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Big Island’s Guide to Lava Viewing Safely

The Big Island of Hawaii offers one of the most unique and awe-inspiring natural spectacles on earth: active lava flows. However, witnessing this incredible phenomenon requires careful planning and adherence to safety guidelines. This guide provides comprehensive information on how to view lava safely, the best spots to witness this natural wonder, essential gear to bring, and tips for both guided and independent tours. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a first-time visitor, our guide ensures that your lava viewing experience is both thrilling and safe.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the different types of lava flows and their associated hazards is crucial for safe viewing.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Kalapana Viewing Area are among the best spots for witnessing active lava flows.
  • Essential gear includes sturdy footwear, protective clothing, and safety equipment like helmets and gloves.
  • Guided tours offer expert knowledge and enhanced safety, but independent viewing can be rewarding with proper planning and precautions.
  • Respecting the environment and adhering to Leave No Trace principles help preserve the natural beauty and ecological integrity of the Big Island.

Understanding Lava and Its Dangers

Types of Lava Flows

Lava flows can be broadly categorized into two types: pāhoehoe and ʻaʻā. Pāhoehoe flows are smooth and ropy, while ʻaʻā flows are rough and jagged. Understanding these types is crucial for safe viewing, as each presents different challenges and hazards.

Potential Hazards

Lava viewing comes with several potential hazards, including extreme heat, unstable ground, and toxic gases. The stability of the new land, especially at ocean entries, is a significant concern. Newly created land is inherently unstable and can collapse back into the ocean. Additionally, the noxious gases released when lava meets the ocean can be harmful.

Health Precautions

When planning to view lava, it’s essential to take health precautions seriously. Wear appropriate clothing, bring plenty of water, and be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration. It’s also advisable to stay out of closed areas and be prepared for the terrain. For more detailed information, you can check out resources on lava safety and ocean entry hazards.

Always prioritize your safety and be well-prepared when planning a lava viewing trip. The unique experiences of witnessing active lava flows are unforgettable, but they should never come at the cost of your well-being.

Best Spots for Lava Viewing on the Big Island

Lava viewing is a must-do activity if you are lucky enough to be on the Big Island while one of the volcanoes is actively erupting. Seeing this happening in “real-time” is, for many people, a once in a lifetime experience. The Big Island of Hawaii is home to active volcanoes and seeing those volcanoes (and sometimes even a surface flow!) is possible when visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or other areas like Kalapana.

Essential Gear for Safe Lava Viewing

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When planning to view lava on the Big Island, having the right gear is crucial for both safety and comfort. Proper preparation can make your experience both enjoyable and safe.

Guided Lava Tours: Pros and Cons

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Benefits of Guided Tours

Guided lava tours offer know-how, equipment, and access to restricted terrains where needed. Their guides are trained professionals that know the area intimately. The added value of using a lava tour guide is, of course, safety, but also getting to know the extremely interesting background information they can provide about the eruption, and, of course, the peace of mind of making a safe trek without getting lost.

Choosing the Right Tour

When selecting a guided lava tour, consider the following:

  1. Safety: Ensure the tour company prioritizes safety and has experienced guides.
  2. Flexibility: Due to the nature of the lava flows and the near-constantly changing conditions, it’s not recommended you book a tour more than a few days in advance for lava viewing.
  3. Cancellation Policy: Carefully review the cancellation conditions and, if they are strict, avoid booking these tours more than a few weeks in advance.

What to Expect

You’ll be with a group should you go the tour guide route, but your guide will keep you moving in the right direction and make the best use of your time along the hike. Sometimes, however, lava hikes are not possible because of no lava (there either is no lava flowing on the surface), or no access (access to the site of the eruption is restricted, too dangerous, or crosses private lands). If access to the flow is possible and on public land, you will be able to find several companies that offer guided hikes to the lava flow during daytime or at night.

Booking a lava hike tour far in advance is risky because at the time of your visit the lava may have stopped flowing. We strongly recommend that you carefully review the cancellation conditions and, if they are strict, not to book these tours more than a few weeks in advance.

DIY Lava Viewing Tips

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Planning Your Trip

When planning your trip to view lava on the Big Island, timing is crucial. Try to see the lava around sunset or before sunrise. The sun’s rays can wash out the incandescence of the lava, making it less visible during the day. Always check if lava is flowing before you go, as conditions can change rapidly.

Navigating the Terrain

Navigating the terrain to reach lava viewing spots can be challenging. It’s essential to educate yourself on the risks and ensure you are well-prepared. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and dress appropriately for the hike. Sometimes, it is straightforward to find your way to the lava yourself, but always prioritize safety.

Safety Tips for Independent Viewers

  1. Stay on marked trails: Venturing off the path can be dangerous due to unstable ground and hidden hazards.
  2. Wear appropriate footwear: Sturdy hiking boots are recommended to navigate the rough terrain.
  3. Bring a flashlight: If you plan to view the lava at night, a flashlight is essential for safety.
  4. Keep a safe distance: Lava can be unpredictable, so always maintain a safe distance from the flow.

Remember, your safety is paramount. Always be cautious and respect the natural environment while enjoying this unique experience.

Respecting the Environment While Viewing Lava

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Leave No Trace Principles

When viewing lava, it’s crucial to adhere to Leave No Trace principles. This means packing out all trash, staying on designated paths, and avoiding the disturbance of natural features. By doing so, you help preserve the pristine environment for future visitors.

Interacting with Wildlife

While exploring the lava fields, you may encounter various forms of wildlife. It’s important to observe animals from a distance and avoid feeding them. Human food can be harmful to wildlife and disrupt their natural behaviors. Remember, you’re a guest in their habitat.

Supporting Local Conservation Efforts

Consider contributing to local conservation initiatives. Many organizations work tirelessly to protect the unique ecosystems of the Big Island. Donations, volunteering, or even participating in eco-friendly tours can make a significant impact. Your support helps ensure that the beauty of the island remains intact for generations to come.

Respecting the environment is not just about following rules; it’s about fostering a deep appreciation for the natural world and understanding our role in its preservation.

When viewing lava, it’s crucial to respect the environment to preserve its natural beauty. Our guided tours ensure you can witness this awe-inspiring phenomenon safely and responsibly. For more information on our eco-friendly tours, visit our website today!


Viewing lava on the Big Island is an awe-inspiring experience that connects you with the raw power of nature. However, it is crucial to prioritize safety by following guidelines and respecting the environment. Whether you choose to explore on your own or join a guided tour, being well-prepared and informed will ensure a memorable and safe adventure. Remember to wear appropriate attire, bring necessary supplies, and always heed the advice of local authorities and guides. By doing so, you can fully enjoy this unique natural spectacle while preserving the beauty and integrity of the island for future generations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time of year to view lava on the Big Island?

The best time to view lava on the Big Island is during the dry season, which typically runs from May to October. However, lava activity can vary, so it’s important to check current conditions before planning your trip.

Is it safe to view lava without a guide?

While it is possible to view lava without a guide, it is highly recommended to join a guided tour. Guides are knowledgeable about the terrain and safety precautions, ensuring a safer and more informative experience.

What should I wear for lava viewing?

Wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes, long pants, and a long-sleeve shirt. Additionally, bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for protection against the sun, and a rain jacket in case of sudden weather changes.

Can I get close to the lava flows?

Getting too close to lava flows is extremely dangerous due to the intense heat and the potential for sudden changes in lava direction. Always follow official guidelines and stay within designated viewing areas.

Are there any health risks associated with lava viewing?

Yes, there are health risks such as exposure to volcanic gases like sulfur dioxide, which can cause respiratory issues. People with respiratory conditions should exercise extra caution and consult with a healthcare provider before visiting.

How can I support local conservation efforts while viewing lava?

You can support local conservation efforts by following ‘Leave No Trace’ principles, respecting wildlife, and contributing to local conservation programs. Consider donating to organizations dedicated to preserving the natural environment of the Big Island.

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