When most people think of Hawai, they think of beaches and Waikiki, luau and fire dancing. Although this is definitely part of the charm and tourist appeal of the islands, many people are surprised to learn that the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii is the number-one visitor attraction in the state. In its peak during the summer, the park welcomes about 3,000 people a day.
Even if you are not an “outdoors type,” the Volcanoes National Park holds an undeniable appeal. On display are Mauna Loa and Kilauea — two of the most active (if not most active) volcanoes in the world . The volcanoes erupt in the calmest way possible, unlike other volcanic eruptions that blow the tops off of mountains and spew ash and rock miles into the atmosphere, which makes for the safest possible viewing of the primordial forces that created the island state.
While there is no such thing as a “safe” eruption, the Jaggar museum atop the rim of Halema’uma’u crater gives tourists a look at the pool of lava bubbling within, and a glimpe into the lives of the seismologists who spend their days monitoring the volcanic and seismic activity of the mountains.
At the park, you can also walk through the Thurston lava tube, a 110-meter rock conduit through which lava flowed five centuries ago. For the more adventurous, there is a four-mile hike on the cooled surface of Kilauea Iki crater. This trail descends through a rain forest to the floor of the solidified-but-still-steaming crater that last erupted in 1959.
And for the ultimate adventurers, there is a 14-mile (round-trip) hike over the hardened Pu’u O’o lava flow, which features areas where lava is still flowing, and leads to the ocean, where you can literally see the island of Hawaii getting bigger by the second (over the past three decades, the island has grown by about 500 acres).