Can You Take Lava Rocks From Hawaii?

Hawaii is famous for many things, including the volcanic activity that formed the islands as we know them today, and continues to shape them. All this volcanic activity gives Hawaii its famous black sand beaches and black lava rocks. The famous lava rocks of Hawaii are among the things that add beauty to the islands’ stunning scenery. As visitors marvel at Hawaii’s unique geology, they often want a souvenir to take home and wonder: can you take lava rocks from Hawaii? We will discuss the answer in this article, and how it touches on both legal restrictions and cultural sensitivities.

Can you take lava rocks from Hawaii?

Sea of lava
Sea of lava | image by Char via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0


No, you are generally not allowed to take lava rocks from Hawaii. Legally, there are some restrictions where it is unlawful to remove lava rocks. Legality aside, there are also cultural and environmental sensitivities to consider. In this article we will discuss all these factors and why you’d be better off not removing lava rocks from the islands.  

Key Takeaways:

  • According to the law, it’s illegal to remove lava rocks from national parks.
  • Native Hawaiians believe that taking natural resources from Hawaii, including lava rocks, is disrespectful.
  • Illegally taking lava rocks from the state can cost you a minimum of $1,000.00.
  • If everyone who visited Hawaii took something off the island, it would quickly degrade the environment.

Is it illegal to take lava rocks from Hawaii?

It is definitely illegal to remove lava rocks, or any rocks for that matter, from national park service property. This includes national parks, national monuments, national historic sites, etc in all 50 states. In Hawaii, this includes Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park, and any other nationally protected sites on the islands. If you are caught by a ranger taking a rock, they can cite you under 36 CFR § 2.1 – preservation of natural, cultural and archeological resources.

It is also illegal under Hawaii statute HRS 171-58.5 to remove rocks (including lava rocks), sand and coral (including the dead pieces washed up along the shore) from any beach in Hawaii. Also don’t forget, if you take something from private land without the permission of the land owner, they can legally charge you with theft. That can apply to lava rocks found on their land as much as anything else.

Getting caught removing lava rocks can result in penalties, including fines, imprisonment, or both depending on the severity of the case. Transporting rocks internationally can also potentially violate customs laws.

If you find a lava rock that is not from a national park, protected site, beach, or private land, can you take it? This is a gray area. There may be places that don’t technically fall under any enforceable laws. However, it would be hard to prove where you acquired the lava rock from. Plus, there are still environmental and cultural factors to consider.

Should you happen to find a store that is selling lava rocks, I would advise to keep the receipt with the rock until you get back home. Whether the store had permission to sell the rocks or not, at least you can prove where you obtained the lava rock from if questioned.

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Why is it a big deal to take a lava rock?

All these laws and rules may seem like overkill. It’s just a single lava rock, or piece of coral, or handful of sand. What’s the big deal? The big deal is if you are allowed to take one, that means everyone is allowed to take one. An estimated 1.6 million people visit Volcanoes National Park each year. If all 1.6 million people took just one lava rock home, it wouldn’t take long to make a huge ecological impact and completely strip the area of its natural resources. The same goes for sand and coral on the beaches.

Hawaii is a huge tourist spot, and if all the millions of people who visit take a little piece of it home, it would devastate the landscape. Eroded beaches, striped mountains, the treasure that is the Hawaiian islands would be destroyed for people and all the plants and animals that call the islands home.

Significance of lava rocks in Hawaii

Lava and Basalt at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Lava and Basalt at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | image by AUTHOR via Flickr


Lava rocks have deep spiritual and cultural significance in Hawaiian culture. They associate with Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes. Traditional Hawaiian beliefs state that Pele controlled the power of the volcanoes to form the Hawaiian islands. Lava rocks are the solidified remains of volcanic eruptions and are considered the physical embodiment of the goddess Pele.

These rocks represent the creation and the raw, dynamic energy of the land. The Hawaiian islands symbolize the ever-changing landscape, shaped by the forces of nature, so taking lava rocks from Hawaii is considered a form of desecration. In fact, Hawaiians believe that everything has a life force or “mana.” Everything contains a spirit and is part of one family, even inanimate objects like rocks, and should not be treated with disrespect.

Furthermore, these rocks play an important role in the ecosystem by providing habitat for various creatures, influencing the distribution and diversity of species, and contributing to the geological processes of the islands.

The Legend of Pele’s Curse

The Legend of Pele’s Curse revolves around the belief that taking anything natively Hawaiian, such as rocks or sand, from the state will result in bad luck. While Pele herself is an important figure in Hawaiian religion, the myth of Pele’s curse has never been found in historical records. The legend’s origins are unclear, but it is believed it originated sometime in the early to mid 1900’s by tour guides on the islands. As tourism grew, guides and rangers became more and more frustrated by visitors taking lava rocks and other resources as souvenirs. In an attempt to deter people from taking natural items back home, they created the story of Pele’s curse, and told it as if it was an ancient Hawaiian belief.

The myth has gained popularity despite probably having modern origins. In fact it has been so successful, that for many years travelers have been sending their lava rocks, coral and sand back to Hawaii in an attempt to avoid or break the curse.

What happens if you are caught taking lava rocks from Hawaii?

If caught taking lava rocks, you can face legal consequences, including fines, imprisonment, or a combination of both. Violating the Hawaii Natural Resources Law, which prohibits removing minerals like lava rocks from reserve lands, can result in penalties starting at $1,000.

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Additionally, taking rocks from a National Park, such as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, may result in federal charges with potentially more severe penalties. It’s crucial to respect the environment and local culture by refraining from taking lava rocks or other natural resources.

Are there any exceptions to the rule against taking lava rocks?

Sea of lava
Sea of lava | image by Upsilon Andromedae via Flickr | CC BY 2.0


The rule against taking lava rocks from Hawaii is generally strict and applies to most situations, but there may be some exceptions depending on specific circumstances. These exceptions are typically limited and should be verified with the appropriate authorities. Some possible exceptions include the following:

1. For educational or scientific purposes

If you have the necessary permits and authorization for educational or scientific research, you may be allowed to collect lava rocks. Accredited institutions or individuals who conduct approved studies usually follow this requirement.

2. Cultural practices

In certain cultures, like Native Hawaiian, they may allow the use of lava rocks in traditional ceremonies or rituals. However, these exceptions are cultural and should be respected and duly authorized by the appropriate cultural authority.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, we should understand that taking lava rocks from the state isn’t only against the law but also shows disrespect to the local culture and harms the environment. Lava rocks hold deep spiritual and cultural significance in Hawaiian tradition, being associated with the goddess Pele and symbolizing the creation and energy of the land. Removing lava rocks, sand, coral, or any other natural items as souvenirs not only negatively impacts the ecosystem, but it degrades and erodes Hawaii’s natural beauty and ruins it for future generations.