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1.2M Visitors Flock to Volcanoes National Park in ’21

By Tom Hasslinger
February 22, 2022, 6:15 PM HST
* Updated February 22, 5:17 PM
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Quiet travel season due to the pandemic?

Not quite.

In 2021, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park ranked among the top 100 most-visited national parks in the U.S., the park announced on Tuesday. The popular destination came in at No. 63, thanks to 1.2 million visitors who passed through the gates.

That number isn’t as robust as pre-pandemic levels, but it was certainly more than in 2020.

“It was definitely up from 2020 of course, but if you look back on previous years, like 2017, we had 2 million plus,” park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane told Big Island Now.

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Overall, visitations to the park in 2021 increased 114% from 2020 when 589,775 people came during the first year of the pandemic. Park visitation stats can be viewed by clicking here.

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“You’ll notice that visitation has a tendency to ‘go with the flow’ – it often soars when there is good viewing like now,” she said.

That’s because the park has so much more to offer than lava.

While most visitors to HVN limit their visit to the often-crowded summit of Kīlauea hoping to witness an eruption, the volatile history of Mauna Loa volcano is revealed in the park’s uncrowded Kahuku Unit, located in Kaʻū, HVNP stated in a news release Tuesday, Feb. 22.

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The Kahuku entrance is just an hour drive south of the park’s main entrance, with eight hiking trails, a deep pit crater enrobed in native plants, and a 150-year ranching history. Rolling green puʻu (hills) intersect with lava from the 1868 eruption of Mauna Loa, one of the most profound natural disasters in Hawaiian history. It is a captivating landscape, and one that most visitors miss on their way to Kīlauea.

Another “must-go” park, located about 100 miles from the main entrance of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, is Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site in Kawaihae. The massive heiau (temple) built by Kamehameha the First, his warriors and other kāne (men) is a monument to the beginning stages of the Hawaiian Kingdom. This is where Kamehameha sealed the fate of his Kaʻū cousin, Keōua Kūʻahuʻula, ending a bloody civil war. It is also where blacktip reef sharks cruise over a submerged heiau. A scenic stretch of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail starts just south of the heiau, the news released explained.

Kahuku and Puʻukoholā Heiau do not charge entrance fees. The $55 Hawaiʻi Tri-Park Pass provides access to three fee-charging parks in Hawaiʻi: Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park and Haleakalā National Park on Maui. The tri-park pass is available at the participating parks’ entrance stations and is valid for one year from the purchase date.

The steady of stream of people doesn’t come without some difficulties, Ferracane pointed out.

“It’s important to understand that increased visitation comes with challenges,” she said. “For instance, during the recent winter holidays, parking lots at the summit viewing sites were often full and we would have to temporarily close them, and traffic was backed up with people trying to get into the park to see the eruption.  We also had several nene die from being struck by vehicles.” 

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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