family in front of volcano on Hawaii's big island

Are you headed to Hawaii and looking for the best Volcanoes National Park Hikes for kids? Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii and it’s one of our favorite places to visit on the Big Island. Home to Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Kohala, and Hualālai, this park offers nearly 150 miles of trails for hiking enthusiasts.

Our family has visited Hawaii almost every year for the last 15 years. We have been at each of the four main islands more than once, but the Big Island has something special about it. Perhaps it’s the landscape that is very different from the other islands or the fact that it is a great place for kids to learn about science – and see a real live volcano! But, it is one of the best Hawaiian islands for kids.

If you are traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii with kids, you will definitely want to visit the volcano and hike it if you can. It is a very special island and one I highly recommend visiting with kids as it is both fascinating and educational.

In this post, you’ll learn about some of the best Volcanoes National Park hikes for kids. There are also many other things to do with kids here that I’ll explore. So, pack your suitcases and get your hiking gear ready for the ultimate Hawaiian family vacation.

This post contains affiliate links which means I receive a commission at no cost to you should you make a purchase using this link. See my disclosures.

family on big island Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii is very family-friendly. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

Quick Overview About Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s the youngest of the four main Hawaiian islands, and visually, it’s quite different. Volcanic rocks can be seen everywhere, which makes quite a unique landscaping compared to the more lush rainforest you may see on Kauai and parts of Maui or the busy beaches of Oahu.

The Volcanoes National Park includes two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

Kilauea Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has been erupting nearly continuously since 1983, shooting lava fountains into the air.

Mauna Loa is the largest, most active volcano on Earth and has erupted 33 times in recorded history. Hawaiian volcanoes are definitely an attraction for visitors around the world.

When visiting the Visitor’s Center, you can even see steam vents and volcanic gases spewing up. You can certainly see them if you take a helicopter flight above the volcanoes, which our family loved.

But there are other much older volcanoes that aren’t that active, too – Mauna Kea, Hualālai, and Kohala. These three are located on the north side of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

More To See In Volcanoes National Park

The park also includes a wide variety of ecosystems, from rainforests to deserts so it’s quite a science lesson for kids. There are 7 ecological zones, including lowland lush rainforest, seacoast, mid-elevation woodland, upland forest, rainforest, alpine, and subalpine.

The park is home to over 180 bird species, including the Hawaiian hawk, the ʻuaʻu, and the rare nene goose. You can also find many mammals and a variety of plants in this park, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

When creating your Volcanoes National Park itinerary, check out the helpful Volcanoes National Park trail map on the park service website. It is definitely one of the must-do activities when visiting the Big Island with kids.

View of Volcanoes National Park from above.
Seeing Volcanoes National Park from above in a helicopter can show you areas not accessible by foot. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

Best Volcanoes National Park Hikes with Kids 

The Crater Rim Trail

A fun day hike my kids enjoyed is Crater Rim Trail which takes you along the summit caldera of Kīlauea. The Crater Rim Trail is about 11 miles, so it will take you most of the day, and it may be too long for small children. But part of the trail from the old Jaggar Museum south is closed because of the volcano eruption in Halemaumau Crater.

On the Crater Rim Trail, you’ll see extremely different landscapes, from verdant greenery to desert terrain, when you hike this trail around the active volcano. This trail’s difficulty is easy. So while it is long for little feet, it in’t difficult in terms of hills or terrain.

The Volcano House Hotel is the only hotel in the park, and it’s located on the edge of the Kilauea Caldera. It’s existed in several locations and forms over the years but has been in the park since 1846 when it was The Pitman House.

man walking through Kilauea Ike Trail
Kilauea Ike Trail, Photo credit: © MNStudio |

Kilauea Iki Trail

The Kīlauea Iki Trail is steep and rocky as you’re traversing through a solidified lava lake over the crater floor, so I would save this one for older kids and teens, adults and experienced hikers. It is considered a moderate to challenging hike, but it is very popular so there will be other hikers on the trail with you.

While it is a more moderate to challenging hike, the Kilauea Iki Trail is shorter (about a 3.2 mile loop) and starts from a few different places. It runs along the northern rim of the Kilauea Crater.

What makes this hike so special is that you are walking on a crater floor, which is quite a unique experience. That’s why it’s one of the best hikes in Volcanoes National Park to do with older kids.

Devastation Trail

Devastation Trail is another easy hike that’s stroller and wheelchair accessible. The trail is just one mile, so it takes about an hour. You’ll want to bring water, sunscreen, rain gear, and a hat to be prepared for windy, dry, and hot weather conditions. This is one that I think younger kids could be able to do, and it’s a great way for younger kids

Uēaloha (Byron Ledge Trail)

Uēaloha, otherwise known as the Byron’s Ledge Trail, is a moderately challenging trail that’s a little over a mile long. The park website gives a warning here not to climb the Pu’u pua’i cinder cone on Byron Ledge Trail. So, while it is short, I would save this for older kids and teens.

Kūpinaʻi Pali (Waldron Ledge)

This loop trail is a walk through history that ends with a panoramic view of Kaluapele – the Kīlauea Caldera. This trail is about one mile long and an easy hike with wheelchair accessibility.

The Waldron Ledge Loop Trail contains several trails that circle Waldron Ledge and leads back to the visitor center. I recommend this hike if you are traveling to Hawaii with toddlers or younger kids, as it is one you could use a stroller. One note, though is that if you are visiting this trail with a wheelchair or a stroller, just be aware there are a few areas that may have a steeper grade or some cracks.

Halema’uma’u Crater Trail

The Halema’uma’u Crater Trail has been used by visitors to the Volcano House for years as you access it in that area off  Crater Rim Trail.

It’s a little under a mile one way from this location or 1.3 miles from Crater Rim Trail to Kīlauea Iki and Nāhuku, the Thurston Lava Tube. Either way, it’s moderately difficult.

sulfer banks trail big island volcano hikes
Trail through the sulfur vents at Volcanoes National Park Big Island, Photo credit: © Alexeykamenskiy |

Ha‘akulamanu Sulphur Banks Trail

An easy walking trail that kids would like, the Ha’akulamanu Sulphure Banks Trail is one where you can easily take to get see some of the fascinating aspects of volcanic activity. My kids found this really interesting and there are some beautiful birds that frequent this area.

This trail is an easy 1.2-mile round trip hike from the Kīlauea Visitor Center. You can pick up the other end of the trail that’s wheelchair accessible across the street from the parking lot at the Steam Vents.

One thing you should note, though, is that volcanic gasses are present and come up from the ground. It’s what gives off that stinky bad egg smell. So, if anyone in your traveling party has asthma, breathing or health concerns, or you are traveling with really young kids, you might want to avoid this so they don’t breathe in the gasses.

Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube)

I have to admit, this is one of my favorite trails, so I highly recommend it. This trail leads you through the lush green rainforest before taking you into the 500-year-old lava tube where hot lava once flowed. The contrast of the rainforest to the lava tube is unique and really special.

A lava tube is essentially an underground passage that was carved out by the hot lava (kind of like a cave.) I would watch your head as it is a bit dark and sometimes you need to duck or be aware of the walls so you don’t hit your head on them.

It’s a 1.5-mile moderate hike from the Kīlauea Iki Overlook, and you can’t walk around Crater Rim Drive in this area for safety reasons. Also, you’ll find restrooms located near the lava tube that are open from 9 AM to 5 PM. I would recommend sturdy shoes as the lava tube floor is a bit uneven and make sure you bring water and snacks with you as there is nowhere to purchase nearby.

The Thurston Lava tube (Nāhuku) is one of the most unique experiences in the park that you can’t see in many other states.

entrance to Thurston Lava Tube Volcanoes National Park Hawaii
Entrance to Thurston Lava Tube, Photo credit: © Bilmacstudios |

Maunaulu – Pu’u Huluhulu via the Napau Crater Trail

I love seeing all of the lava rocks and volcanic remnants when hiking on the Big Island in Volcanoes National Park. Something about it is so unique and special, like you are getting to see a unique part of the earth, and this hike is no different.

This popular trail is 2.5 miles long and can be found near Pahoa, Hawaii. It’s quite fascinating because it is a range of terrain and what is considered “oceans” of dried lava where erruptions flowed.

From lava crusts of where trees once were to craters to rain forrest, you will see quite a variety of things. You may see colorful plants growing in the seas of dried lava, or nenes (birds) and it is the closest you can get to the former site of erruption – Pu’u ʻŌʻō.

It will take about three to four hours to hike, and while most of the trail is easy, it includes a steep climb to the Pu‘uhuluhulu cone. The trail starts from the Maunaulu parking lot, and the National Park Service advises you to stay on the trail. This is a popular hike so you will likely see other people on the trails

Puu Loa Petroglyphs Trail

Now, if you are like me, you love visiting sacred and indigenous sites like this one. To me, they are very special and one to experience in awe and with respect. Because of Hawaii’s rich history, there are many special places and sacred sites and this hike is one of them.

The Puu Loa Ptroglyphs Trail hike is a moderate hike approximately 1.4 miles long. Puu Loa Petroglyphs Trail is a coastal trail that runs through an old lava field where you can follow in the steps of the elders. Here you can view the 23,000 petroglyphs that document the culture and life of native Hawaiians.

It runs above the sea and provides glimpses of the Pacific Ocean along the southern coast. It’s one of the best park hikes that showcases the history of the Hawaiian people.

One thing to note is that you may see stacked rocks on this trail which is done by National Park staff to mark the trail. Please respect the dignity of this sacred site and do not stack your own.

Kīpukapuaulu Puaulu Trail

A great hike for younger kids, this easy trail is only about 1.2 miles long. It can be completed in about 30 minutes so it’s an easy one to add on to your day.

The dirt path loop begins at the Kīpukapuaulu parking area with slight declines and inclines. The Kīpukapuaulu Trail could be hot, windy, or wet, so bring the proper clothing, water, rain gear, and sunscreen.

trail sign in Volcanoes National Park
Trail sign in Volcanoes National Park, Photo credit: © Stevegould |

Lliahi Trail

For older kids, this is a gorgeous hike that is short but well worth doing because of the beautiful and unique landscape you will see. It is only a 1.5-mile loop, but it is moderate because the trails and narrow and the ground is a bit uneven.

But you will be immersed in gorgeous greenery and see native plants and beautiful views. My kids enjoyed this hike. You do need to be cautious to stay on the trail as there are steam vents, cliffs, and earth cracks.

The best time to go is when it opens at 9 AM. Just beware; part of it may be closed because of the damage done by the 2018 earthquakes.

volcanoes national Park lava
Lava flowing from the active volcano in Volcanoes National Park. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

A Note About Lava Hikes and Tours

Did you know you can book lava hikes and tours if you don’t want to hike on your own? Lava hikes and tours are one of the unique experiences in Hawaii. As of September 2021, there was an active lava lake with molten lava flows in the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.

The best time to look at the lava is at night, as it glows blood red. However, when there isn’t an active volcano, there may not be any night viewing available.

What Else You Can Do at Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park visitor center
Volcanoes National Park, Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

The Kīlauea Visitor Center 

Right now, the Kilauea Visitor Center theater and exhibits may be under construction (depending on when you are visiting) but you can still access the restrooms, bookstore, and lanai. The Visitor Center is located off Highway 11 off Crater Rim Drive between the 28-29-mile marker.

Volcano Village

You’ll find Volcano Village outside the main entrance to the park off the Mamalohoa Highway. This artist community lies in the rainforest ecosystem and is home to creative people, scientists, and farmers who love the peace of the beautiful rainforest. Visit the local farmers market on Sunday morning, browse art galleries, or enjoy a fine meal or baked goods.

Helicopter tour over Volcanoes National Park
One way to see the Volcanoes National Park is from above on a helicpoter tour. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

Volcano National Park Trails Activities Just for Kids

While you’re enjoying Volcanoes National Park hikes, consider some of the other family-friendly activities to do when visiting the area. My kids loved participating in these activities which was both educational and fun for them during our visit.

Become a Junior Park Ranger

There are plenty of things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for kids. One fun activity is for kids up to 12 years old, where they get to become junior park rangers. The kids get to do some fun activities while they’re at the park, and they even get a junior ranger badge.

This activity is free, and the activities are broken up into age groups. One program is for kids from 7 to 12 years old, and the other is for younger children 6 and under. 

Visit the Lava Viewing Area

Visit the lava viewing area, where you can rent bikes or take an evening tour. It’s a four-mile bike ride to the edge of the park, where you lock up your bicycle and continue on foot across the igneous rocks towards the smoke. You won’t find any trails here, but seeing the younger lava flow is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people.

Take a Drive on the Chain of Craters Road

This drive is one of the most scenic in Hawaii, with extensive ocean views. You can also see the recent slow-moving younger lava flow that’s cooled and hardened. Stop at the Kīlauea Iki Overlook to see the crater created in the 1959 volcanic eruption.

At the end of the Chain of Craters Road, you’ll see gorgeous views of the Hōlei Sea Arch. It stands 90 feet and frames the skyline and ocean behind it. It’s a great place for scenic pictures.

kid looking out window of a helicopter
Older kids and teens can participate in a helicopter tour to see Hawaii from above. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

Take A helicopter ride over the volcano

My kids loved taking a helicopter ride over the volcano. It was one of the coolest ways to see the lava from above and see things not accessible on foot (including waterfalls!)
Do take dramamine or motion sickness precautions (even for adults). And hot tip – don’t eat right before your flight.

Things You Need to Know When Visiting Volcanoes National Park

Here are some helpful things to know about visiting Volcanoes National Park trails.

General Operating Hours

Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, except for national holidays.

The Kahuku Unit is open Thursday – Sunday from 9 AM to 4 PM. It’s also open during national holidays.

Temporary and Severe Weather Closures

Right now, the park has a high volume of visitors, so you can expect unplanned temporary closures of popular roads and parking lots when they become full. Avoid the peak times of sunrise and sunset if at all possible. Consider visiting at odd times, like 5 AM or after 8 PM. 

In the last year and a half, severe weather closures have included Hilina Pali Road beyond Kulanaokuaiki Campground, Kīpukapuaulu, Mauna Loa Road beyond the first cattle guard, Mauna Loa Trail, the summit cabin and the wilderness area above Red Hill Cabin were closed due to hazards from the recent eruption. Though, as of March 20th, 2023, Red Hill Cabin is now open and requires a permit for overnight use.

These closures (and reopenings) can change withot warning. There is also ongoing construction in several areas to rebuild areas that have been damaged from recent erruptions. Always check the National Parks Service website for current updates.

Also, the restrooms and parking area at the old Jagger Museum and the Uēkahuna West eruption viewing area are closed until further notice but portable restrooms may be available.

The Kealakomo Overlook and picnic tables have been closed in recent times so double check if they have reopened if you want to use this area.

National Park Admission Fees 

The entrance fees to the park or as follows:

  • Private vehicle – $30
  • Motorcycle – $25
  • Bicycle – $15

A one-person pedestrian ticket is $15 and gives you access for 7 days.

Non-Commercial group passes, entering in a bus or vehicle that holds over 16 individuals, are $15 per person. Guests 15 and under are exempt from the entrance fee.

Hawaii Trip-Park Pass is $55 and is good for one full year from the date of the first visit to Volcanoes National Parks.

Lava meeting the sea in volcanoes national park hawaii
The lava flows out into the sea. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

What to Bring to Volcanoes National Park 

 There are a few things to bring with you on your Volcanoes National Park hikes, including:

  • Food and water
  • The right clothing and footwear
  • A compass and trail map
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Waterproof phone case
  • A well-made day bag to carry everything
  • First aid and emergency kit with a lighter or matches, whistle, basic first aid supplies, and an emergency shelter.

You want to be prepared in case you get stranded in the park somewhere, so these supplies can help save your life if you bring them with you. There are some extras you can bring, like flashlights or headlamps, a field guide, an outdoor journal with a pen or pencil, two-way radios, and binoculars.

Tips for Making Your Visit to Volcanoes National Park

Based on our experience, here are some quick tips to make your Volcanoes National Park hikes even better.

  • Get to the park early to explore the Thurston Lava Tube as there won’t be as many visitors before 10 AM.
  • Visit the Halema‘uma‘u Trail Crater after 9 PM or before sunrise after the other visitors have left.
  • Be sure to visit the Chain of Craters Road as it has many pullouts, scenic points, and unique hikes fewer people know about, like Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs and Mauna Ulu. It starts at the Kīlauea Summit and goes 19 miles to Hōlei Sea Arch.
  • If you’re hiking the Kīlauea Iki Trail, get there before 8 AM so you can explore the 4-mile adventure and leave before it starts getting crowded at 10:30 AM. It’s one of the most popular and scenic trails in the whole park.
  • Be sure to explore Kahuku as it is rarely crowded, free to visit, and open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays. You’ll find the former ranch located on the mountainside of Highway 11 close to mile marker 70.5.
  • Be sure to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website to plan your trip. You’ll find a handy visitor checklist that includes plenty of tips and things you need to know to plan your trip to the National Park.
smoke coming from volcano in Volcanoes National Park Hawaii
You can see smoke when hiking in Volcanoes National Park. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

Volcano National Park Hikes FAQ’s 

When Is the Best Time to Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open year-round, and unlike other similar parks, it’s busy all year as the temperature in Hawaii ranges between 66-85 degrees all year long. Adding a visit to the Volcanoes National Park is a must for any Big Island itinerary in Hawaii.

Hawaii does actually get snow, though, during the winter at the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

What hiking trails are at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

Volcanoes National Park has several hiking trails and activities, including:

  • Devastation Trail
  • Crater Rim Trail
  • Kūpinaʻi Pali (Waldrom Ledge)
  • Ha’akulamanu (Sulphur Banks)
  • Kīpukapuaulu
  • Halema’uma’u Trail
  • Kīlauea Iki Trail
  • Puʻuloa Petroglyp0hs
  • Uēaloha (Byron Ledge)
  • Keanakāko’i
  • Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube)
  • Keanakākoʻi Crater
  • Footprints and Maunaiki
  • The Kahuku Unit
  • Halema’uma’u Crater Trail

How long is the Volcano National Park hike?

There are many different hiking trails in this national park, but there are a few great Volcanoes National Park Day hikes you’ll enjoy. One is the Kīlauea Iki, a six-mile hike that takes around four to five hours to walk from Devastation Trail. But if you start from the Kīlauea Iki Overlook, it’s approximately 3.3 miles and takes around two to three hours. Check my post above for my recommendations for which hikes are good for younger kids or strollers and which are better for older kids and teens.

How much time do you need at Volcano National Park?

There are so many great Volcanoes National Park hikes that you should plan to visit at least one full day. If you just want to see the visitor’s center and get an overview, I would plan for a day. You can experience many of the park’s highlights, especially since parts of the park are closed due to the volcanic activity that started in 2018. 

But if you want to do a couple of hikes, you may want to plan for two days to visit. The one thing to be aware of is that – the Big Island is called that for a reason. It’s big! So, it can take a few hours to drive to depending on where you are staying on the island. You may want to keep that in mind when planning your trip to Volcanoes National Park.

Final Thoughts on Volcano National Park Hikes

Now you know some of the best hikes in Volcanoes National Park and other fun, family-friendly activities you can do on your Hawaiian vacation. You’ll find so many amazing things to do in Hawaii with kids, whether it’s visiting the Disney resort or just touring the islands.

Volcanoes National Park hikes should be at the top of your list, and you may even want to stay in the Volcano House Hotel. Treat the family to a unique Hawaiian vacation unlike any other. Also, here are some great places to stay in Maui with families.

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