The archipelago of Hawaii has many unique features, including volcanoes. The islands were actually formed thanks to volcanic activity. One of the most famous Hawaiian volcanoes is Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii.
This is still an active volcano and one of the main draws of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. But while it’s open to the public and may seem appealing, is Kilauea safe to visit? Here’s our expert opinion.
Is Kilauea Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes and no. The safety of visiting the area around Kilauea depends a lot on the state of the volcano. As long as you check ahead of time, you can visit safely.
There are other concerns when visiting the area around Kilauea, such as crime in the nearby town of Volcano. Obviously, the primary concern when visiting Kilauea or any other active volcano is the volcano itself.
Volcanic eruptions are unpredictable and dangerous. Lava flows are fatally hot, but there are other dangers too, such as flying rocks and poisonous gas.
However, a lot of the dangers of most volcanic eruptions are not present in Kilauea due to the type of volcanic activity that the mountain creates. Kilauea is a shield volcano, and while some of its eruptions are explosive, most are effusive.
Currently, the volcano is in an effusive period, which means that instead of violent eruptions, lava flows at a slow but steady pace out of the volcano.
Lava is dangerous, but these eruptions are easier to predict and to observe safely while avoiding lava flows. Kilauea will probably enter an explosive eruption cycle soon, but scientists say it is not there yet.
The volcano is characterized by continuous volcanic activity, with some eruptions lasting decades. There have been situations where lava flows threatened humans or infrastructure.
During the 2018 eruption, lava flows seemed as if they would reach an important island highway, but the lava’s movement took days, giving people enough time to move. As long as you do the right research, visiting the Kilauea volcano is perfectly safe.
Before you visit, make sure you check the state of the volcano on a reputable website such as USGS. The most recent eruption in Kilauea ended on March 7th, 2023, after 61 days.
Scientists can predict when there is a higher risk of volcanic activity, and they publish such updates on their websites. Whenever you go into nature, you need to take precautions.
This also applies when you want to visit a national park that contains active volcanoes, such as Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which is home to Kilauea. The park has helpful safety tips for visitors when you visit the website, so make sure you follow them.
Park authorities are diligent about visitor safety, and they cordon off any areas where they think visitors will be at risk of injury during an eruption.
Whenever you visit a national park, you should stick to marked trails, but that is particularly important around Kilauea as the earth around active volcanoes can be unstable.
During eruptions, volcanic gas is actually more dangerous than lava, so don’t visit during an active eruption if someone in your party is elderly, an infant, or suffers from respiratory issues.
Instead of hiking to Kilauea, many visitors like to take advantage of the roads inside the park to view the volcanoes from the comfort of their cars. Make sure that you are driving carefully and slowly as the roads are often narrow, and you have to share with other park users.
There are often traffic jams at popular viewpoints and parking lots. You may not expect to get robbed at a remote natural wonder such as Kilauea, but you would be surprised! Many national parks struggle with minor crime, and Volcano National Park is no different.
You should also be aware of the crime situation in the neighboring town of Volcano, which many visitors use as a base for exploring Kilauea and the other wonders of Volcanoes National Park.
Violent crimes are nonexistent, but property crimes do happen, including the following:
- Vehicle break-ins
- Vehicle theft
- Accommodation break-ins
Crime in Kilauea
Crime is not the first thing you think of when you visit a national park, and it’s not the most common safety challenge (the far bigger threat comes from nature, as we examined above).
However, national parks are often prime targets for thieves. National parks attract many visitors who let their guard down when they are in nature, a perfect place for thieves.
Parks are also vast geographical areas with poor law enforcement coverage, a problem that justice authorities have been pointing out for decades. Volcanoes National Park, where Kilauea is located, doesn’t have a lot of sordid stories.
There have been homicides in the park before, but they are extremely rare. However, as with any other busy place, there is the possibility of minor crimes. While some criminals are deterred by the entrance fee, others may see it as a low barrier to a potentially lucrative payday.
Plus, there are areas of the park that are before ticketing, such as some parking lots, that are vulnerable to criminals. Chances are, you will need somewhere to sleep when visiting Kilauea.
Most visitors to the volcano stay the night in the quaint town of Volcano. Volcano has a relatively high property crime rate, at 25.39 incidents per 1,000 residents.
The most common type of crime is vehicle theft, which makes up about 64% of the total property crime rate. The slightly elevated property crime rate also doesn’t tell the full story.
Since crime rates are calculated per 1,000 people, places with low populations, such as Volcano, seem to have a much higher crime rate even when there are only a few incidents. Plus, many incidents involve out-of-towners, who are either the victims or the criminals.
You also won’t have to worry about your personal safety when staying near Kilauea.
The violent crime rate in Volcano is virtually nonexistent. When you visit Kilauea, you shouldn’t avoid all your big city property precautions, but your life and safety will probably not be threatened.
The most common crime visitors to Kilauea experience is vehicle break-ins. Criminals often target rental cars as they think they are more likely to contain valuables inside the car.
There have been cases of park rangers arresting criminals for breaking into vehicles in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. A few basic precautions can help you avoid becoming the victim of a vehicle break-in.
When you park your car in front of your accommodations or in the parking lot of the national park, make sure that it is locked and that the windows are closed.
This may seem like a silly tip, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to do this, making their cars a perfect target for thieves. When you visit the national park, make sure that you don’t have any valuables waiting in your car.
Many visitors stop at the park before checking into their accommodations and leave their luggage in the trunk, which is why rental cars are such a lucrative target for thieves. Never park somewhere with your luggage in the trunk.
Either check into your accommodations first and leave your items there or visit attractions such as lookout points where you don’t have to leave your car to see everything. Never leave valuables such as wallets in your car as you hike.
A really bold thief might be tempted to drive away with your car while you are exploring Kilauea and the rest of Volcanoes National Park.
While incidents of vehicle theft from the park itself are rare, there was one high-profile incident in 2017 when thieves stole ranger cars from the park.
You should also be careful when you are parking in front of your accommodations in the town of Volcano, as vehicle theft is the most common property crime in the area. A few basic precautions are usually enough to deter potential thieves.
Make sure that you lock your car and close all windows.
Since Volcano is such a small town, many visitors and residents alike are easily lulled into a false sense of security. If your accommodations offer a private garage or driveway, take advantage of that, as it is a safer place to park your car.
Avoiding Bad Areas
There aren’t really any bad areas to avoid around Kilauea since the area around the volcano is so safe. However, there are a few locations around Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park that have higher rates of property crime and where you might want to be more careful with your property.
Many visitors combine a visit to Kilauea with a stop at Akaka Falls, closer to Hilo, but the area around the falls has higher levels of vehicle theft and break-ins, according to forums.
The parking lots are also locations that are at higher risk for vehicle break-ins.
Things to Consider
Here are some other things to keep in mind when you visit Kilauea:
- Try to avoid peak hours and visiting times in the park. It is very popular with visitors, and sometimes park rangers have to close popular viewpoints because the congestion reaches dangerous levels. Come as early as possible in the day to make sure you get the best possible view of Kilauea.
- If you’re hiking to the top of Kilauea, bring layers! The crater is not as high as other mountains in Hawaii, but the temperature still drops at this higher elevation.
- Always check the National Park Service website for any closures. Lava flows can start up again at any moment, and sometimes they head in a direction that the park service determines is dangerous for visitors. Sometimes, viewing opportunities are just not possible because there is no way to approach Kilauea safely, and you don’t want to travel to the park and then get disappointed.
- Hiking across lava fields doesn’t leave you with many opportunities for shade, and temperatures can get hot! The park recommends you carry at least two quarts of water per person to prevent dehydration.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions that other visitors to Kilauea have asked:
What are the risks of Kilauea?
Right now, most eruptions at Kilauea are effusive. You obviously want to avoid lava flows which are hot enough to burn everything they touch, but the biggest danger comes from toxic volcanic gases. Bring respiratory protection if you visit during an eruption.
What is the safest place in Hawaii away from volcanoes?
If you want to avoid volcanoes altogether, staying on the north side of the Big Island of Hawaii is probably your best bet. That puts you on the other side of the island’s volcanic activity from massive Mauna Kea, and the mountain will be an adequate shield.
Is it safe to travel to the Big Island of Hawaii?
Yes, it is safe to travel to the Big Island of Hawaii. Even when a volcanic eruption occurs, you can stick to parts of the island that are further away, such as the northern shore.
Is it safe to travel to Hawaii during a volcanic eruption?
Even when a volcanic eruption is happening, it is usually safe to travel to Hawaii. Just in case, check travel advisories before you go.
How many people died in the Kilauea eruption?
According to the USGS, Kilauea is the nation's deadliest volcano and has killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people throughout history. However, you don’t need to worry. The most recent death caused by the volcano was in 1993.
So, Is Kilauea Safe to Visit?
Kilauea is perfectly safe to visit despite the fact that it is an active volcano. Just follow park department directions and maybe don’t leave any valuables in your rental car when you visit. Happy travels!