(Photo by Richard Denton)

How close can you get to a volcano? In Hawaii, the answer may depend more on your nose than your knees. The Volcanoes National Park has areas that are easily accessible to visitors of all physical abilities but they come with an air quality warning.

The park brochure contains this visitor alert: “High amounts of dangerous sulphur dioxide gas are present in areas of the park.” When Rick visited over Memorial Day, the volcanic “vog” covered the coastline like a bank of clouds as they approached the island of Hawaii by boat. The air quality varies and updates are available from the park.

If you have no respiratory problems, the park provides unparalleled access to this geological phenomenon. It is possible to drive through the park and pullouts allow you to take in panoramic views. Wheelchairs for use in the park are available from the visitor center and many areas of the park and campgrounds are wheelchair accessible.

Walking and hiking trails offer a closer view. The visitor center provides information about trails, their difficulty and how long to allow for each hike. It is very important to stay on marked trails and to prepare for hot, shadeless treks across lava fields. Both day hikes and backcountry camping are allowed with proper permits.

It is possible to see the plume of smoke from the active volcano, the eerie landscape produced by lava flows, and even a lava tube in a one-day visit. The ten-dollar park pass is good for a week, however, so you might want to plan for more than one trip. The extensive network of hiking trails invites extended exploration.

Kilauea Volcano is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Oral traditions tell of many eruptions from ancient times. It has erupted 34 times since 1952 and continuously since 1983. The USGS ranks Kilauea among the world’s most active volcanoes and says it may even top the list.

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