When to Go
Year-round. The weather is often driest in September and October. The climate ranges from warm and breezy on the coast, to cool and frequently wet at the summit of Kīlauea, to nightly freezing with occasional snowstorms above about 10,000 feet on Mauna Loa. To avoid most tour bus crowds, plan to visit the major sights before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
How to Get There
Fly to the island of Hawai'i, also called the Big Island. Airlines serve the Hilo and Kona airports from the mainland and from other Hawaiian islands. From Hilo, Hawaii 11 rises 4,000 feet in 30 miles on your way past small towns, macadamia orchards, and rainforest, to reach the park at Kīlauea's summit. From Kona, go south around the island on Hawaii 19 past Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook met his death, and Ka Lae, or South Point, southernmost land in the 50 states. You'll reach the Kīlauea summit after a 95-mile drive on a good road.
How to Visit
An intensive one-day visit can cover highlights of the Kīlauea summit via Crater Rim Drive and the coastal region via Chain of Craters Road. Regular tours by bus and small van operate daily from many Hilo and Kona hotels. Those with a botanical or ornithological bent will enjoy exploring Mauna Loa Road (accessible from Hawaii 11), which takes you through upland forest to the Mauna Loa trailhead at 6,662 feet: At Kipukapuaulu, be sure to take the one-mile loop trail winding through 100-acre Kipuka (an island of vegetation surrounded by a more recent lava flow) containing one of the richest concentrations of native plants and birdlife in Hawai'i.
Where to Stay
Volcano House is the only hotel within the park. Open since 1846, this vintage lodge perched on the rim of Kilauea Crater is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state of Hawaii. A lobby fireplace draws guests on cool nights. The 42 guest rooms feature koa wood furniture, and some boast crater views. The hotel is located across the street from the Kilauea Visitors Center.
Namakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki Campgrounds: These two drive-in campgrounds within the park are free of charge (entry fee to the park still required). First-come, first-served, no reservations or permit needed. No showers. Tent sites only. Open year-round.
Thirty minutes outside the park, in Pahala, Colony One at Sea Mountain offers recently renovated condos near a black-sand beach, along with a pool, tennis courts, and golf.
Volcanic smog can cause headaches, breathing difficulties, and throat and eye irritations. Pregnant women, young children, and those with asthma and heart conditions are most susceptible; Halemaumau Crater, in particular, can spew thick fumes. Stay on marked trails and do not enter any closed areas. The volatile nature of the lava flows can close parts of the park at any time. Check the website for the latest updates.