Are you considering driving to Volcanoes National Park to spend a day or two at the park? Whether you’ve been on the island for a few days or considering driving straight from Kona airport to Volcanoes (like me!), the drive is stunning and 100% doable. If you’re wondering what’s there to see between Kona and Volcanoes, here’s a guide for you to plan ahead and make the most of your drive:
- Location of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Kona to Volcanoes National Park Flight
- Kona to Volcanoes National Park Drive
- What is there to see between Kona and Volcano National Park?
- Best Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park in One Day
- Volcanoes National Park at Night [2023 Kilauea Volcano Eruption Ongoing]
- Where to eat on the way to Volcano National Park?
We also did the drive from Hilo to Kona in case you’re interested in learning where we stopped going the other way.
Location of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
First thing first, let’s get familiar with Big Island’s geography. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the southern side of the island. The two large cities on the island are Kona and Hilo, which are located on the west and east side respectively.
Kona to Volcanoes National Park Flight
There are no nonstop flights between Kailua Kona (KOA) and Hilo (ITO) airport. Flights are typically between $200-$250 and all routes will require a short layover in Honolulu.
I’d strongly recommend against flying from Kona to Hilo to get to Volcanoes National Park. Instead, make Kona homebase and drive around the island. If you’re still in the early stages of planning your trip, read more about the Big Island regions to determine which is the best area of the island to fly into and stay in for you.
Directions to Kona from Kona Airport
If you need to stop by Kona (shorthand for Kailua-Kona) from the airport so you can drop things off or pick things up, you’re in luck as the airport is super close to the main city center. Distance and driving times will vary but it takes about 8 miles or a 15-minute drive to get from the airport to Kona city center.
Prepare Road Trip EssentialS (skip if you’ll already be in Kona)
Since we headed to Volcanoes straight from the airport, we made a few stops to pick up our trip essentials while in Kona – one was to stop at Costco for gas, and the other was to pick up our snorkeling gear at Snorkel Bob’s.
Get Gas & Lunch at Costco in Hawaii
Costco is less than a 10-minute drive from the airport and is the perfect first stop before starting any Big Island road trip. One of our favorite things to do at Costco is to browse for potential souvenirs, discover local deals/packages catered to tourists, and stock up on regional specialties that are only found on the island.
Some of the things we bought on our first day include:
- Gas (gas at Costco is typically x amount cheaper compared to other gas stations on the island).
- Guava cheesecake (because it’s hard to find guava-flavored desserts at home)
- Guava shortbread cookies (see answer above)
- Poke (best value)
- Manta Ray night snorkel package with Kona Snorkel Trips (cheaper than buying on the website)
💡TIP: Did I ever mention what a gem it is to stop by Costco whenever you’re traveling? We visited Costco several times throughout the trip to get gas and pick up last-minute souvenirs, including chocolate macadamia nuts, Kona coffee & coffee-flavored treats, and Hawaiian shortbread cookies. On our last trip to Maui, we found a great deal for a GoPro that we still use to this day (including on this trip!).
Stop at Snorkel Bob Big Island to pick up snorkel gear
There are so many great snorkeling spots on the drive from Kona to Volcanoes National Park. We rented our gear from Snorkel Bob’s because they are conveniently located near Kailua-Kona and reasonably priced.
REVIEW: I happily recommend Snorkel Bob’s to anyone looking to rent snorkel gear on the Big Island. First and foremost, their gear is comfortable! I’ve rented snorkeling gear from countless other places but I always find the mask or breathing tube doesn’t fit quite right. I didn’t have any of these issues with my equipment here and could comfortably swim for an hour without having to adjust anything (which is unprecedented for me). They also offer prescription snorkel masks that range between -1.5 to -10.0, which is great for a glasses-wearing person like me who doesn’t like to wear contact lenses.
I did read some reviews that said contactless drop off wasn’t available when they expected and so they got charged for an extra day. However, I found that as long as you were aware of their hours, the contactless drop-off process was quick, easy, and fair.
Kona to Volcanoes National Park Drive
Volcanoes National Park is about 100 miles from KOA and will take about 2-2.5 hours. This is true regardless of whether you cut through Kailua-Kona or through Hilo. If you go through Kailua-Kona, you’ll stay on Highway 11 for the whole drive. The other route through Hilo starts on Highway 190 before meeting Highway 11 in Hilo.
The best way is whichever is more convenient for you based on where you’re starting and where you want to end up. However, this guide will take you along the scenic route along the southwest coast of the island, starting from the airport.
What is there to see between Kona and Volcano National Park?
Disclaimer: if you’re doing a day trip to Volcanoes National Park from Kona, I’d suggest you scroll down below to the section Best Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park in One Day and spend all your time in the park.
However, if you’re planning to spend the night in the area in anticipation of spending 2 days or more at the park, there’s so much for you to do along the drive. While it won’t be possible to do everything on this list, use this list as a guide to determine what you want to squeeze in as part of your road trip to Volcano.
Map of Activities Between Kona and Volcanoes National Park: Kahaluʻu Beach → Two Step Beach → Captain Cook (Kealakekua Bay) → Papakōlea Green Sand Beach → Punalu’u Black Sand Beach → Volcanoes National Park
1. Kahaluʻu Beach Park (Keauhou)
Located less than 15 minutes from Kailua-Kona center, you’ll find Kahaluʻu Beach Park. Kahaluʻu Beach is located in Keauhou Bay, a protected area that’s home to some of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island. Here, you’ll find calm waters, clear visibility, and ample marine life, especially if you visit in the morning or early afternoon.
Kahalu’u Beach Park Facilities
Not only is Kahaluʻu one of Kona’s most popular snorkeling beaches, but the park is also great for picnics and relaxation. The beach park has a few large picnic tables on-site, as well as clean bathrooms and outdoor showers, making it a relatively convenient snorkeling spot even when you’re on the go. You do need to pay for parking but the parking lot is big so you won’t need to fight for spots.
⌛RECOMMENDED TIME: 1-2 hours
📍ADDRESS: Kahaluʻu Beach Park
2. Kealakekua Bay Snorkeling & Kayaking
By far, my favorite snorkeling spot of the many Big Island beaches I visited is around the Captain Cook monument in Kealakekua Bay. If you only plan on doing just one activity in the morning before heading to Volcanoes National Park, make it this one. Located 35 minutes from Kailua-Kona, people come to Kealakekua Bay to swim in its calm waters, snorkel among the vibrant coral reefs, and spot spinner dolphin pods that frequent the bay. You can look out into the bay from Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park but I think it’d be a shame to be in the area and not explore its waters (assuming you’re able).
The best snorkeling is around the Captain Cook monument but it requires a bit of planning to get there because you’ll either need to hike, kayak, or join a tour to get to that area of the bay. I personally recommend the self-kayak option so you can explore and swim in the bay at your leisure.
Kealakekua Bay Facilities
There are no facilities around the Captain Cook monument area and parking will also depend on how you decide to get there. The closest restroom from Kealakekua Bay is at Nāpo’opo’o Park Park (less than 5 minutes away). Please be respectful here as the area is sacred and private property that has been graciously extended to the public by the owner.
⌛RECOMMENDED TIME: 3-4 hours
3. Two Step Beach at Honaunau Bay
Another great snorkeling spot between Kona and Volcanoes is Two Step Beach in Honaunau Bay. Contrary to its name, there isn’t a sandy beach area. Rather, Two Step gets its name from the literal “two steps” it takes to get from the lava stones into the water where you’ll find some of the most vibrant snorkeling on the Big Island (you may even spot some dolphins if you’re lucky).
If you’re not interested in snorkeling, you can also visit Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park to learn about ancient Hawaiian culture and history.
Two Step Beach Facilities
Parking and other facilities are limited at Two Step Beach. Both the free parking on the main road and the paid parking right near the beach can fill up on a busy day. Also, there are only portable toilets on site so you won’t find any outdoor showers or restrooms here.
There is paid parking available for visitors of Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park but the entry fee is steep ($20) if you’re only planning on snorkeling. While there are restrooms at the park, please do not use them to clean up after snorkeling as this behavior is actively discouraged. The closest public shower from Two Step Beach is at Ho’okena Beach Park, which is about a 20-minute drive.
⌛RECOMMENDED TIME: 2 hours
📍ADDRESS: Two Step Beach (if you start seeing a line of cars parked along side the road, start looking for parking)
4. Papakōlea Green Sand Beach
Papakōlea Beach is arguably the Big Island’s most novel beach as it’s one of only 3 green sand beaches in the world. It’s not easy to get to the beach but people make the trek to witness the breathtaking scenery and the unique geological phenomenon that’s hard to find anywhere else in the world. To get to the beach, you’ll need to first drive to the parking area located at South Point Road and then hike for about an hour (one-way) before getting to the beach (check out Big Island Hikes for the most thorough guide to hiking Papakōlea Green Sand Beach).
💡TIP: The mantra of Papakōlea Green Sand Beach is “Leave No Trace.” There are no restrooms, lifeguards, food, etc. in the area so plan accordingly. Please respect the land and the Hawaiian people by leaving the beach as you found it (don’t take the sand home) and walking to the beach (the area between the parking lot to the beach is protected so any tour that offers to take you directly to the beach is doing so illegally).
⌛RECOMMENDED TIME: 6-8 hours (includes drive from Kona to the parking area near Papakōlea, the hike to Papakōlea, and from Papakōlea to Volcanoes National Park)
📍ADDRESS: Parking Area on South Point Road (located off of Highway 11 between mile markers 69 and 70)
5. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u is one of the most frequented black sand beaches on Big Island, notable for its black sand and majestic visitors – Green and Hawksbill Sea Turtles. You can find these turtles soaking in the sun and relaxing on the beach, generally unphased by the people watching them within 10-15 feet from them (please respect this distance so the animals have plenty of space). If you’re like me and come to see the turtles, you’ll find the 20-30 minute visit time well spent.
⌛RECOMMENDED TIME: <30 minutes
📍ADDRESS: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
- If you’re considering snorkeling while driving from Kona to Volcano, prioritize the beaches you want to go to for the morning and early afternoon hours. I’d recommend either (1) doing a day trip to Kealakekua Bay and doing just that or (2) visiting Two Step and Kahalu’u Beach in the morning and afternoon and saving Captain Cook for a different day.
- If you’re not looking to swim, then consider sunbathing at Kahalu’u Beach, learning Hawaiian history at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, and looking for turtles at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.
- If you’re super keen on seeing Green Sand Beach, spend the day getting to the parking area, hiking, and spending time at the beach before heading to Volcanoes National Park.
- You will likely know if there’s been a recent eruption on the Big Island. If there is active lava flow, head to Volcanoes National Park at night to witness this exciting and sacred experience in person.
Best Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park in One Day
So you finished your drive from Kona and now have a full day or a few afternoon hours to spend at Volcanoes National Park… what’s next? If you’re short on time and only have one day or just trying to make the most of a couple of hours, here’s my list of things to do you won’t want to miss (bolded text).
No matter when you arrive, be sure to grab a map or get up-to-date information from the park rangers at the Kilauea Visitor Center to plan out your day. You can also make a short stop at Volcano House for a great view of the Kilauea Caldera or to take a break at the gift shop or restaurant.
- Go on a short hike on the Kilauea Iki Trail, which takes you through a lush rainforest and a barren lava field, and offers a great view from Kilauea Iki Overlook. If you only have time for one thing at Volcanoes National Park, make it this hike. It’s one of the best ways to see the volcanic activity up close and a great way to experience the park’s unique volcanic craters and lava fields.
- Explore the Thurston Lava Tube, a short walk through a cave-like tunnel formed by lava flows (a short hike from Kilauea Iki Overlook, easy to do after completing the Kilauea Iki Trail).
- Drive the Crater Rim Drive to Kilauea Overlook for stunning views of the Kilauea Caldera and the Halemaumau Crater. If you have more time, you can also walk the Crater Rim Trail for more stunning views of the Kilauea Caldera and the volcanic craters. Along the Crater Rim Drive, you can also stop at the Steam Vents and the Ha’akulamanu Sulphur Banks to see steam and sulfuric fumes in action.
- If you have 2 hours to spare, drive down the Chain of Craters Road all the way to Holei Sea Arch.
Volcanoes National Park at Night [2023 Kilauea Volcano Eruption Ongoing]
If there’s been a recent eruption, it’s 100% worth visiting Volcanoes National Park at night to witness Pele (the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes). Like other U.S National Parks, Volcanoes National Park is open 24/7 and is accessible at night assuming there are no recent natural disasters.
Currently, the Kilauea Volcano eruption is still ongoing so you can see active lava flow at night. You can always check the NPS website, which has a live eruption viewing that will show if there’s lava or not in the park.
There are 3 main eruption viewing locations that offer the best views of the lava flow depending on where the eruption occurred. We chose to park at Devastation Trail and hike to the overlook near Keanakākoʻi Crater for the shortest hike and the closest view of the lava lake. The trail is an easy, 2-mile roundtrip hike on a well-paved trail.
Where to eat on the way to Volcano National Park?
Like any road trip, you might be wondering where to stop for a bite to eat on the way. Here are some of my favorite places to eat on the Big Island between Kona and Volcanoes National Park (all of which are on my list of the best food on the Big Island).
Matsuyama Food Mart
Matsuyama Food Mart is a convenience store near the airport that sells really tasty ready-to-eat meals. We visited the store three times during our stay because we enjoyed their musubis so much, especially their spam and chicken katsu musubis. They prep their food in the morning and tend to sell out by noon so it’s best to go about an hour before lunchtime.
- Opening Hours: 5:00 AM – 9:00 PM, 7 days a week
- Price: <$10
- Address: Matsuyama Food Mart
- Rating: 4 stars
Da Poke Shack
Da Poke Shack is a must-visit if you’re looking for the best poke in Kona (and on the Big Island). It’s not the cheapest meal but their portion sizes are generous, their fish quality is super fresh, and their Shack Special is a perfect blend of sweet and salty. Be warned that Da Poke Shack is notorious for selling out fast so it’s wise to get there early before they run out of fish.
- Opening Hours: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, 7 days a week
- Price: $20-40
- Address: Da Poke Shack
- Rating: 4.5 stars
Teshima is a family-owned restaurant that’s been serving authentic Japanese and Japanese-influenced Hawaiian food since 1957. They put so much love and care into their food, all of which is delicious and some of the best Japanese food outside of Japan. For me, their standout dishes are the misoyaki butterfish and their shrimp tempura bento box but you can’t go wrong with whatever you decide to get. They are also a popular breakfast spot in case you’re in the area in the morning.
- Opening Hours: 7:00 AM – 2:00 PM & 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM, 7 days a week (lunchtime hours on Wednesdays & Saturdays end at 1:45 PM)
- Price: $15-20
- Address: Teshima
- Rating: 4.5 stars
If you’re looking for some delicious fish tacos, look no further than Shaka Tacoz. I ordered the Ono Fish Tacoz plate, which came with three generously-sized tacos, each topped with a mountain of fresh ingredients, ono, lime crema, and their signature shaka sauce. I went to their storefront near Captain Cook but they also opened a new place in Kailua-Kona (check the website for prices and hours).
- Opening Hours: 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM Sunday – Wednesday; 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Friday & Saturday
- Price: $10-20
- Address: Shaka Tacoz (Captain Cook)
- Rating: 4.5 stars
Manago Hotel is one of the oldest and most charming restaurants on the island near Kealakekua Bay. They are a no-frills type of place but their food is fantastic. While they’re famous for their pork chops (which my boyfriend absolutely raved about), I’d highly recommend trying their butterfish with the miso sauce on the side.
- Opening Hours: Breakfast – 7:00 AM – 9:00 AM, Lunch – 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Dinner – 5:00 – 7:300 PM, closed on Mondays
- Price: $17-25
- Address: Manago Hotel
- Rating: 4.5 stars
The Coffee Shack
The Coffee Shack is a perfect stop on your drive to Volcanoes National Park. Swing by to grab some Kona coffee for the road or stay for an afternoon meal and dessert while taking in the beautiful views of Kealakekua Bay.
- Opening Hours: 7:00 AM – 3:30 PM, closed on Wednesdays
- Price: <$10 (for coffee & dessert); 15-25 (for breakfast, sandwiches, pizza, & salads)
- Address: The Coffee Shack
- Rating: 4.5 stars
Punalu’u Bake Shop
Punalu’u Bake Shop is one of the most popular spots for malasadas on the island. Be sure to get there well before they close for a wide variety of choices (and the freshest!).
- Opening Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM, 7 days a week
- Price: $2-3 per malasada
- Address: Punalu’u Bake Shop
- Rating: 4 stars
Frequently Asked Questions
The nearest airport to Volcanoes National Park is Hilo (ITO), which is less than an hour away from the park. Comparatively, Kona is significantly further away in both distance and time. That said, you’re likely to fly into Kona Airport given that there are cheaper and more flight options from the mainland United States (or international destinations) into Hawaii.
Yes, but I strongly advise renting your own car if you plan on going to more remote locations or spots that are more than an hour from Kona or Hilo (which are many). If you just plan on staying in the city or a major resort, then Ubers and Lyfts may be sufficient but you’ll likely miss out on many of the Big Island’s highlights.
Unfortunately, no. We were only able to see lava because the volcano has been actively erupting since September 29, 2021. Volcanoes National Park has a live lava cam that you can follow on days leading up to your trip to see if you’ll see lava or not on your trip.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Kona Airport to Volcanoes National Park
Kona to Volcanoes National Park is an amazing road trip filled with scenic drives, beautiful beaches, and delicious food. Whether you decide to make multiple stops along the way or head straight to Volcanoes National Park, there’s something magical to discover along the way!
As usual, feel free to leave comments or have any questions & I will always reply 😊