Evening View Ocean Entry

Photo Courtesy of NPS

Hot Tips for your Burning Questions

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returnee, we’ve got insider scoops for your visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The following Q&A has been provided by local experts to the area.

Why is now the best time to see the volcano in Hawaii?

Jessica Ferracane, Public Affairs Specialist, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
Kīlauea volcano is currently erupting from TWO locations, from its summit crater, which has erupted nonstop since 2008 and is characterized by a 10-acre glowing lava lake that rises and falls; and about 11 miles from the summit crater, the volcano also erupts from a vent in the remote East Rift Zone, the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent. Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō has erupted nonstop since 1983, and its eruptive nature is characterized by surface lava flows that are currently entering the ocean.

Tony DeLellis, Co-Owner, KapohoKine Adventures:
In addition to the continual activity at Pu’u O’o which is only accessible by air, there are currently two different locations where visitors can potentially see red lava! It’s an exceptionally exciting and dynamic time to visit Hawaii Island and visit Kilauea Volcano. The lava lake in Halema’uma’u crater, which is easily visible from the Jaggar museum, is splattering molten lava putting on quite a show. There is the ocean entry down past Kalapana, plus if visitors are lucky they might catch a glimpse of surface flows in that area, as well.

What’s the best way for someone to see the lava flow?

Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
It’s very easy to observe the glowing summit lava lake — which sometimes rises high enough for lava to be seen — from many vantage points along Kīlauea caldera rim, including scenic overlooks near Volcano House and off Crater Rim Trail. The closest visitors can get to the erupting summit is at Jaggar Museum’s observation deck, located just one mile from the summit lava lake. It’s a very short walk from the Jaggar Museum parking lot to the paved observation deck, definitely wheelchair and stroller-friendly. The park is open 24 hours a day.

As for the surface flows and ocean entry, it’s a long hike, round trip between 8 and 10 miles from either Kalapana or the end of Chain of Craters Road in the national park. There is a safe lava viewing area set up by the NPS so people can observe the ocean entry. Ocean entries are dangerous, and visitors must stay out of closed areas. According to USGS: As a strong caution to visitors viewing the ocean entry (where lava meets the sea), there are additional significant hazards besides walking on uneven surfaces and around unstable, extremely steep sea cliffs. Venturing too close to an ocean entry on land or the ocean exposes you to flying debris created by the explosive interaction between lava and water. Also, the new land created is unstable because it is built on unconsolidated lava fragments and sand. This loose material can easily be eroded away by surf, causing the new land to become unsupported and slide into the sea. In several instances, such collapses once started, have also incorporated parts of the older sea cliff. This occurred most recently on December 31. Further collapses of the sea cliff have been occurring since then, most recently on February 11. Additionally, the interaction of lava with the ocean creates a corrosive seawater plume laden with hydrochloric acid and fine volcanic particles that can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs.

Mauro Aguilar, GM, Volcano House:
Currently, there are two locations within the national park to see active lava. Jagger Museum located in the National Park is the closest that you may get to the lava lake at Halema’uma’u. You may also access the ocean lava entry through Highway 130. This viewing area requires some hiking or biking.

Tony DeLellis, Co-owner, KapohoKine Adventures:
The best way to see the flow up close and personal is on foot. Our lava expedition gets visitors to within 2 miles of the active flow by vehicle. From there, visitors set off on foot with one of our park ranger trained guides to search for surface lava flows. Traveling with an experienced guide and organized group means visitors will gain knowledge, information, and a respect for the local culture and customs that they might not otherwise. Plus, it’s a very dangerous and unforgiving landscape. Lava benches periodically fall into the ocean without warning and traveling with a guide means a visitors experience should be safer.

Are there new ways to see the lava flow that weren’t previously available?

Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
Besides hiking to the coast, or driving up to the summit, people can fly over the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent eruption, surface flows and ocean entry in a helicopter or fixed-wing sightseeing aircraft. People can also charter a boat tour to take them out to see the ocean entry.

Mauro Aguilar, GM, Volcano House:
A method of viewing the lava that is gaining much popularity is the lava boat tours. These boat tours provide a unique perspective of the coastal flow from the ocean. Boat tours are conducted during dawn and dusk, and at that time the sky lights up and the view of the lava glow is incredible.

Tony DeLellis, Co-owner, KapohoKine Adventures:
Yes, you can now bike about 8 miles roundtrip to the lava flow, and our favorite is Bike Volcano. They are the longest running biking company and our first choice due to their many years of experience, high-quality bikes, and included transportation from the Naniloa or any location in Hilo. Another favorite is Kalapana Cultural Tours. They rent bikes and conduct organized tours out at the lava viewing area.

What’s the closest you can get to it?

Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
One mile from summit eruption/lava lake as described above. For the ocean entry, the NPS viewing area is about 900 feet east of the ocean entry for the reasons stated above (toxic plume, explosions, etc) For the surface lava flows, people can walk right up to them, but need to exercise extreme caution. Red molten lava can often look no different that the cooled, hardened black lava,so bring your common sense along with you on any excurusion to see lava. If it’s hot, don’t get too close!

Also, native Hawaiians consider lava, especially molten lava, as the physical embodiment of the volcano goddess, Pele. Never poke or prod lava, or burn things in it, don’t cook food over it. Respect the Hawaiian culture.

Mauro Aguilar, GM, Volcano House:
The lookout point of Jagger Museum will set you back about 1 mile from the lava lake. The public viewing lava area at the end of Highway 130 is just 800 meters from the active lava flow.

Tony DeLellis, Co-owner, KapohoKine Adventures:
Visitors can walk to within yards of surface lava flows. We don’t recommend walking directly on them or close enough to interfere with them in anyway, like poking active lava with a stick as those behaviors are at minimum dangerous and culturally insensitive. Visitors get to within a couple of hundred yards of the ocean entry. The National Park Service does a great job mapping out areas of potential danger and setting up boundaries that keep visitors safe.

What are some local insider tips for seeing the lava flow?

Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
Want to have the summit eruption all to yourself? Hawaii Volcnaoes NP gets nearly 2 million visitors a year, and all of them want to see lava. Thus, Jaggar Museum is often crowded around sunset, to watch the glowing lava lake grow even more dramatic in the dark. But the park is open 24 hours a day. Come before sunrise, and head to Jaggar Museum’s observation deck. You are likely to be the only one there! There’s nothing like sunrise at the summit of Kīlauea volcano.

Tony DeLellis, Co-owner, KapohoKine Adventures:
Force water breaks. No matter how you choose to see the lava it’s hot, sunny, and dry, plus there are no services for miles. We pack a minimum of 2 L of water per person and we stop every half hour for water. Even if part of your daily routine is hiking, jogging, or walking, this is different. Respect it! There are some other essentials like a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Put sunscreen on and reapply. Go early. Listening to the lava while watching the sunrise from behind the Jaggar Museum in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is magic. You’ll be the only person there, no sounds except for the lava hissing and popping in the distance, and just you and the volcano trying to keep out of each other’s way.

When is the best viewing time?

Mauro Aguilar, GM, Volcano House:
Dawn and Dusk offer the best contrasting colors to view the lava. However, visitors must use extra caution while visiting the volcanic sites after dark.

Tony DeLellis, Co-owner, KapohoKine Adventures:
The lava viewing area in Kalapana is only open from 3 PM to 10 PM, but Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day. Viewing the lava at sunrise behind the Jaggar Museum means you’ll have the view all to yourself, and you get a jumpstart on everybody else seeing the rest of the Park. You could be done by noon and lounging by the pool at the Naniloa sipping a mai tai by 1 PM. A perfect day in paradise!

Stay Near It All

Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
Volcano House is located right on the rim of the world’s most active volcano, you can literally see the eruption from the lodge. I don’t know anywhere else on earth that has a hotel overlooking an active eruption.

Mauro Aguilar, GM, Volcano House:
Volcano House offers a one-of-a-kind view of Halema’uma’u crater through our floor to ceiling windows. The hotel is located less than 2 miles from the lava lake of Halema’uma’u crater. As Volcano evenings can become quite chilling, Volcano House offers comfortable viewing in vintage rocking chairs and with a cocktail in hand! Also, because the park is open 24-hours a day, hotel guests can take advantage of night time viewing of the lava and incredible star gazing without a long drive home.