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Kilauea volcano erupting again on Hawaii's Big IslandThe Kilauea volcano is the most active volcano on Hawaii, but it's also the islands' youngest, according to the National Park Service.USA TODAY, Storyful

For most people, volcanoes exist mostly in the imagination, in spectacular movie moments and baking-soda-and-vinegar school experiments. But real volcanic activity is so much cooler, packed with sights like boiling mud pots, hot springs and lava tubes.

The West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii all lie within the Ring of Fire, the famed Pacific-rim hot spot that provides plenty of opportunities to see volcanic activity without leaving the country. Here are four family vacation ideas in the U.S. where you can see active volcanoes up close.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

In Hawaii, one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., volcanoes symbolize creation and rebirth rather than destruction. The 505-square-mile Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii offers visitors the opportunity to see how these islands formed thanks to this life-giving volcanic activity. The park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, and is designated a World Heritage Site.

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Both driving and hiking offer rewarding experiences for even the most hesitant volcano lovers. Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road offer visitors a jaw-dropping peek at these vast volcanoes. The park’s highest point accessible by car, Uēkahuna, comes with views of Kaluapele and Mauna Loa, and is also an important place of Hawaiian ritual and cultural practice.

Kīlauea Overlook, meanwhile, is a great spot to marvel at the Kīlauea caldera, which measures over 2 miles across. For more volcanic activity, Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff) is a geologic wonder where magma-heated rocks vaporize water, forming billowing clouds of steam. 

For even more volcano activities, head underground at Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube) to explore the amazing caves that once served as an underground lava flow. This day hike, which starts with a walk through lush rainforests, can also be explored at night, as the tube is lit from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. To preserve the experience for future generations, remember to look but not touch the delicate cave walls and tree roots.  

Mount Rainier National Park

By air or on land, you can’t miss the 14,410-foot behemoth that is Mount Rainier. Located about 1 hour 45 minutes from Seattle, this active stratovolcano is considered one of the most hazardous volcanoes in the Cascade Range because of its potential for eruption and debris flows. The consistent eruptions over the last million years, including both explosive debris-spreading eruptions and lava flows, have created a unique environment filled with geologic wonders and beautiful vistas.

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With hiking, climbing and biking on offer in the summer and skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the winter, Mount. Rainier National Park is full of ways to explore the volcano. Those who like to tour at their own pace will enjoy the Sunrise Geology Audio Tour, which takes listeners on a self-guided tour of the unique marks left when fire (volcano) and ice (glaciers) meet. For flower lovers, Mount Rainier is also one of the best summer vacation ideas for families because of its renowned annual wildflower bloom, which peaks in early August.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Located about a 3-hour, 45-minute drive from San Francisco, Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to all four types of volcanoes found worldwide: shield, composite, cinder cone and plug dome. While all of Lassen’s volcanoes are currently dormant, a plethora of volcanic activity – including steam vents, boiling springs and bubbling mud pots – awaits adventurous travelers. 

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Visitors of all ages can join the Volcano Club (which will score you a special patch only available to club members) when it resumes in 2022 by picking up a Volcano Club Card at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center or the Loomis Museum and then completing seven special activities. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park offers more than just volcano-centered options, too. With several lakes within the park’s boundary, you can build a whole cheap California vacation around all of the boating, fishing and swimming opportunities inside the park. And Lassen’s dark skies offer incredible stargazing. Get your fill of the universe with Starry-Night ranger-led programs offered at Devastated Area, Manzanita Lake or Bumpass Hell Trailhead or during the park’s annual Starry Night Festival

Note: Parts of Lassen Volcanic National Park are currently closed because of a wildfire. While many structures in the park were spared, be sure to check openings before visiting. 

Katmai National Park & Preserve

The most dedicated volcano hunters venture to the wild and remote Katmai National Park in Alaska’s southern peninsula. Located in an isolated part of Alaska not accessible by family road trips, cruise ships or scenic train rides, the park is home to the volcanoes responsible for one of the largest explosive volcanic eruptions in recorded history. The 1912 eruption of the Novarupta and Mount Katmai volcanoes spewed so much volcanic ash that it darkened the skies in much of the Northern Hemisphere for days and impacted the local wildlife for years.

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From the eruption, the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, whose name comes from the fumaroles (fissures spouting smoke, gas and steam), was born. The land was so scarred by the eruptions that it was used by the Apollo astronauts training for moon landings in the 1960s.  

Today visitors to the park are rewarded for the long journey with this otherworldly volcanic landscape as well as exceptional wildlife viewing. The park is home to a large brown bear population and offers some of the best bear sighting and photography experiences in all of Alaska, giving rise to the social media phenomenon that is Fat Bear Week.

Park visitors might also spot moose, gray wolves, beavers, otters, porcupines, wolverines and lynx. The surrounding waters are home to harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, and orcas, as well as beluga and gray whales.  

Know a budding volcanologist who happens to be in fourth grade this year? Most volcanic activity in the U.S. can be found in national parks and monuments, and the National Park Foundation offers a free National Park Pass to all fourth graders through its Every Kid Outdoors initiative.

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FamilyVacationist.com covers family vacation ideas; family travel destinations; all-inclusive resorts; and must-have travel accessories for families of all shapes, sizes and orientations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2021/10/20/volcano-vacations-where-to-see-volcanoes-in-us/8505745002/

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