The Big Island is unmistakeably volcanic in origin. Evidence of recent lava flows is everywhere, and for most visitors the attraction is the active volcano at Kilauea. We offer several tours to see this natural wonder. Another popular tour is the Mauna Kea Summit and Stars, which takes you to the top of 13,800 Mauna Kea where you watch the sunset surrounded by world-class observatories. And near downtown Kona there is a volcanic crater hiding in plain sight that is worth a visit. Touring a volcano will get you in touch with the pulsing heartbeat of the Hawaiian islands!
Kevin's Activity Tips:
Most visitors to the Big Island will visit Kilauea Volcano at some point during their vacation. Many tourists choose to drive there in their rental car, and just pay park admission. Hawaii Volcanoes is a National Park, and admission gets you access to interpretive displays, documentary films, and there are lots of Rangers to answer your questions. The down side to this approach is you may miss things worth seeing to and from the National Park. Also, you'll likely have to stand in line to ask questions of that ranger. The advantage of taking one of these tours is you've got a knowledgable guide with you ALL the time who can answer most any question the moment you ask.
Which Kilauea tour to do? Both the Kilauea Volcano Unveiled with Hawaii Forest and Trail and the Twilight Volcano and Stargazing with Wasabi Tours are going to be at the Kilauea Caldera at twilight for you to see the orange glow which typically shows up really well as the lava illuminates the steam and ash cloud that comes out of the crater. Both are done in similar 12-passenger tour vehicles. The biggest difference is in the route they take to get there. With Hawaii Forest and Trail they go to and from the volcano over Saddle Road, which is the fastest way to get to the park. This gives them time to do some hiking during the tour, and on most days there will be 2-3 miles of walking around the volcano's dynamic and varied terrain. On the Wasabi Tours Twilight Volcano, they take a longer route to get TO Kilauea, which includes a stop at a Kona Coffee Farm and a stop at Punaluu Black Sand Beach, which is probably the largest and most beautiful lava sand beach in the world. After visiting Kilauea they head back via Saddle Road, and stop for stargazing along the way.
We also included the Grand Circle Island Tour here ... while it is a long day of NUMEROUS sightseeing stops all over the island, it also includes Kilauea Volcano and Thurston Lava tube (and lots of waterfalls, black sand beaches, the Waipio Valley Overlook, etc. etc. etc. The volcano is a major feature of the tour, but there are far more stops made other places than on the dedicated Kilauea Volcano tours. Also on this tour you will be at Kilauea during the daytime, so you won't see the glow from lava at sunset like you do on the Twilight-oriented tours.
Lava viewing conditions change … it is sometimes possible to get close to the active flow, but not always. There is no guarantee that you will see red hot lava on any of these tours. Sometimes the closest lava is miles from the nearest road and the hike just isn't possible in the time constraints of this tour. Other times lava can be viewed from overlooks within the park and no hiking required at all. During the current summit eruption in late 2021 the lava is confined to the summit crater, and glow has be seen at twilight on MOST nights, with just a few days here and there when there was a lull in surface activity.
The other tours in this category are excurions that take you to volcanic terrain that isn't currently active, but is certainly interesting. The Mauna Kea Summit and Stars takes you to the top of the world's tallest mountain (measured from its base on the ocean floor 18,000 feet below sea level). You stand among the summit observatories which are home to some of the largest and most advanced telescopes in the world. It is not uncommon to see SNOW on the ground at this high elevation ... I was once there in MAY and it had just snowed a few days before! After watching the sunset you'll come down to the visitor's center at around 10,000 feet where your guide will set up a telescope for some stargazing (weather permitting). This tour has VERY limited availability and advanced reservations AT LEAST TWO MONTHS IN ADVANCE are required. You read that right! TWO MONTHS!!! If you want to do this tour, BOOK IT NOW!
The final tour is called the Hidden Crater Hike and is a favorite of the guides. This unique area is on the slopes of Hualalai volcano, the Big Island's third tallest which last erupted in 1801. It isn't active right now of course, but this volcano isn't dead by a long shot. There have been periods of earthquake activity that signal that magma is still moving inside Hualalai and scientists anticipate that it WILL erupt again sometime in the next 100 years. On this excurion you will take a guided 3-4 mile hike and explore craters and fissures, enter lava tubes, look out of panoramic vistas, and witness a unique alpine environment that sprang up since the 1801 eruptive event. The town of Kona is in the shadow of Hualalai Volcano, so this tour is a good one for West Side guests.
Sometimes we have guests ask about doing these tours from the Hilo area. All of these tours are oriented toward guests staying on the Kona / Waikoloa side of the island where the vast majority of resorts and condos are located. If you are staying in the Hilo area you are better off just visiting the volcano on your own. The price of these tours includes round trip transportation from the Kona / Waikoloa area.