Looking for an eco-friendly adventure on Hawai’i Island? Discover a paradise where nature and sustainability harmoniously coexist. Many local businesses value and embrace sustainability. Beyond the postcard beauty, the region is increasingly embracing ecotourism, a transformative shift towards responsible exploration and the conservation of the islands’ natural splendor.

Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii is an amazing destination known for its dynamic volcanic landscapes, lush rainforests, and stunning views. Whether you are an avid hiker seeking challenging trails or a casual explorer looking for a leisurely walk, the park offers a variety of hikes to suit all levels of fitness and experience. Even if you’re staying in Kona, a day trip to Volcanoes National Park is a must. With its dramatic scenery and unique geological features, a trip to this park is a highlight of any Hawaiian adventure. Here are some of the best hikes in Volcanoes National Park, categorized by difficulty.

Easy Hikes

1. Kilauea Iki Trail

Kilauea Iki Trail offers a relatively easy and highly rewarding hiking experience. The trail is approximately 4 miles round trip and typically takes around 2-3 hours to complete. Starting at the Kilauea Iki Overlook, the trail descends through a lush rainforest before reaching the crater floor. Here, you can walk across a solidified lava lake that was once a boiling cauldron of molten lava during the 1959 eruption. Steam vents and fascinating rock formations make this hike both educational and visually stunning.

2. Sulphur Banks Trail (Ha‘akulamanu)

For a gentle and informative hike, the Sulphur Banks Trail is ideal. This 1.2-mile round trip hike offers an easy walk with a fascinating look at the park’s volcanic activity. The trail includes a boardwalk section that is wheelchair accessible through a forest where you can observe steaming vents and colorful mineral deposits. Interpretive signs along the way provide insight into the geothermal processes and the unique ecology of the area. The combination of vibrant colors and geothermal phenomena makes this a must-see for any visitor.

Moderate Hikes

3. Devastation Trail

Devastation Trail offers a moderate hike through an otherworldly landscape shaped by volcanic activity. This 1-mile round trip trail is relatively short but provides a profound experience as you walk through an area that was buried by cinders during the 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki. The stark contrast between the barren landscape and the regenerating forest is striking. Along the trail, you’ll find interpretive signs that explain the eruption’s impact and the area’s gradual recovery. This trail is fully accessible and features a paved path suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.

4. Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku)

The Thurston Lava Tube trail combines a moderate hike with a fascinating geological wonder. The trail is about 1.5 miles round trip and takes you through a lush rainforest to the entrance of a large, naturally formed lava tube. Walking through this tunnel, you’ll get a sense of the power of volcanic activity that shaped the island. The lava tube is illuminated for easy navigation, making it a family-friendly hike with a unique twist.

Challenging Hikes

5. Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō Trail

For those seeking a more challenging adventure, the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō Trail is a fantastic option. This trail is approximately 8 miles round trip and traverses varied kīpuka, areas of old-growth forest spared between lava flows, including forested areas, open lava fields, and volcanic craters. The trail leads to the site of the 1983 eruption, where you can see the effects of the lava flows and enjoy panoramic views of the volcanic landscape. The hike is strenuous due to the uneven terrain and exposure to the elements, but the breathtaking scenery and the sense of walking on recently formed land make it a truly rewarding experience. The trailhead is not technically in the park. 

View of Mauna Kea from Pu'u O'o Trail

Coming from either direction on the Saddle Road, Hwy. 200, find yellow traffic signs marked with “Puu Oo Trail” (in both directions) between the 22 and 23 mile markers. Pull off the road and park in the small gravel lot. (Big Island Hikes)

6. Mauna Ulu

Another challenging hike that offers an unparalleled volcanic experience is the Mauna Ulu trail. This 8-mile round trip hike leads to the summit of Mauna Ulu, an active volcanic vent. The trail passes through lava fields, with views of fissures, craters, and old lava flows. The landscape is surreal, with hardened lava formations and sparse vegetation. The climb to the summit is strenuous, but the reward is a spectacular view of the surrounding area, including Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō and the East Rift Zone. This hike provides a profound sense of the raw power and beauty of Hawaii’s volcanic landscape.

Tips for Hiking in Volcanoes National Park

  1. Prepare for Changing Weather: The weather in Volcanoes National Park can be unpredictable. Be prepared for rain, sun, and cooler temperatures, especially at higher elevations.
  2. Wear Appropriate Footwear: Trails can be rocky and uneven. Sturdy hiking shoes or boots are recommended.
  3. Bring Water and Snacks: Stay hydrated and energized, especially on longer hikes.
  4. Stay on Marked Trails: For your safety and to protect the fragile environment, always stay on marked trails.
  5. Respect Wildlife and Plants: The park is home to unique flora and fauna. Observe wildlife from a distance and do not pick plants or disturb the natural landscape.

Volcanoes National Park offers an extraordinary opportunity to explore Hawaii’s volcanic heritage. Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll, a moderate hike, or a challenging adventure, the park’s trails provide unforgettable experiences. Even from Kona, a day trip to Volcanoes National Park is well worth the journey, offering some of the best hiking opportunities in the world.

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Yes, it is possible to take a day trip from Kona to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, plan for a long day as the park is located on the eastern side of the Big Island, and Kona is on the western side. Many people fit VNP in midweek as the BIG DAY of driving in between beach and relaxing days. Depending on traffic and road conditions, the drive can take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours one way.

Alternatively, consider staying overnight in the Hilo area or near the national park if you have the flexibility. This would allow you more time to explore the park without the time constraints of a day trip.

Always check for any updates or advisories before embarking on your trip, as conditions and recommendations may change.

 Lava flowing down hillside

You can drive clockwise or counterclockwise around the island. I like to drive counterclockwise so the after-dark driving is through the middle on Saddle Road rather than the winding narrow Hwy 11/Mamalahoa Hwy. Fuel up with a quick breakfast at Kaya’s Coffee in Kealakekua before cruising southeast on Highway 11. The coffee is great and the food is delicious. Just in time for a bathroom break and a malasada, you’ll arrive at the famous Punulu’u Bake Shop.  

Be sure to pull over at the picturesque Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, where volcanic sand glistens against the turquoise ocean. There is a very good chance you’ll see some turtles feeding on the rocks or basking in the sun.

Upon arrival at Volcanoes National Park, your exploration begins at the Kilauea Visitor Center. Gather updates on volcanic activity and trail conditions, then embark on a scenic drive along Crater Rim Drive with stops at Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks.

Next, take a walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, a formed lava tunnel offering a glimpse into the heart of a volcano. Refuel with a picnic lunch within the park, enjoying the fresh air and stunning surroundings.

In the afternoon, take a drive down Chain of Craters Road, a mesmerizing journey through volcanic landscapes. Stop at various points of interest, like the Kilauea Iki Overlook, and consider a hike into the Kīlauea Iki Crater. It is a steep beginning and ending but for the experience of walking through a solidified lava lake, it’s worth it. 

Check the National Park Service for lava activity. If there is activity it is worth it to stya overnight in the area and come back after dark.  Watch molten lava bubbling into the lava lake after sunset. Another sight you will never forget. 

If you’re waiting for sunset to see the lava or want to eat before heading back to Kona, The Rim restaurant in Volcano House is a lovely choice. Before you sit down check out views of the crater and park and the cozy chairs by the fireplace.

Remember to check for updates on volcanic activity or road closures before your trip, and pack snacks, lots of water, and sunscreen, as services within the park are limited. Wear comfortable clothing and walking shoes, and don’t forget a light jacket for the cool evening air.

This itinerary is just a suggestion, and you can tailor it to your interests and available time. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a curious first-timer, a day trip to Volcanoes National Park from Kona promises an unforgettable experience filled with volcanic wonders and breathtaking beauty.

So, pack your bags, lace up your shoes, and get ready to embark on an adventure you’ll never forget!

Another stop on the Hilo side is Hawai’i Tropical Botanical Garden. Immerse yourself in the contrasts of the island by going from the lava lake to a tropical forest

Eco-Adventures in Kona and the Big Island beckon with the allure of volcanic landscapes, lush rainforests, and vibrant coral reefs. Beyond the postcard beauty, the region is increasingly embracing ecotourism, a transformative shift towards responsible exploration and the conservation of the islands’ natural splendor. This movement represents a recognition of the delicate balance between catering to the growing tourism industry and preserving the unique ecosystems that define the region. Travelers are drawn to Eco-Adventures in Kona and the Big Island, seeking to explore responsibly and contribute to the sustainability of these captivating environments.

 

Fourspot Butterflyfish

Ecotourism Activities:

  • KapohoKine Adventures:
    • This adventure company offers guided hikes, kayak tours, and cultural experiences led by native guides.
    • Actively involved in conservation efforts, KapohoKine Adventures educates visitors on protecting the island’s ecosystems.
    • Travelers can engage in activities that foster a deeper connection with the local environment.
  • Hawaii Forest & Trail:
    • Explore diverse landscapes with knowledgeable guides who prioritize responsible tourism practices.
    • The company offers waterfall hikes, volcano tours, and snorkeling adventures, all designed to minimize environmental impact.
    • Participants gain insights into the island’s ecology and conservation efforts.
  • Kona Coffee Tours:
    • Visit small, sustainable coffee farms that prioritize organic practices and fair trade.
    • Learn about the island’s rich coffee culture while supporting local farmers.
    • Enjoy a cup of freshly brewed Kona coffee, experiencing the sustainable side of agriculture.

 

Malama Ka Aina painted on a lava rock wall

Responsible Tourist Tips:

  • Choose Reef-Safe Sunscreen:
    • When exploring the vibrant coral reefs surrounding the Big Island, it’s crucial to consider the impact of sunscreen on marine life. 
    • Opt for reef-safe sunscreen formulations to protect your skin without introducing harmful chemicals into the ocean. This small choice contributes to the well-being of the underwater ecosystems, ensuring that your visit leaves no trace and supports the ongoing efforts to maintain the health of the coral reefs.
    • Our Great Spots for Snorkeling in Hawai’i article has a link to great reef-safe sunscreens.
  • Minimize Waste:
    • Encourages travelers to use reusable water bottles, bags, and utensils to reduce single-use plastics.
    • Support businesses with recycling programs to contribute to waste reduction efforts.
  • Respect Cultural Sites:
    • Advises dressing modestly when visiting sacred places and seeking permission before taking photos.
    • Encourages learning basic Hawaiian phrases to show respect for the local culture.
  • Support Local Businesses:
    • Recommends opting for locally owned restaurants, shops, and tour operators to contribute directly to the community and preserve cultural traditions.
  • Leave No Trace:
    • Emphasizes the importance of packing out what you bring in and avoiding littering.
    • Encourages mindfulness towards wildlife and marine life, advocating against touching or removing coral.

Additional Tips:

  • Choose Direct Flights:
    • Suggests selecting direct flights to reduce carbon footprint compared to connecting flights.
  • Offset Carbon Emissions:
    • Recommends supporting renewable energy projects to offset travel emissions through various organizations.
  • Travel Slowly:
    • Encourages immersive exploration in each destination rather than rushing through multiple places.
    • This approach allows for a deeper appreciation of the local culture and environment.

Mālama ‘Āina

By following these ecotourism principles and embracing sustainable choices, travelers can enjoy an unforgettable and responsible vacation in Kona and the Big Island. The provided tips not only enhance the travel experience but also contribute to the preservation of the islands’ precious ecosystems. The Big Island’s shift towards ecotourism signifies a harmonious blend of exploration and conservation, where responsible tourism becomes a catalyst for the enduring beauty of this magical destination. 

Mahalo (thank you) for choosing responsible travel and helping to uphold the spirit of Aloha.