Park Location: This national park is located on the western side of the island, reaching from the 10,000+ ft Haleakala down near Hana, to the Kipahulu coast. It covers nearly 33,270 acres, over one half of which is wilderness.
Park terrain: The terrain is as varied as a region can be, from the barren volcanic wasteland and the famous crater, to lush foliage, bamboo forests and coastal views; the 2 hour drive to the summit of Haleakala is said to host as many ecological zones as one might see on a drive from Mexico to Canada. There can be as much as 120 inches of annual rainfall, and temperatures tend to have extreme fluctuation in Haleakala National Park.
Activities: Haleakala National Park has a plethora of activities that nature-loving explorers will not want to miss. Star-gazing on the summit of Haleakala will offer one of the most glorious clear views of the Milky Way; and visitors can also enjoy watching a sea of clouds dissipate just after sunrise.
Hiking in Haleakala offers some of the best sport on the island. Trails will take wandering tourists through waterfalls, rugged coastlines, streams, and verdant plants and natural swimming holes in the region of Kipahulu. There are ranger talks, guided hikes that will make your exploration informative and educational. There are hands-on cultural workshops and activities at the Summit and in Kipahulu; information is available at the park’s visitor center.
Campers can enjoy either sleeping under the stars by backpacking through the national park, or by choosing fixed camp grounds like Hosmer Grove or the site at Kipahulu, where they may stay up to 3 nights per month. For those less enthused about pitching a tent in the wild, there are three strategically placed wilderness cabins all maintained by the National Park Service. Travelers must book these cabins in advance, and are only able to cancel their reservations up to 21 days before. The cabins are separated by a distance ranging from 4 to 9 miles, so hikers must be prepared to trek these lengthy trails. As the cabins are without supplies and electricity, campers must bring food and water with them, and may stay no more than two consecutive nights in any of these cabins. Each cabin costs $75 per night, per cabin which accommodates up to 12 people. For more details about the cabins and what they contain, refer to the Headquarters Visitor Center at Haleakala National Park.
Note also for avid campers/hikers: groups must be limited to 12 travelers or less when hiking or camping at the National Park. If your group is larger than 12, you will need to split up into two groups and wait 30 minute before the second group embarks. There are a variety of trails, ranging from brief stints to multi-day endeavors. The elevation of the summit as well as the temperature (ranging from 30-65 degrees) may subject hikers to feelings of dizziness or nausea from the altitude, as well as UV sun exposure and wind/rain chill.
There is no public transportation system in the National Park, and there are also no gas stations, so if visitors plan to drive through the Haleakala, they would be advised to stock up in the towns of Pukalani or the Kipahulu region as those are some of the final places to get gas.
While hiking the higher altitudes, fortunate travelers might also get to see the “Ua-u” Hawaiian dark-rumped petrel, a sea bird that eats squid. So if you and your hiking crew see random piles of squid beaks, you will know the beautiful bluish birds are not far. As Haleakala is home to a high number of endangered species, there are related regular events that take place near or in the national park. One such example is Nene (Hawaiian Goose) Awareness Day which is celebrated on September 26, when Haleakala National Park hosts cultural events to honor the endangered state bird of Hawaii.
On the clearest days, five Hawaiian Islands are visible from the highest points on Haleakala. Note that all visitors are required to buy passes into Haleakala National Park. There are additional charges for vehicles, and for commercialized groups. The park is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, except during extreme weather conditions.
Park location: Makena State Park is on the south shores of Maui off of Makena Road. The state park is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm and there is no entrance fee.
Park terrain: Makena is mostly a beach park, comprised of 164 acres of glittering coastline separated by lava outcropping into two sections, referred to as “Big Beach” and “Little Beach.” Off Makena Road stands Pu’u Olai, a 360-foot dormant volcanic cinder cone rising. Often there is also a unique cloud covering, referred to as the “Makena Cloud,” which shelters a wide area from these two beaches across the Alalakeiki Channel to the neighboring island of Kaho’olawe.
Activities: Travelers to Hawaii are drawn to Makena State Park because of the miles of wide coastal views and the extensive sandy shores. Big Beach stretches 1.5 miles long and is over 100 feet wide, leaving plenty of space for sunbathers or sand-sport enthusiasts to enjoy the sunshine and surf. The neighboring Little Beach is only about 660 feet and vacationers can enjoy a brief 5-minute hike up to the top of Pu’u Olai which divides the two main beaches of the park.Water-sport lovers should only enter the ocean here on days when the waves are calm since the currents and shore break can be extremely severe and definitely unsafe. Only when waves are not rough here can activities like body surfing, boogie boarding and surfing be safely enjoyed. The beach does not have restrooms, trash cans or drinking water. Visitors would do well to bring their own water as well as pack their trash when departing.
Park location: Also located on the far eastern side of the idyllic road to Hana, the Wai‘anapanapa State Park is situated about 53 miles from the Kahului Airport. The park spreads over 122 acres and is open daily free of entrance charges.
Park terrain: Wai‘anapanapa State Park is a coastal park of rocky volcanic hills and cliffs over the ocean. There is a hala tree forest, natural stone wonders such as blow holes, stone arches and most notably, one of the iconic black sand beaches of Hawaii.
Activities: The park’s name Wai‘anapanapa means “fresh glistening water” and the streams and pools of the area certainly seem to do so. Visitors traveling on the Hana Highway should consider the Wai‘anapanapa State Park an absolute must-do. One of the most famous attractions is the black-sand beach known as Honokalani Beach in Pa’iloa Bay. Though the black shores burn hot in the sun, making the cool water more appealing, tourists should be aware that swimming is decidedly hazardous in this area. While one should definitely not swim here, there is plenty of fun that can be had at this beach, whether it is exploring the caves toward the right of the shore or taking in the scenery of one of Hawaii’s most stunning coast. Other points of interest include the sea bird colonies who roost and mate on these shores which make for some talkative neighbors.
Hikers should exercise caution venturing out across the lava rock formations to access the blow holes, nearby pools or wet caves. According to legend, the wet caves are where Popo’alaea, the wife of local Chief Ka’akea, escaped to avoid his beatings. As the story goes, the chief searched for her and seeing her reflection in the water of the wet caves, found and killed her there. The pools forever represent a memorial of this tragic tale.
Guests can take a step back in time on the ancient trails in Wai‘anapanapa State Park. One nearby hiking path called the King’s Trail leads to a historical Hawaiian place of worship, called the Ohala Heiau, as well as other caves, shelters and burial sites. This road leads all the way to the town of Hana for those who would enjoy finishing the journey on foot.
Vacationers can also pitch tents or rent cabins in Wai‘anapanapa State Park. Additionally, the park offers restrooms, trash cans, drinking water, payphones and outdoor showers for day visitors and campers.