Monday, November 2, 2020

Hot Destination: Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park

Buzz Andersen / Unsplash

Volcanoes aren't uncommon in the continental United States. For instance, Yellowstone National Park is one of the most volcanically active regions in the world. There's also Mount Saint Helens, Mount Baker, Mount Hood, and a bunch of other volcanoes of various levels of activity.

But if you're looking for the thrill of seeing a truly active volcano - and possibly even some lava flows - one of the best places in the world is Hawaii. And the best place in Hawaii is Volcanoes National Park.

Situated on the Big Island of Hawaii, Volcanoes National Park is home to not one but two of the world's most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. This makes it one of the best places on the planet to see the titanic forces that shape the earth's geology.

And because this is Hawaii, there's plenty more on offer. From tropical rainforest to pristine beaches to rich Polynesian culture, a trip to Volcanoes National Park can show you all that's best about Hawaii.

Getting There

Part of what makes Hawaii so unique is its remoteness. This island chain, though part of the US, isn't close to anywhere else. Realistically, the only way to get to Hawaii is to fly. 

The Big Island has two airports, Kona and Hilo. Most international flights land at Kona, but if you're coming from another of the islands, you may land in Hilo. If you’re flying in for a short trip to explore, consider leaving extra bags at a luggage storage facility back in San Francisco or LA so you can travel light.

From Hilo, Volcanoes National Park is only a 30-mile drive. From Kona, however, it's closer to 100 miles. Hilo is the largest city on the Big Island, so there's a good chance you'll be staying there, nice and close to the volcanoes.

Car rental is available at both airports and is generally the easiest way to get around. However, Hele-On Bus also provides public transportation from the airport and even runs a route to Volcanoes National Park. The bus will drop you at Volcano Village but goes no further into the park. That's why a rental car is the better option.

Seeing the Volcano

Once you reach the park, your first stop should be the Kilauea Visitor Center. Not only can you learn more about the volcanoes here, but the staff can inform you of the latest conditions before you set out to visit the mountain. This is important because the volcanoes are dynamic. In the park, conditions are constantly changing, and you want to keep yourself up-to-date on the latest information. Not just for safety, but also for the best chance of seeing the volcanoes in action.

Once you've picked up some maps and some guidance, it's time to explore for yourself. From the visitor center, Crater Rim Drive circles the vast caldera of Kilauea and allows you to explore all the features of this unique landscape. Steam vents and sulfur banks hint at the geological activity of the region, and you can park your car along the road and set out on foot to further explore these features.

Don't forget to stop at Puʻu Puaʻi Overlook to see the damage caused by a large eruption in 1959 that buried parts of the old road. You can also hike along Devastation Trail to see the destructive power of previous eruptions.

Whether you get to see any active lava flows depends on when you visit. During an active eruption, Hawaii is one of the best places on earth to see flowing lava. Remember to keep your distance from this dangerous phenomenon. When lava is flowing, local companies offer tours that can get you up close to these rivers of molten rock with minimal risk.

Chain of Craters Road

Once you've circled the volcano, consider a scenic drive along the Chain of Craters Road. This road that winds its way from the mountain to the sea will allow you to see the traces of past lava flows. Along the way, you'll find ancient archaeological sites, stunning viewpoints, lava tubes, and plenty of other interesting places to stop.

If no lava flows block the road, you'll reach the sea after 18 miles and a descent of around 3,700 feet.

Other things to do

Volcanoes National Park is the most visited attraction on the Big Island by a long way. But there's more to see here than just a volcano. For a landscape completely different from the barren rock of the volcano, check out Rainbow Falls in a lush rainforest setting. Or for a dose of history, visit Kealakekua Bay to see where Captain Cook, the first European to visit Hawaii, met a violent end.

Of course, this being Hawaii, there are also virtually endless beaches where you can swim in crystal clear waters and work on your tan. If you can, try visiting Green Sand Beach. As the name implies, the sand here has a greenish tinge from minerals in the surrounding rock. It's one of only four beaches in the world that have green sand.

Whether there is an eruption in progress or not, visiting an active volcano is an experience you won't soon forget. And on the Big Island of Hawaii, Volcanoes National Park is only one of many great attractions.

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References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papakolea_Beach
http://heleonbus.org/
https://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/ccr_tour.htm
https://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C4%ABlauea



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