Time to pack a warm parka and heavy boots . . . don’t forget an extra pair of gloves . . . you’re going to Hawai’i! Huh? The United States’ 50th state is known for a lot of things: gorgeous beaches, exciting surfing, lush rainforests, and delicious pineapples. None of them call out for winter attire, though. Unless you’re visiting the Big Island.
The largest and the southernmost of the Hawaiian islands has everything you’d expect from a tropical destination, as well as a few of the most impressive volcanoes in the world. Dormant Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain when measured from the sea floor. It’s even taller than Mount Everest. Mauna Loa, the largest subaerial volcano in the world, last erupted in 1984. Kīlauea may be smaller, but it’s currently one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It’s lava flow continues to expand the southeastern edge of Hawai’i and occasionally disrupts life on the island or destroys a few houses.
The two volcanoes within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park—Mauna Loa and Kīlauea—may be known for their hot steam, boiling lava, and eggy sulfur smell, but given their massive size, there’s bound to be a huge temperature difference from the beach. Hence the packing list.
With hundreds of miles of trails and ever-changing scenery within the national park, there are a lot of places to explore. Your first stop should always be the Kīlauea Visitor Center, where park rangers will fill you in on the latest eruptions and closures. Only a few miles away, the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum provides an impressive first look at the crater. It’s built on the edge of Kīlauea, with views of the caldera and the main crater, Halema’uma’u. Hawaiians believe Pele, the goddess of fire, lives here; the rim is ringed with offerings to her.
After watching steam spurt from Halema’uma’u, get away from the crowds. Follow the four-mile Kīlauea Iki Trail across the crater floor. You’ll feel like you’re on another planet. See the destruction caused by a 1959 eruption along the desolate Devastation Trail. Duck your head and walk through the cave-like Thurston Lava Tube. Or follow the Chain of Craters Road south toward the ocean. The winding road passes petroglyphs and ends where the lava empties into the sea.
Most people leave the park when darkness falls, but you’re one of the lucky ones staying at the Volcano House. Hawai’i’s oldest hotel recently reopened after a major renovation. What hasn’t changed is the hotel’s amazing views. Have cocktails and appetizers by a fireplace made of lava rock at Uncle George’s Lounge. Move in to the dimly lit restaurant, The Rim, to enjoy rare, seared Kona Kampachi, Hilo coffee-rubbed lamb, and the red glow billowing from Halema’uma’u. Then head to your room and leave the curtains open to continue watching the stunning show.
Tomorrow, you’ll bike to the steam vents, drive along the Nāpau Trail, and eventually make your way back down to the beach, where you can finally shed the extra layers.