Lava viewing at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park!

Lava viewing at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park!

After two extremely rest-filled nights, we woke early ready to go! We had to wait a bit for the desk staff to arrive so we could collect Jack’s work gear from behind the desk and our food from the kitchen. We re-packed the vehicle and left Hilo for Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park! While leaving Hilo we literally followed signs that said “volcano.” It was a couple hours of driving, and we saw a crazy wreck on the way with a car wrapped around a power line. It looked awful.

Once at the park, we stopped at the Visitor Center to collect maps and information. The power was out so I couldn’t buy souvenirs, and then a huge crowd of people appeared suddenly. We dashed away and went to the lava tube. The power was out, so people weren’t stopping. It was the biggest lava tube I have ever seen. Though I have only seen a handful in my life. I know they can be quite large and extremely long. It was neat walking in total darkness. And it would have felt completely empty if the maintenance team wasn’t shouting at each other trying to run backup power lines.

We decided to drive to the campsite and set up our tents. It is a first-come first-served site, and we had no idea how busy it would be this time of year. To my surprise, it was an extensive camp area. There are clearly a few designated sites with numbered posts, and then there is a whole region extending past that has equally nice camping. We grabbed a great little platformed site near the toiler and parking area. We were optimistic about good weather, but the platform was clearly designed for optimal rain drainage.

Next we stopped at some volcanic vents spewing out hot sulfurous gas. It wasn’t that interesting besides realizing that we were technically within the outermost crater walls. They have a nice path paving the whole crater perimeter. They apparently have a race around the crater each year. We walked up from a lookout to the Jagger Museum. It had the best crater overlook. A NP ranger told us not to take the route we had been planning to the ocean lava flow. She said the best lava access was from opposite side. Our route would have risked SO2 and lava rock dangers. Oops! I guess this is why it is so important to double check all backcountry plans with the appropriate authorities!

Before heading off for the long drive around, we drove down to Holei Arch at the end of the Chain of Craters Road. It is incredible to think about how young the lava cliff is compared to the crater above. The whole coast is literally building each day as the lava flows out into the ocean.

After thoroughly wandering the park, we headed off for the lava viewing. We had to drive back to the NP entrance and out toward Hilo, then dropped back down to the ocean on the east side of the park. This is technically private land, but the park has been acquiring portions as the lava flow migrates across. We hiked 4 miles out on a lava rock field. Then Erika, Libby, and I hiked out to the flowing lava. So bloody amazing!! Pahoehoe in action! Real flowing lava! I had close up access to lava when I hiked up Volcan de Pacaya in Guatemala, but I didn’t think we would be able to go so close to the real deal in a U.S. National Park! So neat how the cooling surface crackles as more molten lava flows below. It felt like we were ants walking across a giant brownie pan. I can understand their plight better than before. We were so small and insignificant compared to the crumbling surface of the lava field. After having our fill of close-up lava time, we headed back to Jack, waiting at the ocean lava flow viewing area. It was also amazing, but I wish we were much closer. The scale of 100 cubic km of flowing lava does not seem as mind boggling from a mile away. But that is truly a huge amount of lava. I know my description was brief, but this is something you have to experience to understand. It was of the neatest things I have ever done. I would happily return to spend more time wandering the lava field.

Late, dark, and tired, I drove us all the way back into HVNP. We stopped at the crater to see the glowing interior. We could see molten glow of lava below crater rim. Since the sky was still cloudy and rainy, the clouds really emphasized the red lava.

By then it was super late. I was cold and very tired of driving. We finished the haul back to camp, which felt like the longest four miles I have ever driven, and I went straight to bed. Surprisingly numerous tents had popped up while we were out exploring today. We were luckily there was still parking space available.


lave tube cave
Sister for scale.
Day shot of the crater seeping gases.
Modeling pahoehoe.
night views of the glowing crater
Feeling the heat!
Now watch me whip, whip, now watch me nene…
active lava!
Fresh ropey pahoehoe!
Holei Arch
Team sisters crater shot!
lava tube cave

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