The hike to the coast to view lava entering the ocean is especially dramatic at night. Currently this lava-viewing site is operated by the county of Hawaii and is located outside the park at the end of Highway 130. Check the park website for important information.
Book a 12-hour van tour with Hawaii Forest & Trail. The Kilauea Volcano Adventure tour includes a visit to a natural lava tube near Hilo. Or pay $200 for a 45-minute helicopter tour out of Hilo that flies above the Puu Oo vent and along the coast, providing unforgettable views of glowing lava meeting the sea in clouds of steam (when conditions are optimal).
The Crater Rim drive parallels the rim of the 3-mile-wide, 400-foot-deep Kilauea Caldera for intermittent stretches, offering vantage points from which you can take in views of the vertical lava cliffs and rain forests. The route includes stops to hike through the Nahuku lava tube and along Devastation Trail as well as visits to the Kilauea Visitors Center and the small, volcano-focused Jaggar Museum. Note: Portions of this road have been closed since February 2008 due to sulfur fumes and explosive eruptions.
Chain of Craters Road is an 18-mile, one-way drive from Kilauea Visitor Center to a 2003 lava flow that cuts the road off abruptly. Along the way there are several scenic turnouts with views of craters, hardened lava flows, and petroglyphs carved into lava by native Hawaiians.
Kilauea Iki Trail winds four miles around the rim of a crater that last erupted in 1959, then descends 400 feet through rain forest to the still-steaming crater floor. Look out for white-tailed tropical birds called koae kea and listen for the trill of Hawaiian crickets along this moderate to challenging hike.
Keep your eyes peeled for Hawaiian honeycreepers, Hawaiian geese, hawks, thrushes, and hoary bats; Kamehameha and Blackburn's butterflies; happyface spiders and lava crickets; and hawksbill turtles. The native flora includes Ohia-lehua, koa and mamane trees; ohelo, aalii, and pukiawe bushes; and hapuu and amau ferns.
The Jaggar Museum overlooks the entire Kilauea Caldera. In the evening it is a good spot for low-light photography. After a rain shower you may be able to photograph steambows—rainbows that form over steam vents. Another likely photo op is the currently erupting vent at Halemaumau Crater, which fumes during the day and glows after dark.
A 0.7-mile hike takes you to the petroglyphs at Puuloa, the largest concentration of petroglyphs in Polynesia. They make a beautiful and unusual photo op. Take care not to walk on them.
Smart Traveler Strategies
Bring water bottles and snacks for all excursions in the park. It can get chilly because you're in a rain forest at 4,000 feet, so wear layers, from a light rain jacket to something warmer. If you see a ohia-lehua tree in full blossom, have your binoculars ready; you'll likely see honeycreepers flying up to the blossom to siphon out nectar. Honeycreepers are endemic and bountiful in the park.
Excursions Outside the Park
Mauna Kea Observatory is home to the world's largest observatory for optical, infrared, and submillimeter astronomy. Located off Hawaii Rte. 200 (Saddle Rd.).
Akaka Falls State Park features the 442-foot-high Akaka Falls, tucked in a lush jungle fragrant with blossoms. Get there by a self-guided trail with scenic lookouts. Located at the end of Akaka Falls Road, off Hawaii Rte. 220.