Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park


Human History

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was created in 1916. That’s right, the park is currently celebrating its centennial celebration! This makes it a perfect time to visit. The park was awarded federal protection only a few years after the first Westerner’s experienced the park’s two volcanoes in 1823. William Ellis described his observation of one of the erupting volcanoes as “a spectacle, sublime and even appalling.” Indeed, although visitors can go up the volcanoes and appreciate their magnificent natural beauty, they are still technically active, and are therefore dangerous. The most recent eruption was in 2015 when the volcano Kīlauea erupted for three days straight. Kīlauea is actually erupting constantly in two locations: The first location is a vent within Halema’uma’u Crater, and the second is in the Pu’u ‘'Ō'ō vent which is on the east rift zone of Kīlauea. Viewing the molten lava spit and churn is an experience that locals revered and feared before Western settlement. In 1741, a group of warriors, women, and children went up to present offerings to the goddess. These Locals believed that the Kīlauea volcano housed Pele, the volcano goddess. Unfortunately, they got caught in a particularly fierce eruption. Many of the worshippers died in the lava flow. Visitors can still see footprints of survivors in the lava today.  This is still the largest eruption in the recent history of this geographic location.  

Go with the Flow: Volcanic History

It is established that the islands of Hawai’i were created by volcanic activity much like the kind seen in the park today—just on a larger scale. The park is located on the comparatively youngest section of the islands, which tops off at about 1 million years old. The oldest island is speculated to be about 6 million years old. Mauna Loa, with an elevation of 13,680 feet, is the largest active volcano apart from Yellowstone. Both of the active volcanoes in the park release more fluid than gas in their eruptions, causing the beautiful and bright rivers of molten lava flowing down from the steep sides of the volcanoes. Did you know that when the molted rock is still underground it’s called magma, and when it finally breaks into the open air it’s considered lava? Lava is typically 1,300 to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit; magma can be much hotter, so it’s wise to view the lava flows from a safe distance. There are two types of lava flows, and both are of Hawaiian origin! Pahoehoe (pronounced “paw-hoey-hoey”) forms into softer rolling rope-like structures, and is the result of slow and smooth lava flows on gentle slopes. Aa (pronounced “ah-ah”) is formed when lava makes a swift descent over steep terrain, and results in more chunky, sharp basaltic rocks that are not uniform in shape. You can see both in the park!


1. When is the park open?
Like most National Parks, Volcanoes is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The Kīlauea Visitor Center is staffed from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and the Jagger Museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. every day. 

2. Where should I stay?
Hawai’i is a relatively small series of islands, and so it’s possible to get to the park within two hours from nearly any location. That said, it is generally best to start your time in the park early. Staying close to the park will allow you to do so. There are many hotels and motels available in the surrounding area. One of the most well-reviewed facilities are the Volcano Country Cottages. Similar are the Hale Phia Cottages the Lotus Garden Cottages, and the Bamboo Orchid Cottage B&B. Follow this link for more suggestions:  https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60607-d75618-Reviews-s1-Volcano_Country_Cottages-Volcano_Island_of_Hawaii_Hawaii.html

3. What should I not miss when visiting the park?
One of the most popular things to do is to go on the Crater Rim Drive. This road (which is accessible with 2-wheel drive) will take you to the Kīlauea Visitor Center. When there, be sure to watch the 25 minute film “Born of Fire, Born of the Sea” which is shown on the hour from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. There are many scenic stop-offs on the drive. The first is the Jagger Museum, which has a great view of the caldera and Halema’uma’u. Kīlauea overlook, located a ways down from the Museum, offers a similar view. This overlook is also a picnic area! The Kīlauea overlook boasts one of the best views of the Caldera, and would be a shame to miss. Just .8 miles away from the visitor center are the Steam Vents. From there, you can walk a short trail to Steaming Bluff, which is right on the edge of the Caldera and offers an exciting traverse in a primordial landscape. Across the street from the trailhead to the Steaming Bluff is the trailhead to the Sulphur Banks. This is just a short overview of the views that are the most easily accessed. For a more complete list of the many trails, hikes, and natural wonders that the park has to offer, follow this link: https://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/craterrimtour.htm

4. What is the weather like in the park?
This may come as a surprise, but due to the high elevation of the volcanoes the weather is likely to be quite cool and rainy. Come with rain gear and comfortable walking and hiking shoes. 

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