Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Tel: 808 985 6000
Concierge.com's insider take:
Note: Due to an eruption that began on March 5, 2011, Chain of Craters Road, all east rift and coastal trails, and the Kulanaokuaiki Campground have been closed until further notice. See the National Park Service Web site for the latest info.
If you had to have one defining reason to go to the Big Island, the erupting Kilauea caldera would be it (lava-spewing Puu Oo crater went on a brief sabbatical in 2007, leaving Kilauea dry for the first time in more than 20 years, but the dry spell was short-lived). Nearly two million people visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park each year. Looking at the lines of cars parked on the Chain of Craters Road and people hiking in while carrying gifts, you'd think aliens had landed; most of these pilgrims bring water, cameras, and offerings to the volcano goddess, Pele (be mindful not to litter in the park). You can't get as close as you could in past years, but it's still so hot you may feel as if you're dinner walking on the grill. Get situated before sunset to see the molten lava fingers glowing red down the hillsides and flowing into the sea. Over half of the park is designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site and is great for hiking. Camping is allowed, and there's Volcano House, a very decent restaurant and hotel inside the grounds (Crater Rim Dr.; 808-967-7321; www.volcanohousehotel.com). Driving and hiking will get you close to the active flow, but only a helicopter can transport you directly over the crater for a look in. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters is the island's most established operation and absolutely worth the money. If you're prone to motion sickness, take precautions before boarding the aircraft for the 50-minute "Circle of Fire" and waterfall tour.
Next to the Kilauea Visitor Center, the Volcano Art Center gallery is run by a nonprofit organization and holds workshops, classes, special events, and local art exhibits (Crater Rim Dr.; Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Volcano; 866-967-7565; www.volcanoartcenter.org).