Can I See a Volcanic Eruption in Hawaii?
How Often do Volcanoes Erupt in Hawaii?
Volcanic activity is common in Hawaii, particularly around the Hawaiian Island, but eruptions are considered rare. It has been 38 years since Mauna Loa last erupted, the longest recorded period of quiet for the volcano, according to the US Geological Survey. Kilauea volcano, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted again on January 5th, 2021, sending lava fountains and bursts of volcanic gas into the air. Kilauea has been erupting almost continuously for over a year before its most recent pause in December 2020. It is unclear what connection there is between the two volcanoes and their eruptions, as they can be seen from multiple spots in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park near Kilauea’s caldera. However, the US Geological Survey and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are continually monitoring the volcanoes for any signs of renewed activity.
Which Volcanoes are Most Likely to Erupt in Hawaii?
1. Hiking to the Lava: Guided Tours and DIY (when possible)
Visiting the lava flows of the Kilauea Volcano is an incredible experience, but it is important to be aware of the risks and safety considerations. For those looking to enjoy a guided tour of the lava, there are a few options available.
One great option is the “Volcano Unveiled” tour offered by Hawaii Forest & Trail. This is a full-day tour that explores the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and stays in the park after dark to see the lava glow. The tour provides an in-depth look at the island’s natural and cultural history, and takes visitors to off-the-beaten-path sites that are usually unknown to visitors.
For those looking for a shorter tour, there are several companies that offer guided hikes to the lava flow during the day or at night. These tours typically last from 1 hour to a few hours depending on how accessible the lava is. Participants should make sure to have an honest conversation with the guides beforehand to make sure they are physically able to complete the hike.
Finally, if the lava is flowing within national park boundaries and the park has deemed access to the flow to be safe, it’s possible to hike to the lava yourself. However, if the lava is outside of the park boundaries and on private lands, it’s important to get proper permission from the land owners before hiking up to these spots.
No matter which option you choose, a lava tour or DIY exploration, it’s important to educate yourself on the risks, dress appropriately, and bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
2. Safety concerns at the lava ocean entry
Visiting the lava ocean entry at Hilo, Hawaii can be a spectacular experience, however, it is important to be aware of the potential safety concerns associated with it. The stability of the new land created by the lava flow (the lava bench) is the main concern as much of it could collapse into the ocean. Park rangers will set a safe distance from the lava flow, usually in the range of 820 meters (1/2 mile), based on visual inspection and thermal imaging. In addition, noxious gasses are released when the lava meets the ocean, and visitors should stay away from the plume to avoid exposure to the hazardous chemicals it contains. It is also important to choose a licensed lava boat tour with an experienced operator who will be able to take you to the entry point safely, as sometimes a 1+ hour hike over hazardous terrain is necessary to reach the flow front. Furthermore, it is recommended to wear comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen, water, and flashlights if viewing after dusk. Lastly, those with respiratory or heart problems, pregnant women, infants, or elderly people should avoid engaging in this activity.
3. Vog (volcanic air pollution)
Vog is a form of hazy air pollution, much like smog, created when sulfur dioxide gas emitted by the Kilauea volcano reacts with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight. It is a particular issue in Hawaii due to its prevailing trade winds that can carry the vog to other islands, as well as its volcanic activity that can produce vog close to inhabited areas. This can have serious health implications for those with respiratory ailments, especially those with asthma. In addition, volcanic gas, fine ash and Pele’s Hair can be carried downwind during voggy conditions. To avoid risk of illness from the vog, it is advised to take precautionary measures such as staying indoors with the doors and windows closed, monitoring the wind before going outside, and speaking to one’s doctor about having respiratory medications on hand.
4. Lava viewing at Public Viewing Areas
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers the best views of the lava flow. The best viewing areas for the lava flow are Kūpinaʻi Pali (Waldron Ledge) at Kīlauea Visitor Center from 5 to 8 p.m., Kīlauea Overlook, and Overlook near Keanakākoʻi Crater from 5 to 9 p.m. If outside the park, the lava flow can be seen from Daniel K. Inouye Highway – just be sure to park in a designated parking lot like the Gil Kahele Recreation Area. Additionally, many residents in both Hilo and Kona can see the sky glow red at night from their home.
5. No lava? No problem! Here is how to geek out on lava even when there is no ongoing eruption.
When there is no ongoing eruption, there are still plenty of ways to geek out on lava. Here are some tips to get started:
- Visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: This is a great place to start if you want to explore the volcanoes of Hawaii and get a better understanding of their history and cultural significance.
- Explore lava tubes: Lava tubes are formed by molten lava flowing beneath the surface of the earth, and are fascinating natural structures. You can explore these by visiting the Kaumana Caves near Hilo, or other lava tubes around the island.
- Check out the aftermath of the 2018 Lower East Rift Zone (LERZ) eruption: This eruption had a major impact on the local people and ecology of the island, and you can see the results of it by visiting the Pahoa Lava Zone Museum, following Highway 132 and stopping at “4 Corners” for a view of the new lava rock, or driving up Highway 137 to Pohoiki.
- Take a guided volcano tour: These tours are led by expertly-trained guides with a wealth of volcano-related knowledge, and are a great way to learn more about the volcanoes of Hawaii even when there is no eruption.
6. Best online resources to monitor the eruption progress:
Monitoring the eruption progress of a volcano in Hawaii is not only important for staying informed, but also for staying safe. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to monitor a volcano in Hawaii:
- Check the USGS daily Kilauea volcano lava flow update and the USGS multimedia gallery for the latest information.
- Utilize the webcams located around Kīlauea. These are operational 24/7 and provide the best views of the most recent eruption from the summit caldera.
- Look at the Halemaʻumaʻu pit webcam for images of the eruption site during nightfall or cloudy conditions.
- View the thermal camera of the Kīlauea summit for colorful images of gas and lava flows.
- Read the activity summary of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, courtesy of USGS.
- Finally, visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for observation sites and use the National Park Service Mobile app or a local ranger to guide you to a prime viewing location.
7. The November 27, 2022 Mauna Loa eruption
The November 27, 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa was the first eruption of the volcano in over 37 years, since its last eruption in 1984. There is no way to predict the likelihood of future eruptions; however, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has reported that the rate of eruptions of Mauna Loa is historically low on the timescale of decades (averaging one eruption every seven to 10 years). Additionally, the volcano has been monitored closely since it last erupted in 1984, and scientists have been able to detect small changes in seismic activity and ground deformation in the years leading up to the November 27, 2022 eruption.
8. 2022 Kilauea Volcano & Lava Viewing Update
In January 2023, after more than one year of inactivity, Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island started erupting again. The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory detected a glow in webcam images of the Kilauea summit, indicating that the eruption had resumed within Halemaʻumaʻu crater in Kīlauea’s summit caldera. By April 2022, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory had elevated the alert from “watch” to “warning” and the emission rate of sulfur dioxide (SO 2 ) was measured at approximately 75 tonnes per day (t/d). No active lava had been observed since March 7th, 2023, and no unusual activity had been noted along the East Rift Zone or Southwest Rift Zone. As of April 2022, lava viewing is not recommended and volcanic conditions can still change at any time.
9. The September 29, 2021 eruption in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater
The likelihood of the September 29, 2021 eruption in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater is quite high. According to the USGS, Kilauea had a long history of eruptions before the latest one, so it is likely that similar eruptions will reoccur in the future. The most recent eruption was in December 2020 to mid-May 2021, and the lava lake inside Halemaʻumaʻu rose 32 feet (10 meters) by 7:30 pm on Thursday. Lava shot as high as 164 feet (50 meters) into the air during this eruption, and lava fountains were consistently 16 feet (5 meters) high. This suggests that future eruptions in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater could be powerful and produce large amounts of lava.
10. Past eruptions between 1924 and 2018
The first eruption of Kilauea Volcano in historic times occurred in 1924, with the most powerful explosions at Kilauea since the early 19th century. This was followed by the 1955 Lower East Rift Zone Eruption in Lower Puna, which was the first eruption in historic times to occur in any populous area in a U.S. territory. The 1959 eruption of the Kilauea Iki Crater saw lava fountains reach 580 m (1,900 ft) high.
The following year, 1960, saw the Kapoho eruption, when barriers were built in an attempt to divert lava flows. This was followed by the 1969-1974 Mauna Ulu Eruption which saw lava falls higher than Niagara. In 2008, Kilauea’s summit eruption began and lasted until 2018, with lava lake viewing at the summit. In 1983, the Pu’u ‘Ō’ō Eruption started and lasted until 2018, when the most recent eruption at Kilauea’s summit on Hawaii’s Big Island paused after 61 days of volcanic activity.
How to See an Eruption in Hawaii?
Step 1: Choose the type of eruption you want to see.
Hawaii is home to some of the most spectacular volcanic eruptions in the world. There are three main types of eruptions in Hawaii: lava fountaining, effusive eruption, and explosive eruption.
Lava fountaining is a type of eruption that is characterized by a continuous flow of molten rock, or lava, into the air. This is one of the most spectacular types of eruptions, as the lava flows can reach heights of over 300 feet. It is relatively safe to view, as the lava typically flows in a predictable direction.
Effusive eruption occurs when the lava flows slowly out of the volcano. This type of eruption is less spectacular than lava fountaining, however, it is safer to view from a distance.
Explosive eruptions are the most unpredictable type of eruption, as the lava and volatile gases can be ejected from the volcano in unpredictable directions. This type of eruption can be very dangerous, and should not be viewed from up close.
Depending on the type and intensity of the eruption, visitors can choose to view the lava up-close or from a distance. For example, visitors can hike to the lava flow or take an ocean lava boat tour up close. Alternatively, visitors can take a helicopter tour or view the glow from a public viewing area. For those that cannot see the lava during an ongoing eruption, they can view the aftermath of previous eruptions at the Pahoa Lava Zone Museum or explore lava tubes and other volcanic remnants.
Step 2: Check if the area is open to the public.
Step 1: To check if an area is open to the public in Hawaii for an eruption, one should first visit the U.S.G.S. website (www.usgs.gov) to review the daily updates regarding the location and intensity of the eruptions in the area.
Step 2: If the area is open to the public for an eruption, one should also check the operating hours of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but the Kilauea Visitor Center is only open between 9AM and 5PM.
Step 3: It is highly recommended to bring strong shoes and sun-appropriate clothing, and to pack at least a gallon of water, closed-toe footwear, gloves, long pants, sunblock, sunglasses, and headwear for the trip.
Step 4: One should also consider whether a self-guided or guided tour is right for them. For a self-guided tour, one should be prepared with a map, plenty of water, and an appetite for self-motivated fun. For a guided tour, one should research safety-minded, licensed tour operators and book a tour only a few days in advance.
Step 5: If lava is entering the ocean, one can consider a lava boat tour to view the flows close-up. However, it is important to remember that boats must stay at least 300 meters away from the entry point, and to choose a safety-minded, licensed tour operator.
Step 3: Prepare for the unexpected.
Step 1: Allocate sufficient time for your visit to Hawaii and expect delays, depending on the time of year and how busy the roads and sites are.
Step 2: Wear appropriate clothing and footwear, keeping weather and terrain in mind. Pack emergency items such as a flashlight and other items you may need should your visit extend into the night.
Step 3: Follow all safety guidelines and roles set out by emergency management.
Step 4: Understand and be aware of the potential hazards posed by the volcanic eruption, including vog, cooled lava tubes, and invisible but toxic gases.
Step 5: If possible, visit the area with a local guide who can give insight and advice on the dangers and potential risks.
Step 6: Stay up to date on current volcanic activity, emergency alerts, and other conditions in the area.
Step 4: Consider getting a guidebook or app to help you navigate the area.
Purchase or download a guidebook or app that best fits your needs. Many guidebooks contain detailed maps and descriptions of the terrain and wildlife around the lava flows.
Step 5: Get there early if you’re driving.
It is important to get to an eruption in Hawaii early if you’re driving because the entrance fees are only charged for one day. If you arrive too late and the gates have closed, you will need to buy another ticket the next day to enter the park. Additionally, there may be safety restrictions that can limit your viewing opportunities, so it is important to get there as early as possible to ensure you have access to the best possible views. Furthermore, it is critical to make sure you have the necessary supplies and equipment for the hike, such as closed-toe footwear, long pants, sunblock, and plenty of water. Arriving early will allow you to make sure you are prepared for the journey and reduce the risk of unforeseen circumstances. Finally, arriving early gives you the best chance of seeing the lava up close, as the events of nature can be unpredictable.
Step 6: Know what you’re doing if you choose to stay outside of closed areas.
When staying outside of the closed areas during an eruption in Hawaii, it is important to take precautions to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you. It is important to wear strong shoes and sun-appropriate clothing when hiking or viewing lava flows. It is also important to wear gloves and long pants to protect against lava rock abrasions. In addition, it is important to pack plenty of water, at least a gallon per person, as well as sunscreen and sunglasses. If you plan to view the lava after dusk, it is important to bring one flashlight per person, as well as spare batteries. It is also important to be aware of the potential for hazardous volcanic fumes, and those with respiratory or heart problems, pregnant women, infants, or elderly people are discouraged from engaging in this activity. Finally, it is important to check to see if lava is flowing before planning a viewing trip.
Step 7: Find a place to safely watch the lava activity.
The best viewing locations and times in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are Kūpinaʻi Pali (Waldron Ledge) at Kīlauea Visitor Center from 5 to 8 p.m., Kīlauea Overlook, and the overlook near Keanakākoʻi Crater from 5 to 9 p.m.
If you’re outside of the park, you can see the lava flow from Daniel K. Inouye Highway – just be aware that you are not allowed to stop or park on the highway between mile markers 16 and 31. Be sure to park in a safer, designated parking lot to see the lava, like the Gil Kahele Recreation Area, which is open 24 hours and offers parking spaces and restrooms.
You can also see the sky glow red at night from many areas and overlooks surrounding Kaluapele (Kīlauea caldera).
Step 8: Visit one of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s public viewing areas.
Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the best way to get an up close and personal view of a lava eruption. The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, and has a few public viewing areas where visitors can observe the lava flow.
To get to the park, take Highway 11 about 30 miles southwest of Hilo. Entrance fees for non-commercial vehicles is $30 and $15 for pedestrians and bicyclists, which provides access for seven days.
The Kilauea Visitor Center is open daily from 9AM to 5PM and is one of the best viewing locations. Here, visitors can observe the lava from Kupinani Pali (Waldron Ledge) between 5 to 8 PM. Another great viewing spot is the Kilauea Overlook, near Keanakakoi Crater, which is open from 5 to 9 PM. Make sure to wear closed-toe shoes and bring a rain jacket in case of inclement weather, and a headlamp for nighttime viewing.
If you’re outside of the park, you can still get a glimpse of the lava flow from Daniel K. Inouye Highway, but it is important to remember that parking and stopping is prohibited between mile markers 16 and 31. If you plan to park, make sure to do so in a designated parking lot like the Gil Kahele Recreation Area, which is open 24 hours and has parking spaces and restrooms.
It is also possible to see the sky glow red at night from many locations in both Hilo and Kona. So if you happen to be in Hawaii, it is worth a try to see the eruption from a safe distance.
Step 9: Share your excitement about seeing lava with others.
Sharing your excitement about seeing lava in Hawaii with others can be a great way to share your experiences. Here are some step-by-step instructions to get you started:
- Gather your photos and videos of the lava. You can use photos and videos of the lava flows, lava crossing the land, or lava entering the ocean.
- Create a video montage or slideshow with the photos and videos you have gathered.
- Add music to the montage to give it an extra punch.
- Share the montage with your friends and family. You can upload the montage to social media (like YouTube or Facebook), post it on your blog, or email it to people who you know would be interested.
- Write a blog post or article about your experience. Describe the conditions of the area, what you learned about the lava, and how the experience made you feel.
- Write a post that includes the directions, entrance fees, and operating hours for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This will provide your readers with the information they need in order to experience the lava for themselves.
- Share the post and montage on social media and other websites to spread the word.
For example, you could write a blog post that includes photos and videos of your lava viewing experience, the entrance fees and operating hours for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and some tips on how to stay safe while viewing the lava, such as wearing comfortable socks and walking shoes or hiking boots, packing sunscreen and water, and bringing a flashlight for each person if you plan to stay past sunset. You could also include some extra information such as the different ways you can view the lava, whether it be from up close or a distance, and what to pack for the hike. The post should be fun to read and engaging, so be sure to include stories and anecdotes about your experience. You can then share the post and montage with your friends and family, and post it on social media or other websites to spread your excitement about seeing lava in Hawaii with others.