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Hualālai is estimated to have risen above sea level about 300,000 years ago.

Despite maintaining a very low level of activity since its last eruption in 1801, Hualālai is still considered active, and is expected to erupt again some time within the next century.

Much of the southern slope (above the modern town of Kailua-Kona) consists of lava flows covered by a layer of volcanic ash from 10 to 100 cm (4 to 39 in) thick.a, Hawaiian for "many-furrowed hill", a volcanic cone standing 372 m (1,220 ft) tall and measuring over 1.6 km (1 mi) in diameter.

It extends for 9 km (6 mi), and has a prominence of 275 m (902 ft), north of the summit at i.

Although the two larger volcanos have each erupted over 150 times in the last 1,000 years, Hualālai has done so but 3 times.

The recurrence of activity at the volcano seems to be every 200 to 300 years.

Although it has been relatively placid in the recent past, Hualālai is still potentially active, and is expected to erupt again within the next 100 years.

The USGS has divided the exposed lava flows and tephra erupted by Hualālai volcano during the last 112,000 years into 419 rock units of 8 chronostratigraphic age groups.

For comparison, almost all of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa is listed as threat levels 1 through 3.

A recent calm period, with almost no earthquake or magmatic activity at Hualālai, has seen the growth of homes, businesses, and resorts on the mountain's flanks.

The most recent major activity at the volcano was in 1929, when an intense earthquake swarm rocked Hualālai, most likely caused by magmatic action near the volcano's peak.

Today the coast near Hualālai is dotted by vacation resorts, some built on historic flows, and a National Historical Park.

Hualālai's structure is denoted by three rift zones: a well-developed one approximately 50° to the northwest, a moderately developed one to the southeast, and a poorly developed one trending northwards about 3 mi (5 km) east of the summit.

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