It’s easy to have a perfect day at Volcano National Park. I mean, you’re in Hawaii, for one thing, where perfect days seem to stack up one after the other after the other, lined up like a row of dominos for the duration of your stay. Regardless, here are a few tips to make your day at Volcano National Park as perfect as can be.

Before you even take off for the park, pack water and snacks. You’re in for an adventurous day, and lack of supplies will only make you hangry (hungry + angry, of course!)

Aim for an early start. Now, I’m not talking sunrise along Crater Rim Drive (unless that is your idea of a fun morning!). Anytime before noon will be fine. When you drive in and pay your entrance fee ($10 for a weekly car pass), the park ranger will tell you about any volcano activity that may impact your visit. One of the coolest parts about visiting Volcano is that you get a sense for how truly alive our earth is. Yes, the closures can be a bit disappointing. But our earth is growing and changing right in front of your eyes! Small price to pay, right?

To get a good background of the park, go the visitor’s center. A twenty minute video shown on a loop giving a good introduction to the park, along with an intriguing explanation of Pele, Hawaiian Goddess of Fire. Grab a map from the information desk and head back out to your car to head up to Jaggar Museum. Here you’ll get an up-close view of all the different kinds of lava, and also see the working seismographs measuring current volcano activity throughout the park.

Outside Jaggar, you’ll get a great view of the giant Halema`uma`u crater. It is massive. Take it in.

Because of road closures, visitors often have to turn around on Crater Rim Drive and go back toward the entrance. Pop out when you hit the Steaming Bluff and watch the hot water flow up from the ground, and then continue on Crater Rim Drive, passing the park entrance. Head all the way around and turn right onto Chain of Craters Road. The rest stop about 9 miles down sits on the edge of the coast, looking down at the water. It can be windy, but the view is worth it. Unpack that awesome lunch you brought, grab a few lava rocks to weigh your sandwich bags down, and enjoy that view.

When you go back up Chain of Craters Road toward Crater Rim Drive, you’ll hit Devastation Trail right at the junction. It’s about a mile round trip, easy and flat. As the name implies, it’s dry and desolate, save for a sad, prickly tree or two. Don’t forget to drink some of that water you packed!

After you’ve seen Devastation, hit up the Thurston Lava Tube for a completely different environment. The giant lava tubes sit below a lush, green, cool forest with damp tree bark and flowers poking out of every crevice. The 1/3 mile loop ends with a walk through the lava tube – a fantastic natural creation left over from a flow of lava that swept through several hundred years earlier. If you love this part as much as I did, you’ll want to walk the loop twice.

At this point, it might be nice to take a few hours away from the park. You’re running quite low on snacks at the point, and I know how much of a hazard that is. In the village of Volcano you’ll find a few restaurants. Thai Thai restaurant and the German-inspired Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant are particularly good choices for a nice meal in the area.

Once darkness falls, head back to the park and ask the ranger at the entrance if there is any lava visible that night. Oh, yes? Aren’t you lucky! Follow his instructions and join the crowd at the viewing spot. There really is nothing like seeing a hot pink glow spewing up from the ground. A fantastic end to a perfect day.

What & Where

Click here for more information on Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Click here for more infomation on Jaggar Museum
Thai Thai restaurant (19-4084 Volcano Road, Volcano; 808-967-7969)
Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant (19-3948 Old Volcano Rd Volcano; 808-967-7366; www.kilauealodge.com)

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