Five volcanoes make up the island of Hawai'i -- Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. Volcanoes that will never erupt again are considered extinct. Dormant volcanoes have not erupted in the last 200 years but probably will erupt again. Active volcanoes have erupted in the last 200 years.
Kohala, the oldest volcano on this island, last erupted about 60,000 years ago and is considered extinct. Mauna Kea last erupted 3,600 years ago and is dormant. Hualalai erupted seven times in the last 2,100 years with its latest eruptions in 1800 and 1801. Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984 and sent flows towards Hilo. Kilauea (seen below) has been erupting since 1983.
Kilauea's eruption has been continuous since 1983 and its output of lava is so prodigious that it would be about 20 miles in depth if its outflow of lava wasn't primarily being transported by lava tubes to the ocean where it fragments and adds layers to the below-water flank of the volcano. Some of its lava in the Kamoamoa area is about 15 feet deep where it first crossed the road. Lava from the Kupaianaha eruption is about 75 feet deep at Queens Bath, 50 to 75 feet feet deep in Kalapana, and 45 feet deep near the sea cliff at mid-flow.
Since 1983, about 500 acres of new land has been added to the island. In contrast to explosive volcanoes like Mt. St. Helen, the eruptions of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa are more fluid and less gaseous, more like fiery fountains and rivers of molden lava. The currently active vent is 15 miles from the summit and six miles above the coast and has destroyed 187 homes, the Wahaula visitors center, the Royal Gardens Community Center, the Mauna Kea Congregational Church, and the Kalapana Drive-in. The current eruption rate of Kilauea volcano is 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards every day, enough to cover the floor of the caldera with a thin layer of lava daily or resurface a 20-mile-long two-lane road such as the Chain of Craters Road every day. The bus in the photo below demonstrates what lava did in the 1980s when Kilauea's eruption hit the community of Kalapana.
Volcanoes are prodigious land builders and have created the entire Hawaiian Island chain. Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world's most active volcanoes, are still adding to the island of Hawaiʻi. In fact, Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain on Earth, occupying an estimated volume of 19,999 cubic miles. The current summit of Mauna Loa stands about 56,000 feet above the depressed sea floor, more than 27,000 feet higher than Mount Everest.
These flows, added layer upon layer, produced a barren volcanic landscape that served as a foundation for life. Hundreds of species of plants and animals found their way across the vast Pacific Ocean on wind, water, and the wings of birds. A few survived, adapted, and prospered during this time of isolation making sections of verdant greenery as on the Sandalwood Trail shown below.
Created to preserve the natural setting of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, the park is also a refuge for the island's native plants and animals and a link to its human past. Park managers and scientists work to protect the resources and promote understanding and appreciation of the park visitors. Research by scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory makes Kīlauea one of the best understood volcanoes in the world, shedding light on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and even the beginnings of planet Earth. Each eruption is a reminder of the power of natural processes to change the air we breath, the ground we walk on, and the sea that surrounds this volcanic island.
The island's multitude of landscapes serve as a refuge for a wide variety of unusual and endangered creatures, including the nēnē (Hawaiian Goose), ope‘ape‘a (Hawaiian hoary bat), happyface spiders, carnivorous caterpillars, honeycreepers.
If you have only one to three hours, you can explore the summit of Kīlauea volcano via an 11-mile road that encircles the summit caldera, passes through desert and lush tropical rain forest, traverses the caldera floor, and provides access to well-marked scenic stops and short walks.
If you have four to five hours, you may also explore the East Rift and coastal area of the park via Chain of Craters Road which descends 3,700 feet in 20 miles and ends where a 2003 lava flow crossed the road. Lava flow activity is always changing, so check at the Kīlauea Visitor Center for the most current information. Pullouts and overlooks along Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road offer panoramic views of the park. (Click to enlarge map.)
Hikers will find that the park offers over 150 miles of trails ranging in elevation from sea level to 13,667 feet. There can even be snow on Mauna Loa’s summit during the winter. With over half of the park designated as wilderness, there are numerous opportunities for solitude, observation of dark night skies, and access to locations that allow you to experience life on active volcanoes.
Large volumes of lava move in lava tubes beneath the hardened surface of recent flows. Skylights form when the roof of a lava tube collapses, revealing the molten lava flowing like a river within the tube. Rocks that are moving upward in the mantle beneath Hawai`i begin to melt about 40 to 60 miles in depth. The molten rock is called magma and it rises because of its relatively low density. The magma "ponds" in a reservoir 1 to 4 miles beneath the summit but can follow fractures up to the crater and produce a summit eruption. During the current eruption, the magma has followed a zone of weakness, the East Rift Zone.
Bicycles are allowed on all roads open to automobile traffic and on some trails. A Bike Guide is available at the Kīlauea Visitor center or online at www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/brochures.htm. In Hawai‘i, bicycles are subject to the same rules as automobiles. Bicycles are not available for rent in the park.