If you’re heading to Hawaii’s Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the one thing you absolutely cannot miss. If you love national parks as much as we do, you’re certain to be impressed by the diversity of landscape: from dry, dark lava fields to lush, green rainforest. Here’s our recommendations for how to visit the park with just one day:
How to Spend One Day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
Eruption Viewing at Sunrise (or Sunset)
The best time to view the lava over the Halemaʻumaʻu crater is when it’s dark out. We started the day here in the (very) early morning, arriving before sunrise. I think we got to the national park around 4:00 am! Also, you’ll want to make sure the skies are clear. We pushed back our visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park by a few days to wait for the least chance of rain.
Here’s the directions our Airbnb host gave us and they worked perfectly (as of Autumn 2022): Once you enter park, turn left onto Chain of Craters road. Follow it down to the Devastation Trail parking lot. You will know it by the road in front of you being closed off with cones and temporary porta potty bathrooms. On the right, will be the parking lot. Once parked, hike down the closed road past the porta potties for about 10 minutes. You will come to a marked viewing area that allows you to see right inside the crater.
The photos above show the path in the early morning time. The glow should be bright enough to follow the path but we do suggest having a flashlight or headlamp. The marked viewing area our host mentioned is shown in the photo below. The arrow points you in the right direction.
The photos below show the progression of viewing as the sun comes up:
We recommend wearing a warm jacket and bringing some towels to sit on (our use as blankets). It can be chilly early morning!
Walk Through a Lava Tube
After sunrise, we moved our car to the Kilauea Iki overlook parking lot to be closer to the hiking trails. We started with an easy walk to (and through) the Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube).
According to the National Park Service, the lava tube is 500 years old and formed where a river of 2000 degree Fahrenheit (1093° celsius) lava flowed. If you start the day here after watching the sunrise (like we did), you’ll definitely want a flashlight or headlamp. The lava tube is lit from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Hike Across a Volcanic Crater
Probably our favorite part of the day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was hiking the Kīlauea Iki trail. This trail starts through the rainforest. It was a raining so we brought an umbrella and it ended up doubling as a walking stick once we got to the crater.
When you exit the rainforest, you’ll be on the floor of Kīlauea Iki crater.
The hike is approximately 3.2 miles and takes about an hour and a half. You walk across the crater and then back up through the rainforest. We suggest using this AllTrails map.
The trail is pretty well-marked but keep an eye out for the cairns (piles of rocks) that help mark the route.
Also, we just had to share this photo of some new growth coming up in the middle of the lava field. I love the beautiful contrast.
Driving Chain of Craters Road
After the hike, we headed back to the car to drive Chain of Craters Road. The drive to the end of the road takes about 40 minutes if you don’t stop to get out and explore. You’ll pass numerous lava fields marked with signage regarding the eruption dates. You’ll also pass by a trailhead that takes you to the Puʻuloa petroglyphs. The road ends at the Hōlei Sea Arch. To see it, you’ll need to park your car and walk about a quarter mile down the road to the viewpoint.
Dinner with a Nighttime Eruption View
If you want to round out your day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we recommend dinner at Volcano Lodge. Ask for a table near the window (if available) and you’ll be able to see the glow from Halemaʻumaʻu crater.
Other Things to Do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
- Take a guided walk with a park ranger. These depart from the visitor center.
- Hike a longer trail.
- Keep an eye out for nēnē, an endangered goose native to Hawaii.
Need more Hawaii inspiration?
Check out this blog post to help you plan your trip: