Tips for Visiting Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

January 2, 2015, 8:57 AM HST
* Updated January 2, 9:14 AM
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a popular destination for visitors over the holidays.  Since Christmas, more than 4,400 people have explored the park’s many attractions.

The high amount of traffic makes for poor parking at peak hours (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) – especially at popular areas like Kīlauea Iki, Thurston Lava Tube, Jagger Museum, and Kīlauea Visitor Center – and may detract from getting the full experience of the park’s magnificence.

But with a little planning and preparation, it’s easy to avoid the large crowds and enjoy a memorable visit, according to Acting Superintendent Rhonda Loh.

Park rangers have come up with some useful tips to help visitors make the most of their park experience:

  • Show up before 10 a.m. to explore Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube).  Parking will be available and the tube will likely be empty of visitors.  Early morning is also a prime time for bird watching on the surrounding trails.
  • Hiking Kīlauea Iki trail?  Get there by 8 a.m. and out by 10:30 a.m. to miss the crowds and fully experience the four-mile journey that is one of the most scenic and popular trails in the park.
  • Explore Chain of Craters Road.  The historic and scenic drive has many scenic points, pullouts, and lesser-known hikes like Mauna Ulu and the Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs.  It begins at the summit of Kīlauea and continues 19 miles east to Hōlei Sea Arch.
  • Catch the glow of Halema‘uma‘u crater before sunrise or after 9 p.m. when most visitors have left the lookout.  The park is open 24 hours a day.
  • Jaggar Museum gets the largest crowds after 5:30 p.m. (6,670 people were counted in one night this week).  Avoid peak hours to get the best view of the geological exhibits throughout the museum.  If you can’t make it outside of peak hours (10 a.m. to 7 p.m), park at Kīlauea Overlook and bring a flashlight and jacket to walk the short trail leading up to the museum.  Park staff can assist you in finding the overlook.  Another option is to catch the crater’s glow from a less-visited area like Keanakāko‘i, ‘Akanikōlea (Steam Vents), or Kīlauea Iki Overlook.
  • Mauna Loa Road is a worthy destination during peak hours if the weather’s good.  The scenic drive offers spectacular views through ancient forests and recent lava flows.  Stop off at Kīpukapuaulu for an easy, well-forested hike full of native plants, views, and birdwatching.  Continue further on the road to take in the view at the Mauna Loa Overlook at 6,662 feet.

  • Explore Kahuku.  The area is free to visit, never crowded, and open for public visits on Saturdays and Sundays.  The former ranch is located on the mauka (mountain) side of Highway 11 near mile marker 70.5 in the Ka‘ū district.

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