Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Things to Do Tips by dlytle
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Things to Do: 112 reviews and 249 photos
Peering out of the Thurston Lava Tube
Take a 20 minute 1/3 mile walk though the tree fern forest and then enjoy the well lighted, prehistoric cave-like Thurston Lava Tube that awaits you.
Sometime before the 1790 collapse of Kilauea Caldera this area was the summit of the volcano, and lava overflowing this crater poured down the mountain to Hilo Bay. The river of hot lava feeding one of these flows cooled and crusted over, but the still molten interior of the flow kept moving down slope. As the eruption slowed and stopped, the molten core continued to flow, leaving the emptied cave-like Thurston Lava Tube tunnel behind.
Such lava tubes, sometimes many miles long, are common in Hawaii and were used by early Hawaiians as burial caves as well as for shelter or refuge.
This particular lava tube was discovered in 1913 by Lorrin Thurston, a local newspaper publisher. At that time the roof of the tube was covered with lava stalactites, but those soon disappeared to souvenir collectors.
As you walk through the tube consider that several hundred years ago a river of red-hot lava rushed through it. And that lava currently travels from Pu'u O'o to the ocean in a labyrinth of lava tubes much like the tube you are walking through.
Watch your head in the tube - there are some spots with a low ceiling!
The fern tree rain forest off crater rim drive
Along a portion of the crater rim drive, co-existing with the Thurston Lava Tube, is a beautiful tree fern rain forest that you should take a moment to appreciate.
The dense tree fern rain forest jungle in the vicinity of and along the path to the Thurston Lava Tube is typical of the high-rainfall vegetation at this elevation in Hawaii.
Stop and listen to the bird calls. If you are patient you might catch a glimpse of some of the rare Hawaiian birds that make this jungle their home.
The Apapane is a bright red bird that can often be seen in the treetops, feeding on insects and nectar from the fluffy red ohi'a blossoms which it resembles.
If you see a small, yellowish bird busily hunting insects in the forest canopy it is probably an Amakihi, one of Hawaii's most common native birds.
Since this is a rain forest you will probably need a raincoat or poncho to keep you and your camera dry. It was kind of misty and lightly raining the day that I visited this spot. One nice thing about the moisture, it keeps many of the tourists in their automobiles leaving this area to those few willing to get a little damp.
Towards lava area from Chain of Craters Road
The steam cloud that you see in the distance in the picture is a hydrochloric acid plume produced when hot lava enters the ocean. An orange glow from the lava may be reflected in the steam cloud at night.
Visitors hiking to the lava activity area are cautioned to wear optimum sunscreen, heavy boots, and carry 3-quarts of water per person.
The best viewing is at night and flashlights (and extra batteries) and rainwear are required. During the most dramatic activity, the word quickly spreads throughout the islands. At night, the cars can be lined up 2-miles or more along the road!
The area's conditions are hazardous and the hike is not recommended for those with respiratory or mobility problems. Hikers are required to stay at least a quarter-mile from the ocean as the unstable lava benches may collapse at anytime. Sections larger than a football field are known to collapse and visitors have been killed and never recovered.
One way to really get a good look at the lava flows is by Helicopter from Hilo. Helicopter tours provide an outstanding learning opportunity to view the entire 2-mile lava journey from the outflow high uphill to the lava entering the ocean.
Descending the Holei Pali on Chain of Craters Road
From the summit visitor center follow Crater Rim Drive clockwise to the well-marked turnoff for Chain of Craters Road. Chain of Craters Road descends 3,700 feet until it ends sharply at a lava flow. From there it's usually a relatively short hike to possibly see flowing, red-hot lava. On the way down the road you drive among the vast flows that spilled from the shield vent called Maunu Ulu; the lava expelled here from 1969 to 1974 would pave a highway around the Equator.
For about 4 miles [6 kilometers] as you head toward the coast, your route closely approximates the active East Rift Zone of Kilauea volcano. Scenic turnouts and short walks bring you to the rims of several impressive craters. This road was covered during the 1970s by a series of huge lava flows. You are driving on some of the newest ground on earth.
The climate becomes drier, and patches of forest in various stages of recovery appear, as you descend toward the sea. Sulphur fumes sweep down from active volcanic vents on the rift to the east. Stop at the turn-outs as they offer sweeping views of lava flows and white-capped waves pounding the black shoreline.
A steep descent of about 800 feet [243.8 m] marks Holei Pali, a cliff formed by vertical faulting; the huge coastal shelf is breaking away from the uplands and slowly sinking into the sea. The photo shows this area.
Reaching the lowlands, look for the Puu Loa Petroglyphs turnout where there are some 15,000 figures and symbols carved in lava by early Hawaiians.
The road ends abruptly at a 1995 lava flow. The fields of lava that stretch out along the coast from here to Kalapana, in Puna district, have sprung from the Pu'u O'o vent, which has been flowing continuously since 1983. The end of the road is the most convenient trailhead for setting out to where the world's newest land is being formed. Most often lava from the vent flows underground through established lava tubes to the coast, and rivers of molten lava streaming down the hillside is a rarer sight than some visitors expect.
Volcanoes National Park map
An entire day or more could easily be devoted to seeing and exploring all of the fascinating nooks and crannies at this dynamic and active national park.
Crater Rim road, an 11-mile road that circles Kilauea Caldera is an absolute must do. It is off this road that you will see the steam vents, the crater overlooks, the Thurston Lava Tube, and other areas.
Sulfur Fumaroles color the desolate landscape
The walk to the Halemaumau Overlook was beset with fumaroles issuing a nasty mix of steam and sulfur dioxide. The breathing here was quite unpleasant, and the fumes were hot enough to burn a hand held over the ground exit?so don?t do it! Much of the dust and many of the angular blocks littering the surface here were torn from the walls of Halemaumau in the unusually violent steam eruptions of 1924.
Hot smelly gases issuing from numerous fumaroles deposit elemental sulfur on the rocks at the summit of the Kilauea Caldera. These faults provide passage for the gases, which presumably emanate from the hot magma plumbing still running beneath the caldera. Some plants, like the Ohia Lehua can grow surprisingly close to the gas vents.
There are also some nearby sulphur banks which contain sulphur deposits left where volcanic gases have seeped out with groundwater steam.
Address: Easy to see near the Halemaumau Overlook Trail
Halemaumau Pit Crater within the Kilauea Crater
A caldera is a large, basin-shaped volcanic depression, more or less circular and has a diameter which is many times greater than that of the included vent or vents held within it.
Halemaumau Crater, a steaming fire pit, is a pit crater within the heart of Kilauea Caldera. Collapses that are smaller than the summit caldera collapses are called pit craters and Halemaumau is an example of this. Pit craters can occur both in the summit region and along rift zones. The upper reaches of Kilauea’s East Rift Zone (ERZ) are dotted with these depressions, giving the name “Chain of Craters” to the road that leads from the volcano toward the sea. This road has been blocked by lava flows and reopened several times.
The Halemaumau Pit Crater is a big crater within Kilauea Caldera. From 1823-1924, Halemaumau was the site of most of Kilauea's volcanic activity. There was an active lava lake within the crater which many tourists and geologists took pictures of. A huge eruption and many explosions took place in Halemaumau in 1924. Most of the debris thrown out during the eruption was extremely hot, however none of the material was new. This material thrown out was actually old magma from the inner walls of the crater. It is thought that suddenly heated groundwater caused these unusual explosions. Fortunately, there was only one death that resulted from this eruption. Hot falling rocks killed a photographer who was too close.
It is possible to look into Halemaumau Crater and see the huge cooled lava lake. There are many fascinating features of Halemaumau, such as steam and sulfur vents and unusual spatter ramparts.
The ancient Hawaiians thought that this was the home of Pele.
Address: You'll find this just off the Crater Rim Drive.
Red Blossoms on the Ohia Lehua Trees
Around the parking lot and even out to the Kilauea overlook (and many other places in the park) I was delighted at the contrast of the native Ohia Lehua trees to the desolation and dismal character of its surroundings.
The grayish bark and limbs on these small-to-medium sized trees provides a pleasing setting for the small but beautiful red-puff blossoms that it creates.
Oh God, thank you for the beauty I can find in the bleakest of settings.
Address: All over the summit are of the park
Kilauea crater from Kilauea overlook
Kilauea is called a summit caldera (or crater). It is two-and-a-half miles long, two miles wide and about 400 feet deep. At other times it has been as deep as 800 feet but lava flows from and near Halemaumau have, over the years, filled it to its present level. The most recent lava flows in this caldera were in 1974 and 1982.
Many visitors come to the summit of Kilauea, take a quick look into the caldera, say, "Hmmm, that's nice," shrug their shoulders, and move on. All they see is a hole in the ground, big and black and steamy to be sure, but not something that jumps out and grabs them. Well, there's more to this place than that!
The caldera that you can look at today, only one of many down through the centuries, was created around 1500AD when the roof literally caved in after the lava drained from an underground magma chamber, causing the unsupported volcano summit to collapse and various steam explosions to occur.
Scientists know this because explosive and lava-fountain deposits dated at about A.D. 1500 are plastered against the vertical walls of the caldera so clearly the walls were there when the explosions occurred. How deep the caldera was then is unknown, but it was, at least part of the time in the next three centuries, 1500 feet (500 m) or possibly more, deeper than at present. There may have been periods when parts of the floor collapsed still farther.
So, the history of the modern Kilauea caldera has been dynamic. There is much more there than just a hole. There is a past rich in lava eruptions and explosions, and there is a future with similar events in store. We happen to live in a time when the caldera seems quiet and passive. Had we been here in the 15th century, we would have seen a mountain, and in the 16th century, a hole. Nothing is permanent except change.
In the picture you can see Kilauea's crater as well as the pit crater of Halema'uma'u -- an impressive sight discussed in another Must See activity.
Directions: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Popular Steam Vent at Hawaii Volcanoes Natl Park
Steam vents are formed when ground water penetrates the ground to deep enough depths to encounter rocks of sufficient temperature to create steam.
Just driving along the road, looking out into the fields and woods, one is apt to see a number of roiling clouds of steam boiling up out of the ground. They are particularly common in the summit area and along the rift zones where magma (underground lava) is near the surface.
There are several nice steam vents that have been selected and marked for tourists to participate in a close encounter with them. It is fun to get out and move close to one of the vents to feel the fleeting caress and feathery touch of the warm moistness of the steam in the light breezes that usually blow near the summit. You can gaze down into the pits from which the steam rises and wonder, like I did, just how deep those holes and cracks really are.
Air temperature and humidity affect the visibility of the steam escaping from these vents and from the craters that you will be visiting. So the amount of steam seen may vary considerably from day to day.
Address: Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii
Directions: The steam vents are at the summit of Kilauea located on the North side of Crater Rim Drive
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Latest Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hotel reviews
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- Thurston Lava Tube- 7 Reviews, 13 Photos
- Crater Rim Road- 15 Reviews, 38 Photos
- Kilauea Crater- 13 Reviews, 29 Photos
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