unique flower along the sulphur banks trail hawaii

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Itinerary With Kids (How to Spend One Day!)

So you’ve decided to visit the Big Island of Hawaii and the United States’ 11th National Park, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! Great choice, this is a stunning kid friendly National Park with a ton of amazing things to do. Whether you want to visit the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea, or the world’s largest volcano Mauna Loa – you’ll be in a wonderland of volcanoes and a landscape unlike any other in the United States. You’ll also encounter over a thousand different plant species, a rainforest, and an ever changing landscape! We have you covered with a fun Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary that you can enjoy with your whole family.

While you can definitely find things to do for longer than one day in Volcanoes National Park, one day is perfect to explore the highlights and experience one of the most unique National Parks in the USA! Although this park is in Hawaii which is known for beautiful sunny weather, it’s located on the Eastern side of the island which has a rainforest climate. There is a good chance you’ll encounter rain while visiting Hawaii Volcanoes and a lot of these activities are great things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes when it’s raining.

We didn’t stay on the Hilo side of the island, so from Waikoloa (where we were staying) to Hilo was a little over an hour drive. When we woke up while it was still dark out (our kids are early risers anyways), and got a head start. We love to visit National Parks early in the morning, it’s one of the best ways to beat the crowds. If you’re staying in Hilo, you can definitely take your time a little more than we did and maybe squeeze in an extra hike!

Best Time to Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

The great news about Hawaii is they have great weather year round. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is great during any month you choose to plan your Big Island vacation. November through March is a great time to visit any of the islands of Hawaii to get away from colder weather back home, but any time of the year you can find warmth in the Hawaiian islands.

There is a good chance you could experience some rain when visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (you are visiting a rainforest after all). However, don’t let this deter you. We were still warm with a light jacket, and the rain didn’t last all day.

How Many Days to Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

I think it’s possible to see the highlights of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in one day. However, you could easily spend two or three days in the park to hike more and really enjoy the rainforest and different views of the volcanoes. If Kilauea is actively erupting, you may want to spend a couple days – that would be an incredible thing to see! One of the most amazing things about Hawaii Volcanoes is that the landscape is always changing, a LOT. I’m really looking forward to the next time I visit to see what has changed and hear about all of it from the rangers.

Where to Stay to Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

You’ll have to decide whether you want to stay on the Hilo side of the island, or stay on the Kona side of the island and drive over. The Hilo side is beautiful and lush. However, it is more rainy than the Kona side, so you may not get the warm sunny beach days like you do on the other side. The drive from Kona to Hilo is only 1.5 hours, and the drive from Waikoloa to Hilo is just over an hour. We chose to stay in Waikoloa Beach for the entirety of our vacation and drive over when we wanted to visit the National Park. You could also choose to stay half of your trip on each side of the island. We’ve found with young kids, it’s easier to stay in one spot if we can.

Where to Stay Near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Itinerary

#1: Drive from Waikoloa Beach to Hilo, HI

Drive time 1 hour 15 minutes. We didn’t stop on the way because it was dark out, but if you have a clear sky, make sure to take a minute and look up at the stars. You’ll see a beautiful dark sky with incredible views of the stars. Along this drive you’ll be passing from a desert climate to temperate to humid. Did you know the Big Island of Hawaii has 4 out of 5 of the major climate zones of the earth? You’ll likely notice drastic weather changes even on this short drive! If you’re driving from Kona to Hilo, it’ll take you just a little bit longer at about 1.5 hours.

#2: Stop at Ken’s House of Pancakes

You can stop here now, or after you visit Hawaii Volcanoes. Ken’s is a great breakfast place in Hilo, HI and a Big Island must eat. Ken’s House of Pancakes opened in 1971 and is a famous Big Island establishment. They have a cool diner feel with the friendliest staff, tasty food, and a good mix of locals and tourists. We tried the banana macadamia nut waffle and it was well worth the stop. They even have “sumo” size portions if you’re THAT hungry.

#3: Hike the Thurston Lava Tube

The Thurston Lava Tube was our favorite thing we did in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It’s a 500 year old lava tube that was created by flowing lava and makes for one of the best Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hiking trails. The tunnel was created when the outer crust of the lava flow hardens while the inside continues to flow. This short 0.4 mile loop is relatively flat and is very kid friendly. You’ll start your hike walking through the lush rainforest with amazing bird sighting opportunities. Even listening to the bird sounds as you walk makes doing this trail worth it. You’ll shortly find the entrance to the lava tube!

If you only have one day in Volcanoes National Park – definitely check out the Thurston Lava Tube, it’s a must do!

Tip: The parking is VERY limited here. So depending on how early you get started, you could consider skipping Ken’s House of Pancakes until after you leave the National Park. Make sure to make this your first stop to avoid traffic.

Another Tip: The tunnel is lit from 8 AM to 8 PM, but if you visit outside of those hours, you’ll need a headlamp.

#4: Kilauea Visitor Center

After your first hike, it’s a great time to stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center to regroup. It’s also a great time to get your National Parks Passport stamped! We love getting a new stamp at every National Park we visit and it’s one of the souvenirs we always get. We visited on a rainy day so he recommended the Sulphur Banks Trail and visiting the Petroglyphs as some of the best things to do on a rainy day in Hawaii Volcanoes National park. Since it was raining, we had to pivot a little bit from our original Volcanoes National Park itinerary, but thankfully rangers are a wealth of knowledge.

The Kilauea Visitor Center also has some interactive activities to help kids (and you) learn about the park and the ecosystems. Finally, stop by the gift shop and pick up a new book or souvenir to take home.

#5: Sulphur Banks Trail

The Sulphur Banks Trail is 1.2 miles roundtrip and relatively flat and is one of the best hikes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for kids. The trail leaves from the Kilauea Visitor Center and is one of the best easy hikes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You’ll see many signs along this trail that recommend young children and pregnant women avoid this hike due to volcanic gases. We did talk with a ranger before doing this hike with our young children and he recommended this hike to us with kids. He said as long as we don’t stay too long in the area it’s perfectly fine for children. However, conditions can definitely change and I highly recommend you check with a ranger before doing this hike with kids to ensure the safety of your family.

Along this trail you can literally see volcanic gases seeping out of the ground. You’ll see steam rising from the earth and you’ll probably smell it too (like rotten eggs – but it’s not that bad). This trail features unique colors along the rocks and unique ferns and other plants along the way. Shortly after you cross the road, make sure to walk far enough to be able to look into the crater, you’ll likely be able to see steam and volcanic gases rising from the most active volcano on Earth. If you’re lucky enough, Kilauea may even be erupting while you’re visiting.

#6: Optional: Volcano House

We stopped at the Volcano Village Lodge to grab some coffee and check out the amazing view. Unfortunately, it was raining and fogged in so we weren’t able to see the view. However, it was still cool to look at the historic building that was first built in 1846. They’ve since upgraded, but there is a lot of history here. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see right into the Halema’uma’u crater. They also have a gift shop and a restaurant here. It would be so fun to stay here and wake up on the rim of an active volcano! Maybe someday…

#7: Grab a Sweet Treat

Stop by Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo for a sweet treat. These ladies have been in business for over 20 years and sell a ton of different mochi options. Make sure to bring cash, and check their hours before visiting – they are closed on odd days. Or stop by Kula Shave Ice to get your fix before heading back towards home.

#8: Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls State Park is a quick and easy stop in Hilo. You can see views of Rainbow Falls from just a few steps away from the parking lot. I would highly recommend taking the short staircase up the side of the waterfall to get a different viewpoint. More importantly, if you keep walking a few more feet, you’ll see one of the most incredible Banyan trees! This tree is absolutely massive. It’s a fun place for kids to play and a great photo spot.

While Rainbow Falls isn’t part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it’s definitely worth the quick stop on your way home. Add this to the beginning or end of your Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary depending on when you have a little extra time (or when the kids fell asleep in the car!)

#9: Back to Waikoloa

Make the drive back to Waikoloa Beach (or wherever you chose to stay). There isn’t much available on the drive back. If you can stop for food before you leave Hilo that will be your best bet for getting something tasty! Hope you have the best day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with your family.

Other Activities if Time:

If you’re spending more time and looking for more to add to your Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary, you can check out the Chain of Craters Scenic Road, and see the Petroglyphs. Next time we visit we definitely want to check out Volcano Village and the Volcano Winery. We also want to do a longer hike, the Kilauea Iki Trail when the kids are a bit older! And of course, we would love to visit when Kilauea is erupting – bucket list!!

We hope you enjoyed this Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary. Let us know in the comments what some of your other favorite stops at this park are.

Looking for other Hawaii Adventures? Here is our collection of itineraries, best foods to eat, and fun things to do!
If you love visiting National Parks with your family, check out our National Parks page to help you plan your next park visit.

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