Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
|Steam vents in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii (Guy Vanderlest/Photographer's Choice/Getty)|
Imagine peering into the glowing cauldron of an active volcano, then summiting a 13,000-foot mountain, and later catwalking atop cliffs that plunge into an impossibly blue sea. It's all in a day's workor rather, playat Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the "Big Island" of Hawaii.
Hawaii Volcanoes encompasses 209,695 acres and an astoundingly diverse landscape. The altitude in the park ranges from sea level to the summit of the earth's most massive volcano, 13,677-foot Mauna Loa. Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, offers scientists insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and visitors views of dramatic volcanic landscapes. Arid deserts exist within a few miles of lush forests. Both beckon the adventurous explorer.
In recognition of its outstanding natural assets, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been honored as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. Pay your own respects to the spirit of Pele, the tempestuous fire goddess who animates the park's volcanoes as she always has done. As any visitor quickly discovers, she will not be ignored.
Hike the Volcanoes
Drive past them in your car, or fly over them in a helicopter if you mustbut the way to see and truly experience volcanoes is by foot. The park's more than 150 miles lead through thick forests, then burst out onto hot, dry stretches of lava. Strong, experienced backpackers can try the Mauna Loa Summit Trail or sample other backcountry adventures. If you have only a single day, explore Kilauea's summit trails. Highly recommended is the Kilauea Iki trail, a four-mile (two-hour) hike, descending 400 feet through native rainforest into a crater, and across lava flows still steaming from the 1959 eruption.
More on Hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Bike the Caldera
The park's three main roads offer great opportunities to get acquainted with the natural wonders of the park. For example, cyclists and drivers can take one of the short drives around Kilauea Crater via Crater Rim Drive. This 11-mile drive circles Kilauea's summit caldera and craters, passes through rainforest and desert, and provides access to well-marked scenic stops and short walks. Highlights include Sulphur Banks, Steam Vents, Jaggar Museum, Halema'uma'u Crater, Devastation Trail, Kilauea Iki Crater, and Thurston Lava Tube.
More on Biking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hike through a Lava Tube
Hiking opportunities abound in the park, but few trails deliver as much bang for the energy expended as the 20-minute walk at Nahuku (Thurston) Lava Tube. You'll plunge into Hawaiian rainforest and then a lava tube that formed about 350,500 years ago. A tunnel forms when the surface of a lava flow cools and solidifies while the still-molten interior flows through and drains away. Access to the lava tube is through one of the small pit craters that have lush vegetation. The trail descends along the wall of the crater and then across its floor.
Ride Horseback to the Sea
Whether your sightseeing desires include the blue Pacific, lush rainforest, or Pele's paths of devastation, a horse is the way to go. Maunaulu Rainforest provides one of the best rides, as you and your horse will meander through lava flows and sight native wildlife such as the Nene goose. It's a trail suitable for all levels of riders. For breathtaking overlooks, try the trails on the top of the Hilina Pali Cliff. The terrain is tough at times, so the trek is for more advanced riders.
Visit NativesWildlife and Plants, That Is
More than 90 percent of Hawaii's flora and fauna can be found nowhere else on earth. Hike the Halema'uma'u Trail and you'll think you saw every one of 100 land birds, thousands of flowers and plant species, and countless insects and spiders that call Hawaii home. The trail leads through a tree-fern forest and into the heart of Kilauea volcano territory. You'll see 'Ohi'a, the most common and widespread of the park's native trees, the disruptive Kahili ginger plant, and much more. Bring binoculars.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication