Standing only a short drive away from the port of Hilo on the big island of Hawai’i are Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world’s most active volcanoes, oozing lava from deep within the Earth’s core.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was established to protect these awesome volcanoes, and provide a safe way for visitors to see them and learn about the formation of the islands. And furthermore, it is probably the #1 tourist destination on the big island, because volcanoes are cool.
I mean, who could resist the opportunity to see an active volcano erupt?
A slightly morbid and mildly depressing comic we found in the visitor’s center:
But at least it’s educational? Anyways, it was time to hit the trails! Another memo from the park about how dangerous your visit could be:
We followed the Sulphur Banks trail from the visitor’s center through rainforests, until we reached the boardwalks that guide you safely around cracks in the earth’s crust where sulfur fumes seep through. As you can imagine, the scent in the air was just lovely.
Just another wonderfully illustrated warning for visitors:
I guess they really want to be sure you don’t step off the trail into possibly volcanic steam vents that can melt all the skin off your body and kill you. Things you want to believe would be common sense to most folks, but maybe not…
This trail was very easy, and literally right next to the visitor’s center. Plus seeing all the steam rising from the earth was really cool. Definitely put the Sulphur Banks trail on your list of things to do in the park!
Next we hopped on the Crater Rim Drive and headed to see Kilauea!
Yay!! It looked so cool!! I guess normally you can get closer to it, but when we were there, it was closed off due to the location of current lava flows. But even seeing the steam was super awesome!
A little farther along the Crater Rim Drive, there are some steam vents you can get up close to. These were super fun to play around near. They kept fogging up my camera lens, and since it was a little chilly out, the heat felt really nice. What didn’t feel nice was leaving the steam vents and heading back out into the colder air while being a little soggy from the moisture.
But we got to feel steam that is coming from the center of the Earth! How cool is that?!
Next stop, Thurston Lava Tube! This stop was crazy crowded. Like, miserably, have-to-drive-around-forever-looking-for-a-parking-spot crowded. So be prepared to suffer a little in order to see this site.
There is a short hike to get to the lava tube, with some stairs. Not bad though, and you get to see a lot of cool rainforest stuff along the way.
The entrance to the lava tube:
I guess it wouldn’t be a rainforest without a little rain! We were pretty soggy by the end of our visit.
To best enjoy this park, my advice for you is to bring a rain jacket or poncho in case of unexpected showers, wear shoes with good tread for hiking on muddy surfaces, and allow plenty of time. There is a lot to see in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and it is crowded, so be sure to plan for possible traffic and parking lot struggles.
Seriously though, if you can only choose one thing to do on the big island of Hawai’i, go here.