The main reason to come to the Big Island of Hawai’i is to see live volcanoes. There are two ways to do this, by air or by land at Volcanoes National Park — we did both. But if you are going to Volcanoes National Park, plan on taking the whole day (at least.) To start, you will probably be staying on the dry side of the island near Kona, so expect a 2.5-3 hour drive. You will start off driving through black volcanic wasteland, like driving through the American Southwest but instead of desert sand, it is black lava.
Once you round the tip of the island, the climate and ecosystem start to change. The weather gets chillier and the landscape greener. After all, Hilo, just north of Volcanoes National Park is the one of the wettest cities in the United States with over 200 inches of rain per year. There is a lot to do within Volcanoes National Park so if you haven’t gotten a picnic lunch, you probably want to get something to eat before entering the park. We stopped at Kiawe Kitchen in Volcano, HI for some Hawaiian Pizza.
Your first stop upon entering the park should be the Kilauea Visitor Center to get the lay of the land and put together your plan on what attractions you want to see. Depending on the age of your kids and their physical fitness, there are a variety of hikes and activities to choose from. The Volcanoes National Park Things to Do page also gives you a good idea of what sights to see depending on how long you want to spend in the park.
We did the Crater Rim Drive tour, which brings you past many of the main sites and a section of the caldera (note that the loop is usually closed at parts due to volcanic activity.) From the Kilauea Overlook you can get some excellent views of the steaming caldera.
Next up were the steam vents and sulphur banks. Standing near the steam vents were like getting a facial, but the little one wasn’t so sure she liked it.
A little further down the road we stopped to explore the Thurston Lava Tube. We were amazed by the vegetation. You go from such a desolate landscape to a lush rainforest. After a 20 minute walk we reached the lava tube. While lit for a portion of the tube, it was still a bit dark so you need to be careful where you walk.
Following the Lava Tube, we went from lush to dry with a 1/2 mile hike (each way) along the Devastation Trail. Along the way, we kept our eyes out for Nene, a goose that is the official state bird of Hawai’i. From Devastation Trail, we took a hike to see the Keanakako’i Crater.
You have an option to hike down into and across the crater but by that time, little legs were tired so we got back into the car to complete our loop of the Big Island.
What to bring for a Day Trip to Volcanoes National Park:
- Sturdy walking shoes or hiking booths
- A warm sweatshirt and/or raincoat (temperature vary even within the park)
- A flashlight for exploring the Thurston Lava Tube
- Water and snacks
- A camera
After you leave the park, there is still so much more to see on a drive around the Big Island, particularly Akaka Falls.