Plan Like a Park Ranger at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

These 10 tips will help you navigate the state’s largest national park.
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Two visitors approach Kīlauea Overlook in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Photo: NPS Photo/J.Wei

If there‘s one thing park rangers do best is give advice.

And the friendly—and knowledgeable—rangers at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on Hawaiʻi Island have put together a list of tips for anyone planning a trip to its sprawling 333,308-acre park.

Here’s how you can plan like a ranger—and trust us, you may want to bookmark this.

1. Make the Website Your First Stop

“The park website is the inside scoop on what every visitor needs to know before they come to the park,” says park ranger Michael Newman. “Volcano updates, things to do, temporary road closures, directions, what to wear, it’s all there to help you prepare,” he says. And he would know, the website is his kuleana (responsibility).

2. Arrive at Five

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Come early. Traffic can get backed up at park’s entrance station.
Photo: NPS Photo/Janice Wei

“Start your visit at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. to maximize the experience, and minimize the crowds,” says park ranger Ben Hayes. “Start off with an unforgettable sunrise, and plan a full day ahead. A 5 p.m. arrival allows two-plus hours for hiking in the cool evening, followed by sunset,” Hayes said. The park is open 24 hours a day.

3. Walk This Way

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The restored Kīlauea Iki Trail.
Photo: NPS Photo/Janice Wei

“Those who enjoy hiking can avoid the headache of busy parking lots on foot,” says park ranger Olivia Crabtree, who roves park trails regularly. “Popular spots like Kīlauea Iki Overlook, Nāhuku lava tube and overlooks along Kaluapele (Kīlauea crater) can be reached from the more spacious Kīlauea Visitor Center and Devastation Trail parking lots.”

4. Tap the App

The NPS has a free new app with tools to explore more than 400 national parks across the country, and the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes app is all that and a bag of taro chips. Self-guided tours, alerts and other valuable information is like a ranger in your pocket. You can even send a postcard without a stamp. Download in the iOS App Store and Google Play Store.

5. Follow a Chain of Craters

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Hōlei Sea Arch, located at the end of Chain of Craters Road, bathed in sunrise light.
Photo: NPS Photo/Janice Wei.

“Chain of Craters Road has been covered by lava five times since it was built in 1965,” said ranger Dean Gallagher. “Today, the pullouts along the 19-mile road showcase the destructive and creative splendor of Kīlauea volcano through gaping craters and vast plains of young lava flows. For many, these flows are a physical manifestation of Pelehonuamea, the Hawaiian volcano deity.”

6. Contemplate Culture

Puʻuloa Petroglyphs is a sacred site where more than 23,000 petroglyphs (images pecked into hardened lava) link the past to the present. “The images tell a story of our Hawaiian ancestors who recorded births, their travels, significant animals and other meaningful and mysterious experiences into the lava rock,” says park ranger Jozie Acasio. “I cherish connecting with my culture at Puʻuloa.”

7. Visit Kahuku

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Hikers rest atop a puʻu in the Kahuku Unit of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
Photo: NPS Photo/Janice Wei

“Kahuku is all about Mauna Loa, the park’s other volcano,” said park ranger Travis Heinrich. “Entrance is free, Kahuku is never crowded, and we are open Thursday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.” Kahuku is located on Highway 11 near mile marker 70.5 in Ka‘ū.

8. Know Before You Go

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You won’t get views like this right now. This is a summit lava glow from Waldron Ledge in January 2021, when Kīlauea was still erupting.
Photo: NPS Photo/Janice Wei

Kīlauea volcano is no longer erupting, and no glow is visible at night. But don’t skip the summit! Ranger “Arrive at 5” Ben really wants you to know that sunrise and sunset views of the caldera never fail to impress and you’ll have overlooks along Crater Rim Trail to yourself.

9. Be Respectful

“Kīlauea and Mauna Loa are cherished by many people, including kānaka maoli, Native Hawaiians,” said park ranger Keoni Kaholoʻaʻā. “Consider others before you take photos, or can be overheard talking on your phone. Your kōkua (care) means a lot.”

10. Stay Safe and Recreate Responsibly

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Two members of the park’s trail crew, Greg Carlin and Thomas Hughes, prepare for a day of repairs on Byron Ledge Trail in November 2019.
Photo: NPS Photo/Janice Wei.

“Regardless whether Kīlauea is erupting or not, sinkholes, unstable cliff edges and earth cracks present hazards,” said chief ranger Jack Corrao. “Stay on trail and do not entered closed areas.”

Categories: Adventure, Adventure, Environment, First-Time, Hawai‘i Island, Hawai‘i Island What To Do, Hiking, Solo