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Hawaiian Volcanoes: Big Island of Hawaii, Maui

Hawaiian Volcanoes: where and what to look for. Haleakala sunrise, Volcanoes NP, Fissure 8, the road with traces of eruptions, lava tube bath, etc. Map

All Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanic eruptions. Speaking about activity, it is only limited to the Big Island of Hawaii. There is a possibility of Haleakala volcano eruption (Maui) but it may happen in the next… 200-500 years. This post is about the most interesting traces of Hawaiian volcanoes: where and what to look for.

Hawaiian Volcanoes: the most interesting spots

Haleakala Volcano, Maui

The Haleakala Volcano is gigantic: it forms more than 75% of the island. Haleakala National Park is considered one of the most popular spots to visit on Maui. There is no need to rent a 4*4 vehicle to get to the top and no suffer from the thin air (as on Mauna Kea, Big Island, for example).

1. Visiting Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park is a picturesque and huge place to explore. While the area around the crater is impressive, there are more wonderful places to visit: Hosmer grove, Pipiwai trail (and all it has to offer), etc.

Being with little kids was a blessing: depending on how tired they were we could choose to visit observation platforms or go on a hike:

Key points: there are two distinct areas of Haleakala National Park: the Summit District and the Kīpahulu District. Distance between them is 2 hours of driving time.

2. Haleakala Sunrise

Watching the sunrise at the Haleakala crater became so much in demand that you have to make a reservation before arrival. It is a wonderful sight, like on Mars:

Sunrise at Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii
Sunrise at Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii. photo credit: James Wheeler

Key points: make sure you have enough gas, water, snacks, and warm clothes for Haleakala sunrise. Before dawn and after dusk windy, wet, and below freezing weather are common at the Haleakala crater. All other important nuances are here.

Big Island of Hawaii

1. Lava flow, where and how to watch it

One of the most memorable experiences with volcanoes is watching its activity by yourself: lava lake, lava flow (from a helicopter, boat, or guided hike), or lava glow at night. But while Hawaiian volcanoes are one of the most active, they aren’t always erupting.

Currently, there is no eruption/lava flow/lava glow in Hawaii. But it can change at any time: you can monitor all updates here. On May 26th, 2021, lava activity on the surface of the Kīlauea volcano (Big Island of Hawaii) has stopped.

Kīlauea Overlook: lava glow at night. I'll never forget it!
Kīlauea Overlook: lava glow at night. I’ll never forget it!

2. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a place like no other. Summits of two of the most active volcanoes in the world are located within the Park: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Glow at night, pictured above, we watched from the park.

During our May 2021 visit, we bought a self-guided audio tour Shaka Guide. We learned a lot about the Hawaiian Volcanoes, the best rest stops, scenic views, trails, and what it’s like, to live on a volcano.

Our most favorite spots in the Park: Kīlauea Iki Overlook, Sulphur Banks, Crater Rim Drive, Thurston lava tube, Chain of Craters Road:

Key points: one day is a minimum for exploring Hawaiian Volcanoes NP. No 4*4 vehicle required.

3. Pahoa, Route 137

Scenic byway 137 is one of the most impressive routes on the Big Island. Running along the ocean, through tropical forest, tree tunnels, lava fields, and other traces of the Kilauea destructive power, it’s an emotional ride:

Hawaiian Volcanoes: Big Island. Survival forest and the one, gone under lava. I bet there is no place on Earth with such scenery!
Hawaiian Volcanoes: Big Island. Surviving forest and the one, gone under lava. I bet there is no place on Earth with such scenery!

Pictured below: neighborhood flooded by lava with a new house on top of it, tree tunnel, the road blocked by 2018 lava flow, and the one, cut through lava:

4. Hot Spring Pools that haven’t existed before the 2018 eruption

One thing that combines Yellowstone and Hawaii: you never knew what will pop up during your next visit. Both places are constantly, endlessly changing by volcanic activity. Pohoiki Hot Pools hasn’t existed until the 2018 eruption. Now, it is a favorite destination among locals:

5. Lava Tree State Monument

The Lava Tree State Monument is another example of volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaii. Located in the district of Puna, the monument features a 0.7-mile loop trail. It is good for a quick stop and learning about the forest that turned into … monuments:

6. Hawaiian Volcanoes: Leilani Estates, Fissure 8

Leilani Estates in Pahoa changed forever after the 2018 eruption. We stayed there in April-May 2021 and were completely shocked. Steaming cracks, erased streets, houses buried under the lava, and the ones, still exist, will be in our memories forever:

The whole idea of the 180 feet “baby volcano” – Fissure 8, that grew in the middle of the neighborhood is astonishing. Views from over our house and near Fissure 8, photo credit Olyalek:

The earth at the edge of the cone is steaming and hot: it felt like the soles of our sandals were going to melt. I could never imagine feeling the breath of the volcano so close.

Many people wonder why locals live in this area, knowing the risks. First, their ancestors lived on the island for hundreds of years, and this is the way of life here. Sooner or later, here or there, lava will come again, it’s just a matter of time.

As for me, I’d live in Pahoa because it’s one of the most authentic and beautiful areas we have seen in Hawaii. And affordable one.

7. Queens Bath in Kiholo Bay: lava tube freshwater cave

Big Island laced with lava tubes. While the most popular ones are the Thurston tube (Volcanos National Park) and Kaumana Caves (Hilo), there is much more. Dozens of lava tubes were used as burial sites and secret escape routes in ancient times.

Queens Bath is filled with fresh water and fun to explore, (especially with a flashlight):

8. Hawaiian Volcanoes: Mauna Kea

Mauna Kae is a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Its peak is 4,207 m. above sea level, making it the tallest Hawaiian mountain. Mauna Kea stargazing is a once-in-a-lifetime activity. Milky Way from near the summit is truly magnificent:

Hawaiian Volcanoes: view of Milky Way from Mauna Kea

Hawaiian Volcanoes: view of Milky Way from Mauna Kea. photo credit:
Mark Ireland

Key points: because of the high altitude there are several important moments you better know before you go.

Make sure to check hours, conditions, fees, and Covid-19 restrictions before you go.

All the mentioned places on My Map

Hawaiian Volcanoes Essentials

  • If you are looking for a budget stay, Haleakala National Park (Maui) and Volcanoes National Park (Big Island) have several campgrounds.
  • The self-driving audio guide we love and recommend: Shaka Guide.
  • Water, snacks, sun protection, sturdy shoes, and cold/wet weather clothing are important while visiting both National Parks.
  • Take the National Park Annual Pass, if you already have one.
  • Places, listed above, we visited in December 2020 (Maui) and May 2021 (Big Island)
  • We explored Hawaii with kids 3, 6, and 11 y.o.

Mahalo for reading, friends!

Big Island: our most favorite places to visit. Caves, Royal footsteps, waterfalls, trails, beaches, etc. Kids welcome.

Other 3 top Hawaiian islands: Maui, Kauai, Oahu.

Hawaii on a budget 2021: where to look for budget accommodation, cheap flights, affordable car rental, tours, etc.

Yellowstone: what we have learned only after we reached the park. Budget stay at Yellowstone. The best and worst of the Park with a map.

By Mrs. Grazy Goat

I am Ira, the author behind Grazy Goat. My husband and I run this blog and share our experiences about thrilling places and cultures. Our son Artem recently joined us and helps with editing.

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