Hawaii, the locals refer to the volcanoes that makeup Hawaii National Park as the ‘Āina a ke akua I noho ai (land where the goddess dwells) that encompasses 333,000 acres from sea level to 13,679 feet at the summit of Mauna Loa.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park contains the world’s largest and it’s most active volcanoes, this is some of the youngest inhabited land on earth, growing larger with each passing day and home to Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire. It is said that Pele controls the limitless power of creation with her molten strength and unearthly beauty and first glances around this region of Hawaii leave no doubts to her power of creation or beauty.
The park is Hawaii’s number one tourist attraction as well as a spectacular and one of a kind geological wonder. With miles of accessible trails through a magical volcanic landscape of awe inspiring views there is no reason you can’t enjoy what it has to offer from a wheelchair and I’d like to highlight some of the most accessible trails and attractions for everyone. The best advice I can give to anyone is come early, the earlier the better. The park is truly magical early in the morning before the numerous tourist buses and majority of tourists arrive around 10am.
Viewing the craters lava lake and “the glow” at night is something everyone should experience once in their life so do try to allow time for it. The best spot to view the crater at night are the Jaggar Museum Overlook and the Kilauea Overlook which are both fully accessible. Keep in mind it can get chilly in the park after the sun sets, you’ll want to have a sweatshirt to throw on after dark as well as a flashlight with you.
Important Note: When the sulfur dioxide spewing from the volcano reacts to the sunlight it creates a volcanic smog that the for anyone with respiratory issues or asthma could become a problem. I’ve never seen it become an issue for anyone more than a scratchy dry throat but just let it be noted, the parks visitor center will have much more educational information on this phenomenon and current Volcanic smog (VOG) levels.
The Visitor Center will be your first stop when you enter the Volcano National Park. There are four handicap parking spots in this lot all with van accessibility. There are automatic doors here but the doors are always propped open during business hours unless air quality is poor. The Visitor Center itself is very well laid out with accessibility in mind, you will have no issue inside viewing the displays as well as watching any presentation in the amphitheatre. The rangers and volunteers are very knowledgeable and can help address any accessibility or general questions you may have. Wheelchairs are available to park guests for use from here as well. This is also a great spot for any able bodied travel companions to get information on the other non accessible attractions and trails inside the park. The Visitor Center has fully accessible bathrooms as well as a gift shop too. After you have finished in the Visitor Center the next best thing to visit is Earthquake Trail or the Sulfur Banks Trail since they are so close.
Jaggar Museum is one of the main viewing areas for Halemaumau Crater, as well as being a museum it’s a gift shop and visitor center with accessible bathrooms. While there are no automatic doors here if the museum is open the doors will all be propped open. Its well laid out with lots of educational displays and information abound as well as rangers eager to answer any questions you may have. The viewing area for the crater is fully accessible with lots of room to maneuver as well as lighted pathways for after dark. This parking lot has four handicap parking spots, all van accessible. Wheelchairs are made available for use by park guests here as well. This is one of the main attractions for the park and best viewing point for the lava lake and Halemaumau Crater, it’s not to be missed.
Kilauea Military Camp
You’ll pass the Kilauea Military Camp on your right along Crater Rim Drive as you head towards the Jaggar Museum. This is a retreat camp for active and former military but it is open to the general public with a fully accessible cafe, bar, post office and general store. There is a handicap parking spot and wheelchair entrance at the back of the general store with a push button automatic door for handicap accessibility and this is the place I tell everyone to get their souvenir type of gifts and t-shirts, they have the best prices on stuff like that and it’s generally very quiet in the camp. The Crater Rim Cafe is a cafeteria style dining room that is fully accessible and very reasonably priced, a good stop for lunch and everything in the camp offers a 25% discount for active and former military personnel.
Scenic Drive + Overlooks
Chain of Craters Scenic Drive
The most amazing way to view this park and the volcanic landscape is fully accessible to everyone and that’s taking a drive down chain of craters road that leads all the way down to the ocean. This is a two hour round trip but will be one of the highlights of your visit. There are many old volcanic craters and lava flows with scenic turnouts along the way, most are accessible and all have their own uniqueness but it may get tiresome getting out to view each one.
There are two main viewing decks along the road that have full views of the landscape along the way to the ocean, only one is listed as wheelchair accessible but the other is manageable, it’s just very steep heading down to the deck and could require a able bodied companion to assist with getting back up but these are both great picture opportunity and one even has picnic tables.
Chain of craters road ends down at the Holei Sea Arch, this is not accessible but will most likely be a feature you’re able bodied traveling companions won’t want to miss and there’s plenty of room to get out and roll around or grab a drink. There is a small concessions stand with picnic tables and accessible out houses down here at the end of the road but that’s about it.
Earthquake Trail is a two mile round trip located near the visitor center across the street from it and behind volcano house through the parking lot. This trail is an old section of crater rim drive that was damaged during a 6.6 magnitude earthquake in 1983 and the road was rerouted. Being a former old section paved road it is inviting to wheelchairs with only a handful of larger cracks and damaged sections of the road to navigate posing no large problem, just take your time and keep your eye out for cracks.
The road is relatively flat with a mild decline from the start to waldron ledge. This section of road continues for one mile through the rainforest to the old waldron ledge scenic area and a bit further. Waldron ledge lookout is an old scenic turnout frozen in time circa 1983 with some interesting sights to take in and a view of the crater not that often seen or appreciated.
The Sulfur Banks is best entered by parking at the steam vents for wheelchair users. This is located just past the Visitor Center on Crater Rim Drive. This will also give you a chance to peek into some steam vents right in the parking lot. There is a trail here that leads to the steaming bluff along the crater but it is not paved and the gravel is not wheelchair friendly. You will then need to cross the drive and follow the paved path back in the direction of the Visitor Center for about 100 yards and you’ll see the entrance on your left.
This entrance will take you past some steam vents on your way to the sulfur banks. This is an amazing trail through the steaming sulphur spewing oxidized and alien landscaped ripe with fantastic picture opportunities. Some sections are paved while others have a boardwalk area. There are some rough spots on the boardwalk sections, just be cautious and take your time but overall there is no width problems and room to pass other guests along the trail. This is a 1.5 mile round trip. This path can also be entered from the Visitor Center parking lot in front of the volcano arts center. This direction has a steep first section with a few large cracks, it’s not listed as wheelchair accessible but is manageable depending on your level of disability.
Crater Rim Trail
The Crater Rim Trail is one of the most inviting wheelchair accessible trails in the park. The section from Jaggar Museum all the way back up to the Kilauea Military Camp stretches 1.2 miles each way and is fully accessible with a five foot wide asphalt path and a relatively flat and level trail with the only significantly steep section being right outside the museum but it’s still completely wheelchair accessible. You can also access the trail by parking at the Kilauea Overlook that is one driveway before the museum, this is the access point I recommend unless you’re already at the museum or the military camp.
This parking area has an accessible outhouse with raised toilet and plenty of parking as well as a fully accessible picnic area right before the parking area. This is an amazing journey along the bluff of the crater with fantastic views all along on both sides of the landscape with native vegetation and wildlife a plenty. Keep your eye open for Peles hair, I always find these long thin hair like volcanic glass threads along this trail blown up from the crater. On a clear day you can even see the summit of Mauna Loa as well as the observatories on Mauna Kea in the distance. This is by far one my favorite and easily accessible trails in the park offering up some of the best views, experiences and picture opportunities of the crater and the surrounding region.
Devastation Trail is an amazing one mile round trip journey through a battered and charred landscape from the 1969 kilauea Iki fountain eruption. The trail itself is paved but contains a couple rather steep sections so its not listed as ADA compliant but this is another trail you should have no issue with with some muscle or an able bodied companion to give you a push. the parking area for this trail is at the beginning of chain of craters road and contains only one handicap spot and no facilities. Devastation trails ends in the Puu Puai Overlook parking area so you can take this chance to check out that crater as well before heading back up devastation trail to the parking area.
Crater Rim Drive (Closed Section) Trail
This trail is also accessible from the devastation trail parking lot, it’s the closed section of crater rim drive (gated off at the devastation trail parking area where chain of craters road starts) This section is closed to cars but is open for walking and biking for another mile. This is a two mile round trip down a paved road posing no obstacles for a wheelchair and traverses some amazing Nene’ (critically endangered Hawaiian goose) habitat then opening up into the crater. It can be a workout on the way back up but the ride downs a breeze due to the drop in elevation. This trail culminates at another seldom used viewing area for the Halemaumau Crater as well as Keanakakoi Craters Overlook. The road is gated off once more and can not be passed. This is where the road had to be closed too the volcanic gas emissions.
There are two options for accessible stays at the park. The first being Volcano House Hotel, this is Hawaii’s oldest hotel built in 1846 and is perched on the crater rim for fantastic views. This hotel and restaurant is located right across from the visitor center and offers fully accessible accommodations and dining.
The park also offers two different tent camping areas both with accessible campsites. Namakani Paio is located outside the park entrance just to the south on the highway and has running water as well as full bathroom facilities and the more rustic Kulanaokuaiki campground is located inside the park with its entrance road being located on chair of craters road and 5 miles down the Hilina Pali Road. Both campgrounds offer accessible bathrooms, Kulanaokuaiki only has vaulted out houses and no running water but does have paved accessible paths on two of the campsites to accommodate disabled guests. There are also a handful of bed and breakfasts in the village of volcano just outside the park that do offer accessible accommodations.