Hotspot volcanoes

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is America’s Hot Spot

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63 Parks Traveler started with a simple goal: visit every national park in the United States. Avid backpacker and public lands nerd Emily Pennington saved up, built a little van to travel and live in, and hit the road, practicing the best COVID-19 safety protocols along the way. Parks as we know them change quickly and she wanted to see them before it was too late. Hawaii Volcanoes is his 61st visit to the park.


Hawaii Volcanoes is full of duality. When I arrived at the park, on the southeast end of the Big Island, I was surprised to find that the lush tropical foliage of the area was punctuated by thick bands of ancient lava flows clinging on the back of the Kilauea like black veins. Steam vents hissed clouds of noxious gases into the bright blue sky. But I knew the earth here glowed from within.

Thinking a ranger would have some great suggestions for the best hiking trails through the pocky volcanic terrain, my friend Ave and I directed our rented VW Eurovan motorhome to the Kilauea Visitor Center and we are directed to the helpdesk. It was morning, and our passion was high when we heard that some of the best options start right where we are.

We both hiked the Haakulamanu (Sulphur Banks) Trail, where the stench of rotten eggs and the radioactive yellow color of sulfur crystals greeted us. Seeking a little more geologic action, we turned right onto Crater Rim Trail and started crossing the rim of the most active volcano on the planet. As we stopped at each viewpoint, we began to notice that wreaths of flowers had been left on many of the railings – offerings to the goddess Pelehonuamea.

Pelé, also known as She Who Shaped the Sacred Land, is a deity of both creation and destruction. According to native Hawaiians, she makes her home in the Halemaumau Crater atop Kilauea’s 4,009ft summit, and while her volatile and unpredictable forces can obliterate a swathe of verdant rainforest with a torrent of molten lava, she is also the mother of the nascent earth. himself. Since 1983, over 70 acres of new land have been added to this side of the island.

A few days before my flight to Hawaii left Los Angeles, Kilauea started to erupt again for the first time since September 2018. How lucky! Having never seen lava before in person, I was determined to witness firsthand the birth of new soil. Ave and I returned to the van and set off for our next point in the park.

The author walking through one of the park’s lava fields (Photo: Emily Pennington)

In the afternoon we hiked the 5.3 mile Kilauea Iki trail, which explores the crater of a massive 1959 eruption. I found myself completely charmed by pioneer plants hardy enough to begin the erosion work dark volcanic rock in the ground. Flamboyant splashes of red and green adorned the trail as we passed whimsical ohia lehua trees, standing like sentinels to guard the legendary landscape.

At dusk, we returned to the Kilauea Caldera, waiting for the last ray of sunlight to marvel at the glowing chasm of active eruption taking place there. The wholesome tropical greenery all around us betrayed the apparent devastation and disruption at depth. The park was a paradox, an invitation to hold two truths equally in my mind. After so many pandemic upheavals, it was a skill I had begun to find necessary.

Birth and death. Creation and destruction. The essential ingredients of life, I thought as the solid ground from my vantage point descended hundreds of feet into a lake of luminous pink fire. Something about facing the truth head on made me feel more fearless than I had in a long time. I held my breath in admiration.

63 Parks Traveler Hawaii Volcanoes Information

Cut: 323,431 acres

Location: The Big Island of Hawaii

Created in: 1916 (Hawaii National Park)

Best for: Volcano viewing, hiking, native history, geology, scenic drives

When should we go: Thanks to its tropical location, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park maintains a relatively warm and humid climate throughout the year; however, summer (54 to 74 degrees) sees slightly less precipitation. Winter (49 to 68 degrees) is considered peak season for the Hawaiian Islands, while spring (50 to 71 degrees) and fall (54 to 73 degrees) are shoulder seasons and see fewer crowds.

Where to stay: I chose to hire a vintage Eurovan from the lovely folks at Outdoorsy. This, coupled with a rural Hipcamp near the National Park, made it easy to snack, sleep, and hang out whenever we wanted. Additionally, Hawaii Volcanoes hosts two of its own campgrounds with drive-through access: Namakanipaio, which has restrooms, drinking water, barbecue grills, and picnic tables, and Kulanaokuaiki, a more rustic dry camp with restrooms. and picnic. the tables.

Mini adventure: Take an easy hike along Crater Rim Trail, then take a scenic drive. If you only have one day in the park, you’ll be remiss if you don’t spend part of it circling Kilauea’s massive caldera and gazing at the steam and smoke rising from it. volcano eruption. Then, take a winding road along the 19-mile chain of craters, which begins near Kilauea Iki Lookout and continues past decades of ancient lava flows before reaching the park’s Coastal District and truly breathtaking views of the ocean.

Mega Adventure: Splurge on a helicopter ride for jaw-dropping vistas of Halemaumau Crater from above and witness the raw power of molten rock morphing into new earth. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offers an epic Circle of Fire trip ($369), which departs from Hilo on the island’s east side and flies travelers past shadow-tinted cinder cones and red lava fountains at inside the volcanoes of Hawaii.

Editorial Note: Check with the Park Service for the most current viewing conditions of active areas, as closures may occur at any time depending on eruptive activity.