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Visiting the Hawaii National Parks? (VERY) Helpful Guide + Video

Going to Hawaii? Maui or the big island? You should strongly consider a trip to one of their stunning national parks – here’s why.

After traveling to most of the national parks in America, there are no parks like the Hawaii 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.

Here I am talking about Hawaii’s National Parks on The Weather Channel.

In the post below, I 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.


About Our Travels to Hawaii’s National Parks

the pattiz brothers more than just parks hawaii volcanoes national park
Will (left) and Jim (right) of More Than Just Parks at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

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!


Background

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.


Hawaii National Parks Ranking Criteria

I’ve included a scoring system for each of these parks to give you an idea of what to expect in each one and to compare/contrast them. Have a look at the scoring breakdown below:

  • Accessibility – Is this national park easy to access? We analyzed vehicle access, transportation options, proximity to major airports, lodging and accommodations, conveniences, and other signs of civilization.
  • Recreation – Recreation opportunities found in the park like hiking, biking, boating, climbing, etc.
  • Crowds – How crowded is this national park? We considered traffic, crowded overlooks & trails, limited campsite availability, lines, etc.
  • Amenities – Developed amenities in the park like visitors centers, campgrounds, bathrooms, lodges, etc.
  • Scenery – The scenic beauty of the park. Purely subjective of course, but has to be taken into account.

Things to Know Before You Visit

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

hawaii volcanoes national park things to do
Sunrise at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

1. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Location: Hawaii (the big island)

Score: 36.5/50

  • Accessibility – 5/10
  • Recreation – 7/10
  • Crowds – 9/10
  • Amenities – 7.5/10
  • Scenery – 8/10

Description

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

hawaii volcanoes national park map
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Map | Hawaii National Parks

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

volcano house sunset hawai'i volcanoes national park
Sunset from Volcano House | Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

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.

One thing to note is that November-March is known as the rainy season but don’t let that deter you from visiting as rain typically goes as fast as it comes in Hawaii.


Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Video

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Video | Hawaii National Parks
Synposis

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.


Highlights

thurston lava tube hawaii volcanoes national park best things to do
Thurston Lava Tube, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park | Hawaii National Parks

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.


Kilauea Iki Crater hawaii volcanoes national park
Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park | Hawaii National Parks

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.


Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs hawaii volcanoes national park
Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park | Hawaii National Parks

The Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs archeological site is a vast collection of over 23,000 petroglyphs located in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. 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


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.


Haleakala National Park Summit Sunset, Maui, hawaii national parks
Haleakala National Park | Best Hawaii National Parks

2. Haleakala National Park

Score: 34/50

  • Accessibility – 5.5/10
  • Recreation – 7.5/10
  • Crowds – 6.5/10
  • Amenities – 7/10
  • Scenery – 7.5/10

Description

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.

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. 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

haleakala national park map maui, hawaii
Haleakala National Park Map | Hawaii National Parks

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

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?


Video

Haleakala National Park | National Parks Hawaii
Synopsis

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 rainforests, hidden beaches, underwater worlds, and the last wild home to spectacular wildlife. This is Haleakalā. Filmed primarily in 8K.


Haleakala National Park Highlights

haleakala national park maui, hawaii
The Haleakala Crater | National Parks of Hawaii

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.


Road To Hana maui
Road to Hana | Maui, Hawaii

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.


waimoku falls, haleakala national park waterfall maui, hawaii
Waimoku Falls | Hawaii National Parks

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.


haleakala national park bamboo forest maui, hawaii
Hikers enter the bamboo forest on Maui | National Parks Hawaii

Bamboo Forest About 1 mile in the Pīpīwai Trail gives way to a boardwalk that cuts through the heart of a vast bamboo forest, the likes of which you have never seen. 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

See below map with the locations of Hawaii’s National Parks.


List of Hawaii National Parks

  1. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
  2. Haleakala National Park

See Our Full National Park Rankings

We actually ranked ALL 63 National Parks from best to worst using the same point system featured in this article here. Curious to see how Hawaii’s parks stack up against the rest of the parks nationwide? Click here!


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Catch up on all the latest posts from the crew at More Than Just Parks.

Will Pattiz

Co-founder of More Than Just Parks. Husband. Conservationist. Currently living in NYC.

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