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Big Island Parks

Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls, Big Island [Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Kirk Lee Aeder].

Park location:  This state park is located in the northern end of the Big Island along the Hamakua Coast.  The entrance to the park can be found at the end of the Akaka Falls Road, about 4 miles from Honomu. Akaka Falls State Park is open daily with charges of $5 per non-commercial vehicle and $1 per person for pedestrians.
Park terrain: Surrounded by verdant rain forests, this state park offers lush hiking grounds to multiple waterfalls.  The park is comprised of 65 acres of some of Hawaii’s most spectacular tropical landscapes.
Activities:  Hiking is the best way to explore this green labyrinth, enjoying the winding paths strewn with leafy Hawaiian plants and unique foliage. The most popular attractions at Akaka Falls State Park are the Akaka Falls and the Kahuna Falls. The word “akaka” means split or crack and the heavy waters seem to do just that, as they cascade down a jaw-dropping 442 feet. The hike to the lookout point at Akaka Falls is not long and is a great photo opportunity for those who enjoy capturing Hawaii’s natural beauty on film. The nearby Kahuna Falls is another waterfall, plummeting 100 feet and creating an ethereal mist over the pool below. Many people prefer to hike in Akaka Falls State Park during the morning hours because the sunlight reflected on the water makes for some beautiful photographs. This place is for day-trip excursions only as there is no camping in this state park.  However, there are restrooms; drinking water and trash can services available for all visitors.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park

Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay, Big Island [Hawaii’s Big Island Visitor Bureau (BIVB)].

Park location: This state historic park is on the southwestern side of the Island, off Highway 160 at the end of Pu’uhonua Road. It is open daily during sunlit hours and does not have an entrance fee.
Park terrain: The 4 acre area is dedicated to the chapter in history when Hawaiian natives first had contact with the western world when Captain James Cook of England and his ship, HMS Resolution, sailed into Kealakekua Bay in 1779. There is a heiau and a historical monument on the hillside coastal grounds which ascend nearly 1,300 feet in elevation. A plethora of water sports and guided kayaking tours are available for those who want to enjoy the waters of the surrounding bay.
Activities: There is a monumental historic site where Captain Cook’s first encounter with native Hawaiians occurred. Captain Cook and his crew communed with the Hawaiians who welcomed the foreigners for several weeks, believing them to be sent from the gods of agriculture, since the ship arrived during the Makahiki or Hawaiian New Year festival. When the captain and his crew departed from the shores, a series of storms sent the damaged ship back to the Hawaiian Islands just a few short weeks after they had left. When they returned, they were treated poorly by the Hawaiians, and in an attempt to regain property that had been stolen from them, Captain Cook was killed. A monument to him stands on the bay’s northern shore to commemorate this day, though it is only reachable by foot after a long hike or by sea.
The Hikiau Heiau located in this historic park was a luakini temple, a place where animal and human sacrifices were made. There is a large stone platform area near the beach, where such sacrifices were performed, and is one of the main attractions in the state park.Beyond the historical elements of this site, there are also many activities available. For nature-lovers who enjoy snorkeling, swimming or hiking, this corner of the Big Island has numerous delights. Tourists will appreciate sightings of the Hawaiian spinner dolphins that seem to visit Kealekekua Bay most mornings. This bay is a beautiful place for snorkelers to observe the unique fish, such as the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (or reef triggerfish), that dwell among the coral reef. Tourists also enjoy renting kayaks, paddleboards, surfboards or body boards for adventures in the ocean. There are a select vendors who rent water sports material; the list of licensed vendors can be found on the Hawaii State Parks page. There are also restrooms, picnic areas, trash cans and drinking water for visitors to the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

Lapakahi State Park

Lapakahi State Park [Hawaii’s Big Island Visitor Bureau (BIVB)].

Park location: This state historical park is located in the North Kohala area, about 12 miles north of Kawaihae Harbor. There is no entrance fee to Lapakahi State Historical Park and it is open from 8:00am to 4:00 pm on all days except State Holidays.

Park terrain: Lapakahi State Historical Park is the ancient site and archeological research location of a Hawaiian settlement that covers about 262 acres. The waters just off the coast of this park are dedicated to the Lapakahi Marine Life Conservation District.

Activities: Here in this town, the original villagers were mostly fishermen deriving most of their livelihoods from the sea. Guests can venture on a one-mile self guided tour that provides information and historical insight into how life would have been for Hawaiians nearly 600 years ago. Explore a restored authentic hale (Hawaiian hut) and the surrounding stone walls made from lava rock. Children and adults alike can learn about the lifestyle, day-to-day activities and games that Hawaii’s ancestors would have played.It is not safe to swim in the waters off the coast as the shores can be rough and the Lapakahi Marine Life Conservation is teeming with protected tropical fish. For a look into another chapter of history, a little to the north of the Lapakahi State Historical Park, there was once a sugar mill. Tourists can absorb many aspects of how life would have been hundreds of years ago in the Lapakahi area.

Guests are advised that there is no drinking water on site at the Lapakahi State Historical Park, though there are restrooms, trash cans, and visitor information booths for their convenience.

Wailuku River State Park

Rainbow Falls in Hilo

Rainbow Falls Hilo” by AlaskaDave – own work.

Park Location:  Wailuku River State Park is located on the central eastern side of the Big Island in city of Hilo.  Wailuku River is the longest river in Hawaii; the state park is open daily during daylight house and has no entrance fee.
Park Terrain:  Wailuku River is one of the smaller parks in the state, extending across a striking 16 acres, and is most famous for the gorgeous 80-foot Rainbow Falls waterfall.  The mist surrounding the falls creates dynamic rainbows in the Hawaiian sunlight.  By walking further up the Wailuku River, visitors can see the Pe’epe’e Falls feeding into deep pools called the Boiling Pots; these are so called because they look like cauldrons during seasons of heavy water flow.
Activities:  Swimming is a popular activity in the lower river of the state park, where many enjoying inner-tubing and wading in the fresh water.  However, it is vital to note that 25% of drowning incidents in the state of Hawaii occur in Wailuku River.  The word wai means “fresh water” and luku means “destruction;” therefore Wailuku River is well named, as the waters can rise rapidly during flash floods, even reaching nearby trees situated on higher grounds.The ideal viewing time for visiting Rainbow Falls is on a cloudless morning.  If you are lucky to catch a morning of sunshine, be sure to arrive at the falls only a few hours after sunrise to gaze at the glorious rainbows glowing in the light.  Photographers will love capturing the ethereal arches of vibrant colors near the roaring white waters.Hikers will also enjoy the trek to the waterfalls in Wailuku River State Park, since the landscapes look like something out of a fairytale.  However, all visitors must be careful as lives are lost here every year, since the trails by the river are often unclear and are susceptible to flash floods.  Though the beauty of this Hawaii Island State Park is undeniable, we advise you to exercise extreme caution when visiting this area, especially during periods of high water rising.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island.

Lava piercing the water at dusk, Big Island [Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson].

Park location: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is a major attraction located in the central southern part of the Big Island, just 30 miles southwest of Hilo. The park covers an enormous expanse of nearly 333,000 acres. The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you don’t have a National Park pass, the entrance fee is typically $10 per vehicle and $5 per individual for a 7-day period.

Park terrain: The park offers a variety of terrain, from coastal areas to mountainous regions, lava flows, rain forests, arid desert lands, and of course, active volcanoes.

Activities: The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which contains the active volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa, is by far one of the most unique attractions in all of Hawaii. Nowhere else in the United States can tourists venture in safe contact, assuming extreme caution is exercised, with flowing magma as well as observe firsthand the unspoiled result of hardened lava over homes, villages and roads.

Kilauea Volcano is famous for being the most active volcano on the planet, and at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, tourists can often witness its most recent lava flows. Kilauea, meaning spewing, is a volcano that has been actively creating lava flows since 1983. Like all volcanoes in Hawaii, Kilauea is a shield volcano. It produces anywhere from 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards of lava on a daily basis. The continuous flow of magma is expanding and changing the shape of the Big Island. Since the recent eruptions began, over 500 acres of land has been added to the island, without any signs of slowing down.

Based on its mass and volume, Mauna Loa (meaning long mountain) is considered to be the largest volcano on Earth and last erupted in 1984. Though it has not resulted in fatalities over the last few decades, Mauna Loa is responsible for the 1926 and 1950 eruptions which ruined villages in its destructive path.

During your visit here, it important to note that extremely hazardous volcanic gas or volcanic activity can emerge in many places in the park, particularly anywhere along Crater Rim Drive or the Chain of Craters Road. If this is the case, visitors are advised to leave the area if the air smells strongly of sulfur or if anyone is has any difficulty breathing; as such gases can be extremely toxic. Visitors must check with the Kilauea Visitor Center or with National Park rangers about the status of current volcanic activity and recent warnings.

The drive along the park’s Chain of Craters Road ends in a region where lava literally engulfed the pavement, preventing cars from continuing down the path. It is one of the most iconic and stark areas in the park. From a distance (hopefully a safe one), the lava from Kilauea’s Pu’u O’o vent can be seen flowing into the sea in a fury of hissing steam and smoke. This dynamic view is culturally significant as it represents the religious folklore of Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess, converging with the sea. The Chain of Craters Road is open from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm daily.

The Crater Rim Drive is a nearly 11 mile stretch that will take you to all the park’s other primary attractions, such as the: Thurston Lava Tube, Kilauea Overlook, Jaggar Museum, Devastation Trail and Halemaumau Crater, known as the home of Pele. West of Crater Rim Drive, the Jagger Museum adjoins to an observatory and is a phenomenal way to gain historical insight and understanding about these volcanoes. Additionally, there are numerous scenic hiking and bike trails available within the park. Details of such trails can be found on brochures provided at the main visitor center.

The only hotel in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the classic Volcano House, where legends such as Mark Twain have stayed to observe this unique environment. Overlooking Halemaumau Crater and the summit of Kilauea, Volcano House was first built in 1846 and has been restored to modern-day elegance most recently in 2013. Campsites are also available in the park through the Hawaii Volcanoes Lodge Company.

Kilauea Visitor Center is the main visitor center and is located at the entrance of the park and provides brochures, maps and details about the park. This visitor center offers short informational films showing hourly throughout the day from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. There are also two book stores and a Volcano Art Center Gallery for those who want to enjoy dramatic renderings of nature’s fierce giants. There are restrooms, drinking water, and payphones for the visitor’s convenience in these main welcome areas.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, Big Island

Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, Big Island [Hawaii’s Big Island Visitor Bureau (BIVB)].

Park location: This park is situated on the western coast of the island, 3 miles north of Kailua-Kona town, south of Keahole Airport. The visitor center is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm daily and the main gate entrance is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. There is no entrance fee to this park.
Park terrain: At the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, visitors can find any maps and general information at the Hale Ho’okipa visitor center, north of the Honokohau Harbor entrance. The park has multiple fish ponds, heiaus, trails, restrooms, picnic areas, beaches and the ancient Honokohau settlement. There is no camping at the Kaloko-Honokohau Historical Park at this time.
Activities: There are numerous things to see and do at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. Travelers can enjoy the historical landmarks, learn how the ancient Hawaiians lived a sustainable lifestyle by fishing and farming along this lava rock-lined coast or simply enjoy the coastal views. Visitors can hike the Mamalohoa Trail, which grew from a small path in the 1800’s into a road that eventually surrounded the entire island. They can trek through part of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail which winds past heiaus (sacred Hawaiian temples). On the walk, one might see endangered Hawaiian stilt or Hawaiian coot birds, honu (sea turtle) or monk seals along the shores.

Here, vacationers can also venture deeper into the ocean on scuba diving and snorkeling excursions to view glorious Hawaiian marine life up close. The waters are teeming with varied species from banded coral shrimp and hermit crab to sea cucumbers, sea urchins and reef fish, all of which can be seen firsthand. You can witness original petroglyphs made by ancient Hawaiians or visit Honokohau Beach which is known for its striking color contrast of white sands against black lava rocks and heiaus.

Visitors should be aware that there is no food for sale within the park itself, with the nearest place to purchase food in Kailua-Kona a few miles away. There are restrooms at different locations in the park, but there is no drinking water; so be sure to bring your own. For more visiting information call (808) 329-6881.


Pu’uhonua O Honuanau National Historical Park

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Pu’uhonua O Honuanau from the sea [Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson].

Park location: Pu’uhonua O Honuanau National Historical Park is located on the southern end of the Kona Coast. For those without a National Park pass, the charge for entering is $5 per car and $3 per individual, except on certain national holidays when entrance into the park is free. The park is open at 7:00 am daily, closing 15 minutes after sunset.

Park terrain: This pu’uhonua, or place of refuge, features a number of historically significant sites as well as scenic coastal property and trails covering over 180 acres of federally protected land on the Kona Coast. A pu’uhonua, such as the one located here, served as a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiians accused of crimes, breaking the rigid kapu system, or for those seeking safety from battle. There is a visitor center, coastal villages, royal grounds, fishponds, trails, heiaus (or sacred temples) and the pu’uhonua ceremonial site. There are also picnic areas in the park and places to capture scenic views of Keone’ele Cove and Honaunau Bay.

Activities: The Pu’uhonua O Honuanau National Historic Park is one of the most famous and well-preserved locations where ancient Hawaiian history comes alive. Since the park became nationally recognized in 1961, thousands of tourists, families, schools and historians have swarmed here to learn about the history and cultural practices relating to pu’uhonua and kapu. The kapu system, the ancient Hawaii code of laws and regulations, was not to be tampered with. If a person was found violating or breaking a kapu, they could suffer instant torture or death. Common people were not allowed to approach the chiefs or even let their shadows fall on the royal grounds. Women could not eat certain foods, such as bananas or coconuts. Such mistakes were punishable by death, unless the guilty one could manage to reach a pu’uhonua, before pursuers could catch the fugitive. The pu’uhonua was considered a place of refuge, where a kahuna (or priest) could declare the accused to be forgiven, and thereafter they could go home in peace. The site was also a sanctuary for defeated warriors or non-combatants.

Travelers can gain information about the site at the visitor learning center, as well as explore a self-guided walking tour highlighting halaus (or thatched work houses), fishponds, heiaus, royal grounds and burial sites as well as the Great Wall of lava rock, which stands 10 feet high and 17 feet thick. The royal grounds and burial sites were protected by poles of wooden carved gods and by the Great Wall.

Once inside the park, there are numerous demonstrations and hands-on experiences to enjoy, such as witnessing canoe builders hard at work, spear throwing competitions, as well as brief and informative seminars at the amphitheater. As specific times throughout the year, there are also festivals, performances, games as well as arts-and-crafts. Groups can also explore nearby trails for long treks through heiaus and other archeological sites.

Visitors should be aware that food is not available for purchase in the park, so guests will need to bring their own. However, there are picnic tables, grills as well as drinking fountains on site. Note that pets are only allowed at picnic areas, trails and coastal walks, but not at any of the pu’uhonua or historic areas.

Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

Park Location: Hapuna Beach is located on the northwestern side of the Big Island, just a few miles south of the town of Kawaihae on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. It is open daily during sunlight hours with a $5 daily parking fee for out-of-state visitors.
Park Terrain: This coastal recreation area extends a luxurious 61 acres of stunning white sand beaches, deep charcoal lava rock formations, a serene picnicking and lodging areas.
Activities: Known as one of the most beloved and idyllic beaches, the waters of Hapuna Beach have an unearthly aqua glow. This beach is a favorite swimming locale and vacationers in Hawaii come to Hapuna to bodysurf, snorkel, sunbathe or have a spontaneous photo shoot on its shores. However, surfers and swimmers alike should not enter the beach at time when rip currents create unpredictable waves and extreme shore breaks.Visitors can also enjoy picnicking near the ocean or going on a brief hiking excursion on nearby trails. There is a camping ground where travelers can reserve an over-night cabin if they want to extend their stay. There are restrooms, trash cans, drinking water, payphones, occasional lifeguard services, camping areas and sheltered picnic areas.

Manua Kea State Park

Park location: This state park is located in the northern end of central Hawaii Island, about 35 miles from downtown Hilo. The park is open daily during sunlight hours with no entrance fee.
Park terrain: Mauna Kea State Park is roughly a 20-acre area reaching 6,500 feet in elevation and is protected by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The park is largely a dry area of shrubbery whose high platform provides scenic views of the neighboring Mauna Kea Summit and Mauna Loa. Mauna Kea State Park also neighbors the Pohakuloa Military Reservation.

Activities: This park is considered a prime location to engage in outdoor sports such as hunting wild boar, sheep and birds. It is also an excellent camp site with cabins for rent and a well-equipped dining hall for those who want to go on an extended their hunting trip or enjoy staying in the wild.

Kekaha Kai State Park

Park Location: This state park is located on the furthermost tip of the western side of the island and is accessible from Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway about 3 miles from the Keahole Airport. The park is open each day from the hours of 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. There is no fee to enter the park.
Park Terrain: Kekaha Kai State Park covers over 1,600 acres of the Big Island’s famous Kona Coast. Here, travelers can find multiple beaches including a black sand beach, ponds, various coastal hiking paths, lava-lined trails, cinder cones and scenic lookout points.
Activities: The Kekaha Kai, which means “the shoreline,” is truly one of the most spectacular set of beaches on the western coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. Kua Bay, also known as Manini’owali Beach, is an excellent place to swim before at the start of a day outdoors. Its neighbor, Makalawena Beach is a more private option and is regarded as one of the most picturesque shores, where swimming is heavenly when the waters are calm. Mahai’ula Beach is a rewarding sight after wandering through a lava field; here, the white sandy shores are spotted with swaying green trees, palms and picnic tables environed in a tropical paradise. Makole’a black sand beach is not suitable for swimming, but is a definite must-see in this state park. Visitors will not regret spending a day lounging on the shores or swimming in the turquoise swells of these divine Big Island beaches.The hiking in Kekaha Kai State Park will prove a strenuous way to spend an afternoon, as one of the trails extends 8.5 miles round trip with a minor elevation of 350 feet. However, one of the unique aspects of this hike is that the trail continues along the coast itself and offers multiple potential stops along the way. When the dusty path is too much for you, take a break and snorkel in the ocean for a while! Visitors can also hike at Pu’u Ku’ili, a cinder cone which offers striking views of the coast. Nearby there is Opae’ula Pond, a national breeding ground reserve for the Hawaiian silt and Hawaiian coot, which are among Hawaii’s rarest bird species.At different areas in this park, there are restrooms, picnic tables and trash cans. Visitors should be advised that there is no drinking water provided in Kekaha Kai State Park and that they should bring plenty of their own, as the region tends to be hot and dry.

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