Volcano House is the National Park Lodge located inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with views of Halema’uma’u Crater at the rim of Kilauea caldera. The hotel costs around $250-400/night depending upon season and view. This review features my photos and thoughts from my visit to Volcano House.
On my “About” page, I reference the unreliability of TripAdvisor (and the like) reviews as to why I’m going to review random things I encounter when traveling. Consider Volcano House “Exhibit A” in that “unreliability” argument. When I was first researching my trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I looked into where I’d stay. While I’m a big fan of the natural beauty of the US National Parks, I’m also a huge fan of the history and architecture of the great National Park lodges. Once I learned Volcanoes National Park had an in-park lodge, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’d stay there.
Then, I glanced at TripAdvisor. The overall 3/5 score (it’s now up to a much more respectable 4/5) and some decidedly negative recent reviews at the time caught my eye, and made me reconsider, especially consider the wonderful lodging elsewhere, all over the Big Island of Hawaii.
Not wanting to be easily dissuaded, I started reading the negative reviews. With several of the 1/5 star reviews, a common thread seemed to develop: people were expecting a luxury Hawaii “resort” experience. Several reviews lamented the lack of televisions in room. Anyone who has any experience staying at virtually any National Park lodge (save maybe Furnace Creek in Death Valley) knows this is not the point of National Park lodging.
After reading a number of reviews from others who clearly had more realistic expectations and experiences with other National Park lodges, I was confident that Volcano House was, in fact, where I should stay. I’m glad that I did.
Before we get into the “why” of that, let’s take a brief look at the history of Volcano House. The lodge traces its roots back to 1846, making it the oldest hotel in Hawaii. That’s a little misleading, as the hotel has burned down a few times, from both volcano-related causes and other “unnatural” causes. In other cases, the lodge has closed temporarily as a precautionary measure during rises in volcanic activity. This sort of begs the question as to whether it’s pragmatic to place a hotel so close to an active volcano, as we humans always sort of lose in our attempts to harness nature. (To be sure, the lodge faces no imminent threat of volcanic activity, but it’s one of those long term questions…sort of like building a house on the side of a mountain that historically has had mudslides.)
In recent years, the hotel fell into disrepair, and wasn’t looking so great. Following a change in the National Park concessionaire running Volcano House, the lodge underwent a massive renovation and relaunched as an iconic experience “rooted in Hawaiian culture and hospitality, the Hotel offers an exceptional visitor experience and a legacy of aloha” per the hotel. Note that the lodge also self describes itself as combining rustic island decor with modern amenities, but makes no mention of it being a luxury resort experience, or anything of the sort. Anyone with any sense should realize this is not an experience akin to staying at Four Seasons Hualalai or some other posh resort.
Rather, the draw here is the location, the history, and the charm. Volcano House has that in spades. The refurbished lobby and Rim Restaurant are both nice, with authentic art, a pretty fireplace, and more. These common areas are great places to relax, and although they are not on par with some of the flagship National Park lodges, they are nice.
A good number of the rooms have volcano views of Halema’uma’u Crater at the rim of Kilauea caldera. At night, I could literally see the glow of the active volcano while sitting on my bed. Who would possibly watch television when you have that entrancing glow right outside your window?! To be honest, my room could have been small, bug infested, and the bed about as comfortable as a pile of hay, and I still would have been satisfied because that view is the ultimate trump card, and what sets Volcano House apart from any other hotel in the world.
Fortunately, the rooms were not in that state. They were exactly as the hotel site describes: having rustic island decor.
These touches of authentic decor in what otherwise was a fairly utilitarian and understated room was nice. The details such as the bed runner, desk, and wall paintings were all solid touches.
The bedding was comfortable and felt moderately nice. Other than this, the room was fairly basic, even by National Park standards. It was definitely serviceable, but if you’re coming from a modern Hawaiian resort, you will notice a stark contrast.
The bathroom was fairly small, but again, it was perfectly serviceable. In terms of the room as a whole, I would consider it good, about average as compared to the National Park norm (at least to the extent of my experiences). Once factoring in the price (high as compared to the norm), it’s a bit below average. Still good overall, but pricey for what it is.
In terms of dining, Volcano House shines. I ate 3 meals here, having a quick lunch at Uncle George’s Lounge and both breakfast and dinner at The Rim Restaurant.
Each of these meals was excellent, and a true highlight of my experience at Volcano House. Uncle George’s Lounge essentially served bar food and lighter entrees, with most options costing around $10-20.
Dinner at The Rim Restaurant was the costliest and best of the meals. This is fine dining in the spirit of National Park “Dining Rooms.” Here I had crab/lobster cakes to start and fish as an entree. All of the ingredients were fresh, locally grown or caught, and authentically prepared. The presentation was exceptional, and everything tasted excellent, with complex flavor. For this meal alone (just me), I spent around $60, so it’s certainly priced as fine dining, but I felt it was worth it. If you don’t stay at Volcano House, I highly recommend a late night meal here with a window view table looking out at the glowing volcano. Talk about romantic ambiance.
The breakfast buffet at The Rim was by far the best value, at less than $20 for an adult. Yes, this is a lot for breakfast, but there were fresh juices, lots of Hawaiian meats, an omelette station, and more. I definitely got my money’s worth here, and it was a rejuvenating meal after a busy morning of sunrise photography.
Overall, Volcano House is an expensive hotel even by National Park lodge standards. The lodge is charming in the common areas but lacking in the grand feeling of other iconic lodges, and the rooms are average as compared to other lodges, at best. With all of that said, I still highly recommend Volcano House for a 1-night stay. Its location cannot be beat, and lying in bed with the glow of the volcano outside is an experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere, and absolutely cannot be beat. The lodge itself is no slouch, but make no mistake, the star of the show here is the view. Yes, you have that same view from other areas in the National Park, but you can’t sleep in those places. It’s an experience that’s definitely worth having once!
You can book Volcano House directly through its website. To learn more about Volcano House and other flagship National Park Lodges, check out the PBS book Great Lodges of the National Parks. For more about HVNP, check out my Things to Do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park blog post!
Have you stayed at Volcano House? If so, what did you think of it? If you haven’t stayed there, would you consider it as part of your trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park? Please share your thoughts in the comments!