The Ultimate Guide to One Day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Many come to the Big Island to see the lava glow from Halema’uma'u Crater. But there's so much more to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and you can see much of it in just one day.
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Many people who come to Hawaii want a mixture of adventure and relaxation. There are beautiful beaches to relax at with a cocktail in hand, but there are also volcanoes to explore, hikes to go on, and lots of other things to see! With only a limited number of days, it can be difficult to determine what to do and when.

That’s where our all-inclusive vacation packages come in! Hawaii Aloha Travel specializes in bringing people to Hawaii and creating unique vacation experiences. Our experts live in Hawaii and love sharing their knowledge of the islands with you. Working with local travel agents gives you a huge advantage because we know all of the insider spots and completely customize each trip based on your preferences. Your vacation will leave you feeling refreshed and you will leave with great memories of exploring the islands.

We know how to best mix relaxation and adventure, and which “must-do” experiences you should experience while you are here. If you come to the Big Island of Hawaii, one of the things you won’t want to miss is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Many people go to the Big Island to see the volcanoes and, hopefully, some lava. But the Big Island is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, and there is probably a lot you want to do and see here. If you only have time for one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I’ve got the perfect itinerary for you.

My itinerary follows many of the stops on the famous Chain of Craters Drive – with my own personal twist. It’s the best way to see as much as you can in the park in the quickest amount of time.

First Stop: Kilauea Visitor’s Center

The Kilauea Visitor’s Center is definitely the first stop you want to make once you get to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Park Rangers can tell you about current conditions and any trail closures. Based on that information, they can advise the best trails to take. I love hearing Park Ranger’s favorite trails and suggestions for things to do. Based on what they tell you, you might want to modify this itinerary.

Pro Tip: While you are at the Kilauea Visitor’s Center, look at the schedule for the day. Every day, there are Ranger Talks and Ranger Walks in different areas of the park. Park Rangers have a wealth of information that they love sharing with visitors. Plus, if you have any questions at all, just ask them!

If you want to see lava flow, they can also tell you about that. Keep in mind that a trip to see the Kalpana Lava flow would be mostly an all-day affair because you would need to leave the park around 2:00 pm. Read about my tips for visiting Kalpana lava flow here.

While you are at the Visitor’s Center, grab a map. There are only a few roads in the park, and only a few major attractions, so it should be easy to find everything if you have a map.You don’t want to rely on your cell phone’s GPS here.

Second Stop: Steam Vents

After leaving Kilauea Visitor Center, drive .8 miles to the Steam Vents. You can’t miss them along the left side. Ground water seeps down to the hot volcanic rocks in this area. The water returns to the surface as steam, creating these vents. There is a short walk that you can take around the Steam Vents, but this stop won’t take more than 10 minutes.

Take a quick stop to check out the steam vents, located near Kilauea Visitor’s Center.

Third Stop: Sulphur Banks

The Sulphur Banks are located across the street from the Steam Vents. This paved path is wheelchair accessible.

At the Sulphur Banks, volcanic gases seep out of the ground along with groundwater steam. These gases contain carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide (which makes it smell like rotten eggs).

The last time that I was in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I was able to go on a Ranger Walk through the Sulphur Banks, where the Park Ranger told us all about Hawaiian myths and legends.

The Sulphur Banks stink, but they are really cool to check out!

Visitors with heart or respiratory problems (such as asthma), pregnant women, infants, or young children should skip the Sulphur Banks. The smell can be pretty hard to take, so if you start to feel sick, just leave.

Third Stop:Kilauea Iki Overlook

Next, drive to the Kilauea Iki Overlook. There is so much history in this park, and many of the hardened lava flows that you see took place not that long ago. In 1959, Kilauea Iki was a lava lake. During that time, lava fountains could be seen as high as 1,900 feet! The crater is a mile long, 3,000 feet across, and the floor is 400 feet below the overlook.

The Kilauea Iki Overlook is a gorgeous spot to stop and snap a few pictures.

By now, Kilauea Iki has hardened and you can walk on it if you decide to do the 4-mile moderate Kilauea Iki Trail. If you only have one day in the park, though, it would be best to skip this trail and continue on your journey.

Fourth Stop: Thurston Lava Tube

The Thurston Lava Tube is one of the most popular attractions in the park. It’s about 1/3 mile walk and takes about 20-30 minutes. The area around the lava tube is unlike many other areas of the park because you will walk through a lush forest to get to it.

The entrance to Thurston Lava Tube is located in a lush forest.

Thurston Lava Tube was created several hundred years ago when a river of red lava rushed through! Watch your head in the tube because there are some spots with a low ceiling! As of this writing, the lights in the lava tube are out, so bring a flashlight. Otherwise, it will be pitch black inside and you won’t be able to go inside.

Thurston Lava Tube gets its name from being discovered by newspaper publisher Lorrin Thurston in 1913.

Fifth Stop: Lunch

There aren’t many places to eat in the park, so your best bet is to bring something yourself. Head to the Jaggar Museum and eat a sandwich while sitting on a bench outside, looking out at the Halema’uma’u Crater. Or, you could eat at Volcano House, which serves lunch from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. Keep in mind that the longer you eat lunch, the less time you will have for exploring.

Sixth Stop: Jagger Museum

The Jaggar Museum is a small museum that is packed with information about volcanoes and the park. You can learn about how the Hawaiian islands were formed and even touch different kinds of lava rock! I love this museum and it’s great for all ages. In just a few minutes, you will learn so much about how lava is studied, the Hawaiian islands, and even about Hawaiian mythology and the goddess of lava, Pele. There is also a gift shop in the museum.

From the museum, you can also see Halema’uma’u Crater. Use the telescopes outside to get an even better view. There are many Park Rangers at the museum that are available to answer any questions you may have and help you use the telescopes. They also give Ranger Talks here throughout the day. If you have a chance, they are well worth it.

Seventh Stop: Holei Sea Arch

Next, take the drive down to Holei Sea Arch. You will be taking Chain of Craters road to get here, so stop at any lookout points along the way that look interesting to you. You will pass many miles of lava rock. There will be information about all of the different lava flows at each stop.

To get to the Holei Sea Arch, park your car and take a short walk down to the ocean. Holei Sea Arch is about 90 feet tall and was created within the last 100 years. This natural arch was formed by lava and water and will one day crumble into the ocean.

Holei Sea Arch

Holei Sea Arch is a spectacular sight to see, and so are the views as you look out into the ocean.

Ocean views from the lookout point at Holei Sea Arch

Eighth Stop: Dinner at Volcano House

Eat your dinner while enjoying the views of Halema’uma’u Crater. Time your reservation so that you will be eating during the sunset. As the sun goes down, the lava glow from Halema’uma’u Crater gets darker and darker, from a pink to orange to bright red, and many colors in between.  It’s beautiful and it’s the perfect way to end a long day of sightseeing.

Pro Tip: Volcano House also has the best gift shops in the park. There are two different gift shops, so make sure you check them both out.

Ninth Stop: Halema’uma’u Crater

Now that it’s nice and dark, head over to Halema’uma’u Crater. Most visitors go during sunset, so it’s hard to get a good viewing spot. Once the sun goes down, people tend to leave.

If you go about an hour after sunset, you will be able to enjoy the more vibrant colors from the lava flow. Plus, most everyone else will already have left. Hang out, take a few pictures, and it will be time to retire after a long but rewarding day at the park.

Lava glow from Halema’uma’u Crater at night.
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