Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Sights To See

It took Pele eons to create her marvelous house, fashioned with red-hot, flowing rock. You are now a guest of Pele and the wonders she made are for you to treasure and respect.

Active Volcanoes

Mauna Loa, measured from base (on ocean crust) to summit, is technically taller than Mauna Kea, making it the tallest mountain in the world. It rises 13,677 feet (4,169 m) above sea level and descends more than eight miles (13 km) below it. But Mauna Kea, at 13,796 feet (4,205 m), surpasses it in overall height when measured from sea level. In volume, Mauna Loa is the world's most massive mountain. Its 21,592 cubic miles (90,000 km3) are more than 100 times the size of Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times in the last 150 years. During the last 1,000 years, its lava has covered more than 824 square miles (2,133 km2)—40 percent of Mauna Loa's land area. Its last eruption occurred in 1984, and threatened the city of Hilo.

Mauna Loa's much smaller neighbor, 4,000-foot (1,219 m) Kīlauea, might go unnoticed except that it is one of the world's most active volcanoes. For more than 100 years, Kīlauea was almost continuously active. During this period, the pit crater Halema'uma'u was a lava lake (the draining of the lake caused a violent steam eruption in 1924). Since then, Kīlauea has erupted intermittently, both at the summit and along its flanks (or rift zones) a total of 40 times. The current eruption began on January 3, 1983, and is Hawai'i's largest and longest flank eruption in recorded history. There is no indication when it may end. During the past 1,100 years, lava flows have buried 500 mi2 (1,300 km2)—more than 90 percent of Kīlauea's surface.

Visit www.hvo.wr.usgs for current volcano information and photographs. 


Both Mauna Loa and Kīlauea created summit calderas (or craters) when lava drained from an underground magma chamber, causing the unsupported volcano summit to collapse. Moku'āweoweo, Mauna Loa's caldera, is three miles long, 1.5 miles wide and up to 600 feet (183 m) deep. The caldera at Kīlauea is 2.5 miles long, two miles wide and 400 feet (122 m) deep. When viewed by missionary William Ellis in 1823, it was more than 800 feet (244 m) deep. Lava flows from and near Halema'uma'u have, over the years, filled it to its present level. The most recent summit flows were in 1974 and 1982.

Lava Flows

Kīlauea's ongoing eruption changes every day. Flowing lava is sometimes visible at the end of the Chain of Craters Road. For up-to-date information about where (and if) active lava flows exist, talk to park rangers at the Kīlauea Visitor Center.

Pit Craters

Collapses that are smaller than the summit caldera collapses are called pit craters. Halema'uma'u at Kīlauea is an example. Pit craters can occur both in the summit region and along rift zones. The upper-reaches of Kīlauea's East Rift Zone are dotted with these depres-sions, giving the name "Chain of Craters" to the road that leads from the volcano toward the sea. The road was blocked by lava flows in 1986, reop-ened, and then blocked again in 1987.

Steam Vents

When groundwater reaches rock of sufficient temperature, steam forms. This is particularly common in the summit area and along the rift zones where magma (underground lava) is near the surface. Air temperature and humidity affect the visibility of steam escaping from cracks in the lava flows, so the visible amount may vary considerably from day to day.

Sulphur Banks

Sulphur deposits, left where volcanic gases have seeped out with ground- water steam, may be seen in or near the caldera of Kīlauea.


When flows move downhill as rivers of lava, they frequently leave isolated "islands" of untouched ground. Hawaiians call these areas in lava flows, kīpuka. It is within these kīpuka that some of the most interesting native plants and animals have evolved.

Na Pali

Fault scarps, or pali (Hawaiian for "cliff"), are common throughout the state. In the park, small ones are prevalent around the summit caldera while larger ones are found between summits and the sea. Grand examples can be seen while descending Chain of Craters Road. These cliffs normally form slowly over long periods of time, but increments of several feet may develop suddenly as ground shifts along fault lines or during coastal subsidence. 

The Seacoast

Most of the seacoast within the park is made up of rugged cliffs interrupted with occasional small, temporary beaches. Wave action continually erodes the base of the cliffs, under-mining them and causing large chunks to fall off. Uneven erosion of rocks of varying hardness sometimes results in the formation of sea arches.

Black Sand Beaches

When hot lava spills into the sea, it shatters into black sand that is carried by ocean currents along the coastline. If the black sand is deposited in favorable sites protected from heavy wave action, unstable beaches may form. (Note: Swimming at these beaches is dangerous and potentially life threatening.) The life span of black sand beaches is variable; some may last only a few days, others a few centuries. In 1992, lava covered the black sand beath at Kamoamoa just five years after it had formed. 

Tree Molds and Lava Trees

Tree molds form when lava engulfs a tree and later cools around it, forming a crust. Usually the tree burns out, leaving a hole in the lava, or a "tree mold." Lava trees form similarly, except the lava that surrounded the tree drains away, leaving the hardened, misshapen crust around the freestanding tree.

Rain Forest

The windward side of Kīlauea, with an annual rainfall of more than 100 inches, has a distinctive rainforest. The 'ōhi'a lehua tree forms the canopy, while the tree fern, or hāpu'u, grows beneath. 

The tree fern was important to ancient Hawaiians. They used pulu, the brown, silky hair covering the unfurled fronds, to embalm the dead. It also had other uses. In the mid-1800s, pulu was used to stuff mattresses and pillows. Much was exported to the mainland for this purpose, and was even used at the hotels in Yosemite National Park.