Hotspot volcanoes

Hawaii Volcanoes Map

Having just visited Hawaii, I was curious about the island chain and all of its volcanoes. I read some general things about volcanoes in my travel guides, but wanted more details. Which ones are active? Is it possible to reach the top on all of them? Which are accessible by car or on foot? Where is the next one and how far underwater is it? It’s confusing because there are names of volcanoes, names of peaks and names of vents. Here is an overview of what I found.

About the channel

The Hawaiian Islands are shield volcanoes, which simply means that they are formed by free-flowing lava flows and have a broad shape, evoking the image of a shield facing skyward. Theories suggest they are ‘hotspot’ volcanoes created by a tectonic plate moving over a stationary hole where magma rises from the Earth’s mantle. This explains why older volcanoes fall asleep and eventually die out in a fairly straight line along the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It must also mean that there is another volcano ready to take its place. More on this below. All volcanoes are extinct except for Haleakala and Mauna Kea which are considered dormant, and three volcanoes on the Big Island which are active (Hualalai, Mauna Loa and Kilauea).

Mauna Loa looks like a Mauna Kea shield

About Volcanoes

The Big Island

The island of Hawai’i, better known as “The Big Island”, is home to five volcanoes.

Kohala, a small volcano at the northern end of the island is extinct. It is rarely climbed as it has no official trails and is choked with vegetation in places. That said, some have made it to the top.

Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, is the tallest of them all and one of the easiest to climb. All you need is a car and the ability to deal with the rapid elevation change from sea level to 13,803 feet (oh, and a coat – it gets cold up there).

The other three volcanoes, Mauna Loa, Hualalai and Kilauea are active, however, the latter is the only one actively erupting. Volcanoes on all other Hawaiian islands are considered extinct except for Haleakala in Maui, which may well be dormant.

Hualalai, which last sprung in 1801, rises above the town of Kailua-Kona but is relatively short compared to neighboring Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The land around it is privately owned, but hikers still take a risk and hike the old established roads and trails to the summit.

Mauna Loa, which is also over 13,000 feet tall, last erupted in 1984 and could rise again at any time. It is possible to do a day hike to the summit from the observatory on the north side of the summit at 11,000 feet, but it is not easy at this elevation.

Kilauea is pouring molten lava out of the Pu’u ‘O’o vent and has been erupting steadily since 1983. Kilauea Crater does not flow, but can be visited via roads and trails from the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on the south side of the Big Island.

Kilauea’s crater is still alive and glowing

Maui (including Lanai and Molokai)

Maui has six volcanoes spread across four separate adjacent islands. Maui proper has two, Haleakala, which makes up the east side of the island, and Mauna Kahalawai, better known as the West Maui Mountains.

Haleakala is a popular volcano with a paved road to the top where tourists can admire the rust-colored valleys. Some tourists descend the mountain road on rental bicycles. Note that there is also a little-known mountain bike route! Haleakala’s summit is over 10,000 feet above sea level. At this point, the volcano is considered “potentially active” but has not erupted since the 1600s.

The top of West Maui Mauna Kahalawai is Pu’u Kukui at 5,788 feet, but geologists suspect it was over 13,000 feet at one point. It’s amazing what a little erosion can do to an ancient volcano. It last erupted over 300,000 years ago and is now considered extinct. The summit is on private property and off limits to the public.

Lanaihale is the volcano on the neighboring island of Lanai. To reach the top, you just need to hike the Monro Trail uphill from the trailhead at Lanai Cemetery. Even though Larry Ellison now owns the island, it’s open to visitors who simply take a public ferry from the town of Lahaina in Maui.

However, getting to the island of Molokai has become more difficult. Lahaina’s boat has been terminated, so an expensive inter-island flight is your only option. If you can get there, the island has two extinct volcanoes (but you’ll want to go for the beaches and charm). Wailau is the eastern volcano. An old trail called the Wailau Trail can be used to climb the Wailau Valley to the crest of the ridge, but it’s overgrown and hard to tell. The real summit is probably accessible from the south side of the island where the vegetation is less thick.

Mauna Loa is the western volcano on the island of Molokai, near the town of Maunaloa, which is little more than a small general store. Radio towers mark the summit from nearby Highway 460. The road from town to the towers (and a tank) is closed, so it’s probably a closed facility. Lua Makika is the volcano on the dry, uninhabited island of Kaho’olawe that was a military firing range until 1990. You can’t go there.

High-rise hiking trails in the Haleakala lunar environment


Oahu has eroded so much that the island’s two volcanoes are nothing more than long, jagged ridges, Ko’olau to the east and Wai’anae to the west. The Ko’olau Range has many peaks along its spine, which stretches from the eastern end of the island to the northern tip. Pu’u Konahuanui is the highest point and can be reached by a combination of trails that would be muddy and difficult at times.

The Waianae Range is older but a little higher. A wide marshy plateau forms the summit area of ​​the highest point, Ka’ala. There is a road leading to the top where there are radio towers and a military installation, but it is closed to the public. A trail to the summit begins at the end of the Waianae Valley Road. It seems rarely hiked, long, confusing, and even exposed at times (i.e. not for the average hiker).


Kauai is made up of two volcanoes on two islands. Kauai itself has a large volcano estimated to be 5 million years old. Waialeale is the mountain of Garden Island. Its windward slope is one of the wettest places on earth with an average of over 450 inches of rain per year. Seeing the top is not easy from what I read. There is no trail so you will need navigation skills and determination. I just used a helicopter and was lucky to have clear weather.

The second Kauai volcano is on the adjacent small island of Ni’ihau, which is privately owned and off-limits to the general public. Panel is the highest point of the Ni’ihau volcano which is now only a fraction of itself due to a major landslide long ago.

The rain-soaked slopes of Waialeale on Kauai

Northwest Islands

I thought Ni’ihau was the westernmost volcano in the range that was still sticking out of the water. Turns out I was wrong. There are ten other remnants of older volcanoes that form reefs, atolls or islets to the west of the main islands. They are known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and are now protected as part of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. These tiny remote islets are mainly visited by scientists who have permits. From east to west, the islands are as follows (Hawaiian name in parentheses):

  • Nihoa Island (Moku Manu), 23.06067, -161.92108
  • Necker Island (Mokumanamana), 23.57492, -164.70041
  • French frigate schools (Lalo), 23.78695, -166.21083
  • Gardner’s Pinnacles (‘Onunui & ‘Onuiki), 24.99892, -167.99896
  • Maro Reef (Kamokuokamohoali’i), 25.43791, -170.58996
  • Laysan Island (Kamolé), 25.76994, -171.73233
  • Lisiansky Island (Kapou), 26.06387, -173.96561
  • Pearl and Atoll of Hermes (Manawai), 27.78972, -175.81765
  • Midway Islands / Atoll (Kuaihelani), 28.21046, -177.37072
  • Kure Atoll (Holaniku), 28.39192, -178.29617

New islands to come

Well, relatively early in the days of plate tectonics. The Lo’ihi Seamount, just off the southern shore of the Big Island and not far from Kilauea, is next. The summit is about 3,000 feet below sea level, but it already looks like a volcano with a three-mile-wide crater. You can actually see its shape in Google Earth using the coordinates 18.91713, -155.25939.

Mountains on this map

Mountain Elevation
Mauna Kea (state’s highest point) 13,803 feet (4,207 m)
Mauna Loa 13,679 feet (4,169 m)
Kilauea Volcano 3,668 feet (1,118 m)
Hualalai 8,261 ft (2,518 m)
Kohala 5072 feet (1546 meters)
Haleakala 8,209 ft (2,502 m)
Mauna Kahalawai 5788 feet (1764 meters)
Lanaihale 3,370 feet (1,027 m)
Wailau 4,961 feet (1,512 meters)
Mauna Loa 1,381 ft (421 m)
Lua Makika 1,483 ft (452 ​​m)
Ko’olau Range 3,150 ft (960 m)
Wai’anae Range 4025 feet (1227 meters)
Waialeale 5,243 feet (1,598 m)
Panel 1,289 ft (393 m)