Exploring Thurston Lava Tube with Toddlers in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park



Volcanoes are one of the prime reasons many travelers head to the Big Island. Ok, so maybe this isn’t true, but it was one of our main reasons for going. We purposely stayed on the east side of the island so we would not be rushed and could really explore the area, not just do a quick drive by of Hawai’I Volcanoes National Park. There was a lot to see and we didn’t want to miss a thing.

A highlight of our adventure in the park was the Thurston Lava Tube. This section of the park was easily accessible and not a long hike for little legs to tackle. We are lucky that Dek is a very curious kid and not too afraid of the dark. A child that does have issues with the dark might be a little hesitant to enter this tube. If you have claustrophobia you might also want to steer clear. The ceiling can get pretty low.

After adventuring through a small section of rain forest we entered the mouth of the lava tube. The walkway was well lit and easy to navigate. This particular tube had been cleaned up quite a bit. Lava stalactites have been removed over the years and fallen rocks were cleared away. The entrance from the opening of the tube to the stairs that led you back out can take you under 5 minutes to walk if you keep a normal pace. If you are walking at toddler pace than it could take you up to 20 minutes to get from one end to the other. The tube extends past the steps, but you will need flashlights to continue your exploration. When we visited that section of the tube was fenced off prohibiting visitors from continuing on. This is not uncommon in the park. Rocks fall and lava flows. The rangers let you know when you should stay away for your own safety.

Water trickled down the sides of the cave and from the ceiling. From what I understand the ground is so porous on this part of the island because of all of the new lava flow that the rainwater just seeps on through. The land needs to soak up every drop it can get. Don’t open up your umbrellas just yet though. The water isn’t that heavy and it was easily avoided, even on a day that had seen rain coming down off and on. You just might want to bring your kid’s rain boots so they can feel free to splash around in the puddles on the tube floor.

My intrepid 2 year old happily traipsed his way through the lava tube, running from puddle to puddle, yelling at the top of his lungs. No he was not freaking out, he was simply enjoying the sound of his own voice as it echoed off the walls. We were lucky that we were some of the only visitors at that time of the day. It was late afternoon, the tour buses were either gone or in a different section of the park. Most visitors were headed back to the crater for one last peek before heading back to the west side of the island or to their local hotel. Dek could scream all he wanted. Something he took full advantage of.

This side trip through the tubes was the perfect break from our tour around the crater as we waited for night to fall and the crater mouth to put on a light show for us. Even with a week on the east side of the island we weren’t able to conquer every part of the park, but we did see some of its amazing attractions. Stay tuned next week for a full report on our wander along the crater rim, a not to miss drive when you are on the island with a toddler.

Know Before You Go

  • Thurston Lava Tube, go left as you enter the park and head down Crater Rim Drive. You will see the tube parking lot on your right, entrance on your left.
  • If you have hesitant travelers in your group pack an extra flash light for them to use.
  • Dress warmly. Although this is a tropical island the volcano is at a higher elevation and can get very chilly.
  • Entrance fee to the park is $7 per car and lasts for 7 days. Just show your receipt on your return visit.
  • Check out Big Island, Hawaii for more information on Volcanoes National Park.


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Showing 12 comments
  • Steve

    Every time I see one of these tubes I envision a scene from an action movie with a wall of water (or worse yet lava) coming racing down the tube and our intrepid heroes (that’s you guys) having to run for your lives.
    See if you can get some pictures of that next time will you?
    Seriously though, looks like a lot of fun. I can imagine Dek just loving the echo of his own voice.

    • © Keryn Means/ walkingon travels

      Steve- you and my husband would travel well together. I’ll work on my ability to call up flash floods and lava flows before our next trip sp we can get some shaky video footage while fleeing the scene. We did have to do our dramatic “hooray!” picture when we made it out alive though 😉

  • Lisa

    Volcanoes are definitely the prime reason that I would like to go to the Big Island! The lava tube looks really cool but I’m pretty sure that Emma would need an extra flashlight. Dek looks like he’s having the time of his life!

  • Camels & Chocolate

    I’ve been to the Big Island three times now and have yet to make it to Volcanoes. Though I did go down in some lava tubes on the Kona Coast this time last year!

  • Becca@R We There Yet Mom?

    That is AWESOME!!!! I would love to do that – when I was younger and living in WA, we took a field trip to Mt. St. Helens and I think we walked through something similar but not as dramatic as what your pictures show.

    Thank you for linking up today! Have a super weekend!

  • Meagan @MommyTravels

    That looks awesome. I didn’t realize you could do that.

  • Cathy Sweeney

    I loved visiting Volcanoes Nat’l Park. It seemed so surreal. Sadly, did not see the lava tubes — must do next time.

  • Terri @ Travel 50 States with Kids

    This is definitely going on my must-see list for Hawaii!! My husband and I went to Hawaii before we had kids. We went to the park, but we somehow missed the lava tube. I think volcanoes are definitely the reason to go to the Big Island.

  • jackie

    Obviously a must-do! Love the shot with your little one’s arms up. So cute!

  • Sonja

    I’ve been in that lava tube, but it was a long time ago. Never thought of taking the kids – they’d probably love it!

  • Lisa

    Oh my!! This looks like awesome fun. I think my 1 and 2 year old would both love this. Just another thing to add to that ever growing bucket list! 🙂

  • Katy

    Thanks for the wonderful blog! We’re planning to travel with a toddler to the Big Island, and your diary with the pictures is very helpful for our trip planning!