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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with Kids by Helicopter and by Land

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Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with kids can seem intimidating. You may have some trepidation over whether such a visit is dangerous and how to make it interesting for the whole family. If you do it right, though, exploring volcanoes on Hawaii's Big Island is not only safe, but also super fun for families. Here's what you need to know about experiencing Volcanoes National Park by helicopter and by land.

Peering into Pu'u 'O'o from a helicopter tour of Volcanoes National Park with kids

Peering into Pu'u ‘O'o from a helicopter tour of Volcanoes National Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Helicopter Tour Departure Locations

A helicopter tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has long been a bucket list item for me. I almost didn't go, though. Mostly because it's expensive. You may be tempted to opt out as well, but truly it's worth every cent for such an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience!

My daughter and I were worried about motion sickness but our helicopter flight was smooth

My daughter and I were worried about motion sickness but our helicopter flight was smooth (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Originally, I was looking at taking a helicopter ride from the Waikoloa Heliport to avoid the two-hour drive to Hilo. We, like most Big Island visitors, spent the majority of our vacation on the drier and more populous Kona side of the island. After doing some research, however, I learned that I could save my family hundreds of dollars by booking our helicopter tour departing from the Hilo International Airport.

If you want to save money and you're interested in exploring Volcanoes National Park by land as well, I recommend you book the Blue Hawaiian Circle of Fire and Waterfalls Tour from Hilo. If time is of the essence and you only want to see the volcanoes by air, then the Big Island Spectacular Helicopter Tour from Waikoloa may make more sense for you.

Pu'u 'O'o erupted nearly continuously from January 1983 to April 2018

Pu'u ‘O'o erupted nearly continuously from January 1983 to April 2018 (Photo credit: G.E. Ulrich, Wikipedia)

Helicopter Motion Sickness Worries

A snorkeling and boating tour the day prior to our helicopter flight left my daughter, Karissa, and me worried about motion sickness. After much encouragement from our Facebook fans (thank you!), we decided to go for it. I'm so very glad we did. This was my second helicopter flight. (The first was in Sevierville, Tennessee.) Both times, I was pleased to experience how much smoother and less nauseating a helicopter ride is compared to a small airplane flight. Karissa and I felt a tad woozy afterwards, but it was manageable and we both agreed well worth it.

If you're nervous about motion sickness, I encourage you to take necessary precautions. As an experienced motion sickness sufferer, here are my tips for feeling good during your flight.

Peering into Pu'u ‘O'o

The most thrilling part of our Big Island helicopter flight, and truly one of the most exciting things I've ever done, was circling Pu'u ‘O'o! This volcanic cone is part of Kilauea's eastern rift zone. Until April 2018, Pu'u ‘O'o had been erupting since January of 1983. This makes it the longest-lived rift-zone eruption on Earth over the past 200 years. Because lava is no longer spouting from this volcanic cone, we were able to peer right into Pu'u ‘O'o from our helicopter seats. It's something the four of us will always remember.

This land was created by the 2018 lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii

This land was created by the 2018 lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Newest Real Estate on Earth

During our helicopter tour, we got a chance to see the newest real estate on Earth. Created by the 2018 lava flow, the Big Island of Hawaii has recently gotten even bigger. The lower Puna eruption started on May 3 and lasted through early August. The lava has since cooled to form volcanic rock, creating 875 acres of new land in the ocean.  No one has stepped foot on the new land yet, however, because it is still too hot and too unstable.

Interested in taking flight over Volcanoes National Park? Book your Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour through TripAdvisor!

My entire family loved our Hawaiian helicopter tour

My entire family loved our Hawaiian helicopter tour (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

Volcanic Destruction

Over 700 houses have been destroyed by the 2018 volcanic activity on Hawaii. Some houses remain intact but cannot be reached since roadways to the subdivisions were wiped out. Our helicopter pilot, Darryl, told us that most of the houses that were destroyed are in a Zone 1 area, the most dangerous active volcanic zone. There are nine lava-flow zones on the islands, with Zone 9 being the least likely to experience volcanic damage. Darryl said that houses in the first zone have a 90 percent chance of volcanic devastation.

Although Zone 1 residents are unable to purchase insurance for their homes due to the high risk of volcanic destruction, they can buy Hawaiian real estate at a bargain rate. Some of the houses we saw that survived the recent lava flow are actually second generation homes, meaning that the original homes were annihilated years ago and have been rebuilt by the owners' children or grandchildren.

The surviving houses here are second generation in Zone 1 on Hawaii near Volcanoes National Park

The surviving houses here are second generation in Zone 1 on Hawaii near Volcanoes National Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Volcanoes National Park Safety

Is it safe to take kids to active volcanoes on Hawaii? Jim Bendt, CEO of Pique Travel Design, a travel agency specializing in Hawaii, says in this CNBC article, “Big Island is over 4,000 square miles. The area of the latest eruption covers 10 square miles. Travelers should have no worries visiting.”

Additionally, volcanologists closely monitor activity to provide warnings to residents and visitors. The University of Hawaii Hilo's website explains, “scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) have instruments that monitor the rift zones 24 hours a day. Before an eruption, the ground inflates rapidly and seismographs record volcanic tremor (underground magma flowing up towards the surface).”

Lava flowing into the ocean from Kilauea eruption

Lava flowing into the ocean from Kilauea eruption (Photo credit: georgeburba, Depositphotos.com)

Still, if you're staying in a Zone 1, you should take heed. University of Hawaii Hilo continues, “Although there is usually an increase in seismic activity and ground deformation for several hours prior to an eruptive outbreak, residents living in remote areas may have little warning and less time to evacuate themselves and their possessions prior to a fast-moving lava flow.” Most important is to swiftly follow any evacuation instructions.

Our guided walking tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with kids

Our guided walking tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with Kilauea EcoGuide Founder Erik Storm (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Kilauea Walking Tour with Kids

While it's incredible to see Hawaii's volcanoes from the seat of a helicopter, it's also amazing to explore Kilauea on foot. I highly recommend booking a Private Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Eco Tour with Kilauea EcoGuide to get the most out of your Volcanoes National Park visit with kids. In fact, this tour ranks number one on TripAdvisor for things to do at Volcanoes National Park!

Kilauea EcoGuides Owner and Lead Guide Erik Storm promises that all of the company's guides modify their tours to meet their audience's needs. This means keeping things interesting for children, too. Using easy to follow graphics, Erik explained how volcanoes form, why they erupt, and the cause of the recent lava flow on the island. He blended Hawaiian history and culture with science to keep us all captivated. Since it's a private tour, we could also ask all the questions as we wanted. We took in views of Kilauea's Caldera, walked past steaming vents, and learned about Hawaii's most powerful god, Pele (the god of Mauna Loa and any volcanic activity on the island).

Volcanic steam rising from the ground in Volcanoes National Park with kids

Volcanic steam rising from the ground in Volcanoes National Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Choose either a three-hour or a six-hour tour. Best of all, Kilauea EcoGuides is happy to break the tour into more easily digestible chunks for families with kids. So, if you'll be staying on the Hilo side of the island for a few days, I recommend asking if you can do half of the tour one day and the other half the next day. Also, unless your kids are crazy for volcanoes, I'd say that the shorter tour is plenty long for families. Book your private Volcanoes National Park tour now!

Visual graphics help kids and adults learn about volcanoes and Hawaii during the private walking tour

Visual graphics help kids and adults learn about volcanoes and Hawaii during the private walking tour (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Jaggar Museum Is Closed

It was so much more meaningful to explore this national park with an expert in Hawaiian culture and geology than it would have been to wander around on our own. This is especially true since the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum closed due to instability from the thousands of seismic events that occurred in 2018. This museum once housed geological and cultural exhibits focused on the study of volcanoes and Hawaii. Unfortunately, it may never reopen.

The Jaggar Museum at the Kilauea summit is closed indefinitely

The Jaggar Museum at the Kilauea summit is closed indefinitely (Photo credit: W Nowicki, Wikipedia)

Viewing Lava on the Big Island

There was no lava to be seen anywhere on the Big Island during my family's visit to Volcanoes National Park. Once the largest lava lake on the planet, Halemaumau Crater at Kilauea's Caldera no longer contains any visible lava. That's because it all poured out when a big magma chamber collapsed, causing the three-month-long lava flow in 2018. This also caused the crater to grow significantly in size. Halemaumau Crater at Kilauea's Caldera is now about three times as big as it was before the collapse! The lava could be back in a year, or it may not be back for many years.

Aerial view of the volcanic eruption of volcano Kilauea in May 2018

Aerial view of the volcanic eruption of volcano Kilauea in May 2018 (Photo credit: fthuerig, Depositphotos.com)

Dress Appropriately

Dress in layers since the temperature at the top of Kilauea can be 12 to 15 degrees lower than at sea level. Bring along rain gear, too, like ponchos and umbrellas. My family was lucky to visit Volcanoes National Park on an unusually dry and clear day. Keep in mind, though, that it typically rains 300 days per year in the park. You should also wear comfortable walking or hiking shoes with tread for exploring trails.

Beware of Poor Air Quality

If you or your kids suffer from asthma, beware that air quality in the park can be poor due to volcanic sulfur dioxide gas and particulate matter. People with lung conditions like asthma are particularly at risk when visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Be sure to bring along any necessary medication and check the park's website for current air quality before your visit.

Thankfully my son, Leo's asthma was not aggravated at Hawaii Volcano National Park

Thankfully my son, Leo's asthma was not aggravated at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Where to Eat Near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

There aren't a lot of dining options inside Volcano National Park. Therefore, you might want to pack a picnic for your visit. This is especially true if you want to save money on this expensive island. My family picnicked at Queen Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo before our helicopter ride. With lots of picnic tables and zero entry fee, this Japanese-style botanic garden makes a beautiful and convenient spot for lunch.

Erik, our walking tour guide, recommends the following restaurants for families before or after exploring the national park.

Queen Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo is a great place for a picnic before your Volcanoes National Park visit

Queen Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo is a great place for a picnic before your Volcanoes National Park visit (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Day Trip vs. Overnight

If doing a day trip to Volcanoes National Park from Kona or the Kohala Coast, time your visit so that you don't have to make the trek after the sun has set. The island is home to Mauna Kea, the world's largest space observatory. Therefore, to enable good star gazing, the island does not have many street lights. Additionally, the trip from Hilo can be quite foggy. After driving the two hours with white knuckles gripped on my rental Jeep steering wheel, I wish I'd followed my own advice!

Better yet, I recommend spending a few days on the Hilo side of the island. If you'd like to stay the night within Volcanoes National Park, you have two choices — At the Crater's Edge or Volcano House.

Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea

Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea (Photo credit: kelpfish, Depositphotos.com)

Why Visit Hilo

I expected Hilo to be much more like sleepy little Hana on Maui than the vibrant city we saw. Home to 43,000+ residents, Hilo boasts impressive waterfalls like Akaka Falls and Rainbow Falls, the Imaloa Astronomy Center, plentiful black sand beaches, and the only tropical zoo in the U.S. — Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo. There's definitely a lot to explore.

Akaka Falls near Hilo on the Big Island

Akaka Falls near Hilo on the Big Island (Photo credit: Vacclav, Depositphotos.com)

More Big Island to Explore

Hawaii is the sixth Hawaiian island I've visited. I figured I probably wouldn't head back to the islands again for a long while since I've already explored so much of the state. Now that I've had a taste of the Big Island, though, I'm definitely craving more…more pineapple, more beaches, more palm trees, more spirit of aloha and more volcanoes. Maybe next time I will even get to see some lava!

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park with Kids by Helicopter and by Land

Save these Volcanoes National Park Tips

Be sure to save these tips for visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with kids for future reference. Just save the pin above to Pinterest. We hope you'll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you're at it!

Considering a trip to Hawaii? Take a look at flight prices with Hawaiian Airlines now! Then check out this list of best hotel pools in Hawaii according to travel experts.

Do you have any questions or tips for exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with kids?  Let us know in the comments below.

A Note from The Travel Mama: I received a small media discount on our helicopter tour from TripAdvisor for purposes of this blog post. We paid full-price for everything else during our visit to the Big Island.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. You guys had so much fun!! This is a great experience I would love to take my family on!

    • Colleen Lanin says:

      It really was amazing. I have been wanting to visit Volcanoes National Park for years and it did not disappoint!

  2. Oh I would LOVE to do this some day! The aerial views are breathtaking! What an incredible experience!

  3. Oh my gosh, that looks incredible! What an amazing experience. I would love to take my family to see those sights and doing it by a helicopter–how cool!

    • Colleen Lanin says:

      I’m so glad we went for both the helicopter tour AND the walking tour! Together, they provide so much insight to the Hawaiian Islands!

  4. Pinning this because this is on my Hawaii bucket list. You’ve got some great money saving tips that I’ll need to remember for when we do get around to planning out our Hawaiian vacation. Your photos are gorgeous too!

  5. This looks like such an amazing experience! I have never been on a helicopter before but I am sure this tour was breathtaking!

  6. Annemarie LeBlanc says:

    What an awesome experience for the family! The new area formed by the lava flow was a sight to see. How nice it was for you to take a helicopter tour to view the volcano craters. I am sure your kids would treasure this experience their entire life.

  7. Elicitfolio says:

    Amazing photos and so inspirational! I would be afraid of motion sickness too, but good to know it’s not that bad!

    • Colleen Lanin says:

      If you are prone to motion sickness, my advice is to skip the boat tour and go for the helicopter tour when in Hawaii!

  8. Whoahhh that looks like an insane adventure! How thrilling for the entire family. We would love a helicopter ride to volcanoes on our upcoming Hawaii trip too!

  9. Vanessa Delia says:

    What an exciting, and nerve wracking, experience. Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous. I would love to visit Hawaii someday.

  10. Michelle Goth says:

    Just recently, there was a chance one of my loved ones was going to be stationed in Hawaii. It was about the time they were having tropical storms and volcanic eruptions. I had been excited for them up until that point, then the dangers became very real. It is such a beautiful place though.

    • Colleen Lanin says:

      How exciting for your loved one! Thankfully, it seems the dangers of living on much of the Big Island are limited to Zone 1 areas and warnings are given to evacuate as necessary. I hope you’ll be able to visit Hawaii to see your loved one during their time on the island!

  11. emman damian says:

    I want to try Ohelo cafe! Seems like a good place to get some slices of pizza! I should definitely do a gastronomic adventure there soon!

  12. Autumn Murray says:

    We would love to take our kids to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as it sounds amazing. I love learning about vacation destinations that are family-friendly.

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