Travel insights from Taylor Coulson, contributing editor of The Compass

Hawaii is for Park Lovers

Oahu’s beaches and rich art, cultural and history attractions aren’t the only things to visit on a trip to Hawaii. It’s definitely the place to be for park-goers and nature enthusiasts. Here are six parks to visit across the islands that make up the archipelago. Visitors will need to pay entrance fees, but be sure to check the national parks free days this year.

Hawaii, the Big Island

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Explore the national park “born of fire and the sea,” for $30 per vehicle and $15 per person. Bike lovers are welcome too, for $25 per motorcycle and $15 per standard bicycle. Some parts of this park mirror the moon and others seem like another planet; this 323,431-acre park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Go backcountry hiking over 123,000 acres of wilderness, participate in special events led by park rangers or drive around the scenic summit of Kilauea or down the slopes to the sea. Look for nenes, Hawaii’s state bird at the overlook along Mauna Loa Road or while remembering the 2018 Kilauea eruption at sunrise.


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“Where can I see the waterfalls?” This is a common question throughout Haleakalā National Park. Unfortunately, it is commonly asked at the summit district of the park which is over 60-80 miles (96 km-128 km) away from Waimoku Falls by car! When visiting the park, make sure you know where you are headed and what is available. It’d be a bummer to drive two hours hoping to see a waterfall in a rainforest only to end up at the summit of a high desert 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in the air! The Pīpīwai Trail at Kīpahulu is 4-miles (6.4 km) roundtrip and contends with an 800-foot (244-meter) elevation change. You can access the Kīpahulu District by driving 12 miles past the town of Hāna on the Hāna Highway. Learn more at this link: Have you hiked the Pīpīwai Trail? Share your impressions with us in the comments! #NPS #NationalParkService #EncuentraTuParque ##findyourpark NPS Photo CP

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Haleakala National Park – Renew your spirit at this special national park known for protecting the union between the land and its visitors. For $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle and $15 per person, you can visit a remote and sacred landscape waiting to be explored. Its Summit area is ideal for skywatching and stargazing with limited light and lack of pollution. Hop on the famous Hana Highway to visit northeast Maui in the Kipahulu district, an area filled with waterfalls, ocean vistas and cultural experiences. Animal lovers should prepare to be amazed because this area has the largest concentration of endangered species of any national park.


Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park – Learn about Hawaiian culture in one of the wettest valleys on Oahu. Cloudy skies are common but they don’t take away from the cultural beauty and adventure that the windward side of the island offers. Plus, entrance fees are nonexistent here! Hikers can access two trails open to the public to experience the ultimate rainforest trek. Kapaʻeleʻele Koʻa and Keaniani Lookout Trail passes two cultural sites and views of Kahana Bay all wrapped up in one mile. Nakoa Trail is a 2.5 mile loop through a tropical rainforest and passes through the Kahana Stream twice.


Napali Coast State Wilderness Park – Discover a stunning wilderness area with deep and narrow valleys and palis (cliffs) soaring 4,000 feet above sea level. In order to get to greenery and fun, visitors must go through Haena State Park which charges $1 per person for non-Hawaii residents while Hawaii residents are free. You’ll see the Pacific Ocean and waterfalls amid the Kalalau Valley, only accessible via the Kalalau Trail for expert hikers. This 11-mile steep and sometimes slippery trail covers five valleys and drops to sea level when it concludes at Kalalau Beach where most hikers set up camp and spend the night relaxing.


Kalaupapa National Historical Park – Expand your Hawaiian history knowledge by visiting a place that needs a lot of healing like this northern peninsula on Molokai. History lovers will seriously enjoy this experience, but be aware of specific requirements for visiting. Kalaupapa was once designated as a community in isolation or a prison for sick residents, but now is a place for education and observation. Some say the “land has the power to heal,” so it makes sense that visitors seeking volunteer work find comfort in this park. Cultural resources in the park like its architecture, cemeteries, museum collection and archeological artifacts are dedicated to the thousands of people sent here and for educating the public on Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy.


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This place’s name is Keahiakawelo (“the fire of Kawelo”), and it has a meaningful story. Centuries ago, there was a kahuna on Molokai who became angry with the people of Lānaʻi, sending prayers of ill will across the channel to the livestock and the island’s people. Kawelo, who was the kahuna of Lānaʻi, kept a fire lit at an altar in the uplands of Kaʻā to ward off the evil spirits and send them back to Molokai, inevitably saving his people. The landscape of Keahiakawelo, as we see it today, is the result of wind erosion and the large numbers of wild animals that once roamed free, but there was vegetation before. “It was a low forest with what are now rare natives—lama (Hawaiian ebony), gardenia, olopua, naio, ʻālaʻa, keahi, maile (a native twining shrub) ... and on,” said Kepā Maly. “The trees were likely not much more than 30 feet high, lower in the wind-buffeted fronts of the forest.” The ʻōhiʻa lehua had a purple blossom unique to only Lānaʻi. Now extinct, they’re fondly referred to as the po lehua, and were connected to Keahiakawelo’s legend: The wind blowing the black smoke from the fire of Kawelo turned the nearby forest of lehua flowers into purple blossoms. Now immortalized in this legend, the pigment of these flowers is left to the imagination for most people and memories passed down for others. Photo by me. #lanai #keahiakawelo #hawaii #hawaiianhistory

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Keahiakawelo – Experience the remote landscape similar to Mars just west of Maui on the north side of Lanai. This rock garden, known as the garden of the gods, is perfect for travelers on wheels; whether that’s via four-wheel drive vehicles or a mountain bike. On a clear day you can even see Molokai and Oahu from the park. With boulders and rock towers galore, this mysterious lunar-like topography really keeps Hawaii’s fire burning.

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