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Hawaii is known for its gorgeous beaches, lush rainforests, and spectacular volcanoes that dot the landscape of the islands. If you’re planning a trip to see lava flows up close or simply curious about the iconic volcanoes of Hawaii, you may be wondering—where exactly are the volcanoes located in Hawaii?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The largest and most active volcano in Hawaii is on the Big Island. Called Mauna Loa, it makes up over 50% of the land area on the island.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about the volcanoes of Hawaii. You’ll learn all about the most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island, as well as key details on dormant volcanoes like Mauna Kea and Haleakala across Maui and other islands.

The Major Active Volcano – Mauna Loa on Hawaii’s Big Island

Brief Background of Mauna Loa Volcano

Mauna Loa, meaning “Long Mountain” in Hawaiian, is the largest active volcano on Earth. This massive shield volcano makes up around 50% of the land area of the Big Island of Hawaii. At over 13,000 feet tall and 75 miles in diameter, Mauna Loa is an enormous yet graceful giant, dominating the landscape.

Geologists believe Mauna Loa started forming over 400,000 years ago. It erupted from the sea floor as part of the Hawaiian hotspot – a plume of magma in the Earth’s mantle. Over hundreds of thousands of years, lava eruptions built up Mauna Loa volcano on the ocean floor until it emerged from the sea as an island.

Eruptions from Mauna Loa Over Time

Mauna Loa has erupted over 30 times since 1843, with its last event in 1984. These eruptions produce fast-moving lava flows that can threaten communities on the flanks of the volcano. However, observers can usually predict eruptions in advance due to swelling of Mauna Loa’s summit.

Some of Mauna Loa’s most destructive eruptions occurred in the late 19th century, with lava flows covering villages near Hilo. More recent eruptions in 1950 and 1984 produced slower moving flows, giving residents hours to days to evacuate.

Scientists expect that future eruptions will likely mimic these patterns.

Visiting and Hiking Mauna Loa Today

Mauna Loa offers visitors stunning volcanic scenery, with lava flows and volcanic craters dotting its flanks. The drive to Mauna Loa’s summit features expansive views of the island from over 11,000 feet elevation.

Several hiking trails traverse the volcano, taking adventurers through dusty lava fields and desert terrain.

However, the summit area of Mauna Loa remains an unpredictable place due to sporadic volcanic activity. Those wishing to ascend the final stretch must check with the local volcano observatory to ensure eruptions are not imminent.

Mauna Loa’s enormous presence and potential for eruption make it both an awe-inspiring natural wonder and an object of respect for visitors to Hawaii. Tracking this active giant gives scientists insight into the deep inner workings of our dynamic planet.

Kilauea – Most Active Volcano in Hawaii

Where Kilauea Volcano is Located

The Kilauea volcano is situated on Hawaii’s largest island, also named Hawaii or the Big Island. It lies within Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, known for its incredible volcanic landscapes and active lava flows.

Kilauea is located on the southeastern slope of the massive Mauna Loa shield volcano. At 4,090 feet (1,247 meters) above sea level, Kilauea is much shorter than Mauna Loa, which towers over it at 13,679 feet (4,169 meters).

Notorious Eruptions from Kilauea

Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and has erupted 34 times since 1952. Its lava flows have covered over 125 square miles (325 square km) of land on Hawaii’s Big Island.

In 2018, Kilauea erupted in the Lower East Rift Zone and destroyed over 700 homes in Hawaii’s Leilani Estates neighborhood. It was the most destructive eruption in modern times, with lava spewing out of 20 fissures and eventually filling Kapoho Bay.

Historically, Kilauea erupted almost continuously from 1983-2018, often sending fiery cascades of molten rock down its slopes and adding land to Hawaii’s southern coast.

Visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park allows visitors to safely view Kilauea and see the volcano’s impacts firsthand. Popular sights include the Halemaʻumaʻu crater, steaming volcanic vents, and desert-like lava fields.

The best time for sightseeing is during daylight hours. The park offers ranger-guided walks and excellent museum exhibits on Hawaii’s origins and Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. From 2012-2018, lava flows were visible from the Jaggar Museum overlook until the eruption halted.

With over 520,000 acres (211,000 hectares) to explore, this national park hosts hiking trails galore. Recommendations include the Kīlauea Iki Trail passing through a previous lava lake and the Puʻu Loa Petroglyphs hike showcasing ancient rock carvings left by early Hawaiians.

Maui’s Haleakala Volcano

All About the Dormant Haleakala Volcano

The Haleakala volcano, meaning “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian, is a towering dormant volcano that forms the eastern part of the island of Maui. This massive volcano rises to an elevation of 10,023 feet (3,055 m) above sea level at its summit on Pu’u ‘Ula’ula.

Haleakala is estimated to have last erupted sometime between 1480 and 1600 AD. Fortunately, this means visiting hikers don’t have to worry about dodging lava flows! Even though it is dormant, Haleakala remains a marvel of natural beauty and geological wonder.

Haleakala volcano was formed through a series of eruptions over hundreds of thousands of years. Initially underwater eruptions led to the formation of the northwestern and southeastern rift zones that join together to create the overall shape of the volcano.

Further lava flows built upon these foundations to form the imposing mountain we see today. Haleakala is actually wider than it is tall – the summit area spans a massive 11.25 miles across!

Unique Landscapes Surrounding Haleakala

The terrain surrounding Haleakala varies dramatically depending on which side of the mountain you find yourself. The northern slopes feature lush green rainforests watered by frequent rainfall. Here the ‘Ohe’o Gulch area provides gorgeous waterfalls and pools for swimming.

In contrast, the southern and eastern slopes are largely covered in barren lava flows. This stark landscape still has an allure all its own, almost like visiting an alien planet. The various volcanic features here reveal the geological forces that shaped this special place over the eons.

One thing all sides have in common are the unmatched views across Maui!

Visiting Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park protects the towering centerpiece volcano as well as the surrounding coastline and landscapes. There are excellent hiking trails traversing many different ecosystems in the park. Sunrise from atop the summit is legendary as one of Hawaii’s most sought-after experiences.

Just dress warmly as it can be freezing cold before dawn! Haleakala also offers excellent stargazing thanks to its elevation and lack of light pollution. In fact, this is one of the best spots in the world to peer deep into the Milky Way galaxy arcing overhead.

Whether by day or night, Haleakala volcano captures the imagination and rewards visitors ready to explore its moon-like vistas.

Other Volcanoes Across the Hawaiian Islands

Lesser-Known Volcanoes on O’ahu, Moloka’i and Lana’i

While the volcanoes on the Big Island like Mauna Loa and Kilauea get most of the attention, there are several other extinct volcanoes across the Hawaiian Islands that are interesting to explore. On O’ahu, the Ko’olau and Wai’anae Ranges were formed by two separate shield volcanoes that are now extinct.

There are magnificent ridge trails and lush valleys to hike through. On Moloka’i, the east end features the dramatic sea cliffs of the extinct East Moloka’i volcano, the tallest sea cliffs in the world!

Brief Histories of the Volcanoes

The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanoes erupting up from an area of the Pacific Ocean floor known as the Hawaiian hotspot. As the Pacific plate slowly drifts northwestwards over this hotspot, volcanoes continue to form one after another, creating the Hawaiian island chain.

O’ahu’s main volcanoes Koʻolau and Waiʻanae last erupted about 2 million years ago. Moloka’i has two extinct volcanoes – East Molokaʻi volcano stopped erupting about 1.9 million years ago, while West Molokaʻi volcano became extinct about 1.5 million years ago.

Lāna’i has one large extinct shield volcano called Lānaʻihale that ceased eruptting around 1.28 million years ago.

Visiting Today and Unique Sites

While not currently erupting 👎, these long silent volcanoes still offer some spectacular adventures for visitors. On O’ahu there are wonderful ridge hikes with unparalleled views. Moloka’i has undeveloped beaches, towering sea cliffs, and peaceful hiking trails to seek out.

Tiny Lana’i is mostly one large pineapple plantation now, but offers a chance to glimpse what the other islands may have looked like before tourism arrived. The islands show off extinct volcanoes grown over with lush tropical vegetation over time 🌴🌾.

These lesser-known hotspots are quieter to visit but just as gorgeous as their active neighbors.


The Hawaiian Islands were formed by volcanic hotspots under the Pacific Ocean, leading to the iconic volcanoes we recognize today across many of the islands. As you have learned, the Big Island is home to the largest and most active volcanoes in Hawaii – Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

Other islands feature dormant volcanoes like Maui’s Haleakala and lesser known volcanic mountains across O’ahu, Moloka’i and Lana’i. With this background on exactly where the volcanoes are located, you can now better plan any upcoming trips to Hawaii to witness volcanic landscapes across the islands.

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