Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park was established on August 1, 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson. It was the 11th National Park established in the U.S., and the first in a U.S. territory. It contains and protects two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s largest shield volcano. A shield volcano is one built almost entirely of fluid lava flows, and is usually lower to the ground than other types of volcanoes with gentle slopes; it is said to look like a warrior’s shield.
The park today consists of 323,431 acres (505.36 sq mi) of land, with more than 50 percent designated as the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes Wilderness area. In 2004, an additional 115,788 acres of land were purchased through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and added to the park, making it 56% larger than its original boundaries.
Historically, Kīlauea and the Halemaʻumaʻu caldera with it are considered by the Hawaiian people to be the sacred home of the volcano goddess Pele, and Hawaiians visited the crater to offer gifts to the goddess. In 1790, a party of Hawaiian warriors (along with women and children) were in the area, and were killed in a violent and fast-moving eruption. Many of the Hawaiians killed and others left footprints in the lava that can still be seen today.
The first western visitors to the site arrived in 1823, and the volcanoes became a tourist attraction in the 1840s. Several hotels and restaurants were built along the rim of the volcanoes to accommodate the tourists traveling there. Now, Volcano House is the only hotel within the borders of the national park.
The park has an easily accessible lava tube that was named for the Thurston family, a family that was influential in the designation of the park as a National Park. It is open and can be walked through, with only a short, paved walk to reach it.
There are also amazing hiking and camping opportunities – how often do you get to hike and camp on lava! The park ranges in elevation from sea level to the summit of the active volcano Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet. From ocean views all the way up to stunning and violent lava flows! The climates in the park range from tropical rain forest, to a desert landscape. I was consistently surprised by the range of climate and bio-diversity that I saw on my trip to Hawaiʻi.
There are also a couple of scenic drives, giving visitors amazing views of the volcanic craters and the ocean. The Chain of Craters Road takes you past several craters from historic eruptions to the coast. However, some of the road has now been covered by more recent lava flows. The landscape here is always changing.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 1987, designations that recognize its beauty and importance in nature.
It was a brief visit, and I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked, but I will share my visit in my next post!