About the Site
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park  



Kilauea Volcano

Kilauea Iki

Mauna Loa

Chain of Craters

Kalapana Coast

Volcanic Features


Plants and Animals

Volcano House


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of two national parks in America's 50th state, and one of a number of national parks dedicated to volcanism and its effects. Located about 90 miles from Hilo on the southern section of the big island of Hawaii, the park contains 229,177 acres and features two active volcanoes, volcanic craters and caldera, rain forests, wildlife including rare birds, and lush vegetation, some of which is endemic to the islands.

The park also provides access to two active volcanoes and many volcanic features as well as over 150 miles of trails, some of which run through the caldera.

Park History

Hawaii, along with the rest of the Hawaiian islands, was formed by the accumulation of lava erupting initially from a weak point or "hot spot" on the ocean floor. The plate on which the islands rest has moved to the northwest across this hot point at a rate of about 4 inches a year, and so new volcanoes and new islands have been created in a line as it moves. Thus, the Hawaiian islands to the northwest are older with less recently active volcanoes. Hawaii, home of this national park, is the youngest, and the two volcanoes in the national park--Mauna Loa and Kilauea--are still active. An even younger volcano which is now growing beneath the sea, Loihi, was recently discovered twenty miles to the southeast of the coast Hawaii. It is estimated that Loihi will emerge from the ocean in another 10,000 years.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

Human beings first reached the Hawaiian Islands after long voyages across the Pacific in double hulled canoes from the Marquesas Islands between 300 and 400 AD. When these people arrived the islands were absolutely untouched by humans. Around the year 1200 a new wave of Polynesian immigration occurred from Tahiti. The new immigrants, taller and more powerful than the existing inhabitants, overwhelmed those already on the islands and set the tempo for remaining cultural evolution.

The first people who weren't native Hawaiians to see the Kilauea Volcano were William Ellis and Asa Thurston in 1823. Following their reports many explorers and missionaries visited the volcanoes. Many were thrilled the awesome spectacle of the volcanoes. Rigorous observation and scientific study of the volcano began in 1912 when Dr. T. A. Jagger established the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

By the early 1900's many visitors to the area began to suggest that the volcanic wonders should be protected in the same way as those in Yellowstone country. Pressure to create a national park was begun by Lorrin Thurston, publisher of a Honolulu newspaper. He was joined by Thomas Jagger, Director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in 1912. By 1916, these efforts were successful as congress passed a bill creating the national park. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill creating America's 12th national park on August 1, 1916. The original park contained primarily the area around the summit of the volcanoes, including Haleakala on the island of Maui. Additional sections were added to the park over the years, and the section on Maui was split into a separate park--Haleakala National Park--in 1961.

Kilauea Volcano

The big island of Hawaii has 5 volcanoes--Mauna Kea (last active about 4,000 years ago), Kohala, Hualalai (last active in 1801), Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. For visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea is the star because it's among the most active of the world's volcanoes, and because it is safe to approach because its eruptions are not normally explosive or dangerous.

The name Kilauea means something like "spreading, much spewing", and with the persistent activity of the volcano it's easy to see why. Kilauea itself reaches an altitude of 4,078 feet, and the caldera of the volcano is about 3 miles long and 2 miles wide.

A view of part of the caldera can be seen below. As can be seen in this picture, there is frequently cloud cover and rain on the mountains.

Kilauea is the youngest of the volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii, having been formed over the past 100,000 years. Its caldera is surrounded by an 11 mile road which provides easy access to the fantastic sights it contains.

Because of the nature of the eruptions at Kilauea it is relatively safe to witness them, and so it has provided some of the most outstanding opportunities to witness the great spectacle.

Signs of past volcanic activity are evident everywhere at Kilauea. Much of the area in the caldera is covered by lava, ash, and pumice from past eruptions.

Below, a lava wash along a section of the southwest rift zone is evident. A rift zone is an area of weakness in the side of the volcano along which underground cracks may form.


More evidence of volcanic activity can be seen below.

Pools of solidified lava are evident in many places in the park.

The rim of the crater is at an altitude of about 4000 feet. The crater itself has changed a great deal in the past hundred years. In 1823, when it was first observed by non-native Hawaiians, it was about twice as deep as it is today, and it contained a real lake of red hot lava. Change is continuous; an earthquake on November 16, 1983, cause a portion of the rim not far from Volcano House to collapse.

At this altitude the crater is often covered by clouds or fog which sweep across the park.

Within the caldera the most recent volcanic activity occurs at Halemaumau Crater, seen in the upper portion of the picture below. It is Kilauea's primary vent and site of many spectacular eruptions in historical times.

Halemaumau is a pit crater within the summit caldera of Kialauea. It was formed by vertical collapse of the area when lava was vented. A closer view of the Halemaumau Crater can be seen below.

The name Halemaumau means "house of everlasting fire." Steam can be seen constantly rising from the crater which is currently 3000 feet across and about 250 feet deep. It's changed a great deal in historical times; after the 1924 eruption the crater was almost 1200 feet deep.

From 1823 to 1924 it had a continuously active lava lake, one of the area's primary attractions for visitors.

The last great eruption of Kilauea from Halemaumau was in 1924, when clouds of dust rose 20,000 feet into the air and large blocks of rock were blown out of the crater. Violent lightning storms accompanied the eruption along with rains of mud. The walls of the crater collapsed, increasing the diameter from about 1400 feet to about 3000 feet.

A closer view of the bottom of the crater can be seen blow. "Lava marks" on the side of the crater, like rings in a bathtub, reveal levels which the lake of lava within the crater has reached in the past. The floor is currently covered with lava from the 1974 eruption.

To native Hawaiians this crater is the home of Pélé, goddess of the volcano. In the past, and all the way to the present, Hawaiians would come to the precipice of the crater and leaving offerings of flowers and food to appease the mighty goddess.

Kilauea Iki

Another site of a spectacular volcanic eruption in the past is the Kilauea Iki crater, shown below, just to the side of the Kilauea caldera. Meaning "little Kilauea", this crater was the site of a impressive eruption in 1969.

The 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki was spectacular, with fountains of lava shooting 1900 feet into the sky. A pool of lava 300 feet deep formed in the crater. In the picture below the Kilauea Iki can be seen with the mighty volcano Mauna Loa in the background.

The surface of the bottom of the crater is solid now, although the crater contained a lake of molten lava in 1959. In 1980, molten lava could still be found about 230 feet below the solid surface, but by 1988 no lava could be found by drilling. A trail lead across the solidified lava on the floor of the crater, providing visitors with a closeup look at the effects of volcanism.

The eastern edge of the Kilauea Iki Crater is an outstanding sight to watch the sun go down at the end of the day.

- Next Page for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park -

  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com