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The Spot: Volcanoes National Park

By: Photos and words by Kelsey "Doppler" Boyte

When the mid-winter blues set in come February, book yourself a ticket to the big island and head to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Never heard of this island icon? You’re not alone. It was one of the least visited national parks last year. HVNP is equal parts oasis and wasteland, overgrown rainforests and barren desert. It plays host to a staggering number of endemic species and happens to be situated just a quick 80-mile jaunt from Kona (and some of the best beaches on earth).

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is made up of two active volcanoes. Kīlauea, the smaller sister to Mauna Loa, is an active shield volcano with a hot eruptive history — its name alone means “spewing” or “much spreading” in the Hawaiian language, referring to its frequent outpouring of lava. Spend a day (or several) winding Kīlauea’s spine and you’ll experience seven ecological life zones including seacoast, lowland, mid-
elevation woodland, rain forest, upland forest and woodland, subalpine and aeolian.

Apart from the space-like lava fields, stunning landscapes, and the ability to get up close and personal with liquid magma, HVNP holds its gravity in the nuance. On the mainland, national parks have big, look-at-me wonders — Yosemite has Half Dome, the Grand Canyon has Horseshoe Bend, Grand Teton National Park has the Grand. The overwhelming beauty of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is just underfoot. It’s a humbling thing to stand on weeks-old ground.

Where earth creates earth, you are reminded of your smallness in a way that’s somehow different than pitching a tent in the Rockies or Smokies.

 

Tips for Travel

  • Pack snacks and a blanket for a sunset at the Jaggar Museum and Lookout. The museum itself is informative but super touristy. Park it on the lookout with your company and prepare to be wowed by full rainbows lingering in misty skies. Hawaii, the rainbow state after all, is chock-a-block with these prismatic light occurrences. It’s not often you see a rainbow arching over a fiery, bubbling crater that leads to the middle of the Earth.
  • The only restaurant within the park can be found at the Volcano House, and sit-down options around the park are limited. Whether you’re in the park for a single day, or several, we suggest you pack a cooler full of fresh finds from Hilo or Kona and cook for yourself.
  • The best way to really experience the nuance of HVNP is on the backcountry trails and secluded southern seacoast. If you’re in it to win it, try the whole beach circuit hiking and camping between Halape, ‘Apua, Ka‘aha and Keauhou. A more modest, but equally rewarding approach? A two-day out-and-back adventure to Halape beach. The hike to Halape is hot and dry through lava landscape and predominantly non-native grasses. The grueling trek rewards hikers with a stunning virgin beach and tide pools. Campers may pitch tents and camp directly on the small sandy beach in designated spots. The Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu via the Keauhou Trail, accessed via Chain of Craters Road, is the shortest trip (8.4 miles, 16.8 roundtrip).

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