One of the great things about the Big Island is the diversity. With enough land to fit in all of the other islands - twice - the Big Island encompasses the high majority of the world's climates. Spanning one climate of its own, Hawaii Volcano National Park makes a home in a chilly climate with a different flora and fauna than the rest of the island. Encompassing 350 acres of varied entertainment, the park is a destination within itself that shouldn't be missed on any Big Island visit.
From either of the main visitor destinations such as Kona or Hilo, it should take a little over an hour to get to the park by car. Start with breakfast on either side of the island so that you're content for the ride. Once you're inside the park's borders, which costs $10 per vehicle and $5 per individual, you'll have plenty of options.
Hale Ma'uma'u Crater — Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt
If you have just an hour or two, explore the summit of Kilauea volcano while cruising along Crater Rim Drive. You'll pass lush tropical rainforest, see the still-erupting summit caldera and be able to explore several scenic stops and short walks. Dropping by the Jaggar Museum is always a satisfying visit, as it presents a holistic account of the park and its past.
For those with two to four hours, enjoy the Crater Rim Drive experience but also explore the East Rift Zone and the coastal area of the park along Chain or Craters Road. Descending nearly 4,000 feet in just 18 miles, ending where a 2003 lava flow crossed the road near old Kalapana Village, the road and lava flow is always changing. There isn't any food, water or gas along this road, so you must approach it prepared.
Where lava meets the ocean — Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt
If you're the hiking type and want to get out of the car and explore on foot, you'll have over 150 miles of trails to tackle. Here are your hiking options:
Stroll on a paved path where an ohi`a forest was burned by Kilauea Iki's 1959 eruption. Plants are finally returning to this desolate, but intriguing landscape. This is about a half-mile-long hike one way.
You'll descend 400 feet through native rainforest into a volcano crater and hike across a frozen lava lake still steaming from the old 1959 eruption. This is about a four-mile loop trail.
Pu`u Huluhulu Cinder Cone
Pass over the 1969-1974 lava flows to a viewing area on a 210-foot cinder cone. If the weather is good, you can see the East Rift Zone and other sites. It's about a three-mile round trip hike.
Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs
Take a one-and-a-half-mile hike to see Hawaiian art etched in stone. The rocks are very fragile, so be careful out here.
You probably never thought about hiking to sulphur banks, but here's your chance. You can see where the volcanic gases emerge from the Earth and deposit sulphur crystals and other minerals on rocks along this paved trail. It's about .4 miles one way.
Thurston Lava Tube
Walking through a tunnel through the Earth, you'll pass through a lush rainforest while exploring the 550-year-old lava tube. Restrooms and water can be found here, and it's about a half-mile loop trail.