Located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea is one of five volcanoes in the County of Hawaii. The others include Hualalai and Mauna Loa, which are still active, along with Kohala and Mauna Kea, which are dormant.
Some 500 years before the park was formed, native Hawaiians lived, worked and worshiped on the sacred ground here. It was not until 1823 that Reverend William Ellis became the first European to travel through this region. Since then, literally millions of visitors have come to view Kilauea's active lava flows.
This is the site of the Big Island's 1959 volcanic eruption. Although it was a short-lived event, it produced the highest, hottest, and most spectacular lava fountains in Hawaiian history. Since 1983, the Kilauea volcano has erupted lava almost continuously from its east rift zone.
Some 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards of lava is still being output every day at Kilauea. Most of it passes through lava tubes to the Pacific, where impressive plumes of steam rise up. When the lava comes into contact with the cool water, it fragments and adds rubble to the sea floor. Lava flows have added more than 568 acres of new coastland to the southern shore of the volcano. They have also buried 8.7 miles of highway in molten rock up 115 feet deep and destroyed 187 structures in the area, notably the park's Wahaula Visitors Center.
Occasionally, explosive eruptions occur here, including steam explosions as well as spurts of magma. One such occurrence in 1924 shot rocks weighing several tons nearly half a mile. Scientists say that there is no way to predict when the eruptions will stop. Some geologists believe the activity on Kilauea's east rift zone could continue for a full century or more.
The most active part of the volcano is known as Halemaumau. It is 1,320 feet deep and roughly 3,000 feet wide. Owing to noxious fumes in the area, this part of Kilauea is closed to visitors, but numerous pathways traverse the crater, including the Kilauea Iki Trail. It circles the rim and leads through one of the inactive lava tubes.
Visitors to the park will want to start at the Kilauea Visitor Center, located just beyond the park's entrance station at Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii 96785. The park is open 24 hours a day, year round, and the Visitor Center's hours are 7:45am to 5pm daily. Rangers on duty at the Center can provide the latest information on hiking, group activities, road conditions, and safety precautions.
One special feature offered at the Center is a 25-minute film called "Born of Fire, Born of the Sea.'' It is shown every hour on the hour between 9am and 4pm. For those who wish to hike the trails, the entry fee is $10. It is also possible to circle Kilauea by car, taking one of the two main roads: Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road. Four-wheel drive vehicles are not required.