If you’re smitten with the idea of witnessing a volcanic eruption in person, you’re in luck! The best eruption viewing continues to be Kīlauea Volcano’s summit eruption from a vent within Halema‘uma‘u Crater – the easiest and closest active eruption site for visitors to enjoy. By day, a robust plume of volcanic gas, steam, and particulates rises from the depths of the crater; by night, the lava lake within casts an ethereal and mesmerizing glow on the plume and the night sky.
How big? The latest scientific measurements have the vent at 721 feet long, by 524 feet wide, larger than an American football stadium. The lava lake level rises and falls, and isn’t visible to visitors due to its depth, which ranges between 100 and 200 feet below the crater floor (that’s taller than the Statue of Liberty!)
How close can you get? Jaggar Museum is the closest you can get to the glowing lava lake deep within Halema‘uma‘u, and it’s the park’s most popular spot after 5:30 p.m. (6,670 people were counted one night in December 2014!) If you can’t avoid peak hours, park staff might re-route overflow traffic to Kīlauea Overlook. Bring a flashlight and a jacket for the short walk to Jaggar Museum. Or consider observing the glow from a less-crowded location, like Keanakāko‘i, ‘Akanikōlea (Steam Vents), Waldron Ledge, or Kīlauea Iki Overlook.
Are you a night owl or an early riser? The park is open 24 hours a day, so take advantage of it. The least-crowded time to observe the hypnotic glow from the lava lake is before sunrise, or after 9 p.m., when most visitors have left. You could have the caldera rim all to yourself!
Learn the Hawaiian word, hō‘ihi (respect). Kīlauea Volcano, and Halema‘uma‘u in particular, are sacred to Hawaiians. This is where Pelehonuamea, the volcano goddess, makes her home. Can you feel her energy, hear her rumblings, feel her warm breath? These many manifestations of Pele remind us that we are in her home. Indeed, many Hawaiians come to Kīlauea to honor Pelehonumea with ‘oli (chants), mele (song) and hula (dance). Native Hawaiians, as keen observers, lived closely to the land by embodying I ka nānā no a ‘ike principles (by observing, one learns) that continue today.
A word about safety. The plume contains high amounts sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas, and may be present in areas of the park near the eruption. These gases are a danger to everyone, particularly to people with heart or respiratory problems and infants, young children, and pregnant women. Volcanic gas, or vog, looks like smog. Keep your windows closed when it is visible. If the air irritates, smells bad, or you have difficulty breathing, leave the area. When areas are closed due to high SO2 levels, you will be directed to areas that are open.
While the eruption can be enjoyed safely most days, it has resulted in some road and trail closures for safety reasons. Kīlauea Visitor Center provides air quality updates 24 hours a day, and visitors can also monitor this site to view current conditions.