Hawaii's Must-See Volcanoes


Aloha! My journey through the enchanting volcanic landscapes of Hawaii was nothing short of life-changing. Each volcanic peak I encountered offered a unique experience that left a lasting impression. As a passionate traveler and geology enthusiast, I decided to share my personal experiences and rank Hawaii's must-see volcanoes from bottom to top.

How many volcanos are there in Hawaii?

Hawaii is home to a chain of volcanic islands, with a total of six major volcanoes spread across the main Hawaiian Islands. These six primary volcanoes are:

Kilauea: Located on the Big Island, Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Mauna Loa: Also on the Big Island, Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth in terms of volume and area covered.

Mauna Kea: Another volcano on the Big Island, Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and the tallest point in Hawaii when measured from sea level.

Hualalai: Hualalai is situated on the Big Island as well and is the third most active volcano in Hawaii.

Haleakalā: Located on Maui, Haleakalā is a dormant volcano known for its otherworldly landscapes and beautiful sunrises.

Kohala: This extinct volcano, also on the Big Island, is the oldest of the main Hawaiian volcanoes.

In addition to these primary volcanoes, there are numerous smaller volcanic features, such as cones and vents, throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The seafloor surrounding the main islands also contains several underwater volcanoes, and the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain extends thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, formed by the movement of the Earth's tectonic plates over a volcanic hotspot.

Is Hawaii actually a giant volcano itself!?

Hawaii is not a single giant volcano; rather, it is an archipelago composed of multiple volcanic islands. The Hawaiian Islands were formed as the result of volcanic activity from a hotspot in the Earth's mantle. As the Pacific tectonic plate moves over this hotspot, magma rises from the mantle, eventually reaching the surface and creating volcanic islands.
The main Hawaiian Islands consist of eight primary islands, and each of these islands is home to one or more volcanoes. For instance, the Big Island of Hawaii hosts five major volcanoes: Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, and the extinct Kohala. Other islands, such as Maui and Oahu, also have their own distinct volcanoes.
In summary, while Hawaii is not a single giant volcano, its formation is the result of multiple volcanic eruptions from a hotspot beneath the Earth's crust.

 Here are the top 7 of Hawaii's must-see volcanoes - bottom to top.

7. Kahoolawe

Kahoolawe Volcano in Hawaii

Kahoolawe is the smallest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands and is home to a dormant shield volcano, Lua Makika. While its last eruption occurred around one million years ago, the island itself holds historical, cultural, and ecological significance.
Access to Kahoolawe is highly restricted, as the island was used as a bombing range by the U.S. military until the 1990s, and unexploded ordnance still poses a risk. Currently, only authorized groups conducting restoration and cultural activities can visit the island. However, it's worth mentioning Kahoolawe as a unique and lesser-known volcanic destination in Hawaii, and there's hope that future ecological restoration and safety efforts may eventually allow for limited public access.
Please note that, as with any volcano or protected natural area, it is essential to respect local regulations, customs, and safety precautions when visiting these remarkable geological sites.

6. Mauna Ulu

Mauna Ulu Volcano in Hawaii

Mauna Ulu is a volcanic cone located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island. It's not a separate volcano, but rather a part of the Kilauea volcanic system. Mauna Ulu experienced a significant eruption between 1969 and 1974, during which it added new land to the island and created dramatic lava formations.
Today, visitors can hike to Mauna Ulu via the Mauna Ulu Trail, which provides a closer look at the eruption's aftermath, including lava trees and impressive fissures. The trail also offers sweeping views of the surrounding landscape, making it a worthwhile addition for those exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

5. Hualalai

Hualalai Volcano, Big Island Hawaii

At number five on my list is Hualalai, which I discovered during my stay on the west coast of the Big Island. The third most active volcano in Hawaii, Hualalai last erupted in 1801. Its relatively flat profile and intriguing lava flows have created stunning features such as the Kona coffee fields and picturesque black sand beaches.
During my time at Hualalai, I took a guided hike to explore its lava tubes, an experience I would recommend to anyone visiting the area. The volcanic formations and the unique flora and fauna along the way were captivating. Although the summit of Hualalai is accessible, it requires an arduous hike best suited for experienced trekkers.

4. Haleakalā

Haleakala Volcano in Maui, Hawaii

My visit to Maui introduced me to Haleakalā, a dormant volcano that stands over 10,000 feet above sea level. Nicknamed the "House of the Sun," Haleakalā last erupted around 400 years ago, but its lunar-like landscape continues to captivate visitors.
Haleakalā National Park boasts diverse ecosystems, from lush rainforests to stark volcanic deserts. The highlight of my visit was waking up early to watch the sunrise from the summit, an awe-inspiring experience that I will never forget. The breathtaking colors of the sky and the way the sunlight illuminated the landscape left me speechless. With over 30 miles of hiking trails and opportunities for stargazing, Haleakalā is an unforgettable destination.

3. Kilauea

Kilauea - one of the most active volcanoes on Earth

Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, ranks third on my list of must-see Hawaiian volcanoes. Situated within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983. This shield volcano has formed vast lava fields and added more than 500 acres of new land to the island.
During my visit to Kilauea, I had the opportunity to witness a lava flow up close, an experience that truly humbled me. The sheer power and beauty of nature were on full display, and I felt a deep sense of respect for the Earth's dynamic processes. The park offers various activities, including hiking, biking, and guided tours, as well as an educational visitor center. I highly recommend the Chain of Craters Road, a scenic drive that showcases diverse volcanic features and the impressive Holei Sea Arch.

2. Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa: the largest volcano on earth and one of the most active

Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth and one of the most active, earns the second spot on my list. This behemoth shield volcano covers over half the landmass of the Big Island and stands more than 13,000 feet above sea level. Mauna Loa's most recent eruption occurred in 1984, and scientists closely monitor its activity for any signs of future eruptions.
I chose to hike the Mauna Loa Observatory Trail during my visit, a challenging but rewarding experience. The trail offered panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and the neighboring Mauna Kea. Reaching the summit, I felt a sense of accomplishment and a deep appreciation for the immense scale of this volcanic giant.

1. Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea Volcano - A must see volcano in Hawaii

Topping my list of must-see Hawaiian volcanoes is Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island. Although it last erupted around 4,600 years ago, Mauna Kea holds a special place in my heart due to its cultural significance and unique features. Standing over 13,800 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea is the highest point in the state of Hawaii and, when measured from its base on the ocean floor, it's even taller than Mount Everest.
My most memorable experience at Mauna Kea was visiting the summit at sunset. The colors of the sky and the panoramic views of the island were breathtaking. The summit is home to several world-class astronomical observatories, which take advantage of the clear skies and minimal light pollution. I was fortunate enough to join a stargazing tour at the visitor center, where I witnessed the beauty of the night sky and learned about the cultural significance of the stars in Hawaiian mythology.
The drive up to the summit can be challenging, so it's essential to prepare for the altitude and weather changes. While hiking is possible, it's a strenuous endeavor that requires proper planning and experience. Mauna Kea also holds great cultural significance for Native Hawaiians, so it's crucial to respect the land and its people while exploring this majestic volcano.


From the gentle slopes of Hualalai to the towering peaks of Mauna Kea, each Hawaiian volcano I visited offered a unique and unforgettable experience. Whether it's exploring lava tubes, witnessing a lava flow, or watching a mesmerizing sunrise, the volcanoes of Hawaii provide countless opportunities for adventure, education, and connection with nature.
I hope my personal experiences and rankings inspire you to embark on your own journey through Hawaii's volcanic wonders. No matter which volcano you choose to visit, remember to respect the land, its people, and the incredible geological forces that continue to shape these beautiful islands.

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