Without a doubt, the star attraction on the Big Island is the youngest yet very much alive Kilauea volcano which has been constantly erupting from vents either on its summit (caldera) or on the rift zones since 1983! Yes...for more than 30 years, its considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world! Needless to say it was the first thing we wanted to see and experience first-hand.
Bless the patient park rangers at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park who see thousands of visitors daily and field the number one 'burning' question on everyone's mind....'where can I see the lava flow from'! Because the flow of lava is so dynamic, the access to view it also follows suit. Best advise is to start at the visitor center and get the latest maps, view points and guide before you set out. It helps you plan your day(s) as well.
The Jagger Museum overlook off the crater rim drive has an uninterrupted view of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater which is a pit crater located within the much larger summit caldera of Kīlauea (see note below on the difference between a crater and a caldera) This crater is currently active containing a lava lake from where the near-permanent gas plume rises.
How does one describe watching a crater billow with smoke and glow from a lava lake that’s hundreds of feet below the surface? Somehow the words amazing and incredible just don’t do enough to adequately describe this sight.
Ideal times to see Halemaʻumaʻu's eruptive activity is around dusk and dawn where you have an opportunity to see both the red glow from the lava lake as well as the plume.
Note: Volcanic craters and calderas differ mainly in the way they are formed. Craters tend to be more nearly circular than calderas, and they are often, though not always, smaller than calderas. Craters are the vents through which gas and magma are ejected, while calderas form as a result of local collapse of the surrounding rock.
What to know when you go:
Since Halemaʻumaʻu is located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you must pay a $10 fee for park entry. This fee allows you entry in to the park for 7 days. There is plenty to see and do inside the park besides Halemaʻumaʻu. If you have the time, you could easily spend 2-3 days here.