Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – The Basics

Welcome to the newest place on earth!

There is a lot to see here and your $10 entry fee gives you the right to come/stay for seven consecutive days. But if you don’t have that much time, here are the must-sees:

  • Check in at the Visitor’s Centers. Staff there will tell you about the current conditions and what’s good to see today. Also, the 20 minute film, Born of Fire, Born of the Sea provides an excellent orientation of the islands.
  • Be awed by the view of Kilauea Crater from Volcano House.
  • Hike trough Thurston Lava tube.
  • Visit the Jagger Museum to see Pele’s hair and tears and to understand the geology of what you are seeing.
  • Drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road and stand on land that is younger than you.
  • Stay into the evening and see red, glowing lava.

If you have the time, go on one of the short, ranger-guided hikes. You will learn some fascinating details, like the fact that the yellow wool on a tree fern is as soft as a baby’s butt, that will help you enjoy your visit to the park more.

Disclaimer: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is always changing. I went to a visitor’s center in 1977 that is no longer there because it is now covered by lava. Eruptions move, and a shift in the wind can force large areas of the park to be closed because of dangerous gases. Check the web site for current conditions.

Niksnut's photo of specially adapted plant life in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Perfectly evolved for its environment, this plant can “hold its breath” when the sulfur levels get too high. Photo by niksnut.

Hiking in the Park

The visitor center has a brochure called Day Hikes, which lists ten of the best hiking options in the park. Here are a few of my favorites:

Anyone will tell you, if you only do one big hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park it should be Kilauea Iki. This 4 mile/6.4 km loop will take you through lush rain forest on your way to Kilauea Iki crater. Then you’ll have the chance to walk across a caldera, a hardened lake of lava. We enjoy this trail so much that we did it twice on our last visit to the park.

Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Trail, a short hike near the end of Chain of Craters Road takes you to a board walk around a field of petroglyphs offering insight into the native Hawaiian culture. While your down here at the end of the road – hike out to the edge (where the trail is marked) and look at the sea arch.

For something a little different, head up Mauna Loa road to see tree molds (imprints of tree trunks in the lava) and a completely different kind of forest from what you see on the other side.

Brewbooks' photo of a tree fern.

One of many tree ferns. Photo by brewbooks.

Don’t be an idiot!

Wearing our tee-shirts and hats, we headed out to the Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone and then decided to continue on to the Makaopuh Crater. I was slathered with sunblock and carrying plenty of water. It was sunny so I left my jacket in the car. We were somewhere west of nowhere when the weather suddenly changed. Rain poured and a cold, driving wind ensured that we were soaked and freezing. And completely unprepared. As we dragged our soaked asses back towards the trail head we began to see other hikers setting out. After we passed them, we would put them into one of two categories based on their clothing; smart people or idiots like us.

In addition to instantly and drastically changing weather, there are other dangerous trail conditions. Lava tubes are hollow and can collapse under you. Always stay on marked trails. (Trails are usually marked by lines of piled lava.)

Eli Duke's photo of lava in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Terrain in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is always fascinating, though not always easy to walk on! Photo by Eli Duke.


Staying in the hotel at Volcano House was beyond my budget, but there are some more affordable options within the park:

Kulanaokuakiki Camping Area: Free tent camping (free is a very good price) is available at Kulanaokuakiki, off of a side road about ¼ of the way down Chain of Craters Road. There are tent sites, a pit toilet, picnic tables and BBQs. There is no water at the site. Also, be warned. We pitched our tent, staked it down, and had two suit cases sitting inside and a gust of wind picked it up and flipped it over.

Namakanipaio Camping Area: A few miles Kona side of the park entrance, Namakanipaio offers tent sites, bathrooms, drinking water, picnic tables and BBQs. The price is $10 to $15 depending on the site.

Camping Cabins: Also at Namakanipaio, the cabins have beds for four including daily clean linens. The shared bathroom includes hot showers. There is electric lighting, but only cabin #3 has an outlet. Cabins cost $90 per night.

One nice perk about staying at Namakanipaio is a convenient half-mile trail that leads directly to the Jagger Museum, current location for night-time lava viewing.

Outside of the park, I’ve had a good experience at the Holo Holo Inn (hostel) in Volcano Village. Amenities include a kitchen, free coffee and tea, hot showers, internet, TV room and laundry area. Dorms run $24 and private rooms are $60. Park at the Japanese School next door.

Alan L's photo of an eruption at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The red glow (only visible at night) makes it worth staying the night in the park. Photo by Alan L.

Trying to contain my emotions

I didn’t want to make the trip, almost succeeded in avoiding it, which I would have regretted! There were a lot of challenges coordinating the trip and I was milking all the reasons not to go. I mean who looks forward to business trips where you go to interesting places, don’t get to do anything but work all day long, and by the time you are ready to do a bit of exploring, you are either too tired or there is nothing left to see except the familiar night life, if you are lucky enough to be in a major city! Plus, I really hate traveling while nursing a hang over from the previous night’s partying. There just aren’t enough barf bags!

The main problem is the distance of the destination. Isabela is about 460 kilometer (285 miles) away from Manila and I have to go there by land since I also have a stop over in one of the provinces along the way. I really can’t stand long land trips, especially when I am not the one behind the wheel. But work pays the bills, and I have lots of bills, so I have to endure the uncomfortable ride to Isabela.

Isabela is primarily an agricultural province. Located in the Cagayan Valley, it is one of the richest provinces in the Philippines and dubbed as the rice and corn granary of the country. It’s fertile rolling hills and plains, bordered by the Cordillera and the Sierra Madre mountain ranges, make it a vision out of a postcard!

But what excited me the most about the trip was the prospect of making a side trip to the Banaue Rice Terraces. I had a look at the map and found that it is only about two hours away from where I was staying. Quickly, I researched on how to get there using public transport just in case my companions didn’t buy the idea of a side trip.

Meanwhile, short of making a PowerPoint presentation to convince my companions to do the side trip, I planned in my tree house cottage of Villa Diana. Knowing that some of the people in the group were first-timers in the Philippines and had some sense of adventure gave me entry points to exploit.

My Tree House in Villa Diana

Armed with my arguments, I came down to dinner with the group only to realize that the conversation was about how close we were to the famous landmark. Perfect! I didn’t even have to open my mouth because the decision to do the side trip on our way back to Manila the following day, was made quickly. My inner travel diva was jumping for joy and swinging from the branches of the tree house!

We left Villa Diana at eight in the morning and hit the road to Banaue. By about 10 AM our van started negotiating the zig-zagging road leading to the viewpoint. It took us another 30 minutes before the majestic structure came into view and directions pointed us to the best vantage point.

It was truly a majestic site! A living example of a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, the terraces were carved by ancestors of indigenous Filipino people dating more than 2000 years ago, using minimal equipment and harnessing the power of their natural environment. The terraces were built on the sides of the mountains for the indigenous people to plant crops and tap the water source from rain-forests on top of the mountains for irrigation. I couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenuity, architecture and engineering of the structure that resembles the pyramids of Machu Pichu.

Banaue Rice Terraces @ the View Point

We had lunch in one of the local hotels. Their restaurant was right in front of the rice terraces and I was told that their deluxe rooms also open to this majestic view. I could just imagine waking up in the morning to this glorious site and I was almost tempted not to leave.

The Banaue Rice Terraces have peaks reaching as high as 1500 meters above sea level and are considered as the 8th Wonder of the World. They have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1995. There are several hiking sites, which can take you for a closer interaction with the structure and the community around it. Sadly, it is experiencing a major preservation challenge as the current generation have little interest in maintaining traditional, agricultural lifestyle. But in its present state, it still evokes so much emotion – a mixed feeling of achievement, pride, joy, anger, sorrow and triumph.


Too bad I only had an iPhone to capture the moment but I vowed to come back and explore the various hiking sites for closer interaction.

Hiking with my Brother and Sister – Family Fun!

What is Hiking?

Hiking is the way you describe walking if you want others to actually join you. Hiking usually includes a lot of great scenery, real or imagined. It you’re hiking, it’s just got to be beautiful, right? Walking is what you’re doing if you forget the bug spray or sunscreen and you can actually do something about it, like go home or go to the store. When you’re hiking it’s just you, the elements, and your mistakes.

A Quick Hiking Tip

While we’re on the topic of mistakes, never surprise a wild animal. A healthy animal will usually try to avoid you if you give them the opportunity to do so. If you are in bear country, where  jingle bells to alert them of your presence.  If you don’t have jingle bells whistling and talking loudly will suffice.  This will alert bears and other wild animals that you are coming and they will most likely put some distance between you and them.  If you do run into a animal don’t turn and run, If you act like prey, dangerous animals will treat you like prey.  Finally, enjoy a little peace of mind by spraying your trash with ammonia. Bears and other undesirables won’t go for an ammonia-laced dinner any more than you will.

A Fun Fact on Hiking

While we’re on the topic of uninvited guests, mosquitos seem to be a problem only when hiking outdoors. Oh, those repetitive laps around an indoor track don’t count as hiking? Anyhow, if you want skeeters to join you on your trek, wear blue and eat bananas without ceasing. They’ll love you for it.

The Hikers

Theodora and Son
This intrepid global trekker took her nine-year old son on a year-long worldwide journey. Here she chronicles the sights and conquers her fear of heights at Tiger Leaping Gorge in China. The clouds below are so inviting you want to step right out on them. Check out their adventure.

Kevin has authored a book about the top sixty hikes within sixty miles of Madison, WI. In this blog he zeroes in on some of his favorites close to ‘Mad-town’. A couple of the hikes are segments of the 1200 mile long Ice Age Trail. The 18 mile Devil’s Lake hike is the longest of his sixty favorites. He is so enthralled with this segment that if he had one hike to take to a desert island, this is the one he’d choose. You can see that Kevin’s capable of a different take on things. Read more at his ‘Mad Traveler’ blog.

Get thirsty just reading about Jim’s jaunt around 85,000 acres of sand dunes in southern Colorado. This Taos, NM resident hallucinates about camels and such on an experience punctuated by his daughter’s futile request,”Can we get ice cream now?” More on The Great Sand Dunes.

A year of hiking throughout Central and South America is well chronicled here through both photographs and the written word. The author is anything but a self-proclaimed hiker. Her humility is often quite humorous. Here she logs her slog through Colca Canyon in Peru.

So, what if someone offered a novice a choice of hikes at Zion National Park named ‘The Narrows’ and ‘Angel’s Landing’? Why, they’d take the latter every time. ‘The Narrows’ sounds just too claustrophobic. The former brings on visions of sweet things like angel hair and halos.

Jake takes us on that meek little trail called ‘Angel’s Landing’. It includes a 1200 foot elevation gain and sheer drops on either side. The photo alone will give you vertigo.

Next months Round the World Adventures will take us deep into the murky depths as we round up some of the best scuba adventures out there.  Do you know any great scuba adventure stories out there?  If so, please offer us your recommendations in our “Round the World Adventures” Forum.

Armed with a road atlas, a KOA campground guide, and a pass to the National Parks, I was twenty years old and setting out to see the country.  My plan was to travel east from my home near Portland, Oregon, across the northern part of the US, and then return by a southern route.  As a send off, my parents decided to caravan behind me out Interstate 84 to the town of Hood River where we would enjoy the famous breakfast at the Historic Columbia River Gorge Hotel.

It was a beautiful drive.  After breakfast, as I prepared to leave, my mother lamented my situation, “Poor, Jenny.  You’re about to go see the whole country, but the most beautiful part is right here.”  She had a point.

View of Vista House at sunset. Photo by McD22.


One’s appreciation of the Columbia River Gorge is enhanced by an understanding of geology.  Incredible natural forces conspired to create this beauty.

First came the lava.  Sometime between 12 and 17 million years ago, volcanoes in eastern Oregon and Washington erupted, leaving a layer of basalt that reaches 600 meters in depth.  Then, 2 million to 700,000 years ago the Cascade mountain range began to uplift. Finally the big event, 16,000 – 13,000 years ago the largest floods which have ever happened on the planet carved out the gorge.  Much of Canada was covered in ice at this time.  A mass of ice blocked access to the sea and a huge lake formed behind it.  Periodically (the Missoula Floods happened as many as 100 times over a period of 2,500 years), the water would break through and a huge flood would come crashing down.  This was the power that carved the gorge.

When a gorge intersects a mountain range beautiful things happen, mainly waterfalls.

Multnomah Falls – One of many waterfalls in the gorge. Photo by Don Graham.

The Historic Highway

The best way to enjoy this beautiful scenery is via the Historic Columbia River Highway.  Completed in 1922, the highway was the brainchild of a man named Sam Hill (as in, “where in the Sam Hill…?”). Hill was infatuated with roads and worked with the engineer, Samuel Lancaster toward a vision of creating a road which would rival the scenic byways of Europe.  Hill was a rather colorful character. Having come from modest beginnings, he trained as a lawyer and his success in several cases attracted the attention of “The Empire Builder,” Jim Hill. Thus, Sam soon made his fortune working for the Great Northern Railway and in 1888 he married his bosses daughter, Mary. In addition to the Historic Highway, his legacy to the northwest also includes two monuments and a remarkable art museum.

Heading east from Portland, be sure you get on the “Historic Highway” (if you stay on I84, you will miss all the falls except Multnomah) which you can access from Troutdale or Corbett.  Stop at Women’s Forum and Crown Point to take in the spectacular views.  Take your time and stop to hike at some waterfalls; Latourell, Shepperd’s Dell, Bridal Veil, Wahkeena, Multnomah (second highest year-round waterfall in the United States), Oneonta,  and Horsetail Falls.  You probably won’t have time to hit them all, but that’s okay.  Save some for the way back. Hiking maps are available from the US Forest Service.

Sights to See

  • Bonneville Dam– As you continue, the Historic Highway joins up with the Interstate. Bonneville Damn is about 10 miles east of this point.  The Columbia is one of the dammed most rivers in North America – 14 dams in all, providing hydro-electric power and reflecting a time when people enthusiastically believed in progress. You can visit the dam and see the huge turbines which generate electricity, as well as the fish ladders which try to make things easier for the salmon migrating up stream.  Take note of the background music.  In 1941 the United States government contracted Woody Guthrie to write songs promoting the hydroelectric projects and you can hear him sing “Roll On Columbia” as you tour the dam. While at the time, the building of the dams appeared to be a triumph of progress and culture, it was also devastating for the culture that had been there before.  Bonneville Dam flooded Celilo Falls which had been an important trade (goods coming from as far away as Minnesota, and a specialized language- Chinook Jargon developed to allow trade between various tribes) site for American Indians. You can see amazing photographs of Native Americans perched on scaffolding above the falls to catch the salmon as they swam upstream.
  • Hood river – Hood River is a lovely place to spend the night after a day of hiking.  When you wake up in the morning remind yourself how many calories you burned the day before and treat yourself to the famous breakfast at the Columbia Gorge hotel.  The area in front of you is rated as one of the best windsurfing spots in the world.  So enjoy the view- or try it yourself.


Windsurfers on the Columbia River. Photo by H. Dragon.

  • Horsethief Lake – Another overnight option is to go to the campground at Horsethief Lake State Park (on the Washington side of the river across from The Dalles).  A park ranger will lead you on a hike to see some of the remarkable pictographs (paintings)and petroglyphs (carvings) left by the Native Americans who populated this area, including the haunting “She Who Watches”.

She Who Watches. Photo by rooftop65.

  • The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center (in Stevenson on the Washington side) provides an excellent overview of the history of the gorge and the people who have populated it over the years.
  • Maryhill Museum of Art and Stonehenge– Proceeding east, you will come to Maryhill.  The elaborate home Sam Hill built and named for his wife.  She didn’t really like living there and today the building serves as an art museum with a notable assemblage of sculptures by Rodin, a delightful collection of chess sets and memorabilia from Queen Marie of Romania who was a friend of Hill’s. A short distance from the museum you can visit a life-sized replica of Stonehenge which Hill had constructed in 1918 as a monument to the servicemen of Klickitat County who died in World War I.  When visiting the real Stonehenge Hill had been told that the site was used for human sacrifices.  As a Quaker and pacifist he saw war as the modern version of human sacrifice and built this monument as a reminder of the folly of war.
  • Goldendale Observatory  – The town of Goldendale Washington hosts Goldendale Observatory State Park with one of the largest public telescopes in the country.  Enjoy a little stargazing before returning home.

Homesick? Not Exactly…

When you decide to live overseas for a long period of time it is amazing the things you realize you miss from home the most. Now besides my family and friends there is one significant ‘item’, I suppose you could call it, that I truly wish I could see every day.

So, what is it? It’s simply grass!

See..I LOVE Grass!

Now I know this probably sounds pretty ridiculous but it’s true, I miss those bright green blades of awesomeness tickling between my toes and even the smell of freshly mowed green fields is haunting my daydreams. So if any of you have read any of my previous posts you would know (or if not I’m going to tell you anyway) that I’ve been traveling around Amman, Jordan. So grass isn’t as common as let’s say New Jersey (where I’m originally from) so there stands my dilemma of missing grass. But lucky for me, there was no need to hop on a plane back to Jersey to get my share of green wonder. Nope, just a bus ride away, to Wadi Al Rayan, waited a gorgeous nature reserve filled with rolling hills, towering trees, lovely flowers and plenty of luscious grass filling the trails.

The gorgeous view from the hiking trail.

And The Adventure Begins…

My day started off at 8am where a couple friends and I waited to board the bus to Wadi Al Rayan, and while we didn’t exactly leave on time (which I’m finding quite normal when traveling with Jordanians) sure enough we were on our way to this gorgeous nature reserve. Less than two hours and we were all able to see from a distance the green mountain tops and lush grass trails I would never had imagined would be in such a dry country such as Jordan.

As we’re all admiring the mountain views from the bus window, the excitement caught on for me that it would be just moments away we would be traveling down the hiking trails, and be right within the greener side of Jordan I had yet to experience. So finally came the time and one by one until about all 80 of us were grouped together (I forgot to mention this was a HUGE group) we took off and began discovering all the beauty Jordan had to offer.

On our way back to the buses.

Forty five minutes into the walk and it was lunch time! However, as I mentioned before I was traveling with about 80 others, just about all of which were Jordanian, and lunch turned into a singing fest and story time. Some even brought their Hookahs (I’m still trying to figure out how they were able to carry them as they were hiking, but I suppose that’s just another addition to my American to Arabian culture confusion).  Lunch wasn’t exactly as I had expected, but all in all a great experience and I was able to admire the greenery a little longer, so a win-win for me.

The walk back turned into experiencing some of the most amazing scenery I had ever seen, and I even caught a glimpse of a pretty intense cave. I must say my trip to Wadi Al Rayan is by far one of the best trips I’ve been on since coming here, while it was simple to say the least, this was a major eye-opener that Jordan is not just your everyday desert country and has so much more to offer.

The big group of people I traveled with!

I’ve also recently joined the IWAA, International Women’s Association of Amman, where I have been introduced to plenty of other ‘green’ trips that I can’t wait to tag along to. So I can assure you this will not be the last post about the beautiful green grass that can be found in Jordan. Because like I said earlier, I miss me some grass!

Have any of you ever miss something kind of random from back home while you were traveling?