Weekend Window: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

If you're looking for rain forests, exotic plants, or maybe a volcano or two, look no further than Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Located on the island of Hawaii, the park extends for 333,086 acres and contains two of the world's most active volcanoes: Kilauea, which has been in a state of continuous eruption since 1983, and Mauna Loa, which last erupted in 1984.

Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando describes the goings-on of an active volcano: "They put off steam, they vent," and it sounds very similar to the reason why many of us go on vacation, as well -- to decompress from our busy, high-pressure lives.

"We have almost 2 million visitors a year. Our goal is to provide safe lava viewing, getting people up close and personal to the lava wherever we can. It's the only experience visitors will have quite like this in the world," says Orlando.


Tourists aren't the only visitors to the park. Hawaii native Craig Shiroma, who works for Hawaiian Airlines, describes just how relaxing this place can be. "What brings me back is, when you enter the park, there's a sense of relaxation and inner peace. You feel rejuvenated when you come to visit." Shiroma also marvels at the ever-changing nature of the park. "The lava is actually meeting the ocean and creating this explosion that you're seeing right now. There is a new island being born as we speak."

With so many acres and an elevation that begins at sea level and reaches to 13,677 feet, this park has a lot to offer. "You've got such a contrast. It's so completely mesmerizing when you look out at the volcanic landscape and you walk within it," says Orlando. "Before you know it, you're in the middle of an incredible rainforest. You've got sulfur rising from the rocks, you've got plants coming out of the landscape -- it truly is an experience to remember."

The park contains seven distinct ecological life zones that house a variety of plant and wildlife. So, whether you opt for a one-mile hike on Earthquake Trail, the 11-mile drive up to Crater Rim, or for an overnight stay at one of the two park campgrounds, you're sure to see a plethora of natural beauty at Volcanoes National Park.

"For the visitors, it's just unlike any experience they've ever had in the world. It is a wonder -- one of the wonders of the world," Orlando muses.

Where to stay, what to do and how to get there? Visit these Web sites:

National Park Service Web site

Kilauea Lodge

Big Island Visitors Bureau

Hawaiian Airlines