Kīlauea Lighthouse was built in 1913. In 1976, the Coast Guard deactivated the lighthouse and replaced it with an automatic beacon. In 1979, the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The refuge was established in 1985 to preserve and enhance seabird nesting colonies after the property was transferred from the United States Coast Guard. In 1988, the refuge was expanded to include Crater Hill and Mōkōlea Point.