Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

March 30, 2020/Jonathan Rundle/2 Comments

It was at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where I found my love for the Big Island. Seeing the lava glow from Kilauea crater was one of those transformative moments. At that time I immediately felt respect for Pele the Hawaiian fire goddess.

Established as a National Park in 1916, much of the early development was the result of private enterprise, much like how Glacier National Park got its start. A number of businessmen built structures and a hotel along the rim to draw in visitors. One of them, Lorrin Thurston, lobbied for 10 years to get the area named a National Park.

Pre-2018 Kilauea

My wife Whitney and I first came through Volcanoes National Park at night and drove directly to the Jagger Museum, the highest overlook of Kilauea crater. Because of the 2018 Kilauea eruptions, the Jagger museum is now closed. Enjoy these photos because the landscape has really changed since our first time there.

Kilauea crater at night

The glow emanating from Halemaʻumaʻu crater within the Kilauea caldera is where Pele lived in Hawaiian mythology. What a sight to have the earth lighting up the night sky.

Kilauea crater at nightKilauea crater at nightKilauea crater at night

My wife Whitney couldn’t tear me away from the glow. I took photo after photo and stared at it for an hour or more. Such raw power and so few places to see such a thing – I wanted to drink it in.

Volcanoes National Park Now

The Kilauea eruption’s lava flows covered 18 miles of land, destroyed 700 homes and added 875 acres to the island of Hawaii. Over 20 fissures shot lava into the air to the northeast of Volcanoes National Park.

60,000 earthquakes later, the summit crater’s floor collapsed and the diameter more than doubled in sized, as shown in this 3D model at the visitor center.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center

Summit Crater

Today there’s a crater lake of hot, sulfurous water at the bottom of the crater. This is the first time in recorded history where water could be found in the crater. In a hundred years, will it resemble Oregon’s Crater Lake?

Kilauea crater overlookKilauea crater overlook

It looks more like Canyonlands National Park than the volcano I rememeber! Compare this view to what we saw before the 2018 eruptions.

Kilauea overlook

Volcano House

Good views of the crater can also be seen at the Volcano House – the only public lodging in the National Park. Here you can visit the overlook, the restaurant or the gift shop.

I’m no stranger to National Park Lodges – I love visiting them! This one was built in 1941 after the original 1877 building burned down due to a fire that originated in the kitchen.

Volcano HouseVolcano House

A short walk through the lobby brings you to this view of the Kilauea caldera.

Volcano House Overlook

The outside overlook is a good place for a family photo, too.

Family photo at Volcano National Park

In addition to the caldera view, you can see the Steaming Bluff and steam vents, which is one of our next stops.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Steaming Bluff

Be sure to visit the gift shop for all your Volcanoes National Park trinkets. I always go for a magnet, but I’m quickly running out of space on my fridge.

Volcano House Gift Shop

Volcanoes Steam Vents

Back outside, along Crater Rim Drive, you’ll find the Steam Vents (aka the Steaming Bluff). Groundwater seeps down to the hot volcanic rocks in this area and turns into steam. The ground just a few feet down is so hot that tree roots can’t survive. Only shallow-rooted plants can grow here.

Hawaii steam ventsHawaii Volcanoes National Park Steam Vents

What happens when your camera catches some of that steam.

Steam selfie

This Ohia Lehua plant was catching a lot of steam and looked good with the little droplets caught on it. This is the official flower of the big island of Hawaii. It is often the first plant to grow on barren lava fields.

Dew on flower

Wise words from our friends at the National Park Service.

Kilauea crater sign

The steam was so thick we were worried we’d lose my Uncle Brian. To our relief, he managed to return to the minivan safely.

Hawaii Volcanoes Steam VentsSteam vents Volcanoes National Park

The steaming bluff overlooks the caldera’s edge.

Steam vents Volcanoes National Park

Sulphur Banks Trail

Also near here is a short hike to see the strange Sulphur Banks (Ha’akulamanu).

Volcanic gases seep out of the ground along with steam. These gases are rich in carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. So, of course, it smells like rotten eggs.

Hiking Volcano National Park

This hike is easy and completely wheelchair accessible due to the paved path and boardwalk.

Sulphur Banks Volcanoes National Park

Some sulfur gases deposit pure crystals at Sulphur Banks. Other sulfur gases form sulfuric acid which breaks down the lava to clay.

Sulphur Banks Volcanoes National Park

Thurston Lava Tube

Next stop along the Crater Rim Drive is the Thurston Lava Tube. These underground passageways are capable of transporting great quantities of lava long distances underneath the surface. When the supply of lava stops at the end of an eruption, or if it gets diverted elsewhere, it leaves behind an empty cave.

Access is through a short walk through a lush forest and down the steps.

Thurston Lava Tube EntranceThurston Lava Tube Entrance

Hawaiʻi is crisscrossed by countless lava tubes. Usually, they have to be explored with headlamps. But this one is so popular, the park has added auxiliary lighting. The lighting is on from 8 a.m to 8 p.m every day.

Thurston Lava Tube

If you’d like to see visit another lava tube, see my post about the Ape Cave lava tube near Mt. St. Helens.

Chain of Craters Road

At 18.8 miles, the longest road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is Chain of Craters Road. It is incredibly scenic as it winds from the lush tropical forest to the barren wastelands created by Pele.

Back in 2016 when we first visited, we did in it in style. My reservation (a Kia Rio) was upgraded to a convertible Camaro at no cost to me! I couldn’t believe my luck. We had a beautiful warm and sunny day to explore the park.

Driving through Volcanoes National ParkRoad through Volcanoes National Park

Most recently my wheels were a Dodge Grand Caravan minivan, which was okay with me since it was foggy and rainy. Convertibles are pretty terrible when weather dictates that the top has to be up.

Lava fields

All along the Chain of Crater Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are stops to observe (and walk on) lava fields. Since 1986, lava has flowed repeatedly over the road. Hundreds of acres and nearly 9 miles of road have been overcome by flows.

You can start to see those little Ohia Lehua trees I mentioned earlier start to pop up in these lava fields.

Road through lava field at Volcanoes National Park

The fields are vast and look especially interesting with the inclement weather we’re experiencing today.

Lava at Volcanoes National Park

This lava is from a 1969-1974 eruption of Mauna Ulu. This reflection off of the lava is created from the outer layer of silica, surface glass. It is especially shiny today since rain has passed through.

Mount Ulu lava fieldLava field at Volcanoes National Park

Vegetation is sparse here since it’s hard as hell to grow on lava and there isn’t a lot of rain here – usually.

Vegetation in lava field at Volcanoes National ParkPlant growing through lava

Our next overlook is near Kealakomo. From here you have a good view of the lava field and can follow with your eye it’s path to the coast.

Lava field panoramaShoreline at Volcanoes National Park

It’s easy to forget your elevation when driving in the lava field. After this overlook, it’s a rapid descent to the coastline.

Shoreline at Volcanoes National Park

Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs

Before we get to the coast, there is an ancient site worth checking out. Puʻu Loa is the largest petroglyph field in the State of Hawaiʻi. It’s been here awhile – Puʻu Loa is geologically dated between 1200-1450 A.D.

23,000 petroglyph images are here, mostly “pukas” in which a portion of the umbilical cord of a newborn was placed to ensure long life. Pu’u Loa means “Hill of long life.”

Petroglyphs volcano national parkPetroglyphs volcano national parkPetroglyphs volcano national parkPetroglyphs volcano national parkPetroglyphs volcano national park

On a sunny day, this is a hot and sweaty hike of about 3 miles round trip just to reach the petroglyphs boardwalk. Bring some water, a hat, and some sunscreen!

End of Chain of Craters road

The end of the road brings you to the raging and wild coastline of southeastern Hawaii. No white sand (or black sand or green sand) to be found here, just craggy black lava getting endlessly battered by the sea.

Volcanoes National Park shorelineVolcanoes National Park Shoreline

More lava flows to be found here. I assume you like lava since you’re visiting this park. Peeking into the various crevices you can find some really cool formations, like this one that still looks like liquid.

Lava at Volcanoes National Park

Or this one that looks like an old man’s wrinkles.

Lava at Volcanoes National Park

Truly, like lying on your back and pointing at clouds.

The very end of the road is yet another lava flow, this one from 2003.

Volcanoes National Park Lava field

You’ll have to get out and walk a little ways to reach the part where the road meets the lava.

It’s my blog and I can act stupid if I want to.

Volcanoes National Park Lava field

Holei Sea Arch

Without question the reason you’ve driven all the way to the end is to see this, the Holei Sea Arch. The sea arch is about 90 ft. high. This impressive sea arch was cut into the cliff of an ancient lava flow, about 550 years ago.

The photo below is from my visit in 2016. Today the vantage point has been moved 1,000 feet away from this overlook because this cliff has become unstable.

Holei Sea Arch

Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

With the ever-changing nature of the park, especially after the 2018 eruptions closed so much of it, a lot is sure to change. Visit the official park website for the latest information. The news releases section is a good place to see if anything out of the ordinary (or disruptive to your trip) is happening at the park.

Comments (2)

  • Raynard L. Martin . March 30, 2020 . Reply

    Thanks for the pictoral tour of your hike. Beautiful!

    • (Author) Jonathan Rundle . March 30, 2020 . Reply

      Thanks for stopping by! Trying to make Brian famous…

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI, USA