The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory & Jaggar Museum are on the summit of Kilauea Volcano.  Because the surrounding vegetation is sparse, and the trees are relatively low statue in this relatively dry area, you often get one of the best views of Mauna Loa.

There are other interesting vegetation highlights in this area, as well as some spectacular views of the geological formations.

Before rushing into the museum, it is worth spending a few moments checking out what natural history observations this site has to offer.


This is a mid-elevation woodland, although it is considerably drier than sites in this ecological zone along the Chain of Craters Road.

Getting There



This is a very safe place to visit, providing you heed the warning signs near the cliff of Kilauea Crater.

The facilities at this site actually comprise two activities.

The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum has public displays, including seismographs showing the activity at sites around the island.  There is also a small gift shop inside the museum.

There is a good public restroom on the way to the entrance to the museum.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is a research facility that is not open to the public.

The museum and, in adjacent buildings, the geological research areas
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory sign adjacent to the parking lot Jaggar Museum sign adjacent to the parking lot
This site is on the lip of Kilauea Crater.  Inside the crater, Halema`uma`u Crater is the prominent feature.  This is the view that most visitors rush to see and it is indeed worth a leisurely look.

Halema`uma`u Crater inside Kilauea Crater

Viewing the opposite way, from the parking lot away from the museum, you may be lucky enough to see the full aspect of Mauna Loa. The connection between Kilauea (the volcano that you're standing on when you are at this site, and Mauna Loa in the background, is just beyond the foreground ridge.  It roughly follows the track of Highway 11 (the road to Hilo).  Both of these are active volcanoes.

Mauna Loa on a clear day

If you look along the lower slopes of Mauna Loa, you will see a light green patch.  This is a grazed area outside the park boundary.  In fact, the distinct line that runs up the mountain marks the edge of the park.

This is a graphic example of the impact of feral grazing animals on the landscape in this area.

Grazing was eventually prohibited after World War II, but it wasn't until the 1980s that all the cattle were eventually removed from these upper slopes.

There are still some grazing animals, such as sheep, in the park.

Light green grazed area stands out, showing the park boundary
The plants along the side of the road in the area between Park Headquarters and the Observatory often have a "beard" of lichens surrounding their branches.

On the left, below, is a "bearded" Metrosideros polymorpha (Hawaiian: `ohi`a).

On the right is a low-growing Dodonea viscosa (Hawaiian: `a`ali`i) that also has lichens covering its lower branches.

Lichens on a Metrosideros polymorpha Lichens on a Dodonea viscosa
This mid-elevation woodland near this site has small to medium-sized Metrosideros polymorpha (Hawaiian: `ohi`a) trees.

Many of the trees will have a flower or two.

Occasionally you will see an individual in full flower, covered with large red blossoms.

Metrosideros polymorpha in full flower
If you haven't yet seen a flower from a Metrosideros polymorpha (Hawaiian: `ohi`a), this may be a good time.  The low-stature trees along the edge of the parking lot often have flowers that you can see up close. Metrosideros polymorpha flower
There are several steam vents near the parking lot.  They are sites of more abundant plant growth.

Speculate on why this must be?

A variety of plants growing near a steam vent
A variety of plants growing near a steam vent A variety of plants growing near a steam vent

Field Trip Questions

Useful Links


Return to:


Last Updated: 01/22/00

Development Items: