If you’ve ever wanted to see lava flowing with your own eyes, Kilauea Visitor Center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will get you started on your journey.
Discover the Volcanoes of Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes Geography
Volcanoes National Park consists of over 500 square miles of land, with more than half of that designated for hiking and camping in the Hawaii Volcanoes Wilderness area.
Ranging from seaside cliffs and lava rock to the summit of the largest active volcano in Mauna Loa, the climate shifts significantly as you move through the area. Lush and tropical rain forests give way to the dry and unforgiving desert. Volcanoes boasts more than 150 miles of hiking trails through volcanic craters, stretches of desert, and dense rainforest areas.
While Mauna Loa dominates the geography, Kilauea is generally referred to as the world’s “drive-in volcano,” and has been erupting since 1983. Located between two volcanic rift zones, the potential for continued eruptions is very high.
Sightseeing and hiking are the primary activities in Volcano, but campgrounds and the area’s trails make for relatively easy access to many points in the park. Guided tours and scenic drives through the park provide spectacular views of the area – just be sure to gas up and stock up on snacks before you enter the park.
Major attractions include the Mt. Kilauea lava flow, the Thurston Lava Tube, and the Holei Sea Arch – all of which are accessible and within easy walking distance, but renting a bike and travelling on two wheels can speed up your tour.
The primary community in the region is Volcano Village, which is situated among the upland rainforest adjacent to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Despite the town’s tiny population, residents include artists, painters, glass blowers, and other craftspeople that make Volcano Village their home. Every Sunday, Cooper’s Center holds the local farmer’s market, where you can find vegetables, baked goods, artisan products, and fresh cut flowers.
Volcano Village offers a handful of shops, restaurants, and lodging, and if you want to stay in the closest possible proximity to the park, this area is one of your best options. The village isn’t equipped to handle a high level of tourists so booking lodging in advance is recommended. The town itself is a great little community that is certainly worth a stop on your way to or from the park. Stocking up on first aid, water, and food is a good idea before you head in (there aren’t many amenities in the park itself).
Kilauea is considered to be the home of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, prompting natives to visit the crater and bring offerings to the goddess. The first non-Hawaiian to experience the volcano was William Ellis in 1823, prompting Commander Charles Wilkes and his exploration party to make scientific observations along the summit of Mauna Loa and Kilauea almost twenty years later.
Due to the number of visitors to Kilauea, the first Volcano House was built in the 1840s. At an elevation of 4,000 feet, the building was placed on the rim of the caldera and made with thatch. Since then, a permanent hotel was constructed and periodically improved on an as-needed basis.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park became the nation’s 12th national park on August 1, 1916, despite Hawaii only having status as a U.S. Territory. Initially, only Mauna Loa and Kilauea were contained within the park’s borders, but they were later extended to include the Ka’u and Kalapana areas around Kilauea and the Kahuku and Ola’a rain forest along Mauna Loa.
In 1987, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), citing it for its scenic and scientific values.
Present Day Volcanoes
Largely influenced by the surrounding natural features and national parks, life around the Volcanoes is laid-back and casual. Residents include artisans, artists, farmers, and painters, many of which share their work with the community throughout the various shops. Much of the economy is built upon service industry positions, with restaurants and supply stops assisting the visiting population, which exceeds 1.8 million each year.