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Hawaii is well-known for its active volcanoes that frequently erupt and spew lava. However, the Hawaiian Islands are also home to many inactive volcanoes that exhibit fascinating geological features without the danger. If you’re looking for a quick answer: Hawaii has 5 major shield volcanoes that are classified as active, dormant, or extinct. In this article we will explore the key inactive volcanic sites across the islands.

We will provide an overview of extinct and dormant volcanoes in Hawaii, highlighting the most significant ones to visit. The article will cover approximate ages, notable geographical characteristics, Hawaiian legends, and tips for exploring these sites safely and respectfully.

Defining Inactive Volcanoes

Volcanoes are fascinating natural wonders, and the Hawaiian Islands are well-known for their volcanic activity. While many people are familiar with active volcanoes like Kilauea and Mauna Loa, there are also inactive volcanoes scattered throughout the archipelago. Inactive volcanoes, also known as dormant or extinct volcanoes, are those that have not erupted in thousands of years and are not expected to erupt again in the future.

Extinct Volcanoes

Extinct volcanoes are the most stable and least likely to erupt among the inactive volcanoes. These volcanoes have not erupted in tens of thousands of years and show no signs of any future volcanic activity. Over time, erosion and weathering have transformed their once fiery peaks into gentle slopes covered in lush vegetation. It is safe to say that these volcanoes have retired from their fiery past and are now peaceful reminders of Hawaii’s volcanic history.

Dormant Volcanoes

Dormant volcanoes, on the other hand, have a higher chance of erupting in the future compared to extinct volcanoes. These volcanoes have remained inactive for a significant period, usually thousands of years, but there is still some potential for future volcanic activity. They may show signs of unrest such as increased seismic activity or gas emissions, indicating that magma is still present beneath the surface. While dormant volcanoes are not currently erupting, it is important to monitor them closely to ensure the safety of nearby communities.

One example of a dormant volcano in Hawaii is Mauna Kea. Standing at a staggering height of over 13,000 feet, Mauna Kea is known for its dormant status and its world-class observatories that take advantage of its clear skies. Despite its peaceful appearance, scientists continue to study Mauna Kea to better understand the volcanic processes and potential hazards associated with dormant volcanoes.

Understanding the different types of inactive volcanoes is crucial for scientists, geologists, and local communities in volcanic regions like Hawaii. By studying their past and monitoring their present behavior, experts can make informed predictions about future volcanic activity and help mitigate potential risks. The rich volcanic landscape of Hawaii serves as a constant reminder of the Earth’s dynamic nature, and the study of inactive volcanoes is an important part of unraveling its mysteries.

Notable Extinct Volcanoes in Hawaii

Kohala Volcano on Hawaii Island

The Kohala Volcano, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is one of the most notable extinct volcanoes in the state. It is estimated to be around one million years old and is considered one of the oldest volcanoes on the island. Although it has not erupted in thousands of years, its unique geological features and lush green landscapes make it a popular tourist attraction. The Kohala Volcano is also home to several hiking trails that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline and neighboring volcanoes.

West Maui Volcano on Maui

The West Maui Volcano, also known as Mauna Kahalawai, is another prominent extinct volcano in Hawaii. It is believed to have last erupted around 320,000 years ago, making it one of the older volcanoes on Maui. The volcano’s steep slopes and deep valleys create a dramatic backdrop for the popular tourist destinations of Lahaina and Kaanapali. The West Maui Mountains, as they are commonly referred to, are home to diverse flora and fauna, including rare native species found nowhere else in the world. Hiking enthusiasts can explore the many trails that wind through this volcanic landscape.

Koolau Volcano on Oahu

The Koolau Volcano, located on the island of Oahu, is an extinct shield volcano that is estimated to be around 2.6 million years old. Its remnants form the Ko’olau Range, a mountain range that stretches across the eastern side of the island. The Koolau Volcano is known for its stunning cliffs, lush valleys, and cascading waterfalls. Hikers can enjoy breathtaking views of the island’s windward coast from various vantage points along the range. The Koolau Summit Trail is a popular hiking route that offers panoramic views of the volcano’s crater and the surrounding landscape.

Waianae Volcano on Oahu

The Waianae Volcano, also located on the island of Oahu, is another extinct volcano that is estimated to be around 3.9 million years old. It is part of the Waianae Range, which stretches along the western side of the island. The volcano’s rugged terrain and isolated valleys make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a unique hiking experience. The Waianae Mountain Range offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the neighboring islands. Hikers can explore trails that lead to hidden waterfalls and ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs.

Kaula Volcano on Niihau

The Kaula Volcano, located on the privately-owned island of Niihau, is an extinct volcano that is estimated to be around 5.5 million years old. This remote island is known for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and untouched natural beauty. While access to Niihau is restricted to preserve its unique ecosystem, visitors can still admire the Kaula Volcano from a distance. The volcano’s presence adds to the allure of Niihau’s untouched wilderness and makes it a popular destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Notable Dormant Volcanoes in Hawaii

Hawaii is renowned for its active volcanoes, but the state is also home to several inactive or dormant ones. These sleeping giants, while not currently erupting, still hold immense geological and cultural significance. In this article, we will explore three notable dormant volcanoes in Hawaii: Hualalai Volcano on Hawaii Island, Haleakala Volcano on Maui, and the Northwest Kauai Volcanoes on Kauai.

Hualalai Volcano on Hawaii Island

Hualalai Volcano is situated on the western coast of Hawaii Island and is one of the most active dormant volcanoes in the state. Despite its inactivity for over 200 years, scientists closely monitor the volcano due to its potential for future eruptions. Hualalai’s last eruption occurred in 1801, and since then, the volcano has remained dormant, making it an intriguing subject for geological research. The volcano’s unique geological features and its proximity to the popular tourist destination of Kailua-Kona make it a fascinating area to explore.

Haleakala Volcano on Maui

Haleakala Volcano is a massive shield volcano located on the island of Maui. Considered dormant rather than extinct, Haleakala’s last eruption took place in the late 1700s. This volcano’s name translates to “House of the Sun,” and it is not only an iconic geological landmark but also a sacred site in Hawaiian mythology. Visitors flock to Haleakala National Park to witness breathtaking sunrises and explore the unique volcanic landscapes that this dormant volcano offers. The park is also home to diverse flora and fauna, providing a rich ecological experience for nature enthusiasts.

Northwest Kauai Volcanoes on Kauai

Kauai, often referred to as the “Garden Isle,” is known for its lush landscapes and stunning natural beauty. While its neighboring islands have active and dormant volcanoes, Kauai is home to ancient and eroded volcanic remnants. The northwest region of the island features several dormant volcanoes, including Mount Waialeale and the Makaleha Mountains. These volcanic formations have been heavily eroded over millions of years, resulting in stunning valleys, waterfalls, and distinctive geological formations. The lush rainforest and abundant rainfall in this area make it an ideal habitat for unique plant and animal species.

Exploring the dormant volcanoes in Hawaii offers not only a chance to witness the raw power of nature but also a glimpse into the rich geological history and cultural significance of the islands. Whether it’s Hualalai’s potential for future eruptions, the sacredness of Haleakala, or the captivating landscapes of the Northwest Kauai volcanoes, each dormant volcano in Hawaii has its own story to tell. So, next time you visit the islands, don’t forget to include these remarkable geological wonders in your itinerary.

Safety Tips for Visiting Inactive Volcanic Areas

When visiting inactive volcanic areas, it is important to follow certain safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Inactive volcanoes may not be actively erupting, but they can still pose hazards due to unstable terrain and other geological factors. Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind:

Stay on Marked Trails

One of the most important safety precautions when visiting inactive volcanoes is to stay on marked trails. These trails are designed to keep visitors away from potentially dangerous areas and ensure that they do not venture into unstable terrain. Straying from designated paths can put you at risk of encountering hidden fissures, loose rocks, or even toxic gases. Stick to the designated trails and follow any posted signs or warnings.

Watch for Sudden Steep Drops

Another safety tip is to be cautious of sudden steep drops in the terrain. Inactive volcanic areas can have rugged landscapes with steep cliffs or deep craters. It is essential to be aware of your surroundings and watch for any sudden changes in the terrain. Pay attention to any warning signs or barriers indicating areas with steep drops and take necessary precautions to avoid getting too close to the edge. Safety should always be your top priority.

Beware of Loose Rocks

Loose rocks are a common hazard in volcanic areas. Over time, volcanic rocks can become weathered and unstable, posing a risk of rockfalls or landslides. To minimize the risk, be cautious while walking and avoid touching or dislodging rocks unnecessarily. It is also advisable to wear sturdy footwear with good traction to prevent slips and falls. Remember, even in inactive volcanic areas, it is important to take precautions to ensure your safety.

By following these safety tips, you can have a great time exploring the unique geological features of inactive volcanoes in Hawaii while minimizing the risks associated with these environments. Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry!


The Hawaiian Islands showcase a range of fascinating volcanic landscapes, including those that remain inactive. While not erupting lava, extinct and dormant volcanoes reveal a great deal about the geologic history of Hawaii. Their craters, cinder cones, lava tubes, and other features make for exceptional sightseeing. We hope this overview gave you a good introduction to exploring inactive volcanoes across the islands safely and memorably.

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