Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

From the often-snowy summit of Mauna Loa, the world's most massive volcano, to the boiling coast where lava pours into the sea, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park (car/bicycle or pedestrian 7-day pass $25/12) is a micro-continent of thriving rainforests, volcano-induced deserts, high-mountain meadows, coastal plains and plenty of geological marvels in between.

At the heart of it all is Kilauea – the earth’s youngest and most active shield volcano. Since 1983 Kilauea’s East Rift Zone has been erupting almost nonstop, and while an active volcano tends to draw visitors, it can also be a geologic liability. From May to August of 2018, sustained eruptions yielded seismic activity and lava flows that quite literally reshaped Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park (and resulted in the destruction of 700 homes). Some attractions have been indefinitely closed, but other activities, including the stunning Chain of Craters Road and most of the park's backcountry, remain open to visitors.

In any case, local national park staff excel at managing this chaotic landscape. Their education programs deftly blend modern science with ancient beliefs and customs, and their outreach feels boundless. Ample interpretive signs, unusually informative trail guides, a slew of well-thought-out ranger-led hikes, living history programs and a weekly lecture series all provide visitors with a solid connection to the park and the people of Hawaiʻi.

Of all the national parks in the USA, this is the one where you really want to check conditions before visiting; check out www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit for up to date information.

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