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Park Rangers Offer Tips for Safe, Less Crowded Viewing Experience of Lava Flow

January 1, 2021, 11:03 AM HST
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A family watches a plume of gas and steam rise from Kīlauea just after sunrise from the Keanakākoʻi viewing area. NPS Photo/Janice Wei.

With the excitement of the new eruption at Kīlauea, rangers at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park have some tips on how to observe the lava flow safely with fewer crowds.

The first tip rangers say is to stay on trail. Crater edges are unstable and can collapse without warning, causing serious injury or death. Off-trail areas are unstable from the 2018 summit collapse, and cracks and other unseen hazards could lurk below thin layers of soil or ash. This is especially concerning between trails and the crater rim.

With the park being open 24 hours, rangers suggest avoiding coming to the park between 5 and 8 p.m. as everyone wants to see the Kīlauea glow in the dark. A couple of the most popular viewing sites are the Kīlauea Overlook and Wahinekapu, but their parking lots fill quickly, and overflow parking at Kīlauea Military Camp is a mile or more away.

Rangers suggest coming to the park after 8 p.m. or an hour or two before sunrise. Bring a flashlight and don’t forget warm clothes, rain gear and sturdy footwear.

Rangers also suggest finding other less popular locations to observe the flow. Visitors can park at Kīlauea Visitor Center and find a vantage point nearby. Head for Volcano House for the view, then walk east on Crater Rim Trail towards Waldron Ledge. There are some not-so-secret but far less crowded vantage points along the way and at Waldron Ledge. It’s not safe to share air or stand shoulder to shoulder due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep six feet apart and wear a mask.

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The new eruption began Dec. 20, 2020, and has become an approximately 82-acre, 600-foot-deep lava lake being fed by two vents. The lava lake is contained within a closed area at Halemaʻumaʻu, Kīlauea volcano’s summit crater, and is not visible to the public. Dangerous levels of volcanic gas, rockfalls, explosions and volcanic glass particulates are the primary hazards.

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