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With its notoriously active volcanoes, Hawaii offers some of the most spectacular lava viewing opportunities in the world. If you’re planning a trip to see Hawaii’s molten rock, this guide will tell you exactly where to go.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The best places to see lava in Hawaii are Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island, Kilauea’s ocean entries when active flows reach the sea, and guided lava boat tours that take you right up to flowing lava as it enters the ocean.

In this comprehensive guide for lava lovers, we’ll cover everything you need to know to witness lava flows during your Hawaii visit, including:

* The best locations on Hawaii Island to see lava – this volcanic island offers the most opportunities in the state

* Where lava most recently was flowing and the current status of active flows (as of December 2023)

* How to safely view flowing lava in Hawaii when available

* Top lava viewing tours and guided excursions on land and sea for the best vantage points

Lava Viewing Locations on Hawaii’s Big Island

Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island offers some of the best opportunities to witness flowing lava when eruptions are occurring. The park contains two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

Kīlauea has been erupting almost continuously since 1983, sometimes sending rivers of molten rock pouring down its slopes and into the ocean. Over 150 acres of new land have been created in this time!

When lava flows within the park, the National Park Service closely monitors activity and reopens safe viewing areas. Past accessible sights when lava flows actively have included the end of Chain of Craters Road, where hardened lava covers the roadway and flows into the sea.

This offers the rare sight of red-hot lava meeting cool ocean waters with billowing steam and explosions. There’s also the Jagger Museum lava overlook, a viewpoint from which visitors can watch lava pouring down the Pali and into the sea.

Puna District Lava Flows

Outside of the National Park, lava has also frequently flowed through neighborhoods in Puna on Hawaii’s Big Island. The most destructive event in recent history was the 2018 lower Puna eruption, which destroyed over 700 homes in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions.

While lava now covers much of this area, some roads remain to allow access. Tour companies lead sightseers on hikes to view former house sites and new black lava fields.

When lava isn’t actively flowing, visitors can see evidence of past destruction and rebirth. Lava Tree State Park has lava molds of tree trunks that were engulfed by flows but later exposed when the lava retreated.

And at the end of Highway 130, you’ll find the newest land on the island created by years of accumulated lava flows. Keep an eye out for white steam plumes rising where lava enters the ocean!

Boat Tours of Lava Entering Ocean

For a rare view from offshore, lava boat tours launch from Pohoiki Boat Ramp in Puna and take passengers out to where lava meets the Pacific Ocean. Witness dramatic views of steam, explosions, and molten rock pouring into the sea.

Lava Ocean Tours, Lava Boat Tours Hawaii, and other companies provide opportunities to safely view this phenomenal display of Earth’s raw forces, weather permitting.

Tours typically provide protective gear like face shields and respirator masks and keep passengers at a safe distance during active lava flows. Be prepared to experience heat in excess of 100°F from the entry points over 1,000 feet away! Trip duration ranges from 2 to 4 hours.

Prices start around $250 per person, making lava boat tours a memorable splurge for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Current Lava Flows in Hawaii (December 2023)

Kilauea Volcano Activity Status

The Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island has been erupting continuously since September 2021. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), as of December 2023, lava from Kilauea is erupting from three vents in the volcano’s summit caldera and feeding several lava flows on the northwest flank of the volcano.

The longest active lava flow is approximately 3.7 miles long and moving slowly to the northwest.

Where Lava is Currently Flowing

The USGS reports that most of the lava erupting from Kilauea is pooling in the summit caldera. However, some lava flows have extended outside the caldera:

  • A lava flow to the northwest, informally called the Western Kamokuna lava flow, is the longest current flow at 3.7 miles. This ‘a’ā flow changes direction often but is generally advancing to the northwest.
  • A smaller lava flow to the west has stalled approximately 2 miles from the caldera rim. This flow is no longer advancing.
  • Small spatter cones and short lava flows have also erupted on Kilauea’s south flank sporadically.

Currently, no lava flows are threatening populated areas or infrastructure on Hawaii island. All active lava flows are confined within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and are being carefully monitored by volcanologists.

Safety Warning Signs

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory strongly cautions visitors to avoid venturing onto any active lava flows. Lava flows can shift directions suddenly, emit dangerous volcanic gases, and cause unexpected explosions from trapped gases. Sections of flows can also collapse without warning.

Warning signs are posted throughout Hawaii Volcanoes National Park alerting visitors to stay away from any lava flows. Park rangers actively monitor lava activity and enforce restrictions to closed areas for visitor safety.

Severe injuries have occurred when visitors ignored warnings and walked onto unstable areas of active lava flows.

For updated information on lava flow hazards and safety precautions, check the USGS volcano website at before planning any visit to see flowing lava in Hawaii.

Best Practices for Safe Lava Viewing

Keep Your Distance

When viewing lava flows in Hawaii, it’s crucially important to keep a safe distance. Lava can spray fragments or emit harmful gases without warning. Generally, you’ll want to stay at least 500 feet away from any flowing lava.

Trust the guides and officials who know these volcanic areas well – they’ll be able to advise where the danger zones are located.

Use binoculars or a zoom lens when possible for good views from a prudent distance. Getting that perfect lava selfie may seem tempting, but it’s never worth risking your safety over. The intense heat alone can cause serious burns or trigger breathing difficulties.

Watch for Toxic Laze When Lava Reaches Ocean

One extremely hazardous lava phenomenon occurs when molten rock meets ocean. This creates “laze” – a toxic stew of hydrochloric acid and volcanic glass particles. In 2018, laze from the Kilauea eruptions tragically killed a man who ventured too near where lava entered the sea.

Laze can extend up to 15 miles downwind, causing lung damage and skin/eye irritation. Stay away from any ocean entry points, be aware of wind direction, and leave the area quickly if you feel stinging sensations. When in doubt, put health first over sightseeing.

Hike with a Guide at Volcanic Sites

For many areas with active flows or craters, the National Park Service requires visitors to accompany a sanctioned guide. Guides have extensive knowledge of lava behaviors, early warning signs, wind shifts, and access restrictions at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and other volcanic sites.

Even when not mandatory, hiking with a guide is still smart. Choose park-approved outfits like KapohoKine Adventures that employ geologists, meteorologists, and EMTs. You’ll learn far more while avoiding dangers a newcomer could overlook.

Lava Boat Tours and Land Excursions

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters

See lava flowing into the ocean from a unique aerial perspective with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Their Eco-Star helicopters provide unrivaled visibility with 23 large windows, allowing epic views of the volcanic activity below.

Tours range from 45 minutes to over 2 hours, departing from both Hilo and Waikoloa. As per their website, “there is no better way to see the lava” than from one of their state-of-the-art helicopters.

According to consumer reviews on TripAdvisor, Blue Hawaiian earns consistent 5-star ratings, with passengers raving about the once-in-a-lifetime views and knowledgeable pilots. As one recent reviewer put it: “Wow, just wow! The views of the lava flowing into the ocean were spectacular.”

Lava Ocean Tours

For a unique vantage point right from the ocean, Lava Ocean Tours offers expeditions aboard the lava catamaran Lava Kai. Their website describes it as “the hottest boat tour on the Big Island,” bringing passengers as close as safely possible to newly formed lava entering the sea.

Tours run 5 times daily from Pohoiki Boat Ramp and last 2 hours.

A 2022 article in Forbes praised Lava Ocean Tours, stating: “During my journey off the coast of the Big Island, I witnessed nature’s most dramatic show as red-hot lava streamed down the mountainside and sizzled when meeting the Pacific.”

Kalapana Cultural Tours

For guided lava hikes on land, Kalapana Cultural Tours leads small groups over cooled lava beds to view surface flows up close. Hikes last anywhere from 3 to 5 hours depending on lava conditions. As highlighted on their Facebook page, they have over 30 years of experience navigating the lava fields of Puna.

Reviews consistently describe the guided treks as extraordinary but challenging over uneven terrain. One recent visitor advised: “Be prepared with good shoes, hiking poles if needed, water, food, rain gear.”

Another added: “Our guide was very knowledgeable about volcanoes and respectful of the culture and land.”

Volcano Discovery Tours

Specializing in small group volcano adventures, Volcano Discovery Tours offers land excursions to lava flows by day or night. Their expert guides lead lava hikes and observe surface activity from a safe distance.

Customized private tours are also available, as stated on their website: “Explore active lava zones on the world’s most active volcano with your friends and family.”

As per over 450 reviews on Tripadvisor, Volcano Discovery Tours earns a 5-star overall rating, with praise for guides who are engaging, informative, and attentive to guest needs. One customer called it a “once in a lifetime experience with lava”:

Volcano Discovery Tours Ratings 5 stars (Excellent)
Number of Reviews Over 450


Hawaii Island undoubtedly offers the most spectacular lava viewing opportunities due to the island’s active volcanoes. While seeing lava flow is an exhilarating experience, it’s crucial to exercise extreme caution.

By using safe viewing practices, sticking to designated public viewing areas, and booking tours with experienced guides, you can marvel at flowing lava and new land being created without putting yourself in harm’s way.

We hope this guide gave you everything you need to know to witness lava safely during your next Big Island vacation.

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