When picking a guided hike of the park, the most important factors to consider are: How many people will be on the tour? If the minimum isn’t met, will the tour get canceled? How much hiking and walking will you actually be doing? Will the hiking be for beginners or more advanced walkers?

Ranger-led hikes are a great way to explore the park for free with certifiably experienced guides.Ranger-led hikes are a great way to explore the park for free with certifiably experienced guides. The Exploring the Summit hike is offered daily at 10:30am and 1:30pm. This 45-minute walk over a paved trail meets in front of the Kilauea Visitor Center and takes guests around the rim while the ranger lectures on Hawaiian history and geology. Check the bulletin board outside the visitors center for daily postings of additional hikes. Often, there is at least one additional hike (on some specific topic) each day.

The summit lava lake at dusk.

Kilauea lava lake at dusk. Photo © US Geological Survey, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

If you’re one of the lucky few, you’ll grab a spot on the highly desired ranger-led Wednesday Pua Po‘o Lava Tube Tour. The tour, which explores a lava tube that is otherwise not open to the public, must be reserved one week in advance by calling the visitors center (808/985-6000) at 7:45am the Wednesday before you want to attend. There are only 12 spots available and they go quickly! Really, some park employees haven’t even made it on the tour yet. You can reserve spots for four people with each reservation, and children must be older than 10. If you do make it on the tour, it meets at 12:30pm and lasts about five hours. You have to be in fairly good physical shape to attend as you descend a 15-foot ladder into a lava tube, scramble along it, and then walk over uneven surfaces. A truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Several private tour guides happily take groups around the park on hikes. Dr. Hugh Montgomery, the owner and president of Hawaiian Walkways (800/457-7759) receives excellent reviews for his Kilauea Volcano Discovery Tour ($119 children, $169 adults plus tax) as well as his private tours, which are actually a pretty good deal if your group has more than four people. Hugh is truly an expert on Hawaiian flora and fauna and offers a lot of personal attention to his small groups, making his tours a great choice for hikers at any level.

Volcano Discovery (808/640-4165, $150-250) is another tour company that persistently receives good feedback, especially for beginning hikers and/or families traveling with children. Tours are somewhat customizable, meaning participants can work with the guides to pick which hikes they’d like to complete. There are some set tours that you can reserve if you’re looking to join something already scheduled. The dates and prices for these tours are listed on the website. A four-hour tour for 3-6 people will run you $150 per person and a six-hour tour for 3-6 people will set you back $175 per person, and so on up to a 12-hour tour. Tour guides are known as trained geologists and provide first-rate narration.

Similarly, Warren Costa, a.k.a. Native Guide Hawaii (808/982-7575, $300 for one person or $150 parties of two or more, cash only!), will personally pick you up (and return you safely) after guiding you through the park on a hike that includes narration on Hawaiian culture, legends, and geology of the park. Warren is concerned with not only teaching about the environment about the park, but also raising awareness about how the environment relates to Hawaiian culture. Tours have a maximum of six guests, and children are welcome.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.