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Volcanoes in Hawaii

a rocky mountain

The Hawaiian archipelago was created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. As Earth’s tectonic plates moved over a geological “Hot Spot”, the lava erupting from underground volcanoes eventually formed land. Volcanoes in Hawaii are both a creative and a destructive force.

The forces from inside the Earth’s core have played a crucial role in Hawaiian history, which they continued to do today. Older volcanoes are dormant, while some newer volcanoes are active and erupting. Let’s take a look at the various volcanoes in Hawaii and what they are up to today.

Dormant Volcanoes in Hawaii

Mauna Kea on the Big Island
Mauna Kea on the Big Island

Mauna Kea is a volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii that hasn’t erupted in around 4,000 or 6,000 years. This volcano was once glaciated and now offers stunning astronomical views from the peak, as well as a dynamite view of the sunset.

Learn more about this epic vista and observation center here.

Haleakalā is another dormant volcano that hasn’t erupted since about 1400 or 1600 AD. You can find majestic views of sunrise or sunset from this gentle 10,000 foot slope. Visitors will encounter cool temperatures and crowds atop this large shield volcano.

Learn more about the beautiful and sacred volcano here.

Active Volcanoes on the Islands

Mauna Loa
Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa is an active shield volcano next to Mauna Kea on the Big Island, and the largest active volcano on Earth. This volcano last erupted in 1984 and created lava flows which threatened Hilo.


Today, hikers enjoy walking over lava fields and checking out the local wildlife. You’ll find an alien landscape as well a few endangered species.

Learn more about this hike and the data collected by the observatory here.

Kilauea is currently erupting on the Big Island. Vog (volcanic smog) may be found in surrounding areas, but lava flow does not threaten inhabited areas.

Learn more about this special volcano and how to see the eruption here.

Studying Hawaii’s Origins

Hawaii’s creation story starts in chaotic, explosive ways as the islands began to dot the South Pacific. Because of the height of these volcanic mountains, visitors can enjoy summer temperatures at sea level and need a coat and a scarf at a volcanic summit! The unique nature of these fascinating volcanoes keeps geologists and volcanogists busy.

Millions of years ago, the islands formed. Current volcanic eruption patterns form clues scientists can use to understand to the ancient past. Volcanoes in Hawaii tell a fascinating story today.