A trip to Hawaii would be incomplete without a visit to Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii. The volcano, whose name means "Long Mountain," is the largest active volcano in the world. It is located off Highway 11, about a 45-minute drive from Hilo, and is open 24 hours every day, drawing 30 million-plus visitors each year.
Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, when three weeks of fast-moving lava terrorized residents. Though it's been dormant for 25 years, scientists keep a close eye on it since an eruption is possible at any time.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the site of Mauna Loa, is open 24 hours a day year-round. A Visitors' Information Station is open every day from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. It provides maps, information, exhibits and films about the volcano. The busiest tourism times are the summer months, Christmas and Easter.
Trek to the Summit
Experts say the hike to the summit of the volcano is only for experienced hikers and backpackers who know how to deal with high altitudes, cold temperatures and sudden rain- and snowstorms. The trek takes between eight and 12 hours, allowing one hour for every mile's climb over the rough lava.
Mauna Loa Cabin provides free shelter to up to 12 backpackers/hikers at the 13,680-foot point of the climb. The national park also has two drive-in campgrounds, which are free for up to seven days a month, on a first-come, first-served basis. Volcano House Hotel is available for those who prefer a hotel.
In addition to hiking and backpacking, there are opportunities for star-gazing, nature walks and visiting the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum. There are 24-hour bathroom facilities in the park, as well as restaurants and gift shops.