite the fumes. Hope you get to visit this park someday! 🙂

  2. Jamie Dalton

    September 16, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    How cool!!! This looks like it was so much fun!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Thanks Jamie! It really was fun. It rained a lot during our visit but I loved it anyway

  3. Bryony Clapperton (travelsandmore)

    September 16, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Pictures are amazing. Can’t believe you were able to experience this much in one day. Halemaumau looks incredible I’ve only ever seen lava once from a distance in Gutemala so this would really blow my mind. The idea of a lava tube sounds so cool and so terrifying! Thanks for sharing your amazing experiences!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you Bryony! It’s definitely a good itinerary for people who are short on time in the island. We were so busy during the week that we only could squeeze one day here. It was well worth it though! Thanks for sharing your experience in Guatemala. Must’ve been pretty cool too! Thank you for stopping by. x

  4. Thuymi

    September 16, 2016 at 10:17 pm

    Your pictures look amazing. Good to know you can visit it in a day. I never have visited any volcanos before, going to Hawaii next year, would be good to see how we can fit this in.
    http://www.AdventureFaktory.com

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      Thank you Thuymi! Yeah, I didnt think we could do so much during our visit although we did miss out on a few things. Have fun when you visit Hawaii nxt year!

  5. Kallsy Page

    September 16, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    YES! Been hoping for someone to post about the difficulty of the trails here. As avid hikers, my husband and I are always looking for ways to push ourselves!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      Awesome! Glad I was able to share some info about the trails here. My husband and I are the same, we love hiking but we haven’t gone out in awhile. I really miss it!

  6. Jenn and Ed Coleman

    September 16, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    I have always love volcanoes and caves. Your trip combines them both together. I really appreciate how you put it together into a one day trip. I could certainly imagine ourselves doing this one. Thank you for an excellent and informative post.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      Not a problem Jenn and Ed! I’m certain that you guys will love Hawaii Volcanoes NP! I like that there’s so much to do but still enjoy it even if you only have a day.

  7. Christina

    September 17, 2016 at 4:08 am

    An informative and useful post about how to get the best out of a day trip. Those lava tubes look really interesting. It has been awhile since I’ve visited Hawaii’s Big Island. It’s such a beautiful spot!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      It was! That’s one of my favorite attractions in the park too. Can you believe the lava tube is almost 500 yrs old?

  8. Jennifer

    September 17, 2016 at 6:50 am

    I’m a bit obsessed with volcanoes, especially erupting ones. I did an awesome hike in Italy up Stromboli to see the spewing lava and I’d love to see more active volcanoes. The guided hike up Halemaumau sounds right up my alley.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      Ooh I’ve never seen an erupting one. That must’ve been scary and cool at the same time to see the spewing lava in Italy. I think you will definitely enjoy the hike especially if you see the lava up close.

  9. Megan Jerrard

    September 17, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is on my list!!! Your photos are AMAZING! We were in Hawaii for my wedding, but stuck to just Maui. And we didn’t really have time to do much sightseeing because there were family everywhere, and it was stressful etc. So I would love to get back. Big Island mainly for this, and then maybe some island hopping after that 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Thank you Meg! Ooh you will love the Big Island especially Hawaii Volcanoes NP! I actually wanted to go to Maui but we’ll save that for next year. I’ve only been to Kauai and the Big Island and although the Big Island is nice, I still love Kauai the most. Wish I could do some island hopping too.

  10. Natalia

    September 17, 2016 at 9:16 am

    That is quite exciting and extreme experience! Though your pictures look gorgeous, I admire your courage to enter the Lava Tube))

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      It wasnt actually scary to enter the lava tube. It’s actually more interesting than scary. Thanks for stopping by Natalia 🙂

  11. noel

    September 17, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Those are all very doable in one day, done many of these regularly since I live on the Big Island, great post!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      Oh nice! That’s so awesome that you live in Hawaii. I actually want to move there haha *wishful thinking* Thanks Noel!

  12. Drew

    September 17, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I would love to do this. I’ve been to Oahu, but have always wanted to visit Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island! I would definitely spend at least a few days there hiking, and the urge to see the lava flow by helicopter would be awfully tempting too.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Ive never been to Oahu yet. But Maui and Oahu are on my list next time I visit Hawaii. I wish we were able to do that helicopter tour. But the view from the Jaggar Museum wasnt too bad. Happy travels Drew!

  13. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

    September 17, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    I’d definitely be into the scenic drive. The landscape looks incredible. As much as I love to hike, I’d be nervous about the sulphur fumes. Unfortunately, they usually make me sick. 🙁

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 17, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Aw yeah it was a bit pungent so maybe its not a good idea for you but I’m sure you will enjoy the scenic drive. You’ll love the views and there’s also a few short trails you can do like the Thurston Lava Tube.

  14. Tami

    September 17, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    You got me with those photos of the glow of Halemaumau crater! So beautiful–I would love to experience that in person. Acts of nature like that are both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Thanks for a well-documented and illustrated post!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      Isnt it beautiful? I was so amazed at what I was seeing. Nature is truly fascinating! No problem Tami. Glad you liked the post.

  15. Leyla

    September 17, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    your photos are fantastic! I have not vist Hawaii, but when i do I’d love to see this Park.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:02 pm

      Thanks so much Leyla for stopping by. x

  16. Anne Slater-Brooks

    September 18, 2016 at 12:09 am

    This just looks so other worldy and I love the idea of the lava tube. Nature at its finest!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:03 pm

      I had no idea what a lava tube was until I visited this park. It just goes to show that traveling teaches us so many things.

  17. mark wyld

    September 18, 2016 at 12:21 am

    The descent into the lava tube looks amazing. What an amazing landscape to explore and see. In Australia no active Volcanoes so this sort of attraction would certainly be foreign to us. Amazing pictures they really bought the story to life

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      It was pretty crowded the first time we went so we circled it another time and found an opportunity to take that shot without the crowd. I’m sure you guys will love exploring this part of the US.

  18. Natasha Amar

    September 18, 2016 at 2:21 am

    As a hiker who loves striking landscapes, this itinerary sounds amazing. The Kilauea Iki Trail looks especially great!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      High five girl! I love hiking too and striking landscapes. 😀 Thanks for liking the itinerary that I put together. Hope it serves its purpose when you visit the park for yourself someday.

  19. Aga

    September 18, 2016 at 3:51 am

    I’ve never been to a place like this one. I will have to make my way to that side of the world soon. Looks like a very interesting place to visit, especially the Thurston Lava Tube caught my attention.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      Yes, definitely! It’s a pretty unique and remarkable place to visit. The thurston lava tube is interesting and only a fraction of what the park offers.

  20. Jen

    September 18, 2016 at 4:13 am

    Thank you for putting together this helpful guide to seeing the best the park has to offer in one day!! I would love to do your itinerary. Sounds like a great mix of hiking difficulties, and the views look incredible!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      Not a problem at all Jen. Glad you liked the itinerary that I put together. I figured its much better to do a mix of hiking difficulties to have a better feel for the place.

  21. Edith Rodriguez

    September 18, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Hawaii is definitely one of the places hubby and I most want to visit and exploring the volcanoes is one of the things that gets our attention about going. Had never heard of a lava tube but we’ll definitely add it to the list the day we visit.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      Same here! I’ve never heard of a lava tube until we visited the park. It’s just a short trail but very interesting place to visit for sure!

  22. Arzo Travels

    September 18, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Hawaii is very high on my list and I definitely wanna visit. Never thought of walking inside a Lava Tube though- sounds great.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      I love Hawaii! I always try to visit a different island every year. Hope you get to experience it for yourself too. 🙂

  23. Anna Lysakowska

    September 18, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    I missed these when I was in Hawaii – gotta go back and rediscover everything 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      I missed quite a few things too when I visited the Big Island and Kauai. Did you get to do the Napali Coast hike?

  24. Carolin

    September 18, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Hawaii!! It’s been on my bucket list for forever, it looks like it’s another world with the volcanoes, wow, can’t wait to go, fingers crossed next year! 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      Hope you get to visit soon Carolin! You will love Hawaii!

  25. priya

    September 18, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    We were there in Volcanoes National Park a few years ago and did a similar route. We didnt go inside the lava tube since our kids were little – it was really cool to see your pictures! Great itinerary.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Thanks Priya! It’s pretty cool right? I love how dynamic the park is. Glad to know you guys experienced it as well.

  26. Holly

    September 18, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    This is pretty awesome. I have yet to get to Hawaii, but this would be epic.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Thanks Holly! Happy travels. x

  27. Mar Pages

    September 18, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    Thats a lot of walking for a day! But of course its super exciting, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a lava tube. Definitely will visit (in the morning!)

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      Haha I know right? We didnt mind it though. We were definitely excited to be there so we wanted to see a lot during our trip.

  28. Sia

    September 18, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Would be a one of a kind experience to walk across a lake of lava indeed! The lava tunnel looks surreal and probably a bit scary for people that are afraid of closed spaces. This is the second post for the day I read about Hawaii and kinda want to go there as soon as possible now!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      Right?? It’s certainly a one of a kind experience! You should check out Hawaii soon Sia!

  29. Claire

    September 19, 2016 at 2:24 am

    There is something incredible about volcanoes! And to see one so close up is a very special experience. I forget Hawaii is volcanic, I saw some lava tunnels in the Galapagos but would love to visit Hawaii one day to see the volcanoes there!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Oh cool! I didnt know that the Galapagos has lava tunnels too. Interesting! Thanks for sharing Claire

  30. Tamara - @ Girlswanderlust

    September 19, 2016 at 11:51 am

    This is going on my bucketlist! Great article, thank you for the tips. And beautiful photos.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:26 pm

      Aw thanks Tamara! Glad you liked the article. I really loved visiting this park so it was nice to revisit it again through this blog post.

  31. Kenny

    September 19, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks for the tips and I wonder if it would be any difference for joining a tour or visiting the park by self?

    @knycx.journeying.com

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      I think it all depends on the person. Personally, I like going to places on my own so I can go at my own pace but if the place I really want to see requires a tour of some sort for you to be able to see it, then I wouldnt mind joining a tour. 🙂

  32. Vyjay

    September 19, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    This is a lovely post and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it. I am fascinated by Volcanoes and find them one of the most stunning natural phenomena on earth. Hawaii, is really a treasure trove of natural wonders, ranging from exotic islands and beaches to volcanoes. I almost imagined myself walking through the Volcano tube and found it really amazing.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 20, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      Thanks so much Vyjay! I’m happy that you liked the post! You’re definitely right about that. Hawaii is a unique, treasure trove of natural wonders. One of my favorite places to visit!

  33. Rishabh

    September 20, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    Lovely Photos! This surely looks like an enticing place to visit! Thanks for sharing! Would you recommend visiting as a group or on our own?

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 29, 2016 at 1:56 am

      Thanks so much!! Glad you like the post. I recommend visiting on your own unless you want to do some activities that require group tours. We loved going at our own pace so not doing a tour worked out well for us. Hope that helps!

  34. Pedro

    September 21, 2016 at 2:26 am

    This is the 3rd post about Hawaii I read today. I guess this means something, right? The Kilauea Trail hike is definitely the kind of thing I like to do.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 29, 2016 at 1:56 am

      It just means you have to visit Hawaii too Pedro!!

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