A Guide to Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park
Bearing witness to nature's creation the newest part of the USA takes a long (but fulfilling) road trip.
Hot Take: Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park is definitely worth it as a bucket list item, but not life changing (3.5 stars)
Pro Tip: Leave time in the trip to stop at the Punalu'u Black Sand Beach (for sea turtles) and the cliffs at South Point (for cliff jumping)
Volcanoes National Park, located in the southeast portion of the Big Island of Hawaii, is one of the only sites in the United States where new American soil is literally made from the eruptions of active volcanoes. Not all volcanic eruptions are of the Mt St Helens/ Mount Vesuvius variety and the Hawaiian variety deliver generally a calmer, relaxed approach to eruptions (and virtually everything else). Across and under 500+ square miles of Volcanoes National Park are the current terminus of a hot spot under the Pacific tectonic plate that constantly sends lava at up to 2,000*F onto the Earth’s surface. The Park boasts active lava flows (for the determined), thermal steam vents (for the playful), subterranean lava tubes (for the adventurous), massive calderas and craters (for the explorers), and miles and miles and miles of hardened lava flows (for lovers of tediousness).
Kelly and I arrived to the park around noon (having taken in the splendor of a black sand beach and coffee plantation that morning). Kelly wisely downloaded a guided tour phone app that gave narration (and directions) to our visit and greatly enhanced our enjoyment (the $3.99 for the Shaka Guide to Volcanoes National Park was well worth it!)
Then came the biggest disappointment of the day, the visible lava flows into the ocean had stopped 2 months ago and there would be no fresh lava during our visit. However, we were determined to have a good time and soldiered onward (spurred forward by our very cheerful virtual tour guide).
We steamed in the thermal vents. We marveled at the craters.
We hiked through jungle and lava field alike.
We got under skirts of Pele (the Hawaiian volcano goddess) in a lava tube.
And we drove down to the beach where there was an impressive sea arch.
After 4 hours of adventure, we were ready for a break and went to the Volcano Winery about 2 miles from the entrance to Volcanoes National Park to enjoy some pretty delicious fruit wines (the premium tasting was $8 and the pours were big enough to split) and to decompress from all the lava we saw that day. We drove back for a sunset view of the caldera where the lava (supposedly) makes the venting steam glow red…but by then a thick fog had rolled in (this part of Hawaii sees over 100 inches of rain per year). So while we had the viewing platform to ourselves, the visibility was only about 20 ft!
Exhausted, hungry, a bit disappointed…but having surely scratched the itch for adventure, we drove down the spectacular coastline into the setting sun. What a day!