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Hawaii's Volcano Byway

The Big Island of Hawaii boasts the Volcanic Heritage Corridor, where you can see lava tubes, steam vents, and barren lava fields.

Hawaii's Volcano Byway map, illus. by Michael Klein, image
Photo caption
You'll pass lava flows, vintage lodges, bird parks, and sculpture gardens on this volcanic byway.


Visitors to Hawaii's Big Island often make a beeline to the Kilauea volcano, which has been steadily spewing lava for 20 years. In doing so, they bypass a number of impressive attractions along the Volcano Heritage Corridor.

The route features such disparate sights as roadsides lined with blooming ginger, landscapes scorched by volcanic flows, vintage 1930s lodges, bird parks, and sculpture gardens.

Start at the farmers' market in Keaau, four miles south of Hilo, and follow Highway 11 as it ascends 4,000 feet over the next 29 miles. At shops along the way, pick up koa crafts and Kona coffee or orchids and anthuriums.

When you arrive at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Kilauea Visitor Center will give you the lowdown on sights along the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive, including eerie steam vents, barren lava fields, pitch-dark lava tubes, and 150 miles of hiking trails. The truly intrepid can drive down the mountain and take a three-hour hike to the Pu'u 'O'o lava flow. Volcano Village, outside the park, offers lodges with roaring fireplaces and cabins set in lush gardens.

If you've got another day, consider exploring the Pahoa Loop east of the park. If you don't, try the 30-minute spur from Keaau to Kalapana. Here, in 1990, the tiny Star of the Sea Painted Church was moved a few miles and saved from being destroyed by molten lava; not so the rest of the Hawaiian fishing village or famous black-sand beach. Now turquoise waves pound on black rock to form a new beach.

WHERE IT IS South of Hilo.

WHO WILL LIKE IT Families, romantics, nature nuts, geology geeks, and adventurers.

WHEN TO GO Any time of year, although rain is especially likely from November to March.

WHAT TO BRING A driving guide (available at the airport and Keaau farmers' market or online at To explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, wear long pants, sturdy shoes, and a rain jacket; carry a flashlight, sunscreen, and water.

Illustration by Michael Klein


This article was first published in January 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.