The area gained notoriety when the 1986 Kīlauea lava flow from the Kupaianaha vent destroyed and partly buried most of the town, as well as Kalapana Gardens and nearby Royal Gardens subdivisions. The lava flow that destroyed Kalapana erupted from the southeast rift zone of Kīlauea. Along with the destruction of Kalapana were those of the nearby town of Kaimū and Kaimū Bay, both of which now lie buried beneath more than 50 feet of lava. The lava flow also created a new coastline.
Although most access to the town has been cut off, a few people still live there, but mostly need to get in and out by 4-wheel drive vehicles.
In July 2010, lava from Kīlauea continued into the Kalapana region destroying a home that was only 5 years old, leaving 35 homes remaining in the Kalapana Gardens Subdivision. The latest flow partly covered the 1986-1992 flow field again, while attracting thousands of visitors a day.