From the Mountains to the Sea: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

From the Mountains to the Sea: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Nicole Dulaney

Welcome to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, where within few hours drive you can go from being at a Volcano to the Pacific Ocean. Nestled on the Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers a unique, mesmerizing experience that combines natural beauty, geological wonders, and the raw power of nature. Home to some of the most active volcanoes in the world, including Kilauea and Mauna Loa, this park is a must-visit for anyone craving adventure and an up-close encounter with the Earth’s fiery heart. From driving the Crater Rim Drive to visiting the Holei Sea Arch, every step and turn within this park presents an unforgettable journey.

Driving the Crater Rim Drive

Your exploration begins with the Crater Rim Drive, a scenic route that offers breathtaking views of the Kilauea Caldera. This drive is more than just a road; it's a gateway to understanding the immense scale of volcanic activity that shapes the Hawaiian landscape. As you navigate through the lush rainforest and barren desert landscapes, the contrasting beauty of the area will leave you in awe. The drive includes several overlooks and stops, providing perfect opportunities to capture photographs or simply soak in the panoramic vistas of the caldera and its surroundings. This is a great drive for anyone that wants to see sights but might not be in for a long hike.

Visiting the Kilauea Caldera

The heart of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Kilauea Caldera, is a must-visit. This massive crater, formed by countless eruptions over centuries, offers a glimpse into the Earth's volatile nature. The Halema'uma'u Crater, located within the caldera, has been particularly active in recent years, displaying glowing lava lakes and frequent eruptions that remind visitors of the land's living, breathing nature. Viewing platforms around the caldera offer safe and spectacular vantage points to witness the power of creation and destruction inherent to our planet. Check the National Parks site before visiting to see if there are any active eruption sites.

Hiking Through Steam Vents and Sulfur Banks

A journey through the park’s diverse landscapes isn’t complete without experiencing the steam vents and sulfur banks. At Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff), you can feel hot water vapor as it billows from the ground in steam vents. This striking phenomenon is created as ground water seeps down to rocks heated by magma deep underground. The rocks are so hot that it vaporizes the water, returning it to the surface as steam. Hiking trails meander through these geothermal features, allowing you to witness the Earth's heat escaping from beneath the surface. A short distance away, at Ha'akulamanu (Sulphur Banks) is an easy 1.2 mile trail where volcanic gases seep out of the ground, along with ground water steam. These fumes can be amazingly hot. In 1922, scientists drilled two holes to measure underground heat in the area. Temperature measurements remained constant at 205° F (96° C) down to 50 feet (15 m), the maximum depth drilled. The contrast of the vibrant yellow sulfur deposits against the backdrop of the lush park scenery creates a surreal landscape, akin to walking on another planet.

Climbing Through the Thurston Lava Tube

Another highlight of the park is the Thurston Lava Tube, known in Hawaiian as Nahuku. This natural tunnel was formed by flowing lava that cooled and solidified on the outside while the molten core continued to flow, eventually leaving behind a hollow tube. Walking through this dimly lit, cathedral-like cave, you'll be enveloped in a sense of awe at nature’s ability to sculpt such incredible formations. The experience of standing inside what was once a river of lava is both humbling and exhilarating. Be aware of hazards while walking through the lava tube, be aware of rockfalls, low hanging ceilings, standing water, tripping hazards, and low light. Bring a flashlight or headlamp with you for this hike.

Visiting the Holei Sea Arch

Concluding your adventure, drive down the Chain of Craters road to the Holei Sea Arch at the park’s coastline. This natural arch, carved by the relentless power of the ocean waves, stands as a testament to the ever-changing landscape shaped by both fire and water. The sea arch provides a picturesque end to your journey, offering a moment of reflection on the immense forces that shape our world. It's a reminder of the beauty and power of nature, constantly at work in creating and reshaping the Earth. There are many craters and stops along the Chain of Craters road as well, some include some hikes on lava fields which I would highly recommend.


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not just a destination; it's an experience that captivates the mind, body, and soul. From the awe-inspiring vistas of the Crater Rim Drive to the ethereal beauty of the Thurston Lava Tube and the majestic presence of the Holei Sea Arch, the park offers an unparalleled adventure. It’s a place where the Earth's power is visible, tangible, and awe-inspiring, inviting visitors to ponder their place in the natural world. Whether you're an avid hiker, a geology enthusiast, or simply someone seeking the thrill of adventure, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park promises an unforgettable journey through the heart of Hawai'i's volcanic landscape.

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