Lava Viewing Guide

Big Island Lava Flow

Where is the Lava?

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 - May 2021 Eruption Update

Lava Periodically Returns to Halemaumau Crater in HVNP!

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

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 periodically erupting only at the summit in Halemaumau currently), 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. 

Ultimately, in our opinion, even if you don't get to see any flowing lava in person, which you might not currently, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Big Island are well worth the time. 

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?

Last Updated as of 05/27/21

Observations indicate that the eruption in Halema‘uma‘u at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano has paused. Within the past couple of days, no active lava was observed. No glow is visible at night.

  • Kilauea Volcano is no longer erupting as of the latest update. Lava supply to the Halemaʻumaʻu lava lake has ceased and sulfur dioxide emissions have decreased to near pre-eruption background levels.
  • Accordingly, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is lowering the Volcano Alert Level for ground-based hazards from WATCH to ADVISORY and the Aviation Color Code from ORANGE to YELLOW.
  • HVO continues to closely monitor Kīlauea Volcano for signs of renewed activity. Should volcanic activity change significantly a new Volcanic Activity Notice will be issued.

We'll also continue to monitor the eruption updates from the NPS and HVO and update this page accordingly with any changes that occur.

Noteworthy Events at Kilauea Volcano
Click any link below to learn more...
HVNP Lava Lake Map

Lava lake statistics through May 7, 2021 (Click for full size) - via USGS

Lava returns to Halemaumau Crater

December 2020 - May 2021 Eruption

After the huge changes that occurred with the 2018 eruption and subsequent summit collapse, some had speculated that Kilauea would not erupt for a significant period of time. Pele had other plans, however.

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 had commenced at Kilauea's summit caldera. Previously, as noted below the caldera had been filling with a green-ish water lake, but that quickly disappeared, as lava has once again made an appearance inside of the crater. Within one week, what had been a history-making lake of water was replaced by a nearly 600-foot deep lake of molten lava.

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 the Halemaumau crater were feeding a growing lava lake.

The eruption paused in late May 2021, after several months of activity in the Halemaumau crater.


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.

2020-2021 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

Development of Water Lake in 2019

On August 1, 2019, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientists confirmed a growing pond of water in the recently enlarged Halemumau crater. Initially, it appeared as small, separate turquoise ponds, but over time, the small ponds united and began to grow dramatically. For a period of time, the depth of the growing lake was increasing several inches per day.

In the space of just over one year's time, a persistent lake of lava had vanished in a dramatic collapse, only to be replaced by the first lake of water to be recorded at Kilauea in modern history.

Over the course of its relatively short lifespan, the lake grew to be approximately 160 feet (49 m) deep. That's taller than a 10-story building, for reference. The lake also changed color due to the precipitation of iron-sulfate minerals and SO2 being dissolved into the water.

2018 East Rift Zone 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 immediately 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.

In the first days of May 2018, the lava lake that had existed in Halemaumau crater for almost a decade began to drain away. Magma moved from the summit of Kilauea to the Lower East Rift Zone, marked by a series of earthquakes. On May 3rd, the first fissures opened up in the subdivision of Leilani Estates and the massive eruption of 2018 began to unfold in lower Puna.

With less magma left to support the summit, the Halemaumau crater began to collapse. Every 28 hours, on average, the ground within the summit caldera of Kilauea sank with dramatic collapse events. By the end of the 2018 eruption, the Halemaumau crater had sunk by 1,600 feet (488m), and its diameter more than doubled.

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

Activity circa 2018 East Rift Zone Eruption

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.

Kilauea's oldest lava flows are dated between 210,000 and 280,000 years ago. Those flows are considered generally young, geologically speaking, for an active volcano.

For the last one thousand years, Kilauea's ongoing eruptions have dramatically shaped the southeast portion of the Big Island of Hawaii. 

The most recent 100 years of volcanic activity at Kilauea can be divided into seven distinct eruptions.

Summaries are provided below from the USGS website:

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 maps below to generally help provide you an overview of the park and where the lava might be located during your visit. Just remember, this is an active living and breathing volcano and things regularly change, the maps are always out of date for that reason to some extent.

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 out, be sure you've prepared accordingly - dress appropriately with the right footwear 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 ~
Crater Rim Drive (before the 2008-2018 summit eruption)

Crater Rim Drive (before the 2008-2018 summit eruption)

HVNP Overview (showing lava flows through 2010)

HVNP Overview (showing lava flows through 2010)

2018 Lava Flow in Puna

2018 Lava Flow in Puna

Napau Crater Trail

Napau Crater Trail

Big Island Lava Viewing Guide Photo Gallery

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