If you visit Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, you will see in its rainforest and along its moonscape chain of craters, many of Hawaii's endangered species, including the Hawaiian nene goose and the i'iwi, a Hawaiian honeycreeper.
When you pack for a Big Island vacation, keep in mind that in higher elevations such as Volcanoes National Park, it gets very cold up at night, often frosty. Unlike the year round 75° to 85° daytime temps at Hawaii's beaches, up here the daytime temperatures rarely rise above the 60's and 70's, and the cool breezes and rainfall can make it seem cooler. At night, temperatures often drop down to the 40's. Many of the homes have fireplaces, and so do the campgrounds.
The Volcano Lodge has a massive fireplace where guests and visitors alike can sit and play a game of chess before visiting their gift shop. Overnight guests can enjoy natural steam baths, courtesy of Pele, the Volcano goddess and creator of these islands.
The Park's Visitor's Center is also a must-see, and it provides hiking trail maps, driving maps, and lots of useful and interesting information. For no other than safety reasons, stop here first.
In the park you can visit the volcano's series of craters (including the steaming Halema'uma'u Crater where you might want to leave a leave a lei for Pele), several steam vents, and a rain forest that is a bird watcher's heaven and ends at the walk-through Thurston Lava Tube. This particular area has a well paved path and stairs. Hiking trails abound in the park and through some of the craters.
Volcano Village is inhabited by many artists, drawn to Pele's creative energy. In this small town, you will find many workshops in hula, fine arts, and crafts at the Volcano Art Center. Cedar trees are everywhere, and up above the village, you'll find grazing horses and cows in pastures. The wildlife is way different though. No bear or cougar. Wild pigs runt, but we've never seen one.
In the summer, yellow ginger blooms in abundance along the Volcano Highway (Highway 11, leading up to the Park and to the South end of the island where you can continue around to Kona). Mauna Loa and Kilauea are also favorite spots among the locals for plucking maile for special lei, berries for jam and all sorts of treasures for Hawaiian Christmas wreaths.
The park also offers beautiful, pristine campgrounds at not extra charge than the National Park's entrance fee. If you have ever thought about camping in Hawaii, or just plain enjoy camping, check out this article: Camping in Hawaii on a Beach or a Volcano
And last but not least, you may get to see the lava pouring into the sea. If not by land, you can find many tours that fly over this amazing sight. When we were there last at night, we viewed a beautiful red ribbon of lava streaming down the mountain towards the sea. Check with a ranger at the Visitor's Center about the current lava viewing opportunities and follow their safety guidelines!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is for all these reasons and more, the main attraction on the Big Island of Hawaii. Plan to spend at least one day there.