one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Itinerary

BEST one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Itinerary 2022

Hawaii Volcanoes National park is a very unique and special place to visit on your trip to Big Island, Hawaii. Hawaii Volcanoes National park, established in 1916, is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and represents the sheer power of volcanoes to reshape land.

Any trip to the Big Island must include a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to truly experience Big Island. Below you will find all the information you need to plan your one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary.

Planning a trip to Big Island, Hawaii? Check my post about 7 days in Big Island itinerary for an epic Hawaiian vacation! It covers everything to do in Kona, Hilo, Waikoloa, Waimea and southern part of Big Island, all planned out for you! It also includes a day trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!

Where is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is in the south east region of Big Island, Hawaii. It takes around 2 hours drive each way from Kona. If doing a day trip to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park from Kona, make sure to start really early in the day.

Volcanoes Park is more easily accessible from the Hilo region and is only 45 minutes from Hilo downtown. I visited Volcanoes park from Hilo and it was the perfect one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary.

One day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary – Main attractions

The below itinerary will allow you to see and experience all the main sights of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, do the most popular hike, walk through a lave cave and rainforest and hopefully see the lava glow at night (if there is volcanic activity happening during your visit).

Your start time will depend on whether you are staying in Hilo or Kona. Staying in Hilo or Volcano park itself will make this one day itinerary more feasible. If you are coming from Kona, then start early around 7 AM so that you are in the park by 9 AM.

Kilauea visitor center

Kilauea visitor center is a great first stop in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The lobby features a lot of interactive displays about the park.

You can pick up a map, and talk to the park rangers about current park conditions, learn about the hikes and get information about the latest volcano eruptions.

The Kilauea visitor center is open 7 days a week from 9 AM to 5 PM, except on holidays.

Time needed: 30 minutes to see the displays and get current conditions information.

Kilauea Iki Crater hike

If you have time to do only one hike in Big Island then it should be the Kilauea Iki Crater hike. This is a very unique hike as you walk inside the Kilauea Iki volcano crater and also through a beautiful lush rainforest. Plus at the end you can visit a lava tube! 

This trail starts at the Kilauea Iki trailhead parking lot. The total roundtrip distance is around 3 miles and has some elevation of around 700 feet as you climb down the crater and then climb back up. But it is not very hard to do, more like moderate. 

Kiluea Iki Crater hike
Walking on the Crater lava floor in the Kilauea Iki Crater hike

I recommend doing this trail counterclockwise from the Kilauea Iki trailhead parking lot, which is what we did. The crater has a lot of huge lava rocks and broken earth surfaces at many places. 

You get some really beautiful views of the crater from the Kilauea Iki overlook. The crater is so big that pictures do not do justice as you cannot capture the entire crater from the hike. You have to see this one! The crater is so huge that people look like ants on the trail from far.

The way back up passes through a beautiful rainforest and the coolness is welcoming after walking across the crater. 

Time needed: Around 2 hours.

Nahuku – Thurston Lava Tube

If you did the Kilauea Iki Crater hike counterclockwise, on the way back to the parking lot make sure you visit the Nahuku – Thurston Lava tube. It’s a huge 500 year old lava cave and it is incredible to walk through it. The total walk is around less than half a mile and easily doable by all. There are no steps in the lave tube.

The lava tube has lights inside during the day from 8 AM to 8 PM. You might need a headlamp or phone light here for some dark areas. There might be some water puddles on the floor of the cave and some low ceilings for which you might need to watch your head. It was really cool and refreshing inside the cave after the hike through the crater.

Time needed: Around 30 minutes to explore the lava tube.

The Halema`uma`u crater Overlook at the Volcano House

Halemaumau crater Overlook at Volcano House
Steam rising from Halemaumau crater Overlook at Volcano House

After your hike, stop by at the Volcano House for taking in the view of the Halema`uma`u crater from their large overlook area. The Volcano house is opposite the Kilauea Visitor Center.

When we visited we could see steam coming out of the crater during day time. At this place you can take some beautiful pictures with the crater in the background. 

The Volcano House has guest rooms, cabins and campsites if you would want to spend the night in the national park. It also has a restaurant, gift shop and restroom facilities.

Time needed: 30 minutes to see the overlook, more if you plan to have lunch at the restaurant.

Crater Rim drive

Crater Rim drive is the main road in the park that goes around the Kilauea caldera and the Halema`uma`u crater. Everyone visiting the park is driving on this road even if unknowingly!

The main part of the road which has all the attractions is from Kilauea overlook to the Devastation trail area and is around 5.5 miles. After the recent Kilauea eruptions you can no longer drive the full perimeter of the Crater Rim Drive.

Time needed: It will take around 20 minutes by car from Kilauea overlook to the Devastation trail area without any stops. But you will likely make the stops below along the Crater Rim Drive. Don’t worry if you do not have time to do all the stops if short of time.

Ha‘akulamanu (Sulphur Banks)

The Sulphur Banks can be accessed via the short Sulphur Banks trail from either the Visitor Center or the Steam Vents parking lot. It is a total 1.2 mile loop. There is a paved trail at first and then a boardwalk to see the Sulphur vents up close. Please stay on the designated trails here as it could be dangerous wandering off trail!

At Sulphur Banks, you will see the volcanic gases and steam emitting from the earth’s surface, some cool rock formations and yellow mineral deposits. The smells of Sulphur is pretty strong here but a mask can help make it tolerable.

If you haven’t seen Sulphur banks before then make sure to stop by. I found it very similar to Yellowstone and Lassen National park. There are signs that say that the gases might not be suitable for pregnant women and very young children, also people with respiratory diseases.

Time needed: Around an hour to see the Sulphur Banks.

Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff) from Steam vents parking lot

Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff) viewpoint is a short walk from the Steam Vents parking area on the Crater Rim drive. Here you will see hot steam coming from the earth’s surface which is due to ground water falling on hot rocks and vaporizing.

There are some Steam Vents right near the parking lot which feel like a sauna when you stand near it! A cool experience.

Time needed: Just 5-10 minutes stop if viewing the Steam Vents from the parking lot. If exploring the trail to Steaming Bluff then 30 minutes to an hour.

Kilauea overlook

Kilauea Iki Crater hike

The Kilauea overlook on the Crater Rim Drive provides best views of the Kilauea caldera and the Halema`uma`u crater. This is also a great spot for viewing the glow of the lava in the dark.

There is a parking lot at the overlook. It is short walk up a paved trail to the various view points. This is the closest you can get to the Kilauea caldera safely.

Time needed – 30 minutes

Chain of Craters Road

The Chain of Craters scenic drive is within the Hawaii Volcano National park and is 19 miles long that takes you to the sea level.

Along this drive you will see volcano craters and rocks of varying sizes on both sides of the road. There are several hikes and vistas to explore along the way.

At the end of the Chain of Craters road is the Holei Sea Arch which is 90 feet high arch carved in the lava rocks due to erosion and is impressive to see. You will need to walk around 1000 feet at the end of the road to get to the arch viewing area.

Time needed – Around 3 hours for the drive and a couple of stops. Driving all the way to the ocean and back will take around 2 to 2 and half hours, so make sure you have enough daylight hours and gas in your car to complete this drive.

Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs

Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs are ancient carvings in hundreds of years old lava rocks that depict the life and culture of Native Hawaiian people. It represents hopes of a long and prosperous life and Puuloa means ‘hill of long life’.

Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs are towards the end of the Chain of Craters road, just before the Holei Sea Arch and accessible by a short 1.2 mile out and back hike, starting at the Puʻuloa parking area. Initial part of the hike is over rocky lava field and the later part is over a boardwalk built to view the Petroglyphs and protect them from foot traffic.

It can be very hot here in mid-day and there is no shade. Good hiking shoes, water, sunscreen, hats are recommended as the trail is rocky at the beginning.

Time needed: 30 minutes to an hour. It might be hard to fit this in a 1 day itinerary, depends on what other hikes you are planning to do in the day.

Devastation trail and night time lava glow sighting

Kilauea Volcano glow Big Island
Kilauea Volcano glow seen from Devastation Trail Big Island

Lava sighting depends on whether there is any volcanic activity going on at the time you visit. When we visited, the Kilauea volcano was active at that time. 

If there is volcanic activity you can stay after dark in the volcano park to see the lava glow.  The easiest way to see lava glow is from the overlook near the Devastation trail parking lot.

Park at the Devastation trail parking lot during sunset and walk the short and easy paved trail to the Kilauea overlook. From here you can see Halema`uma`u crater and any lava activity and glow. 

We were incredibly lucky to see the red glow of lava when we visited. It was a surreal experience to walk at night on the trail. The stars are usually bright and beautiful in the clear dark night sky as there is no light pollution here.

There were a lot of people on the trail so it was easy to find our way to the overlook to see the glow and back to our car. We just followed the crowds! 

Time needed: One hour for the walk and viewing the glow.

Stargazing at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Although the Maune Kea mountain peak (also in Big Island, Hawaii) has the largest research observatory in the world, Hawaii Volcanoes Nation park is also an excellent place for stargazing.

There is no light pollution for miles here, and on a clear night, you can see brilliantly shiny stars from anywhere in the park, just look up. You can use a stargazing app on your phone to identify some of the stars and constellations.

Summary of one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Itinerary

Red Blosson in lava crater
Red Blossom in lava crater

I bet that was a lot of information about the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park attractions! Remember, you do not need to do everything above and feel rushed. Pick a few that appeal to you most and enjoy them!

Below is a summary of a typical one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Itinerary which will make you see all the main attractions. Most of these are quick stops with the exception of the Kilauea Iki Crater hike and Chain of Craters road drive.

Summary of a typical one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Itinerary:

  • Start at the Kilauea visitor center – 30 minutes
  • Kilauea Iki Crater hike – 2 hours
  • Nahuku – Thurston Lava Tube – 30 minutes
  • The Halema`uma`u crater Overlook at the Volcano House – 30 minutes
  • Ha‘akulamanu (Sulphur Banks) – 30 minutes to an hour
  • Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff) / Steam vents – 10 minutes (view from the parking lot)
  • Kilauea overlook – 30 minutes
  • Chain of Craters road and Holei Sea Arch – 3 hours (if its not raining)
  • Lava Glow at dark from Devastation trail – 1 hour

Half day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary

With so much to see and experience in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I would not recommend spending just a half day here, but if you have no choice, then either arrive before sunrise or arrive later in the day and stay till dark, so that you can have a chance to see the glow.

You can still do everything below in half day, I would just skip the Chain of Craters Road drive as it is very long and can take up to 3 hours.

A Half day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary:

  • Start at the Kilauea visitor center – 30 minutes
  • Kilauea Iki Crater hike – 2 hours
  • Nahuku – Thurston Lava Tube – 30 minutes
  • The Halema`uma`u crater Overlook at the Volcano House – 30 minutes
  • Ha‘akulamanu (Sulphur Banks) – 30 minutes to an hour
  • Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff) / Steam vents – 10 minutes (view from the parking lot)
  • Kilauea overlook – 30 minutes
  • Lava Glow at dark from Devastation trail – 1 hour

2 days in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary

If you are planning to stay overnight in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, then you will have more time to explore the many attractions and hikes in the park.

You can do the Chain of Craters road drive on the second day and explore more stops along the way. Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs hike would be a good addition to your 2 day itinerary. You can also explore any of the additional hikes below:

Additional hikes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to consider on the 2nd day:

Devastation Trail to Puʻupuaʻi Overlook hike

Devastation Trail to Puʻupuaʻi Overlook is an easy 1 mile out and back hike from the Devastation trail parking lot to the Puupuai overlook. From the Puupuai overlook you can enjoy the views of the cinder cones in the Kilauea Iki crater.

The hike is paved and fairly easy to do. It is wheel chair and stroller friendly but some parts might have a slight uphill grade.

Time needed: 30 minutes

Halema‘uma‘u trail hike

rainforest hike Big Island

Halema‘uma‘u Trail is a moderate 1.7 mile out and back trail with around 450 feet elevation. The trail can be started from either the Kilauea visitor center (longer) or Volcano House (shorter).

The trail starts by descending through a lush rainforest to the floor of the Halema‘uma‘u crater. From the crater you can extend the hike by connecting with the Kilauea Iki Trail or Bryon ledge trail and make it longer.

Time needed: It can take you anywhere from 2 to 5 hours, depends if you combine it with other trails or just return back once you reach the crater floor.

Uēaloha (Byron Ledge) trail hike

Byron ledge trail is another trail in the same area at the edge that seperates the Halema‘uma‘u crater from the Kilauea Iki crater. After the recent eruptions only a portion of this trail is open.

You can access this trail from the Devastation trail parking lot and can combine it with Halema‘uma‘u Trail or Kilauea Iki Trail to make it longer.

Time needed: It can take you anywhere from 1 to 5 hours, depends if you combine it with other trails or just return back once you reach the edge of the craters.

Things to do near Hawaii Volcanoes National park

If you are staying in the Hilo region or Volcano park for a few days then below are some great places to visit in the east and south regions of Big Island, Hawaii.

Punalu black sand beach

Punaluu black sand beach Big Island
Punaluu black sand beach in Big Island

No matter how many days you are spending on Big Island, I believe the Punaluu black sand beach must be on your to do list for sure as it is very unique. The sand is actually tiny particles of black lava rocks and looks like black sand. You can spot some sea turtles in the water if you are lucky.

Punaluu Black Sand beach is on the south east part of the Island and around 30 minutes drive from Volcano park and 1 hour drive from Hilo.

Explore Hilo

Explore the town of Hilo by visiting the downtown Hilo region. Visit Coconut Island which is a small island accessible by a pedestrian bridge on Banyan drive. You can see incredible views of Mauna Kea mountain peak from Coconut island on a clear day.

Downtown Hilo
Downtown Hilo

Walk along Banyan Drive which is lined by massive banyan trees. The Banyan drive is called the ‘Hilo Walk of Fame‘ as these banyan trees were planted by celebrities. In front of each banyan tree is a plaque that lists the celebrity who planted it. Each banyan tree with its roots hanging from the branches and touching the ground seems like a mini forest!

Liliuokalani Park is a beautifully landscaped park in a Japanese garden style near Coconut island.

Visit the various waterfalls in Hilo like Akaka falls, Rainbow falls, Peepee falls. If you have time to visit only one waterfall in Big Island then it should be Akaka falls and Akaka state park.

Tips for visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Below are some tips that will help you have a great day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Carry your essentials

Carry essentials like a headlamp, park map, a rain jacket, reusable water bottle, some snacks and wear sturdy closed toe shoes. Hiking poles also if you use them.

Consider using the Shaka audio tour app on your phone

The Shaka Guides are really helpful to explore Big Island and they have a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park tour you can buy. The app uses your phone’s GPS location and gives you information about upcoming stops and attractions.

Stay on the designated trails

Make sure to follow the park rules and trail boundaries and signs. Stay on the trails. It can be dangerous to wander off trail here due to unexpected collapses and cracks in the surface.

Follow the Ahu (stacked rocks)

The park rangers here often mark trail paths with a small pyramid of lava rocks which are called ‘ahu’. It is a very unique thing in Big Island! Do not change the rock stacks or create your own please!

Fun fact – Did you know that the Big Island keeps growing in size with each volcano eruption? To learn more about the unique history of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visit the National Parks Service official website.

One day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Knowing these will help you plan a great one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary.

Is Kilauea volcano erupting?

The Kilauea volcano has been very active and erupting since September 2021. Before your visit make sure to check the current conditions of volcanic activity at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park official website.

Which is the best month to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

The best months to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are from November to March.

What is the best time of day to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

The best time in the day to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is from before sunrise to evening, or afternoon to after dark. Make sure you are there for sometime when the sky is dark so you can see the lava glow.

How much time do you need at Volcano National Park Hawaii?

You should plan to spend one full day at Hawaii Volcanoes National park, that much time is needed to see all that it has to offer. Staying overnight in the park is also an option, otherwise staying in Hilo is the best way to maximize your time in the park.

How to get to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Honestly, you will need a car in Big Island and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the many attractions and views and vistas. You can rent a car from the car rental agencies at Kona airport or Hilo Airport.

Alternately you can take a day tour from Kona, Waikoloa or Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are helicopter tours available to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for an aerial view.

Hours and admission fees

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, all year, even on holidays. You need to pay the below entrance fee to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

  • Private Vehicle ($30, valid for seven days)
  • Motorcycle ($25, valid for seven days)
  • Individual/Bicycle ($15, valid for seven days)

Where to stay in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Volcano house is the best place to stay if you want to spend the night in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This hotel is inside the Volcanoes National park with great views of the Halema`uma`u crater.

It has guest rooms, cabins, and campsites, and you can find something for all budgets. There is a restaurant and gift shop onsite.

Alternatively, Hilo is only 45 minutes away and makes a great base for a day trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Where to stay in Hilo

Banyan drive is where most of the better hotels are on Hilo side. There are fewer hotel options in Hilo than Kona, but you can definitely find something for a couple of nights.

We stayed at the Hilo Hawaiian hotel for 2 nights and it was comfortable with great views of the Coconut Island and Mauna Kea summit. This was a very affordable hotel price wise.

Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo by Doubletree Hilton is the only brand name hotel on the Hilo side. It is on Banyan drive with ocean views.

Conclusion: One day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary

I hope you now have all the information you need to plan your one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary. There is so much to see and experience here, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a sacred place for the people of Hawaii and an amazing, powerful land to visit!

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