Lava Viewing Guide

Big Island Lava Flow

Where is the Lava?

Last Updated: 01/24/21 at 12:00 pm HST

If you're heading to Hawaii's Big Island, then one of the first questions you may have is, 'Where is the lava? I want to see lava! Wait, or is it magma?' First, yes, typically it's lava you're looking for - lava is anything that's erupted from the volcano (to the surface), and it comes in two flavors, Pahoehoe and A`a. You can read more about the two lava types on our Hawaii Geology page. If it's still within the volcano, it's known as magma.

Locating the Lava Flows

Now, to answer the question of 'where.' Well, the answer to that question depends on the mood of Pele (the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess). And Madame Pele is very unpredictable.

December 2020 - January 2021 Eruption Update

Lava Returns to Halemaumau Crater in HVNP!

Currently, for the first time since 2018, ACTIVE flows are occurring inside Halemaumau Crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. See our 'What's Happening Now' section below for more information.

Prior to 2018, you could just as easily have witnessed lava flows chewing on Chain of Craters Road as you could view a steam plume from afar. Kilauea is a living, breathing volcano with a mind of its own. The good news is that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, so your chance to see glowing lava (from near or far) is pretty good when the volcano is actively erupting (it's erupting only at the summit in Halemaumau currently, as of January 2021), especially when it's dark. Just look for the red glow. As always, the Park Rangers at the entry station are your best guide to current conditions - we advise all visitors to check in with them before exploring the park.

John Derrick
Published by: John C. Derrick
Editor / Founder

Kilauea & Volcanoes National Park Lava Viewing Guide

Separately, don't forget to review our Hawaii Safety Guide for the Volcano Area (and other important Hawaii safety tips).

What's Happening Now?

December 2020 - January 2021 Eruption

At approximately 9:30 p.m. HST on Sunday - December 20, 2020, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) detected a new glow within the Halemaumau crater at the summit of Kilauea Volcano. Within Halemaumau, an eruption has now commenced at Kilauea's summit caldera. Previously, the caldera had been filling with a green-ish water lake, but that has now disappeared, as lava has once again made an appearance inside of the crater. A magnitude 4.4 earthquake additionally hit about an hour after the volcano began erupting. By the morning of 12/21/20, two of the three initial fissure vents on the wall of Halemaumau crater were feeding a growing lava lake.

Halemaumau Eruption in Crater

Source: USGS

Current Halemaumau lava lake observations
Updated as of 01/24/21

Kīlauea Volcano is erupting. Lava activity is confined to Halemaʻumaʻu with lava erupting from a vent on the northwest side of the crater. This morning, January 24, the lava lake was about 205 m (673 ft) deep and only the western half is active. SO2 emission rates remain elevated.

Geodetic monitors indicate that the upper portion of the East Rift Zone (between the summit and Puʻu ʻOʻo) contracted while the summit deflated at the onset of this eruption. There is no seismic or deformation data to indicate that additional magma is currently moving into either of Kīlauea’s rift zones. SO2 and H2S emissions from Puʻu ʻOʻo were below instrumental detection levels when measured on January 7.

Low fountaining from the west vent supplies a channel of lava which is pouring into the lava lake within Halema‘uma‘u crater. At the moment effusion rates correlate, positively, with Uwe tilt and RSAM activity; higher (inflationary) tilt and RSAM values, greater lava effusion.

The active western half of the lava lake was about 205 m (673 ft) deep this morning (Jan. 24) while the stagnant eastern half of the lake remains several meters (yards) lower. The whole lava lake—including the stagnant eastern half—is perched/elevated above the crust between the perched lake and the crater wall. The east side is elevated ~1 m, and the west ~4 m, above the solidified lava crust adjacent to the crater wall.

All the islands have been stationary over the past week, frozen in the eastern stagnant portion of the lava lake. The dimensions of the main island remained unchanged with its edges several meters (yards) above the lake surface. On January 22, the south end of the island was measured at 12 m (39 ft) above the lava lake surface, with the highest point at 23 m (75 ft) above the surface.

Hazardous volcanic gases are billowing out the crater and present a danger to everyone, especially people with heart or respiratory problems, infants, young children, and pregnant women.

Follow HVNP for additional updates

This situation is rapidly evolving and the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory will continue to issue statements when more information is available to the public. For now, you can receive ongoing eruption updates by following the social media accounts of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (FacebookInstagram, and Twitter).

  • View the live cameras located at the Kilauea summit.
  • Additional updates can be found on the Hawaii Volcanoes National park website.
  • Animated GIF of the latest webcam footage from the current eruption
  • Animated GIF of eruption first occurring on December 20th

Additional video footage and imagery, of the current eruption at Halemaumau Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, can be found below.

Recent Eruption Images

Halemaumau Crater at Kilauea Volcano
Credit: USGS/M. Patrick

Credit: USGS/M. Patrick

Credit: NPS/A. LaValle

Credit: NPS/A. LaValle

Credit: NPS/J. Wei

Credit: NPS/J. Wei

Credit: NPS/A. LaValle

Credit: NPS/A. LaValle

Previous 2018 Eruption

Kilauea caldera has undergone a tremendous amount of change over the last decade, and prior to the eruption in December 2020, had not been very active since 2018. See the maps below to get an idea of how volatile the years between 2009 and 2018 were at the park or explore this geo-narrative by the USGS about the 2018 eruption.

If you come to HVNP envisioning a massive cauldron with lava, you may leave disappointed. Most of the time, much of the lava, well magma really, is flowing underground into the ocean through a series of lava tubes.

Even if you don't get to see any flowing lava in person, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Big Island are well worth the time.

Hike to Lava on Big Island

Hiking to Lava

Lava Viewing Guide

Hiking to Lava

Check THIS SITE for updates on lava flows and Kilauea activity. We've also included some updated maps below to help provide you an overview of the park and where the lava might be located during your visit.

If the flows have recently been near the surface within the Park and IF it's safe to access (check with the Rangers), it's pretty easy to locate the lava yourself - so don't feel like you HAVE to join a tour to experience a lava flow. Before heading our, be sure you've prepared accordingly - dress appropriately with the right footware for your adventure; be sure to keep water with you at all times, it can be easy to get dehydrated on the lava fields. Sunscreen is also your best friend on this part of the island.

As always, remember that lava flows outside the Park's boundary are on private property and you should not explore these locations without a guide who has permission to properly access the property.

Kilauea Volcano Tours

Our recommendation for Kilauea & lava tours is to contact Scott and Becky at The Volcano Van. They offer amazing tours of Kilauea, including several tours that depart from Kona.

Volcano Helicopter Tours

View Lava from Above

Helicopter Volcano Tours

Another great option is to take a helicopter tour over Pu`u O`o for a look into the bowels of the earth. While that too could change tomorrow, as lava has a mind of its own - a helicopter tour is your BEST opportunity to see lava.

Our recommendation for helicopters tours is to fly with Safari Helicopters. They have some amazing tours over the volcano that are perfect for experiecing Kilauea from above.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Overview Maps

 ~ Click to enlarge any map ~
Halemaumau Crater Changes from 2009 to 2018. Provided by the USGS.

Halemaumau Crater Changes from 2009 to 2018. Provided by the USGS.

2018 Eruption - Source: USGS

2018 Eruption - Source: USGS

Crater Rim Drive

Crater Rim Drive

HVNP Overview

HVNP Overview

2018 Lava Flow in Puna

2018 Lava Flow in Puna

Napau Crater Trail

Napau Crater Trail

Big Island Lava Viewing Guide Photo Gallery

You may also be interested in...

Terms of Use & Disclosures

This website's use is your expressly conditioned acceptance of the terms, conditions, and disclaimers found within our Disclaimer of Warranty and Limitation of Liability page without any modifications. Your use of this website constitutes your acceptance of all the terms, conditions, and disclaimers posted herein. If you do not agree with any part of these terms and conditions, you should not use this website. We also receive a small commission from travel partners for some of the links found on this website. All partners and related links comply with our Advertising Disclosures. For example, as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. These links do not cost you anything and help provide the necessary funding to maintain this website. Mahalo!

Article Published/Updated: