I was sweating profusely as the black ground crumbled and cracked under my the shoes. A few feet below me, a bright, orange lava river oozed, ready to consume my body if the ashy ground decided to give way. It was thrilling, and maybe a little stupid, but I can say I did it. I hiked on top of flowing lava on an active Hawaii volcano.
See Lava Close Up – On the cheap
When the lava is flowing on Hawaii’s volcano, everyone on the island is buzzing with happiness. Seeing lava close up is a once in a lifetime event for most people; some are even willing to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a helicopter or boat tour. This article is not for those people. If you want to see lava close up, and pay next to nothing, read on.
Getting to the Hawaii Volcano Lava Flow
From Hilo, follow Highway 130 until you can’t go any farther (about a 45 minute drive). You will be directed to park; Be prepared to pay a fee. From the parking area, it is an 8-mile roundtrip* journey to the lava flow, over gravel and hardened lava. It can be brutally hot in the summer, so plan accordingly. For directions on reaching the lava flow from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, click here.
*Note: the flow and the location of the lava is always changing. This article was written in early 2017. Check with a ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for up to date information*
TIP: For the ultimate experience, go just before sunset to enjoy the spectacular sight of glowing lava after dark!
Hike or Bike
Local entrepreneurs will be renting bikes in the parking area for about $20/hr including a first aid kit and head lamp. I highly suggest this. Hiking will take about 4 hours round trip, but biking will take only 1.5-2 hours. That being said, the bike ride can be treacherous because of the loose gravel and lack of visibility (if you go at night).
About 3.5 miles into the ride, you will have to ditch the bike and continue on foot across the hardened lava fields. This is where it gets really interesting. If you hike after dark, you can actually see blazing hot lava flowing a few feet below, under the hardened lava. It will glow through the cracks in the earth, and you will walk right on top of it at times. It’s a little alarming, but also incredible. When I went, there were areas where the lava came above ground and you could get really close, if you could stand the heat. I couldn’t.
After about a half mile of navigating the lava fields, you’ll come to a cliffside. Peer over the railing and watch as the lava bursts out from blackened bluff, pouring into the ocean with a steamy hiss! What an awesome sight.
What to Bring
- Protective shoes that will not melt on hot surfaces
- Suntan lotion or umbrella (if hiking during the day)
- Layers of clothing (if hiking/biking after dark)
- Flashlight or headlamp (if hiking after dark)
Don’t Do This!!
Don’t cook or poke the lava. Many native Hawaiians believe lava is the embodiment of Pela, the fire deity. Respect their beliefs. If you poke or cook marshmallows over the lava, you will be escorted out by officials.
Admire the beauty of the Hawaii Volcano, watch your step, and take only pictures.
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All photography in this article is courtesy of Luke Grossaint