I have been fortunate to visit Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii on four different trips to Kona. Each time has been uniquely different and frankly, I cannot wait for our next trip in September 2007! I’ve been alone, with my hubby and mother-in-law and most recently with two girlfriends from Wisconsin. Each time that I’ve done the trip, it has been one of those “ALL DAY” day trips, driving over from the Kona region of the Big Island. Trust me, that makes for a VERY long day especially if you plan on being around to see what you might be able to see after nightfall.
It is my opinion that a trip down Chain of Craters Road is a must experience while in Volcanoes NP. It will take a significant amount of time, so plan accordingly. Ideally, I would suggest you visit and take in the area around the visitors’ center at the summit of Kilauea on Crater Rim Drive early in your visit and plan for a late afternoon trip down Chain of Craters Road. Once at the bottom of the road (20 miles and a 3,500 foot drop in altitude to sea level) you will want to park your car and get out to walk over the 2003 lava flow. If you plan on being out there after dusk, be sure to take flashlights (one for EACH person in your party!). While the NPS rangers have marked a “path” don’t be mistaken by expecting it to be a smooth gravel type path. You will be hiking over sharp, rugged, course lava rocks that will cut you like nothing you’ve ever fallen on. Good shoes is also a must. I can’t believe the number of people I’ve seen out there in flip-flops going out and cut up feet coming back. NOT a fun way to spend a vacation.
There is the Volcano House Hotel inside the park itself, as well as several small bed and breakfasts just outside the park. You may want to consider doing an overnight in the area so that you can have more time to spend exploring the park and the neighboring areas of Puna and Hilo. For our next trip, I’m certain that is what we are going to do in order to avoid spending so much time (and gas) driving back and forth from the Kona side of the island.