Growing up I had always wanted to see a volcano in person that was until we visited Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. Don’t know why really, I just always thought it would be cool.  To see and touch the black lava rocks and know that it came from underground, and formed new land, has always seemed exciting to me.  While visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, we had our chance to see a volcano up close and personal at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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While we did not see the flowing lava that I had wished to see, we did get to see the fiery glow of lava deep inside the caldera at night, which was still pretty awesome!  But I was surprised at how much else there was to see and do during our visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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The coast of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – many years of lava flows into the sea!

We actually made our visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park the birthday of the US National Park System.  This meant free admission for us into the park, which was a nice surprise.  Although we love supporting our National Parks System, it’s nice of them to give back to all of the people who visit the parks across the country for one day.

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This is Not Your Typical National Park Visitor Center

As soon as you walk into the main visitor center at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can tell that this place is different from other National Park.  Not only is this a very special place for the Hawaiian culture, but you are literally standing on an active volcano!  The science behind what forms Volcanoes National Park are explained through a series of maps, digital diagrams, and historic pictures all throughout the visitor center.  I especially liked the topographical map that showed various lava flows from the past several hundred years of eruptions.

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Eruptions?  Yes.  Did you now that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses the most active volcano in the whole world, Kilauea.  But you have nothing to worry about.  They are constantly monitoring her.  Plus, she is a different type of volcano — not the explosive kind, but more of the oozing kind.  But if there is any imminent danger, they will close portions of the park.  During our visit, much of Crater Rim drive was closed due to toxic gases being blown across the road.

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Overlooking the active Kilauea caldera at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii

Volcanoes National Park is Loaded with Miles of Hiking trails, and Scenic Drives

Volcanoes National Park boosts miles and miles of scenic road that lead you to scenic overlooks and interesting geological sites such as: lava tubes, steam vents, calderas, and of course crazy-looking lava flows from many years past…and even recent years! It is truly a fascinating place. We had a great time driving and hiking around this rare type of National Park.

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Years of lava flows have altered the landscape, and are visible from afar

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The famous “Arch” along the coastline of Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii

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Chain of Craters Road takes you through unique landscapes, and a variety of different lava flows

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This used to be part of the Chain of Craters Road.  However, lava runs this land…and alas, there is no more road!

The roads all around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park lead to one beautiful scenic lookout after the next. One road in particular, Chain of Craters Road, takes you quite some distance through the park and down to the ocean.  During the drive, you can see a number of different lava flows and how they have altered the landscape around you.  It is also really interesting to see the different types of lava rock, which indicate the temperature of the lava and how quickly it cooled.  Also, the color of the lava rock may indicate the age of the lava flow.

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You can drive and drive for quite some time, until you cannot drive anymore.  There is a dead end in the road, and not because they built it that way, but because lava rules these parts.  Not so long ago there was a lava flow that completely covered the road.  In fact, when it happened workers were scrambling to move facilities out of the way (if possible).  That portion of the road no longer exists, but you can walk across it, even seeing old road signs sticking out through the lava!

It’s crazy to think that just a few years ago, you could drive on this portion of the road!

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Exploring a Lava Tube at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The lava tubes here in Volcanoes National Park are quite interesting sights as well. I never imagined that you could walk inside a giant lava tube. It was crazy to think that where we were walking was once full of molten lava working its way to the sea. Really interesting.

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A hiking trail leading to a less, but still technically active caldera at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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Liz standing in the center of a volcano caldera!

During our entire visit, I was blown away at all the interesting things I was seeing and learning about.  But one of the coolest things we did was just before dusk, when we took a hiking trail down INTO the caldera of a less, but technically still active volcano!  The hike down was a highlight, but walking in the volcano to the center was surreal!

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Finally we see it – hot glowing lava at night!  – At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

We ended our day of exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park by waiting around until it was good and dark.  Then we headed to the main lookout area over the Kilauea caldera so that we could actually see the fiery glow of lava at night. Visiting at night was recommended to us by one of the rangers at the park because it is difficult to see it during the daylight. Some people who visit during the day probably don’t believe hot lava is in there…but oh yes, it really is!

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We could not have asked for a better way to end of full day exploring Volcanoes National Park. With the back drop of a million stars in the sky on a beautifully clear night, and the fiery lava glowing in the distance made for a perfect Hawaiian night.

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