Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park#1 in Best Things To Do in Hawaii - The Big Island
Four months after closing due to intense and damaging volcanic activity, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park reopened in mid-September 2018. "The Volcano," as it were, loosely refers to two active volcanoes in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park; specifically, it's Kilauea that's the real must-see. A 4,000-foot-tall mountain, Kilauea has been spitting, spewing and oozing since Jan. 3, 1983 and in May 2018, it started erupting, forcing evacuations and destroying entire communities. Although the eruptions have stopped, Kilauea is still at the top of America's list of volcanoes to monitor.
Most people who come to the park hope to see some lava flow; some travelers see a little bit, others are not as lucky. Check in at the Kilauea Visitor Center for up-to-date information on trails, safety precautions and where to expect lava flow.
Mauna Loa – or Long Mountain – is overshadowed by Kilauea's fame, but not its height – this occasionally snow-capped volcano reaches nearly 14,000 feet and is the second-largest volcano on Earth. Exploring Kilauea will probably eat up much of your time and energy, but don't worry; majestic Mauna Loa is clearly visible and picture-ready in much of the park. Stop to snap a photo from afar even if you don't get up close and personal.
Many choose to spend several days hiking in the park, driving along the scenic Chain of Craters Road (where 2003 lava flow naturally dead-ended a paved road). But if you only have one day, opt for the three-hour hike or 11-mile drive along Crater Rim Drive. You'll pass by the Kilauea caldera and through a magnificent rainforest, enjoying the park's unique vegetation along the way. If your schedule allows, past visitors recommend you tag along on a ranger-led walk to learn more about the park and Hawaiian history; check inside the visitor center upon arrival to see if any ranger-led activities coincide with your visit.
The Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is open all day and night year-round. Admission to the park costs $12 per person or $25 per vehicle and is good for seven days. You'll find the Kilauea Visitor Center on Crater Rim Drive, south of Hilo off Highway 11. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park is about 45 minutes from Hilo and between two and three hours from Kona, depending on traffic; keep these distances in mind when selecting your accommodations. Visit the park's official website for more information on operating hours, entrance fees, safety precautions and nearby places to eat.
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#2 Akaka Falls State Park
A visit to Hilo's Akaka Falls State Park will entail a short, low-intensity hike in northeastern Hawai'i. Its payoff comes in the form of two consecutive waterfalls – cascading Kahuna Falls and the spectacular free-falling Akaka Falls, which earned the park its name.
Those who've hiked the flat, paved loop trail say it's more of a "walk" that's easy enough for just about anyone – even young children. You'll most likely be able to make the loop through the park in 20 to 30 minutes, and considering Akaka Falls' small investment of time and money, travelers suggest it's one you can't miss.
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