It is now possible to see Hawaii state parks and forest reserve areas by island, and what type of facilities each provides online. This information is now on the state website, and it is also possible to purchase camping permits online. Until now, this had to be done in person.
The Hawaii Division of Land and Natural Resources has set up a new wiki permits section on its website that provides information on the Hawaii State Parks system and Forest Reserves. The state cautions that there is no free camping in Hawaii; permits are always required. Be sure to read the FAQ section before beginning the process to purchase a permit.
Along with information about the location and amenities of each park, the site provides a safe hiking brochure. The information included is fairly standard for hiking in any area: don’t go alone, stay on the trail, take plenty of water, dress in layers. However, there are two cautions unique to Hawaii. First, the brochure urges hikers to begin each hike with clean boots, so that seeds are not introduced into Hawaii’s fragile ecosystem.
Second, staying on the trail is even more important here than on the mainland both for the safety of hikers and the preservation of nature. Leaving the trail may take you into areas that have special sacred significance or that are undergoing ecological restoration. Also, the thick foliage can hide sudden drop-offs or lava rock may crack beneath your weight.
The state says that almost 80% of the visitors to state parks are from out of state, and that rescue personnel are responding to more lost or injured hikers. It recommends that Hawaii visitors use a licensed tour agency.
I can attest that hiking in Hawaii is very different from Colorado. The trails are often not marked clearly, or at all, and are difficult to follow even in full sunlight. Many trails offer no amenities (including trash cans) and parking is scarce. As with other states, the stunning views make the excursion worthwhile!
If you wish to hike in Hawaii, first consult the Na Ala Hele website (hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov). It has detailed descriptions of all the trails on the islands and maps showing their locations. It also has a list of Commercial Tour Operators in the “information” section.