Walking to Kilauea Volcano’s active lava flows on Hawaii’s Big Island are a huge highlight. If your kids are coming with you, no problem! Here are our top tips for getting to the Kilauea lava viewpoint and lava hunting with kids.
The details on how to do this are surprisingly few in travel literature and online, but seeing the Kilauea caldera ooze red lava was our top experience on the Big Island. No, it wasn’t necessarily easy with kids in tow, but it was incredible and totally worth the effort.
Where does Kilauea’s lava flow?
Good question. It changes from day to day and from week to week, so check in with the National Park Service website and prepare for the reality that there might not be much to see depending on when you go.
Sometimes, Kilauea’s lava flows all the way down to the ocean, thrilling onlookers with a spectacular display as hot steam and molten rock collide with salt water. Other times, the flows are slower and closer to the caldera itself.
The day we went lava hunting with kids, Kilauea’s lava was actively flowing, but inland. And so we hiked! With a two, four and six-year-old and our parents along for the ride, we decided a daytime trek was the most prudent decision. And we were glad we made that choice in the end; hiking over hardened basaltic lava with all its rough and ragged edges would have been a nightmare in the dark with three young children.
Getting to Kilauea’s Lava Viewpoint
From Pahoa, drive south on Highway 130 until you hit the end of the road. It’s totally obvious with signage and gates blocking further passage. That’s where you park. Next, you’ll need to pick your mode of transport to the trailhead: walking, biking or van shuttle. There are dozens of rental outfitters to choose from and they all offer similar services at similar prices. The parking area is roughly 2.5 kilometres from the trailhead.
Lava Hunting With Kids
A jaunt down the emergency access road is like a trip on another planet. Hardened lava flows from the past two decades have covered vegetation and old housing communities, and left a strange and eerie landscape. At the third gate, we stopped and locked our bikes, and joined a number of other lava hunters for the long hike towards Kilauea.
The hike was roughly 7 km round trip along sharp and jagged lava rock. It is a long, arduous walk, with no trail markers. Several times along the way we thought about stopping as the kids got tired and whiny and demanded more piggybacks.
I’m glad we didn’t! As we neared the caldera, it became noticeably hotter; rocks became hot to the touch and steam, heat and the smell of sulfur dioxide seeped out of cracks in the ground.
And then we saw it! Molten lava oozing red from the hillside, breaking off chunks of rock and slowly flowing down the side of the volcano. With enough photos and videos collected on our cameras and the memoried lodged in our minds, we turned back. It’s a long way back with kids in the heat of the day.
Top Tips to Make Your Lava Hunting With Kids Experience Awesome
1. Don’t Forget Your Kid Carrier
In the excitement of ACTUALLY SEEING LAVA, we forgot our kid carriers. Oops, big mistake. We ended up taking turns piggybacking and carrying all three children. Our youngest, 2.5 years, fell asleep in our arms.
2. Start Early
As the day progresses, the black basaltic rock gets hotter and hotter. The earlier you start, the earlier you finish, avoiding the hottest part of the day.
3. Talk to People Along the Way
If you can find people who are returning from the lava flows, intercept them and ask them where to go. They can point out key reference points and visible landmarks to aim for. There are visitors who hike a long way in but don’t actually see lava. Try not to be one of them!
4. Prepare Your Kids
Our youngest two children were terrified of lava. Like screaming, crying, and on the verge of panic, terrified. We didn’t realize it, but at the time, their only reference point for the words “lava” and “volcano” was the movie Moana, where the volcano explodes in an episode of raging fire and flying boulders. That’s not what you’ll find at Kilaeau, so kids can relax. The lava is pahoehoe, the thick, oozing type that slowly flows down the volcano.
5. Pack In Everything You Need
There are no services on the hike (for obvious reasons) and that means there are no places to fill up water, no shady areas to rest, and no private locations for going to the bathroom. Be prepared with enough water, snacks, and adequate sun protection, including sunglasses. It gets really hot, and dehydration and heat stroke are very real possibilities. Heed the National Park signs and follow their guidelines – you will be happy you did.
6. Bring a First Aid Kit
Basaltic lava rock is notoriously uneven, rough and jagged and easily draws blood with a fall. There were dozens of cuts, scrapes and scratches and we went through approximately 1000 band-aids.
That’s it! We hope you enjoy your own lava hunting. Do you have your own lava hunting story? Share it in the comments!