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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Driving Tour: Steam Vents and Steaming Bluff Overlook

The Need to Knows:
  • The Steam Vents and the Steaming Bluff Overlook are located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park along Crater Rim Drive in Volcano, HI.  The parking lot can be found here:
  • Since you've already paid to enter the park, it's obviously free to visit here :)
  • I would classify this stop as stroller/wheelchair/kid friendly, but the path to the overlook is unpaved so it might be bumpy.  The trail to Sulphur Banks is wheelchair friendly, but it is advised not to go there if you have young children, are pregnant, or have heart or respiratory conditions.
  • There isn't any shade in this area, so make sure you're wearing sunscreen or a hat!
  • There also aren't any restrooms nor is there water available here.
  • The parking lot is a little on the small side, so if it's full when you come by, perhaps try to stop again when you double back after visiting the Jaggar Museum.
  • I would expect to spend about 15-20 minutes here checking out the overlook and definitely longer if you're going to see Sulphur Banks as well across the street.
  • For updated information on closures within the park, be sure to visit this NPS page here.  Also keep in mind that any information in these posts is subject to change any time by the National Park Service!
The Steam Vents and the Steaming Bluff Overlook are popular stops within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  They are pretty much the first cool thing you see after entering the park and leaving the Kilauea Visitor Center (unless you stop at the Volcano House first like I suggested!).

Once you pull up in the parking lot, you can either go across the street to the Sulphur Banks trail or you can head past the steam "wishing well" to the Steaming Bluff Overlook.  On this trip, we skipped the Sulphur Banks (mainly since we didn't actually know it was there, whoops!) and headed to the overlook.  In the picture below you can see the steam rising from the Sulphur Banks side of the road, so I'm sure the actual thing is a pretty cool sight!  Just be wary of the rotten egg smell of course and avoid if you are pregnant, have small children with you, or you have a respiratory or heart condition.

This makeshift "wishing well" can definitely put off some heat!  Definitely be careful around these and any other areas where you can see steam rising.  It can potentially be pretty dangerous -- visitors have been injured by falling into the steaming cracks in the earth, but if you just exercise common sense you'll be fine.

And for a quick geology lesson, the reason why you are seeing steam at this location and at Sulphur Banks.  The lava flowing below this area is heating up all of the rocks that surround it, so when rainwater seeps into the ground, it meets these hot rocks and rises back up to the surface as steam.  If you notice when you take your walk to the overlook, there aren't really large plants like trees growing in this area.  That's because the ground is so hot just a few feet below the surface that roots can't survive.  Only plants with shallow root systems can survive in this area.

The makeshift trails to get to the Steaming Bluff Overlook offer some pretty gorgeous views.  Mauna Loa is always in the background making its presence known, and the closer you get to the crater, Mauna Kea starts making its way into view.  It's pretty cool that you can see both volcanoes from here, but it isn't surprising considering that this area rests at around 4,000 feet in elevation.  Just to put that into perspective, on my home island of Oahu, the tallest mountain on island, Mt. Ka'ala on the west side, is 4,003 feet high.  So you're already at Oahu's highest elevation just by visiting this park!

Mauna Loa
Mauna Kea
After a short walk from the parking lot, you are greeted by a gorgeous view of the Kilauea Caldera and the Halemaumau Crater.

It's difficult to put into words just how massive this area really is or how high the crater walls actually are.  We were in awe of what lay before us!

And if you look around you, you will definitely spot steam plumes rising out of cracks in the earth.  It was pretty neat to see how close they were to us, but at the same time we definitely didn't want to venture too closely.  It made for some great pictures though!

The Steam Vents and Steaming Bluff Overlook were a great way for us to sort of wet our whistles so to speak for the rest of the park.  Mr. L and I had a long day ahead of us on this driving tour, so having stops like this to stretch our legs for a bit was imperative for us.  Plus we both really enjoyed checking out the plumes of steam rising from the ground in front of the caldera and the views around this area!  I definitely recommend checking this area out.


Catch up on the rest of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Driving Tour below!

Crater Rim Drive
Chain of Craters Road


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