For many, no Hawaiian holiday is complete without a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
This colossal stretch of land encompasses two of the world’s most active volcanoes, rare flora and fauna, and exquisite volcanic terrain.
But how to decide between the many tours that are offered? Here are our choices for the top five—and why you should book a reservation.
• Volcano Unveiled – Departs from Kona, pick ups in Waikoloa (12 hours)
• Hawaii Grand Circle Island Tour – Departs from Kona (Approx. 10 hours)
• Epic Island Journey – Departs from Kona, w/other pick ups available (11.5 hours)
• Hilo Volcano Special Tour – Departs from Hilo (8 hours)
• Discover Volcano Country – Departs from Hilo, other pick ups available (7 hours)
As the youngest island in Hawaii, the Big Island is a study in contrasts: Startling-blue water edging against onyx rocks. Miles of unspoiled land bordering enclaves filled with resorts. Abundant sunshine; ample rain; copious mist. Staggeringly gorgeous, the island is a must-see on your visit to the Aloha State.
The volcanoes that created it should also be considered a must—and Hawaii Forest & Trail helps you realize this with their Volcano Unveiled tour. On this 12-hour journey, you’ll be picked up from select resorts on the Kona and Waikoloa Coast before taking a picturesque drive on the famed Saddle Road to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Once there, you’ll hike two to three miles across rocky ground to get an up-close-and-personal look at Kilauea—a 4,019-foot active shield volcano that’s continually changing the Big Island. Along the way, a knowledgeable, amiable, and certified guide will offer fascinating information on Hawaii’s geology, culture, and history. The pinnacle of the trip will likely be the off-road excursion to Kauhi Cave, a private lava tube and cavern that’s accessible only to Hawaii Forest & Trail staff and guests. You’ll be spellbound by the cylinder, which is marked by bright yellow microbial mats that accent the cave walls; meanwhile, the trip as a whole will linger with you for decades. Bonus points: Hawaii Forest & Trail—which is certified by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association—has garnered a reputation as one of the friendliest, most well-informed tour companies on the island, thanks in part to their two-plus decades of experience—and the fact that their staff holds strong academic backgrounds in the fields of biology, geology, natural history, and Hawaiian culture.
Know before you go:
- Consider yourself generally fit? Good! You should be able to trek two to three miles over uneven landscapes.
- Pack a pair of protective glasses to shield your eyes from ash, dust, and vog.
- Don’t stress about eats and drinks: Hawaii Forest & Trail will provide breakfast, snacks, lunch, afternoon pupu—or appetizers—and water.
Hawaii Grand Circle Island Tour
At 4,028 square miles—and growing—the Big Island earned its nickname for a reason. Given its vastness—it’s larger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined—it ought to arrive as no surprise that its landscape is diverse and complex, featuring everything from coffee farms to rainforests to lava fields to, yes, those astounding volcanoes that shaped it.
Challenging to see in one trip—let alone in one week—Roberts Hawaii, one of the oldest tour companies in the islands, takes the stress out of mapping, planning, and driving with their Hawaii Grand Circle Island Tour. This 10-hour trip—give or take—covers roughly 250 miles of the Big Island’s mind-boggling turf. With an amiable, expert driver at the wheel of your super-comfy minibus, you’ll see several of the Big Island’s greatest sights, including the lush and rugged Hamakua Coast (where you’ll also stop at Hamakua Nut Company, where Hawaii’s first macadamia nut tree was planted in 1881), Rainbow Falls State Park, and the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. You’ll also be taken to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach—where the midnight-colored sand, formed from years of volcanic activity, is frequented by seals and turtles—and Royal Kona Coffee, a farm, known as the “jewel of java,” where you’ll learn how coffee is produced and its import to local culture.
What’s more, you’ll be given a comprehensive tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, including the Volcano House, the Kilauea Iki Overloook, and Puhimau—a pit that tells the story of the crater’s collapse. Sound grand? It’s because it is. And throughout it all, the team at Roberts Hawaii will provide you with engrossing information about the sights—while also ensuring you’re having a heck of a good time.
Know before you go:
- The tour highlights may sound magnificent but be prepared for itinerary changes (due to inclement weather, volcanic activity, and more). At the same time, lava flow sightings are contingent upon Kilauea’s disposition.
- Pregnant or have a heart condition? Consider holding off. Volcanic fumes can be hazardous to your health; they might also impact infants and young children.
- Sleep well the night before. This is a long trip with moderate walking—and lots of excitement—involved.
Epic Island Journey
Structured in the vein of #2, Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Epic Island Journey allows you and your crew to see a number of the Big Island’s most astounding sights—all in a day’s work (or, rather, trip). Epic in scope—its title is apropos—the 11.5-hour voyage is comprised of the sort of activities that’ll deepen your appreciation of Hawaii. Chief among them? A stroll across Punalu’u Beach in search of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, a tour at a 1,000-acre (and oh-so-vibrant) flower farm, and an exploration of a private lava tube (and a mesmerizing explanation of how these cylinders are formed).
Indeed, private is the name of this tour’s game—the journey also includes an exclusive plantation tour of Kona Joe’s (complete with a mill visit) and a chance to view the roaring, 80-foot Rainbow Falls from a private viewing deck. But the most “epic” part of all may be the guided exploration through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you’ll be granted stellar views and a captivating lesson on Hawaii’s geology and culture.
Know before you go:
- Have keiki in your crew? Be sure they’re eight years or older.
- No need to stop at Target before your big day: Hawaii Forest & Trail provides walking sticks, day packs, warm wear, and rain ponchos.
- Bring your appetite: The trip includes a savory breakfast (with vegan options available) and a sandwich lunch (gluten-free on request). You’ll also have your pick of sodas and juices.
Hilo Volcano Special Tour
Land on the Big Island and it’s impossible to ignore the sense of mana all around you. Sure, all of Hawaii has an otherworldly feel about it—how else could a place be so remarkable?—but, far from the urban vibe of Honolulu and the resort ambiance of parts of Maui—the Big Island’s isolation (and immensity) makes its magic palpable.
Much of that is formed, some believed, by the fact that the island is still growing. Roberts Hawaii’s Hilo Volcano Special Tour honors this fact—and then some. Paying particular attention to instructing guests on all there is to know about volcanoes, the enlightening, 8-hour tour covers everything from seismic activity to the ancient myth of Pele. The scenery presented along the circuit—from the uber-verdant, 24-acre Lili’uokalani Garden to, of course, the highlights of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—adds to the drama, rendering the day something of a moving movie.
Know before you go:
- Craving beach time? Roberts Hawaii pays tribute to the prevailing idea of a tropical vacation—their Hilo Volcano Special Tour includes a stop at Richardson’s Black Sand Beach, which boasts an ancient fishing pond and views of Mauna Kea.
- As with all of the tours included on this list, be sure to wear (or pack) comfortable, covered, and sturdy walking shoes.
- While food is not provided with the Hilo Volcano Special Tour, meals are available for purchase at the ‘Imiloa Sky Garden Restaurant (adjacent to the astronomy center). Here, you’ll find local eats, American classics, a sizable buffet, and a la carte items.
Discover Volcano Country
Dream of the Big Island and see ancient lava fields, awesome craters, historic sites, and miles upon miles of coffee farms? You got that right—and Hawaii Forest & Trail is here to make it a reality. Their 7-hour Discover Volcano Country tour covers these gems and more. Helmed by interpretative guides who have a unique understanding of Hawaii’s geology, history, and people, the journey includes an array of memorable stops, including the wild and untouched Ka’u Coast, the crystal-fine black sand at the aforementioned Punalu’u Beach, a macadamia nut orchard, and a historic, 165-year-old working ranch renowned for its splendid views, wildlife, and native forest. You’ll also sample the rich deliciousness of freshly-brewed (and farm fresh) Kona coffee at the Ka’u Coffee Mill. Most of all, you’ll take an awe-inspiring tour through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you’ll be given a stronger comprehension (and fantastic view) of Halemaumau Crater, which doubled in size in 2018, and an exploration of the Thurston Lava Tube—a famed tunnel that dates back 500 years.
Know before you go:
- Be prepared to do some trotting: The tour includes multiple stops with the chance to walk a total of two to three miles (ranging from easy to moderate).
- All ages are welcome, and group tours max out at 12—giving you an intimate (but lively) experience.
- Hawaii Forest & Trail is a proud partner of the Hawaii Community Foundation, and gives $1 of each tour to the I’iwi Fund—which, named after the scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper, contributes funding to Hawaii conservation efforts. Guests are encouraged to match their donation (or give any amount they choose). It’s a terrific way to give back to an island that, quite literally, keeps on giving.
Exceptional spots abound across the planet but few remind us of Earth’s power like Hawaii. Arrive on Maui and your eyes will be arrested by the sight of its enormous volcano, Haleakala. Drive across the Pali on Oahu and you’ll be taken by the jagged, dramatic beauty of Koolau Range—fragments of the now-dormant and radically-eroded Koolau Volcano.
Land on the Big Island and you’ll have the chance to see history in the making at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (And this is just our getting started.) In other words, the dynamic forces of this remote island chain are constantly at work, growing and weathering and shifting—and giving you an extraordinary vacation.