Active Lava Flows Delight Island Visitors
Perhaps no site in Hawaii is more spectacular than Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Lava has been erupting from the volcano almost constantly since 1983, and when the lava flows into the sea it provides a spectacular sight.
At the summit of Kilauea Volcano are monumental craters, constantly active steam vents, and huge lava tubes.
Kilauea Volcano has covered nearly 40 square miles of the Big Island with lava in the last few decades, and hundreds of homes have been destroyed. These lava flows are also making the island bigger – more than 10 acres have been added to the island in the last three decades.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Highlights
Chain of Craters Road—Descending from the summit to the sea, the Chain of Craters Road has repeatedly been blocked by lava flows, and more than 9 miles of the road have been covered. The section of the road that remains drivable is a lava extravaganza!
The Summit Caldera—At the top of Kilauea Volcano is a 2.5 mile diameter caldera that is 400 feet deep. Within the caldera is a pit crater called Halemaumau which is about 3,000 feet across and more than 280 feet deep. Sulfur fumes steam up from the crater’s mineral-encrusted black rock floor. This is where the legendary volcano goddess Pele protects her sacred fires.
Petroglyphs—Pu‘u Lo‘a Petroglyph Area is an amazing collection of petroglyphs, which are rock carvings that date to ancient times. These petroglyphs represent voyaging canoes, people, and the events of pre-contact Hawaii.
Crater Rim Drive—Circling the summit caldera of Kilauea Volcano, Crater Rim Drive is a wonder-filled road that goes by lava tubes, steaming sulfur banks, steam vents, and pit craters—it is kind of like being on the moon!
Kilauea Iki Crater—This crater in the summit area put on an amazing fire show in 1959 when lava shot 1,900 feet into the air, the highest recorded in Hawaii. Today it is a great hiking area providing up close and personal views of the aftermath of a volcanic eruption!
Lava Trees and Kipuka—In areas where lava has engulfed whole forests, sometime tree molds form as reminders of the event—it is like a ghost town of trees. Kipuka are areas of lush growth surrounded completely by lava flows.
Rainforests—All around the summit area of Kilauea Volcano are lush rainforests that support rare native habitat including beautiful ohia lehua trees, huge tree ferns, and rare tropical plants that grow on these cool and wet, high volcanic slopes which have not recently been covered by lava.
Lava Tubes and Skylights—When flowing lava cools on the surface there may still be molten lava flowing beneath. When the flow beneath stops it may drain completely away leaving a lava tube. Some huge lava tubes may be seen near Kilauea’s summit, including the Thurston Lava Tube which is open for public hiking.
Skylights—When the walls of a lava tube become very thin and the roof collapses, it may open a viewing window to the molten earth flowing beneath—it’s like glimpsing into the inner workings of the Earth.
Educational Exhibits—The Visitor Center at Volcanoes National Park, and also the Jaggar Museum along Crater Rim Drive provide great educational exhibits about volcanoes and about the park in general.
Volcano House Hotel—This historic structure set atop the rim of the volcano offers spectacular views of the steaming summit crater. The fireplace is always burning (it is a tradition), providing a cozy place to relax. There is also a very nice restaurant with great volcanic views.
Hiking—Great trails traverse the park including the 6 mile Halemaumau Trail, the 11-mile Crater Rim Trail, the 1/3-mile walk through Thurston Lava Tube, and a great 5 mile hike down into Kilauea Iki Crater. There are also plenty of other hikes that offer even more adventures through this amazing landscape which varies from desolate lava flows to dense rainforests.
Lava Flowing Into the Sea—Exploding as it hits the water, molten lava puts on quite a show flowing down the side of the volcano and entering the sea. This is how the material for nearby black sand beaches is created. Huge steam clouds shoot up from the area where the lava flows enter the ocean.