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.
Currently, there are NO ACTIVE flows inside or outside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. See our 'What's Happening Now' section below for more information.
Before 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 not 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.
Kilauea & Volcanoes National Park Lava Viewing Guide
- Hike to the lava yourself
- Or check our recommendations for Guided Kilauea Tours
- Helicopter tours over the volcano
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Maps
Separately, don't forget to review our Hawaii Safety Guide for the Volcano Area (and other important Hawaii safety tips).
What's Happening Now?
Kilauea caldera has undergone a tremendous amount of change over the last decade, and since 2018 has not been very active. 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.
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.
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.