The Kalapana Lava Viewing Area is not open on all evenings. If wind conditions are blowing volcanic gasses towards the viewing area, the viewing site will be closed, as it was on my first attempt.
A Lava Hotline is updated daily and confirms whether the lava viewing site will be open that day. The telephone number for the Hotline is (808) 961-8093. Additional information can be obtained at (808) 430-1996.
As of December 2012, the viewing area is open daily from 2:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., as long as conditions remain safe for the public. Conditions can change rapidly and the viewing area will be closed should any changes occur that threaten the safety of viewers.
The last vehicles are allowed in at 8:00 p.m. to allow people adequate time to view the lava before the site closes at 10:00 p.m. My advice is to arrive as close to 5:00 p.m. as possible, so that at least half of your hike to the viewing site will be in daylight. In Hawaii the sun sets very rapidly and darkness arrives quickly.
After you park your car you will walk through a vendor area where numerous vendors sell souvenirs, including excellent photos of the lava flows, as well as items required by the County for your hike over the lava flows to the viewing site.