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Watch the landscape change before your very eyes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Located 30 miles southwest of Hilo, this is the home of Kilauea Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. The chance to witness the primal process of creation and destruction make this park the most popular visitor attraction in Hawaii and a sacred place for Native Hawaiians.
Founded in 1916, the Park encompasses 333,000 acres from the summit of Maunaloa to the sea. Here you'll find 150 miles of hiking trails through volcanic craters, scalded deserts and rainforests as well as a museum, petroglyphs, a walk-in lava tube and two active volcanoes: Maunaloa, which last erupted in 1984 and Kilauea which has been erupting since January 3rd, 1983. The extraordinary natural diversity of the park was recognized in 1980 when it was named a World Biosphere site by UNESCO and in 1987 when the park was again honored as a World Heritage site — the only such site in Hawaii, and one of only 20 in the U.S.
Kilauea is sometimes called "the world's only drive-in volcano." This prolific volcano currently produces 250,000-650,000 cubic yards of lava per day, enough to resurface a 20-mile-long, two-lane road daily. As of January 1994, 491 acres of new land have been created on Hawaii's Big Island. The current eruption may last another 100 years or stop tomorrow. Pele, the volcano goddess who lives here, is very unpredictable. But the chance to watch Kilauea's blistering lava flows meet the sea (currently you can watch this from outside the park in Kalapana) is just one of the reasons to visit. Here are other essential Park attractions:
Kilauea Visitor Center
Open daily: 7:45 am to 5 pm
Begin your visit at the Kilauea Visitor Center where you can watch an hourly film from 9 am to 4 pm to introduce you to the park. Ranger talks are offered and ranger-guided activities can be scheduled. Pick up maps, learn about the park's hikes and get the latest eruption updates here.
Crater Rim Drive
Crater Rim Drive is the 10.6-mile drive that circles Kilauea Caldera. Driving around this loop will take you to the park's main attractions: the Kilauea overlook, Jaggar Museum, Halemaumau Crater, Devastation Trail, Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook and the Thurston Lava Tube.
Thomas A. Jagger Museum
Open daily: 8:30 am to 5 pm
Thomas A. Jaggar pioneered the study of volcanology here at Kilauea. Here you can find geologic displays, maps and videos about the study of volcanoes.
Steam vents plume from this massive crater, known as the home of Pele, the volcano goddess. In 1967, this crater was filled with a lake of lava that eventually drained away. Great respect should be paid at this sacred site.
Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku)
Walk through a 500-year old lava cave formed when an underground channel of molten lava drained from its cooled walls forming a massive, hollow chamber. A tropical rainforest awaits you at the end of the tube.
Puu Oo Vent
Currently Kilauea's lava activity isn't centered in its caldera (the large depression at the top of the volcano) but at the Puu Oo vent in the East Rift Zone. Puu Oo's lava flood underground tubes that empty dramatically into the sea. You can watch this spectacle at the end of Chain of Craters Road or get a closer look from the new Kalapana viewing site outside the park.
Chain of Craters Road
Ranger station open daily: 10:00 am to 9 pm
Veering south of Crater Rim Drive is Chain of Craters Road. This 3,700-foot drive eventually ends where a lava flow has literally overtaken the road.
The Volcano House hotel overlooking Halemaumau Crater has been operating since it was a grass shack in 1846. Even Mark Twain once stayed here on his visit to Hawaii. The fire in the lava rock fireplace has been continually burning since 1877.
Be prepared on your visit. Bring food and water since there are no facilities in the park. Dress appropriately with shoes, long pants, and a jacket. Bring binoculars and a flashlight at night. And don't forget your camera.
For your safety, please stay on marked routes, heed all warning signs, and stay out of restricted areas. There is a danger of harmful volcanic gases and unstable land in these areas.
Finally, allow plenty of time for your trip. To maximize your experience consider staying at the Volcano House, in the nearby Volcano Village, or Hilo, which is only 45 minutes away. The drive to and from Kona is about 3 hours each way.
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