Hawai’i Volcanoes Overview

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, is a spectacular showcase of volcanic activity and ecological diversity. Located on the Big Island of Hawai’i, USA, this national park encompasses approximately 505.36 square miles (1,308.88 square kilometers), making it a vast area of protected land that includes two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. The park provides a unique opportunity for visitors to witness the creation and destruction of land in real-time, offering an unparalleled insight into the geological processes that shape our planet.

Established on August 1, 1916, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is not only a site of immense geological significance but also a place of profound cultural importance to the Native Hawaiian people. The park’s landscape is a living testament to the island’s volcanic birth and growth, featuring dramatic lava flows, craters, and calderas that tell the ongoing story of the Earth’s interior forces at work.

Kīlauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, provides visitors with the chance to see glowing lava flows, depending on the current level of volcanic activity. Mauna Loa, the world’s largest shield volcano, offers a different perspective with its massive bulk and extensive lava fields that have flowed down its flanks during eruptions.

Beyond its volcanic wonders, the park is home to diverse ecosystems that range from lush rainforests to barren desert-like landscapes, supporting unique flora and fauna adapted to the island’s varied environments. Hiking trails and scenic drives throughout the park allow for exploration of its natural and cultural treasures, including ancient petroglyphs and traditional Hawaiian sites.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is not just a place of natural beauty and geological fascination; it’s a site of ongoing scientific research and a sanctuary for preserving Hawai’i’s unique biodiversity and cultural heritage. It offers an unforgettable experience for those seeking to understand the powerful natural forces that continue to shape the Hawaiian Islands.

advertisement banner
Park Map
advertisement banner

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Highlights


Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, stands at an elevation of approximately 4,091 feet (1,247 meters) above sea level. In terms of size, Kīlauea covers a vast area, with its summit caldera spanning about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) in width and its sprawling volcanic terrain extending over 14,000 square miles (36,000 square kilometers).

This expansive volcanic landscape includes not only the summit caldera but also the surrounding rift zones and lava fields, making Kīlauea a significant geological feature of the island of Hawaii and a focal point of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The easiest volcano lava to see is typically from Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Kīlauea has been continuously erupting since 1983, making it relatively accessible for visitors to witness lava flows and other volcanic activity.

One of the most popular spots for viewing lava is from the Jaggar Museum overlook, where visitors can often see the glowing lava lake within Halema’uma’u Crater, especially at night.

Additionally, guided tours and hikes within the park offer opportunities to observe surface lava flows, lava tubes, and other volcanic features up close, providing memorable experiences for visitors seeking to witness the power and beauty of Hawaii’s active volcanoes.

Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is one of the most massive shield volcanoes on Earth, rising to an impressive elevation of approximately 13,678 feet (4,169 meters) above sea level.

It is also known for its immense size, with a summit caldera that spans about 6 miles (10 kilometers) in width and a total surface area that covers over 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers).

Visitors to Mauna Loa can experience this iconic volcano in various ways. They can embark on a challenging multi-day hike to the summit, traversing rugged terrain and ascending through diverse ecosystems from lush rainforests to barren volcanic landscapes.

Additionally, scenic drives and guided tours offer opportunities to explore the volcano’s lower slopes and witness its vast size and geological features, providing a deeper understanding of the island’s volcanic history and natural beauty.

Lava Tubes

Lava Tubes are natural tunnels formed by flowing lava during volcanic eruptions, and they are among the most fascinating geological features in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

These underground passageways provide visitors with a unique opportunity to explore the remnants of past volcanic activity. Some lava tubes in the park, such as Thurston Lava Tube, are easily accessible and illuminated for safe exploration.

Visitors can walk through these subterranean marvels, marveling at the smooth walls, intricate formations, and eerie silence within. Thurston Lava Tube, for example, stretches approximately 500 feet (152 meters) long and showcases captivating lava formations along its path.

Exploring lava tubes offers a glimpse into the powerful forces that have shaped the Hawaiian landscape over thousands of years and provides a memorable and educational experience for park visitors.

Although not known for wildlife, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a land of fire and flora, provides a unique ecosystem where visitors can encounter endemic wildlife that thrives amidst its volcanic landscapes and lush rainforests.

Nēnē – The endangered Nēnē, or Hawaiian Goose, is Hawaii’s state bird, adapted to life in the park with its strong feet, perfect for lava fields.

Hawaiian Hawk – Known as ʻIo in Hawaiian, this raptor is endemic to the islands, revered in Hawaiian culture, and seen soaring above the park’s diverse habitats.

Hawaiian Hoary Bat – The only native land mammal of Hawaii, the Hawaiian Hoary Bat, or ʻŌpeʻapeʻa, flits through the park’s night sky, feeding on insects.

Hawaiian Monk Seal – Rarely seen within the park, the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal occasionally hauls out on remote coastal areas to rest, a special sight for visitors.

Hawaiʻi ʻAmakihi – A small and resilient honeycreeper, the Hawaiʻi ʻAmakihi has adapted to a wide range of environments, including the park’s volcanic areas.

Apapane – Bright red and highly vocal, the Apapane is a common Hawaiian honeycreeper, feeding on nectar and contributing to the pollination of native plants.

Green Sea Turtle – Although more commonly seen on coastal beaches, Green Sea Turtles can sometimes be spotted near the park’s coastal areas, resting or basking.

Pueo – The Hawaiian Short-eared Owl, or Pueo, is one of the few endemic birds of prey, often seen hunting at dusk over open fields and lava plains.

Jackson’s Chameleon – Introduced to Hawaii, Jackson’s Chameleons have established populations in the park, their striking appearance and prehensile tails a curiosity among the native foliage.

Mongoose – Introduced and now considered invasive, mongooses can occasionally be seen darting across roads or trails, their presence a challenge to native birds and their eggs.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s wildlife, from the iconic Nēnē to the elusive Hawaiian Monk Seal, offers a window into the unique and fragile ecosystems of the Hawaiian Islands, highlighting the importance of conservation efforts to protect these native and endemic species.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Pictures

Engaging Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Explore the diverse landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on foot by hiking its network of scenic trails. Trek through ancient lava fields, lush rainforests, and volcanic craters, encountering unique geological features and breathtaking vistas along the way.

Highlights include the Kīlauea Iki Trail, which descends into the crater of a dormant volcano, and the Devastation Trail, where you can witness the aftermath of past volcanic eruptions. Whether you’re seeking an easy stroll or a challenging hike, there are trails for every skill level, offering opportunities to immerse yourself in the park’s natural beauty and learn about its fascinating geology.

Experience the stunning landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from the comfort of your car by embarking on one of its scenic drives. Take the Chain of Craters Road, which winds through volcanic terrain and offers panoramic views of lava flows and ocean vistas.

Alternatively, drive along Crater Rim Drive to explore the park’s volcanic calderas, steam vents, and scenic overlooks. Scenic drives provide a convenient way to explore the park’s diverse ecosystems and geological wonders, with opportunities to stop and take in the sights along the way.

Witness the raw power and beauty of Hawaii’s active volcanoes by observing volcanic activity within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visit the Jaggar Museum and overlook to view the glowing lava lake within Halema’uma’u Crater, an awe-inspiring sight especially at night.

Take a guided tour to explore the park’s lava tubes, steam vents, and other volcanic features up close, and learn about the ongoing geological processes that shape the island’s landscapes. Volcano viewing offers a thrilling and unforgettable experience, allowing visitors to witness the dynamic forces of nature at work in one of the world’s most active volcanic regions.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Trails

Kīlauea Iki Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 400 feet (122 meters)

Description: This loop trail takes hikers from the lush rainforest down to the solidified lava lake of Kīlauea Iki crater, offering a close-up view of volcanic features and steam vents. The contrast between the verdant forest and the stark, lunar-like crater floor highlights the park’s diverse landscapes and the power of volcanic activity.

Crater Rim Trail

Rating: Varies (Easy to Moderate sections)

Distance and Elevation Gain: Up to 11 miles with variable elevation gain, depending on the sections hiked

Description: This trail offers panoramic views of Kīlauea Caldera, Halema‘uma‘u Crater, and the surrounding volcanic landscape. Parts of the trail are closed due to volcanic activity, but accessible sections allow hikers to experience the grandeur of the caldera and the ever-changing volcanic environment, including sulfur banks and steam vents.

Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube)

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: 0.5 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: This short, family-friendly hike leads through a lush rainforest to a 500-year-old lava tube. Visitors can walk through the tube, experiencing the cool, damp environment that once channeled molten lava. Lighting inside the tube highlights its features, making this a unique and accessible adventure.

Devastation Trail

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: 1 mile round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: This paved, accessible trail offers a glimpse into the impact of volcanic eruptions. It traverses a landscape that was buried by ash and cinder from the 1959 Kīlauea Iki eruption, leading to an overlook of the Kīlauea Iki crater. The trail showcases the process of ecological succession in a devastated area.

Chain of Craters Road

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: Variable, with multiple stops and short hikes along the road

Description: While primarily a scenic drive, Chain of Craters Road offers access to various hiking trails and viewpoints overlooking craters, ancient petroglyphs, and lava flows reaching the sea. Hikers can explore different volcanic features at their own pace, including recent lava flows and dramatic coastal cliffs. The road’s end provides views of where lava has entered the ocean in the past.


1. What is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park known for?

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is known for its stunning volcanic landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and dynamic geological features.

Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, the park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

Visitors come to witness the awe-inspiring power of these volcanoes, which have shaped the island’s dramatic landscapes over millions of years. The park offers opportunities to explore volcanic craters, lava fields, steam vents, and other volcanic phenomena up close.

Additionally, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is recognized for its cultural significance to native Hawaiians, with sacred sites, petroglyphs, and cultural demonstrations providing insights into the island’s rich history and heritage.

2. How is Mauna Loa the tallest mountain in the world?

Mauna Loa, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is often considered the tallest mountain in the world when measured from its base on the ocean floor to its summit.

While its summit elevation above sea level is approximately 13,678 feet (4,169 meters), Mauna Loa extends much further below sea level, with its base situated on the ocean floor approximately 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

This impressive height from base to summit makes Mauna Loa the tallest mountain on Earth when measured in this manner, surpassing even Mount Everest in total height.

Additionally, Mauna Loa is one of the largest and most massive volcanoes on the planet, with vast lava flows covering much of its surface area.

  • All Trails, Best Trails in Mount Rainier National Park, , retrieved April 2024.
  • Britannica, Kilauea,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Britannica, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Go Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.
  • National Geographic, Guide to the National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Society, 2003.
  • National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
  • National Park Service, Hawaii Volcanoes,, retrieved April 2024.
  • UNESCO, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park,, retrieved April 2024.