If you are on the Big Island and the volcano is active, lava viewing is a must-do for your vacation. Hawaii wouldn’t be there if it were not for the continuous volcanic activity that build all the islands in the state. There are three volcanoes in Hawaii that are still active, and they are all on the Big Island: Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and the Kilauea. Of these, the Kilauea Volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983, and is one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
Did you know the air force once bombed a lava flow that threatened Hilo in 1935? Read about the Volcanic History of Hawaii in our blog if you want to learn more about the 3 active volcanoes on the Big Island and the eruption history of all 5 Big Island Volcanoes
Most of the time the volcanoes on Hawaii erupt at a very calm pace (with ‘aloha’), and it is easy to get close to the action. This offers a spectacle that few will ever forget. There are two possible ways to see the lava:  From a distance In the crater of the Kilauea Volcano and  Close by as it flows down to the ocean.
From within the Volcanoes National Park you have a great view of the Halema’uma’u crater. Because of safety issues the access to the crater is restricted, but there are several overlooks that give a stunning overview of the crater at about 1 mile distance.
During daytime an impressive plume can be seen, but the view is truly breathtaking after sunset, when the glow of the lava can be seen against a background of stars. (back to top)
Seeing the lava up-close-and-personal leaves an impression that few people ever forget. Since 2007 a surface lava flow from the Kilauea volcano has been flowing in the Kalapana-district. The lava flow activity and location changes daily. Check the latest Kilauea volcano lava flow update, or call the Park at (808) 985-6000 or view a map of the most current lava flow. This option is both more spectacular and more risky. Volcanic fumes are hazardous to your health, and persons at risk of respiratory problems, heart problems, pregnant women, infants and elderly people are discouraged to engage in this activity. It is recommended that you wear comfortable socks and walking shoes or hiking boots. (back to top)
It is very important to realize that hiking out to the lava unprepared can put you in harm’s way. Bring sunscreen and water with you, and don’t forget your camera! If you plan to view the lava flows after dusk, remember to bring one flashlight per person. Take head: Kilauea is a dynamic volcano, and lava viewing conditions change daily. The viewing area that is arranged by the National Park does not guarantee close access of the lava, and often a 1+ hour hike over hazardous terrain is necessary to get to fresh lava.
We can’t overemphasize being prepared for the hike – too many times ill-prepared tourists with sandals and flip flops. Those are not appropriate or safe for the rough lava surfaces, and wearing those will force you return home prematurely without having seen the lava. If you plan on staying past sunset (and we highly recommend this), each person should carry their own flashlight for the walk back.
If you want to be truly prepared, take 5 minutes and watch this video about safe viewing of ocean entries made by the Hawaii volcanoes national park staff. It is especially good to watch if you want to get as close as physically possible to lava ocean entries (don’t!): lava-safety-video
If the lava flows are on land that is accessible to public, you can join a guided lava tour to get very close to the lava or join a boat tour to see the lava stream into the ocean. If the lava is not that easily accessible your best option is to book a helicopter tour that will fly you over the active crater.
Hiking to the Lava
You can find up-to-date information about the lava viewing area at the “what’s going on with the Volcano” webpage of the Volcanoes National Park. There are also several companies that offer guided hikes to the lava flow at night if public access to the lava is possible. Some companies are better than others, but in general their guides are trained professionals that know the terrain intimately, and can provide you with plenty of interesting background information and safe passage.
Lava from the Ocean
Visiting the lava from the ocean side does not allow you to come as close to the lava as with the lava tours over land, but it can offer you sights that are unique and that are not visible from the land. Think about (if you are lucky) volcanic steam explosions, red rivers of lava, littoral explosions, bench collapses, plume clouds, erupting lava bombs, & ocean entry splatter cones.Check out the lavaocean / seelava Lava Boat Tours.
If the lava is not flowing, you can still get a spectacular sight at newly formed black sand beaches, frozen lava flows and the incredible scenic Puna Coast with a Volcano Boat Tour.