A Hawaii lava tour is a wonderful way to explore the unique geology of the Hawaiian Island. Hawaii is created from over 180 volcanoes, whose lava eruptions gradually built up over millions of years to form the islands. Today, the most visible - and active - of these are located on Hawaii's "Big Island" of Hawaii. Visitors can walk carefully amidst the still flowing lava and view first-hand this singular phenomenon in all its forbidding beauty.
Volcanoes National Park
The most popular of the Big Island attractions, Volcanoes National Park, established in 1916, encompasses 377 square miles. It includes Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world as well as Mauna Loa and Mauna Ulu. Visitors to the park can view exhibits about the volcanoes at the Kilauea visitors' Center and the Jagger Museum as well as take a number of Hawaii lava tours throughout the park. Intrepid travelers can stay the night at Volcano House, located along the rim of Kilauea. It's the oldest continuously operating hotel in Hawaii.
What to See on a Hawaii Lava Tour
A typical lava tour starts with a drive down Chain of Craters Road near Kilauea, where lava has been visible since 2002. Most then stop at the Kilauea visitors' center before embarking on a 60-90 minute hike near the lava flows. Some tours provide lunch; others include time at the park for you to eat.
Such hikes are generally rigorous and cover uneven and rugged terrain. The trained guides are well-acquainted with the potentially dangerous landscape and can steer you to the good viewing spot without getting you into trouble. Every tour is slightly different, due to the ever-changing nature of the Hawaii lava flows. Expect to pay from $75 to $150 per person for a lava tour.
For those up to the challenges of a hiking lava tour, you can able see the lava flows from a helicopter tour. These tours are slightly more expensive and get "up close and personal" with the lava flows. Helicopter tours are available for one or two hours. Expect to pay around $100 for a one hour tour.
Lava Tour Operators
A number of Hawaiian tour operators offer guided hiking and/or helicopters tours of the Hawaii lava flows. Among the best of these are:
- Deep Hawaii - Offers intensive 5-6 hour lava tours as well as half-day overview tours.
- Jack's Hawaii - Offers a nine to ten- hour lava tour, including a lunch spot.
- Arnott's Hiking Adventures - Offered by the proprietors of Arnott's Lodge in Hilo, but you don't have to be a guest to participate.
- Hawaii Volcano Tours - Offered uncrowded tours with a maximum of six to ten participants
- Hilo Wings - helicopter lava tours
- Safari Helicopter Tours - helicopter lava tours
Booking Lava Tours in Hawaii
Most Hawaii lava tours may be booked via phone or online. Virtually all tours require that you book at least 48 hours in advance and pay for your tour upfront. Most tours are non-refundable once purchased.
Hiking lava tours are not recommended for visitors under seven to ten years of age, pregnant women, people with a heart or respiratory condition, or those with difficulty walking. Most tour operators require participants to sign a liability waiver before starting the tour. Participants on hiking lava tours are advised to wear hiking footwear, long pants, a hat to protect you from the sun, and a light sweater or jacket in case of a rain shower. Some tours provide water; others recommend you bring your own. Carrying a small backpack is advisable since hikers will need their hands for balance.
Most tour companies will pick-up tour members from cruise ships, from the airport, and from Hilo-area hotels.