Our National Parks are treasures. They are places that offer us a chance to truly get away from it all, to learn about history, and to connect with nature. The untouched land, pristine beauty, and sights that you cannot see anywhere else bring people together from all over the world. With Park Rangers available to tell you pretty much anything you could want to know and hikes and activities for all ages and abilities, I believe that it is worth visiting a National Park while on vacation in Hawaii.
We are lucky in Hawaii to have two national parks, Haleakalā National Park in Maui, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. We also have a National Historic Park, Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, on the Big Island. People come to Hawaii for untouched beauty, dramatic landscapes, and the ability to experience nature at its best, and these national parks are pure examples of that. Here you can hike, see dramatic landscapes, and learn about Hawaii’s culture and history.
Although admission to these parks is usually not too expensive at $25.00 per private vehicle for seven days, everything does add up during a vacation to Hawaii. I’m always looking to save you money when you come here.
The National Parks Service offers free admission days throughout the year, with three important days this fall. On September 30, the National Parks Service will offer free admission to all in celebration of National Public Lands Day. From November 11-12, it will offer free admission to all in honor of Veterans Day Weekend.
If you are planning a trip to Hawaii this fall, why not take advantage of the National Parks Service’s free days? Heres’s a rundown of what each park offers.
Haleakalā National Park in Maui
A sacred place for Native Hawaiians, Haleakalā National Park has three different areas to explore. First, visit the Visitor’s Center to learn about current conditions and ranger programs that are taking place, and to get a Junior Ranger Activity book for kids ages 7-12. Other outdoor activities offered here include hiking, overnight wilderness hiking, camping, Ranger talks and guided hikes, and cultural activities.
The richly colored Summit Area offers hiking, camping, and a variety of activities. But most people come to the Summit Area to visit the top of Haleakalā. Watching the sunrise on the top of Haleakalā is often said to be the number 1 experience on Maui.
Because of its popularity, reservations to drive up Haleakalā for sunrise are now required. You can book reservations to drive online, or, if you prefer to take a tour, you can book Hawaii Aloha Travel’s Haleakala Sunrise Tour. If you do decide to visit the summit, please refer to our checklist of things to bring. It gets a lot colder up there than you might think!
Secondly, the Kipahulu Area of the park is the coastal area, which you can reach by driving on the famous Road the Hana, a road that hugs the coast of the island. This area is deeply important to Hawaiian culture and history. Here, will find many waterfalls, stunning views of the ocean, and cultural experiences.
Finally, the Wilderness Area lives up to its name and is only for experienced adventurers. With 24,719 acres, there are many adventures to choose from, from day hikes, camping, and sleeping in one of three cabins. Activity in the Wilderness Area requires permits, planning, and preparedness.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
If you ask me, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the number one must-do on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Volcanoes are what created the Hawaiian Islands. The Big Island is the youngest island, with active volcanoes and hardened lava rock that you can walk on (compare The Big Island to Kauai, which is many millions of years older and has time to become more lush and green).
There is a lot of history here, lots of lava rock to see, and even active volcanoes that you might be able to witness. If you are one of the lucky ones, you might even get to see a lava flow, if conditions are right and you are up for the adventure.
Every visitor to the park should visit Kilauea Visitor’s Center. It is particularly important to start here because the lava flow changes the conditions of the park. This could affect the areas that are open. Sometimes you can hike out to see the lava flow, and sometimes you can’t.
Everyone who comes to Hawaii can see the lava glow at Halema‘uma‘u Crater and learn about how the Hawaiian islands were made at the Jagger Museum. For a rare and spectacular treat, eat dinner at Volcano House, which overlooks Halema‘uma‘u Crater. Go during sunset to watch the lava glow change from a white smoke to pink to red.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is full of history and beauty that you cannot see on any other islands. Walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, see steam vents, and walk around brightly colored but smelly sulfur banks. Then drive through Chain of Craters Road to see incredible overlooks and hardened lava rock. If you are up for a short hike on lava rock, take the Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs Trail to view petroglyphs.
You can see a lot of things in this park in just one day. If you do take advantage of a free day here, be sure to check out my recent post, The Ultimate Guide to One Day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island
Visitors to the Big Island are in for a treat because there are two national parks to visit here. Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is about an hour and a half away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or 40 minutes from Kona.
Before 1819, in Hawaii, a pu’uhonua was a sanctuary, a place of refuge. The penalty for breaking the law was death, whether you had eaten a forbidden food or entered a forbidden area. People who lost wars were also sentenced to death.
However, you had once chance to live. If you could find your way to a pu’uhonua and receive forgiveness from the priest before the law could find you, you could not be executed. This is a sacred place in Hawaii, a place where deeply important cultural and historical events took place.
First, stop at the Visitors Center to learn about the park, ask questions, and learn about Junior Ranger programs. Many cultural programs take place within the park, so be sure to ask about the schedule of events as well.
From there, you probably will want to see the pu’uhonua. This is the sacred place that many who broke the law could escape to. There is also a temple where the bones of the chiefs are buried, which is said to give power to the area. Those who managed to make it here must have felt the biggest relief of their lives. Those who visit also feel that spirit of peace in the park.
From there, you can visit the Royal Grounds. A great wall separates the Royal Grounds from the sanctuary. Also considered a sacred site, you can take a walking tour of this area that was once reserved only for Hawaiian royalty.
Those who enjoy hiking and history will also want to visit Ki’ilae Village. Here, you can see what it was like during the time that Europeans arrived in the Hawaiian Islands. During this time, Hawaii was changing but also holding onto its traditions.
You will see housing areas, agricultural features, animal pens, and salt vats. There is a 1-mile trail that you can take here, too. The Visitors Center encourages all hikers to get a trail guide from the Visitor’s Center before going. The trail is relatively short and flat, but it is strenuous because you walk on rough lava.
At the park, there are some other activities to participate in. You can go fishing, hiking, snorkeling in a designated area, and look for Hawaiian green sea turtles and coastal birds.
Note that this entire area is a sacred place, so please be respectful. Also, note that there is no lodging inside the park.
Safety at the Parks
No matter which national park you choose to visit, make sure to check conditions and other updates daily on the National Park Website, talk to Park Rangers to get safety tips, and to always use caution on hikes. It is important to wear sturdy shoes and sunscreen and carry plenty of water with you at all times.
Do you dream of making a trip to one – or more – of Hawaii’s national parks? Our expert local guides can help you plan the trip of a lifetime. Call us today, and we will help you plan your trip!