Article Overview: A Guide to the Hawaii National Parks
After traveling to most of the national parks in America, there are no parks in the world quite like Hawaii’s national parks! Make no mistake, Hawaii’s national parks are some of the most beautiful in the world but can be pricey to visit.
In fact, we (my brother and I) recently ranked all of America’s 63 national parks including Hawaii’s National Parks in case you’re curious where they rank amongst the other US National Parks.
In the post below, I’ll provide detailed information about all two of Hawaii’s national parks – Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park & Haleakala National Park.
You’ll also find helpful hiking tips and additional information like the best time to visit, where to stay, things to see and more.
Without further ado, let’s cover the BEST national parks in Hawaii.
Table of Contents: Hawaii National Parks
Hawaii National Parks
- About Our Travels to the Hawaii National Parks
- Best Hawaii National Parks
- 1. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- 2. Haleakala National Park
- Map of Hawaii’s National Parks
- List of the Hawaii National Parks
About Our Travels to the Hawaii National Parks
I first visited Hawai’i Volcanoes for the first time nearly a decade ago and it was a life-changing experience.
There was something so magical about arriving into the park at night and seeing the red glow of the volcano at work in the air, smelling that sulfuric smell, and then to actually see lava – so cool.
Seeing the sunset at the crater at Haleakala National Park (I know, sunrise is what everyone goes for) was another incredible and mind-blowing experience.
Driving all the way up to the top of the island after having just swam in the warm ocean water and realizing I needed a jacket getting out of the car was crazy!
About the Hawaii National Parks
You should probably know that I’ve my our entire adult life exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
I’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
My work (along with my brother) has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
I’m Will Pattiz, and along with my brother Jim, we’re collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks (MTJP) is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
Things to Know Before You Visit Hawaii’s National Parks
Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Sunscreen: Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which we never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
Insect Repellent: We carry around an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us, especially on the Pipiwai Trail, as mosquitoes can be a bit crazy in the parks.
Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check before taking your pooch on your trip to the park!
Best Hawaii National Parks
1. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Location: Hawaii (the big island)
- Accessibility – 5/10
- Recreation – 7/10
- Crowds – 9/10
- Amenities – 7.5/10
- Scenery – 8/10
About Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii’s flagship national park, Hawai’i Volcanoes, used to encompass Haleakala National Park on the neighboring island of Maui as well.
Despite that subtraction the place is otherworldly (very mars-esque) and presents a rare opportunity to see lava (or at least it’s effects depending on whether it’s active during your visit) up close.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Map & Location
How to Get to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Getting to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is easy once you land on the big island of Hawaii.
Visitors should rent a car from the airport and drive to the park.
The drive takes about 2 hours from the Kona Airport (which is usually the cheapest flight option) or 40mins from the Hilo Airport.
Best Time To Visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
For me, the best time to visit Hawai’i Volcanoes is November through March when most of the United States is cold for a warm, tropical getaway.
Due to it’s proximity to the equator, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is warm year-round.
However, one thing to note is that November-March is known as the rainy season and it can be quite rainy which means a roll of the dice for your travel plans!
Check Out Our Hawaii Volcanoes Film
HAWAI’I VOLCANOES 8K is the culmination of several weeks spent filming in the rugged volcanic landscapes of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Situated on the island of Hawaii in the heart of the remote south pacific, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park boasts an awe-inspiring array of massive mountains, rare wildlife, and fiery volcanoes.
Journey with More Than Just Parks as we discover an ever-growing land shaped by fire. This is Hawai’i Volcanoes. Filmed primarily in stunning UHD 8K.
Things to Do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
1. Thurston Lava Tube
Thurston Lava Tube is a 500 year old lava tube located near the incredible Kilauea Crater in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
This lava tube was carved out by a 2000F lava flow creating the subterranean cavern that exists today.
This hike through Thurston Lava Tube takes visitors through a lush tropical forest into the illuminated cavern below.
2. Kilauea Iki Crater
The Kilauea Iki Crater is a great spot for hikers to explore a crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park via the Kilauea Iki & Crater Rim Trails.
What was once a boiling lava lake is now a hardened surface for hikers to enjoy an afternoon in the park.
3. Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs
Given the amount of petroglyphs here, this site gives visitors an incredible opportunity to observe up close (without touching) an unbelievable array of petroglyphs dating back hundreds of years.
For even more things to do at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park check out our 8 BEST Things To Do Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park post.
Where to Stay – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Planning a trip to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park? Learn how to do it right with our comprehensive Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Guide that covers what to see, campgrounds, lodging, dining, seasons & weather, and so much more.
2. Haleakala National Park
- Accessibility – 5.5/10
- Recreation – 7.5/10
- Crowds – 6.5/10
- Amenities – 7/10
- Scenery – 7.5/10
About Haleakala National Park
National park + Hawaii – what’s not to like?
Located on the island of Maui, this tropical park is a feast for the eyes with two main areas to explore. Haleakala is my personal favorite Hawaii National Park.
The crater is all the rage and has been deemed “the greatest sunrise in the national parks” by many. The caveat is if you can beat the crowds (which are substantial and require a reservation) AND get lucky with the weather.
Seeing the sunrise at the crater requires an advance permit.
The other section is the more tropical side (near Hana) with jaw-dropping waterfalls, ocean, palm trees, and rain forest.
Read our Best Things to Do Haleakala National Park post here for trip ideas.
Haleakala National Park Map & Location
Getting to Haleakala National Park
Getting to the park is a little different from the other parks to say the least.
Unless you live in Hawaii getting to this tropical paradise is going to require hopping on a plane for more than a few hours.
Flights to Hawaii vary in price throughout the year and many domestic airlines offer some very competitive rates so you don’t have to break the bank to make this happen.
Flying To Hawaii’s National Parks
Flying to Honolulu might be your best bet for the most affordable rate, from there you can hop over to Maui on a number of local Hawaiian airlines.
If you’re able to, flying in to Kahului Airport on Maui will simplify your travel plans quite a bit.
From there you can rent a car and be on your way to Haleakalā in no time.
Pickings can be slim for food in Haleakalā so you’ll want to plan ahead of time and bring plenty of snacks.
That being said, there are a select few great spots to grab a bite near the park.
Check out our Haleakalā Guide for the lowdown on the best places to grab a bite.
Best Time to Visit Haleakala National Park
The best time to visit Haleakalā National Park is in the Winter.
Temperatures are warm and pleasant and the park’s roads are devoid of the traffic one might find in the summer months.
With that being said, is there ever really a bad time to visit Hawaii?
Watch the Award-Winning Haleakala Video
HALEAKALA 8K is the culmination of several weeks and multiple trips to the remote outer reaches of the island of Maui in the Central Pacific.
Journey with us to the house of the sun and discover ancient volcanoes steeped in legend, rugged mountains, dense rain forests, hidden beaches, underwater worlds, and the last wild home to spectacular wildlife.
This is Haleakalā. Filmed primarily in 8K.
Things to Do at Haleakala National Park
1. Haleakala Crater
Haleakala Crater Summit When we say the summit we mean the summit. Atop Haleakalā is an observatory, parking area, and a few trailheads.
From this area at sunrise or sunset you can take in some of the most spectacular views in the entire national park system.
Perched high above the clouds the Haleakalā Summit offers a commanding view of the island of Maui and the pacific ocean far below.
On a good day a sunrise or sunset here will be one that you’ll never forget.
2. The Road to Hana
The Road to Hāna, also known as the Hāna Highway is a narrow, one-lane, winding, scenic road that takes drivers through some of the most beautiful areas of Hawaii.
The road is definitely not for the faint of heart as it’s as famously narrow and dicey as it is beautiful.
If you’re renting a car and feel confident enough you just have to brave the Road to Hāna. It’s something you’ll be telling friends about for years to come.
3. Waimoku Falls & Pipiwai Trail
Waimoku Falls Cascading some 400 feet down to the forest floor is the beautiful Waimoku Falls in the Kīpahulu area of the park.
The falls can be accessed 2 miles into the 4-mile roundtrip Pīpīwai Trail.
This trail which provides hikers with beautiful views of various waterfalls, streams, and various other natural features.
4. Bamboo Forest
The bamboo reaches soaring heights and hearing the rustle of the chutes in the wind is quite a treat. We definitely recommend it.
For more, check out our Things To Do Haleakala post.
Map of Hawaii’s National Parks
List of the Hawaii National Parks
Helpful Related Articles
Things to Do Hawai’i Volcanoes NP: 17 STUNNING Things to Do Hawaii Volcanoes (Photos + Helpful Advice)
Hawai’i Volcanoes NP Guide: Expert Guide to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii National Parks Guide: Expert Guide to the Hawaii National Parks
Haleakala NP Guide: Expert Guide to Haleakala National Park
Things to Do Haleakala NP: 11 BEST Things to Do in Haleakala National Park
Hiking the Pipiwai Trail: Pipiwai Trail: Bamboo Forest, Banyan Tree, & Waimoku Falls Hike
Tips for Visiting Hawaii’s National Parks (or any national park)
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs
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