Brush up on your lava safety before paying a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here, the world's biggest volcano, 13, 677 foot Mauna Loa caps an almost extraterrestrial landscape. Slate-black ragged rock edges give way to steaming vents along rift zones close to active Kilauea and beautiful molten rivers of lava slide with a hiss into the sea. Nearly 500 acres have been added to the Big Island through recent eruptions, though most of these areas are still inaccessible due to the instability of the region.
Most guests will want to begin their park tour with a stop at the Kilauea Visitor Center for tips on the best lava viewing and an introduction to the volcanoes. If you only have an afternoon to explore, drive around Crater Rim Drive, winding through desert, rainforest and the caldera floor. Take the time to follow Chain of Craters Road to the end—you'll know the end by the hardened lava flow across the road—for more views and when the volcano cooperates, a glimpse of molten flow.
Hikers can follow the lava when it passes through areas that have not been designated off-limits; on days when the glow is best seen through binoculars, there are still 119 miles of marked trails to explore for a close-up look at lava tubes and ancient petroglyphs. Some of the wilderness hikes are only marked with cairns, so all but experienced hikers are advised to stick to better marked routes. Throw down your tent for some real lava-lamp viewing at one of the drive-in campsites in the park or the adventurous can embark on wilderness camping in designated areas with appropriate permits. Make sure to check for updates on vent activity before setting out.
Bikers can take advantage of miles of paved road, though for the unpaved trails, mountain bikes are essential. Cruise along Crater Rim Drive for views of the Kilauea Caldera, sucking in the smell of sulfur as you peddle.
Civilized amenities like wineries and golf are available in Volcano Village, a quick drive from the park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is 30 miles southwest of Hilo on highway 11 and 96 miles southeast of Kailua-Kona.