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With their craters, caves, cinder cones and flows, Hawaii's volcanoes bewitch visitors. Some of the state’s volcanoes remain active, while others are dormant or extinct, but each one evokes the destination's dramatic formation millions of years ago, when the islands erupted from the sea.
Travelers can explore the following five Hawaii volcanoes on their own, but excursions with tour operators — who promise exclusive activities and insights from guides — provide thrills of mammoth proportion.
Diamond Head With Oahu Nature ToursTechnically a tuff cone, this dormant Oahu icon boasts a colorful past, from its days as the site of ancient sacrifices and its rich military history to its designation as a National Natural Landmark. While thousands of independent visitors make the pilgrimage to its 763-foot-high peak every day, a guided hike with Oahu Nature Tours lends meaning to the adventure while keeping it fun.
Along the way, clients hear fascinating trivia, time-honored myths, stories of unsung war heroes and the geology, archaeology and wildlife of the crater. A dark tunnel, a winding staircase and old bunkers add to the mystery and excitement of the climb, culminating in sweeping island views from Diamond Head’s crown.
Haleakala With Bike It MauiHawaiian for House of the Sun, Haleakala is a highlight of most every Maui vacation. Enthusiastic visitors drive themselves to the 10,023-foot summit of the dormant volcano for sunrise or sunset perspectives on the gaping crater, famed for its lunar-like landscape of deserts, valleys and ever-changing shadows and light.
The Haleakala high intensifies when clients add a downhill bike tour to the mix. Bike It Maui transports groups to the peak in time to welcome the sun, then outfits everyone with helmets, gloves and jackets for a thrilling descent. During the ride, guests savor spectacular views of the ocean and neighboring islands along with wind-through-the-hair action.
Hualalai With Hawaii Forest & Trail (Hawaii Island)Hawaii Island’s Hualalai volcano is still considered active, although it hasn’t erupted since 1801. That’s recent enough, however, for visitors to get a sense of its power as they come face to face with spatter cones, fissures and collapse pits.
On the Hidden Craters Hike with Hawaii Forest & Trail, clients enjoy private access to the volcano’s flanks, upward of 6,000 feet above sea level. Short walks lead through lush native forests and windswept open spaces, and there’s a descent into a lava tube. The company’s guides are knowledgeable as well as passionate about the island and respectful of Hawaiian customs. The tour wraps up at the new Ola Brew in Kona for tastes of island-made beers and ciders.
Kilauea With KapohoKine Adventures (Hawaii Island)Part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea — one of the world’s most active volcanoes — has been erupting since 1983. Small wonder that clients put this astounding attraction on the top of their must-see lists. The myths and legends surrounding Kilauea mesmerize visitors, and the park inspires travelers with its steam vents, rainforests, black-sand beaches and rare plants and animals.
While several companies offer excellent guided tours of the park, KapohoKine Adventures entices guests with add-on options. Clients can choose to explore by van, on foot or from a helicopter, and they can request ziplining for extra kicks. Itineraries include a stop at Volcano Winery for sips of island varietals and a local-style barbeque dinner.
Mauna Kea With Mauna Kea Summit Adventures (Hawaii Island)Hawaiians have felt a spiritual connection with this dormant volcano since ancient times. The world’s tallest sea mountain, it delivers astonishing views thanks to ultra-clear skies at the summit. As a result, astronomers are drawn to it as well, with 13 telescopes from 11 countries perched atop the mountain.
Various companies take guests up Mauna Kea, but it’s hard to beat a stargazing tour with Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. After riding in a four-wheel-drive van to the 9,200-foot-high visitor center, folks acclimate during a lasagna dinner and suit up in parkas and gloves. Following sunset at the 13,798-foot summit, they return mid-mountain and marvel at the celestial spectacle through portable telescopes, which provides a heavenly Hawaii volcano experience.