Before tourism became the islands’ middle name, their singular attraction for visitors wasn’t the beach, but the volcano. From the world over, curious spectators gathered on the rim of Kilauea’s Halemaumau crater to see one of the greatest wonders of the globe. More than a century after it was named a national park in 1916, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remains the state’s premier natural attraction, home to two active volcanoes and one of only two World Heritage Sites in the islands.
In May 2018, Halemaumau was rattled by earthquakes and its lava lake started to drain. At the same time lava started coursing through fissures in Puna, the crater began expelling ash and rocks in a manner not seen since 1924, when boulders landed a half-mile away due to steam explosions caused by magma sinking into the water table. Forced to close for safety reasons, the park reopened in September 2018, but not before the seismic upheaval had caused the crater to quadruple in volume.
Sadly, after driving about 100 miles from Kailua-Kona or 29 miles from Hilo, many visitors pause only briefly by the highlights along Crater Rim Drive before heading back to their hotels. To allow the majesty and mana (spiritual energy) of this special place to sink in, you should really take at least 2 or 3 days—and certainly 1 night—to explore the park, including its miles of trails.
Fortunately, the admission fee is good for 7 days. Be prepared for rain and bring a jacket, especially in winter, when it can be downright chilly at night, in the 40s or 50s (single digits to midteens Celsius).