If you’re planning a trip to the “Big Island” of Hawaii, a visit to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (VNP) should definitely be in your plans! Of the United States National Parks, I think this one is the most unique (I mean, where else in the country do you have the chance to see actual lava?!) and is definitely worth a visit! To help you plan, I’m excited to share some travel tips for your Volcanoes Park experience! When we were planning our 1st trip to the Big Island, we quickly learned that most people stay on the Kona side (specifically the Kohala Coast) – where resorts, condo rentals, and beautiful beaches are plentiful. But, that just so happens to be a good 2-3 hour drive away from Volcanoes National Park. We wanted to see a lot on the island, but the main reason our Big Island trip was to have a chance to see real, glowing lava! Since this is the only Hawaiian island with active volcanoes, we made the National Park a key part of our itinerary and we highly recommend it for your Hawaii trip! With SO much to see there, it is definitely worth a good visit!
How long to stay?
Honestly, I think we probably could have spent almost a full week exploring this entire area and not gotten bored. As it was, we made the Volcanoes National Park area our “home base” for 4 nights and 3 days. We did NOT spend the entirety of 3 full days at the park (though I’m sure you could). But we did go to the park every single night to see the lava glow at Kilauea’s Halema‘uma‘u Crater. And every single night was different and amazing!! If you are excited about the potential for seeing lava, I highly recommend that you plan to stay nearby more than 1 night. Our 1st night there was misty and while still neat, it did NOT compare at all to the very clear, last night there.
Isn’t it amazing?! The photos don’t even really do it justice. It really is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen in any of our travels! So, with all of that in mind, our minimum recommendation for your stay in the area is 2 nights, 1 day.
Where to stay?
Since the park is located 30 miles from Hilo (approx 45 minute drive) and 96 miles from Kailua-Kona (2-3 hour drive), we highly recommend staying as close to the park as possible. If you can manage to secure a room (there are only 33 guest rooms), you could stay at the famous Volcano House right on the Kilauea Caldera rim. There are also a couple of campgrounds if that’s your style. But, our recommendation is to stay in Volcano, Hawaii! (<–you can click over to read more details). I mean, how fun is it to stay in a town called “Volcano”?! Love it! We booked a vacation home rental in the area that was just absolutely perfect, complete with this lush yard to play in. It was only about a 10 minute drive from the house to the Jagger Museum and Halema‘uma‘u Crater viewing area! So, it was absolutely PERFECT for trying to get to the park early in the morning and late at night for best viewing.
What to pack?
Typically when packing for Hawaii, your suitcase will be full of summery things like beach clothes, swimsuits, and flip flops. But, spending time at Volcanoes National Park means you’ll need to pack a bit more (it’s so worth it though). The temperature can vary a lot (so you’ll need layers) and if you’re planning some nighttime viewing of the lava at Jagger Museum you are going to need WARM clothes (think coat/jacket, even possibly a hat and/or gloves). I know it sounds ridiculous, but trust me on this one. It gets COLD up there! If you plan on hiking (which I definitely recommend), you’re going to want good hiking shoes! Boots would be you’re best bet if you’re doing any of the major hikes. But for the distances we did, my Keens worked perfectly!
You’ll also want to bring plenty of water, food/snacks, sunscreen, and I’d really recommend a first aid kit (or at least bandaids, cream, and some hand wipes). The one thing about hiking on hardened lava is that it can be BRUTAL if you fall (ask me how I know! 😉 ). Thankfully, it was ME that tripped and fell during one of our hikes instead of the kids. But yah, the lava rock is NOT forgiving at all. I’ll spare you the ugly photos, but my hands and arms were cut up quite nicely. Thankfully, we had some wipes in the car (and then it wasn’t far back to our rental house).
Safety at Volcanoes NP
Aside from standard hiking safety precautions and the aforementioned cutting ability of some of the hardened lava, there are some SERIOUS potential safety risks here. Do NOT go off any of the trails here. There are steam cracks and holes in the ground (and other potential dangers). So, it is REALLY important to watch the kids carefully, mind ALL signs and rules, and heed any park warnings at the time. It’s also good to remember to make sure that the car is well-fueled and you have food & water in the car, especially if you’re planning to drive Chain of Craters Road as there are NO gas stations and very little food/water spots within the park. So, hope those tips are helpful as you plan your trip to the park! If you have additional questions, feel free to leave a comment below letting us know. We’ll be sharing some of our favorite “must-do” activities in the park in a separate post (coming soon). We LOVED our time here! It’s such a fun and educational place for the whole family!
For more ideas, be sure to check out this post on exploring National Parks with kids!
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