When planning our trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, we split the vacation into two parts. The first half of the trip was spent on the Kona Coast and Kohala Coast at the Hilton Waikoloa Village and the second half of the trip was going to be spent exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National park, but we weren’t sure where we were going to stay.
There are vacation rentals, and hotels in Hilo and in Volcano Village, but all are outside the park and require a pretty decent drive into the park. During our lodging research we discovered Volcano House and I just about died. A hotel sitting right on the summit of the volcano with views of red hot lava? Make me a reservation!
We read online that the hotel is a small historic hotel and that it books out months in advance, or for the holidays, a year in advance — and I cried a little inside. We were only a few months out from out trip and I desperately want to stay there. Brian called Volcano House and we were shocked. We not only got a room, we booked a crater view room! Woohoo!
Volcano House, with 33 historic guest rooms, is the only hotel in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hawaii’s most unique hotel location. Volcano House is across the street from the park headquarters and the Kīlauea Visitor Center. It overlooks Halema’uma’u Crater at the summit of Kilauea and has two restaurants, a snack bar and lounge, two gift shops, and a pressed penny machine (which made Carter very happy).
We arrived at Volcano House in the evening, cold and wet from the rain, and were thrilled to be greeted by a huge lava rock fireplace warming the cozy lobby. While brian checked in, Carter got his pressed pennies and Natalie and I checked out the gift shop.
We then lugged our suitcases up the stairs (no elevators) to our second floor, crater view room. The room was tiny — smaller than one of the kids’ rooms at home — so it was a tight squeeze for all four of us. And don’t even get me started on the tiny bathroom. The shower was so small, Natalie and I couldn’t even shave our legs while there because there wasn’t enough room to reach them!
While the room was tiny and the walls were thin, you have to remember that you’re paying for the view. We could sit in our bed, look out the window, and see the bright red glow from the bubbling lava atop Kilauea! Now that was amazing!
The next morning we skipped the breakfast buffet in favor of granola bars so we could get out and explore the park before it got crowded. But first we explored the grounds of Volcano House and the spectacular views of the the Kīlauea Caldera and erupting Halema’uma’u Crater.
Staying in this historic hotel with the incredible views is totally worth the tiny rooms and thin walls!
Volcano House History
Volcano House, Hawaii’s oldest hotel site, began in 1846 as a simple, one-room grass shelter. For generations, it has hosted guests from around the world and its historic buildings are a vital pieces of Hawaii’s tourism history.
Over the years the site transformed from grass shelter to a four bedroom wooden structure that housed guests like Mark Twain, who recounted his stay in Roughing It: “Neat, roomy, well furnished and a well kept hotel. The surprise of finding a good hotel at such an outlandish spot startled me, considerably more than the volcano did.”
In 1940, a fire destroyed the entire Volcano House hotel and in 1941 it was rebuilt southwest of the original site as the 24 room wood and stone structure you see today. The Ohia Wing, housing the National Park Service Headquarters, was added to the hotel in 1949, and in 1953, a new eight room wing was added to expand the hotel’s visitor capacity.
In 2010 the National park Service took control of the historic Volcano House hotel, making significant health and safety upgrades, followed by a major rehabilitation of the hotel in 2012 and a grand reopening in 2013 with the all new Crater View Rooms.
Volcano House Dining
There are two restaurants at Volcano House, which also happen to be the only restaurants in the entire Hawaii Volcanoes National Park along with the restaurant at the Kilauea Military Camp. Both restaurants sit along the back of the lodge with views of Kīlauea Caldera and erupting Halema’uma’u Crater right from your table.
- The Rim is a fine dining restaurant serving flavors unique to the Pacific region from the the local land and sea of Hawaii Island, including fresh caught island fish, grass-fed beef, and Big Island grown vegetables. There is live music every night of the week from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm and while you can usually walk in for breakfast and lunch, reservations are highly recommended for dinner.
- Uncle George’s Lounge is a casual family-friendly restaurant and bar open for lunch and dinner that serves lighter fare items like burgers, fish and chips, and pizza, as well as a selection of local and domestic beers, signature cocktails, and wines by the glass.
At first, I wanted to try both restaurants, but then we saw you needed reservations and looked at the menu, and we voted as a family to skip the fine dining option because we didn’t want to be forced to stop adventuring and return to the hotel at a specific time. Plus, none of us wanted to pack fancy clothes or get dressed up. We did peek in during breakfast to possibly fuel up before heading out for the day, but they didn’t have options for people who don’t eat pork, dairy, or grains.
We did eat dinner twice at Uncle George’s Lounge in the same clothes we spent the day hiking in and it didn’t matter a bit. The food wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either — it was typical cafeteria food, we were hungry, and it got the job done. But honestly, you’re not eating there because of the food, you’re eating there because 1) it’s basically the only casual option, and 2) you can see the red glow of bubbling lava right from your table while you eat! That is worth every penny of the overpriced food and incredibly slow service. It even almost made me forget that our food came out wrong at both meals.
Know Before You Go
- Volcano House, operated by the Hawai’i Volcanoes Lodge Company, is located at 1 Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii 96718. It is 30 miles southwest of Hilo and 96 miles southeast from Kailua Kona on Highway 11.
- Volcano House also manages the camper cabins and campsites in Namakanipaio Campground.
- The restored Volcano House offers 33 historic guest rooms, a dining room, snack bar, lounge, and gift shop, as well as cultural events and demonstrations.
- Volcano House is across the street from the Kilauea Visitor Center, sitting right on top of the Kīlauea Caldera rim!
- Built in 1846, Volcano House is Hawaii’s oldest hotel. The original building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now houses the Volcano Art Center.
- The hotel you see today was constructed in 1941, expanded in the 1960s, and renovated in 2013.
- A limited number of crater view rooms that overlook the Kīlauea Caldera and erupting Halema’uma’u Crater are available. We stayed in one and could see the crater and the red glow of the hot lava from our bed!