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Chain of Craters Road on Big Island, Hawaii

Visiting Kilauea and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: A Must-Do Family Activity on the Big Island

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While there are many exciting family-friendly adventures on the Big Island of Hawaii, visiting Kilauea volcano, part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, should top every family’s list. It is not every day you get the opportunity to visit one of the world’s most active volcanoes!

Having recently visited Volcanoes National Park, here are some ideas to help you plan your own adventure at this amazing natural wonder:

Go to the Visitor Center First

As you enter the park, take time to stop at the Visitor Center. You will find the most current information on volcanic activity and park conditions, such as which roads or trails might be closed, as well as maps and an abundance of interesting exhibits. There are also several short films and lectures to help you learn about this amazing area and its history. The rangers on staff are available to answer any questions you might have, and they also lead daily walks into different areas of the park, which might be a good way to start your visit.

Jagger Museum

I highly recommend a stop by the Jagger Museum. From the observation deck, we marveled at the crater, and, while we did not, at times you can even see lava! We also had a fantastic view of the park area with the glistening ocean below. Inside the museum, there are several interesting exhibits. Our family particularly liked the sensational videos of volcanic eruptions and the live seismographs measuring geological activity of the area.

Volcanoes National Park - Jagger Museum Observation Deck

The view from the observation deck at the Jagger Museum.

Crater Rim Drive

An easy way to experience some of the park, particularly for families with smaller children, is a cruise around the Crater Rim Drive. However, be prepared for the road to be closed due to volcanic activity, which was the case during our visit.

Hike the Scenic Trails

For those who like to hike, the park offers many scenic trails with varying levels of difficulty. Check at the Visitor Center for up-to-date information on conditions.

Chain of Craters Road

My personal favorite experience was the Chain of Craters Road, an incredibly scenic, approximately 18-mile long drive to the ocean where the road ends…because it was swallowed by lava during eruptions in the seventies and eighties.

The drive begins amidst lush rainforest, but quickly progresses to surreal, moon-like landscapes. There are many hikes available from the road and you could spend more than a day here, but most tourists drive to the end point and back with frequent stops to admire the amazing surroundings. In addition to the spot where lava covered the road, ending it, there are spectacular vistas from the cliffs at the ocean’s edge. Tip: Make sure you stay only in the marked areas as some of the terrain is very unstable due to relatively recent lava activity.

Spectacular coast at the end of Chain of Craters Road

Spectacular coast at the end of Chain of Craters Road.

Kilauea Caverns of Fire

For another memorable experience, drop by the Kilauea Caverns of Fire, which boast the largest lava tube in the world. You will be standing inside an active volcano! The tours are by appointment only and must be arranged in advance, so plan ahead.

Take a Helicopter Tour

Lastly, several helicopter tours offer unparalleled views of the active Kilauea, especially enthralling at night. However, two factors to consider are cost (they do not come cheap!) and your tolerance for flying in helicopters. Many passengers experience air sickness.

Some additional things to keep in mind:

  • To reach the park, the drive is relatively short from the Hilo side (about one hour), but much longer if you are staying on the west, Kona side, which is where most of the hotels are located. It is best to plan a daylong trip if you are coming from this direction. Also, guide books, Internet research and the concierge at Hilton Waikoloa Village, all suggested that we take the north route, as opposed to driving around the south side of the island, because the roads are in better condition, especially if you are driving back in the evening, after dark.
  • Consult the Hawaii Volcano Observatory website for up to date information on current volcano activity and park conditions before you go. This will help you plan your trip and make you aware of any areas that might be closed during the time of your visit. This is not uncommon, given the active nature of the volcano.
  • Make sure you bring warm clothes/layers as the weather in the park area is much cooler than on the beach, and the conditions can change quickly. Some rain or misting is also very common, so bring ponchos if you have them. If not, you can buy them at the gift shop in the Visitor Center, as well as the Jagger museum. And no flip flops; sturdy shoes are a must!
  • Food choices at the park are very limited, so bring snacks! You can also consider making a stop in the nearby town of Volcano either before you enter the park or before your drive back, especially if you are driving all the way back to the Kona side. We tried two excellent (albeit a bit pricey) restaurants recommended by the locals: Kiawe Kitchen (great pizzas) and Thai (no explanation needed).

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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…

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