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This is the second post in our three-part guide series to the Big Island of Hawaii. Volcanoes National Park is one of the most unique places that Jesse and I have ever visited. We opted to spend a full day exploring the highlights of the park, which I will touch on in this article. You could spend one day or one week and never run out of things to do within the park. Read on to discover more about exploring Volcanoes National Park, visiting a local winery, and choosing a beautiful and secluded AirBNB option.
If you have not read Part 1, which shows you how we got to Hawaii, check it out here. Part 1 also explains the Gypsy Tour App, which we HIGHLY RECOMMEND you download and use during your drive around the island. The app has specific narration for Volcanoes National Park, so you can turn on the narration and enjoy!
Kilauea Visitor Center
We drove through the gates, paid the $25 entrance fee, and then made our way to the visitor’s center. We arrived just before 10 a.m. and asked if there were any special programs or things we should know. The volunteers explained the layout of the park and suggested a free walking tour. The 1.5-hour tour, led by Ranger Rick (yep, Ranger Rick), was very informative. It was a great introduction to the park and gave us an expert’s perspective on the many places we should visit throughout the day. The tour wrapped up with a fantastic viewpoint of the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. The crater is absolutely massive!
Crater Rim Drive
The Thurston Lava Tube is a quick and easy 1/3 mile loop track down some stairs and through the 600-foot long tube. Lava tubes are caves created by rivers of molten lava flowing through the ground after the outer portion of the lava flow has cooled and hardened.
Next, Devastation Trail is a 1-mile trail that runs through a desolate landscape. You can clearly see the impact the lava had in the area. When you walk the trail, be sure to pick up some of the lava rocks. You will notice how light and airy they are. We walked about a quarter mile of the trail – enough to see the lava and get an idea of the area.
Stop in at Jaggar Museum to learn a bit more about the history of the Hawaiian islands. You can see how the islands have formed as the Earth’s plate shifts over the volcanic hot spot. Definitely worth a quick browse, even if you’re not a “museum person.”
The main attraction at the museum, however, is the viewpoint for the active lava. On this particular day, we could see the steam and bubbling lava very clearly. On rare occasion, the lava lake flows over and covers the whole bottom of the crater.
Since our visitor pass to the park was good for the entire day, we revisited the museum overlook after dinner. It was pretty crowded, but we were so glad that we experienced both the day and night views of the crater.
Chain of Craters Road
This drive is definitely worth the time. There are several great stops along the road to break up the drive. Besides the many viewpoints and lava field stops, we loved the ancient petroglyphs and the Holei Sea Arch.
The Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs can be accessed by hiking about 1.5 miles round trip over the lava field. There, you will find where ancient Hawaiian people carved different symbols into the lava. The area is exposed and the hike felt longer than advertised, but it is worth the effort. Be sure to bring water and sunscreen!
The last stop in the park is the Hōlei Sea Arch. It is a short walk from the parking area, and you are sure to get some great pictures here.
After a long day of exploring the park, what better spot to visit than a winery? Volcano Winery is about 10 minutes from the park entrance and is a great place to stop. For $8, you can sample all of their wines. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Dinner in Volcano
We used Yelp to guide us to a spot for dinner. Ohelo Café was very well-rated, and looked busy (always a plus!) The food and service were great… Jesse highly recommends the ribs! Make a reservation if you intend to eat dinner here. We luckily grabbed the last two seats on the patio, but we saw several walk-ins turned away because the place is small and very popular.
Bamboo Moon – AirBNB
Exploring Volcanoes National Park properly is a full-day affair. We did not want to drive all the way back to Hilo, since we knew we would be driving back through Volcanoes and around the southern coast the following day. After a bit of searching, we came across an amazing, secluded AirBNB halfway between the park and Hilo. This turned out to be one of the best all-around AirBNB experiences we have ever had. Our hostess, Barbara, is the sweetest person and made sure we were well taken care of. We only stayed one night but would have happily stayed longer.
Barbara told us that she recently renovated half of her house to list on AirBNB. She did a phenomenal job! The duplex-style house is spotless. It is secluded, and the sounds of the water feature out front and the tree frogs made for a great ambiance. I even got up in the morning and did some yoga in the sitting room to soak in the peacefulness of our surroundings. All of the amenities you could need are included.
We felt like we were staying with family and would 100% recommend this amazing place to any friends, family, and strangers! This is the perfect place to stay when you visit Volcanoes National Park! If you’ve never used AirBNB before, you can sign up through our link to receive $40 off your first stay.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Big Island Guide coming soon!