No lava, no problem at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Christine Hitt

The Big Island of Hawaii is famous for its active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, but as I write this, lava is not flowing. The eruption has paused now for almost two months. That shouldn’t deter travelers from visiting the island though, as there are still plenty of other things to do and see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

From 1983 to 2018, Kilauea erupted continuously, so people became accustomed to seeing lava when they visited Hawaii. But things changed in 2018. The Halemaumau lava lake drained and the flow stopped, and then the lava lake refilled and drained again. Then Mauna Loa erupted and stopped. Then Kilauea started up again and stopped. As you can see, it’s been a series of random starts and stops that can’t be predicted — and this is what it appears it will be like for a long time.

Travelers wanting to see the lava should be made aware that it may or may not be visible during a trip to the Big Island.

Day hiking 400 feet down into Kilauea Iki crater or through the Thurston Lava Tube are two of my favorite activities. The Puuloa Petroglyphs trail, where there’s a field of ancient Hawaiian rock art to see, is also interesting.

It’s also a must to hike to Keanakakoi Crater, where you’ll have a closer view of Halemaumau’s pit crater (where the lava lake may or may not be, depending on the timing), which has grown larger since the 2018 eruption. Even if lava cannot be seen on the day you arrive, the massive size of the crater is enough to leave you awestruck. There are many more day hikes and backcountry hikes to choose from, which you could spend days doing.

Nonhikers will enjoy the scenic drive on the park’s roads leading to the coast’s Holei Sea Arch. Stop by the visitors center to learn more about the volcanoes and to speak with the rangers, walk the boardwalk around the sulfur banks, have a meal at the Volcano House and stop at the Kilauea Overlook.

Lava may be a highlight to a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but it’s the combination of activities that make the trip there fulfilling. And so, if there’s no visible lava on the day you arrive, that’s OK.

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