A Quick Guide to Hawaii's National Parks
AAA Travel Editor Katie Broome
Which national parks are on The Big Island of Hawaii?
The “Big Island” of Hawaiʻi is home to five National Park Service units, the most of any Hawaiian island. The list of Hawaiʻi national parks on the Big Island includes the following:
• Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
• Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
• Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
• Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
• Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail
Twenty-nine miles southwest of Hilo, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, covers more than 325,000 acres, making it the largest national park in Hawaiʻi. The massive park was established in 1916 as “Hawaii National Park.” This is the national park to visit if you’re interested in seeing active Hawaiʻi volcanoes and volcanic landscapes, as the park is considered one of the most geologically active areas on Earth. It encompasses the summits of two of the five volcanoes of Hawaiʻi: Kīlauea Volcano and Mauna Loa. Stay a night or two at Volcano House, the park’s only hotel, or in the nearby village of Volcano. (A tip for AAA members: A visit to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is included in AAA's Hawaiian Adventure vacation package.)
Another national park site on the Big Island is Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. About 3 miles north of Kailua-Kona, the 1,160-acre park was established in 1978 and focuses on the Native Hawaiians (kanaka maoli) who lived at this culturally and spiritually significant place. You’ll learn how they lived off the land, built fishponds and located fresh water in a hot and arid environment.
Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park is located on the Kona Coast about 22 miles south of Kailua-Kona. The park commemorates the location of the spiritual sanctuary that once served as a place of refuge for commoners who broke sacred laws (kapu) in ancient Hawaiʻi. Visitors today will see the 965-foot-long Great Wall that encircles the site as well as carved figures and interpretive exhibits about Hawaiian life and culture. (A tip for AAA members: A visit to Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau is included in AAA's Hawaiian Adventure vacation package.)
Walk in the footsteps of more royalty at Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, which explores the early history of the Hawaiian Kingdom at a site 10 miles west of Waimea. Established as a national park site in 1972, it’s the place to see the temple of King Kamehameha I, the Hawaiian king who unified the Hawaiian Islands in 1810.
The newest national park site on the island of Hawaiʻi is the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, a 175-mile corridor that connects trails of cultural and historical significance. The trail follows the sea and includes sandy beaches, modern roads and lava footpaths. You can access parts of it from the four other national parks on the Big Island.
Which national park is on the island of Maui?
The only national park on the island of Maui is Haleakalā National Park. Considered part of Hawaii National Park from 1916 to 1960, the park now encompasses more than 33,000 acres and includes the Haleakalā Summit District (at an elevation of 10,023 feet), the valley of the Kīpahulu District and the ʻOheʻo area near Hāna. It’s the park you should visit to see volcanic landscapes, sub-tropical rain forests, waterfalls and rare species of birds. Temperatures within the park can range from 35 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit due to the variations in elevation, so dress accordingly.
Which national park sites are on Oahu?
There is currently only one national park site on Oʻahu that is open to the public: Pearl Harbor National Memorial. One of the most-visited national park sites in Hawaiʻi, the memorial was established in 1980 as the “World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument” and re-designated as the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in 2019.The site includes the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center as well as the USS Arizona Memorial. All locations within the park help tell the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the subsequent entry of the U.S. into World War II. Park entrance is free, but you’ll need to make reservations for the boat shuttle to the USS Arizona Memorial, which floats as tribute atop the sunken battleship. (A tip for AAA members: A visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is included in AAA's Hawaiian Adventure vacation package.)
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)
Is there a national park on the island of Molokai?
Though isolated, the island of Molokaʻi is home to one national park site: Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Established in 1980, the park’s location was once a place of exile for those afflicted with leprosy. This infectious disease — now called Hansen’s disease — spread rapidly throughout the Hawaiian Islands in 1866. In an attempt to stop the spread, King Kamehameha V sent everyone affected to the isolated colony. Today, access to the park is extremely limited, and there are no roads leading to the site. To get to the park, you must travel by air (via the Kalaupapa airport), on foot (via a challenging cliff trail) or by mule (as part of a guided tour). All visitors must also obtain a special permit from the Department of Health and be over age 16. Check the park website for more information.
Are there any national parks on Kauai?
There are currently no national parks on the island of Kauaʻi. The island does have a few popular national wildlife refuges and state parks, including Kīlauea Lighthouse and Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and Waimea Canyon State Park.
Are Hawaii national parks open year-round?
Most national park sites in Hawaiʻi are open year-round. The only site with holiday closures is the Pearl Harbor National Memorial on Oʻahu; the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center closes on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and on days with high winds or bad weather.
Are Hawaii national parks free?
About half of Hawaiʻi’s national park sites are free, including Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site and Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.
Entrance to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is complimentary, but when you make an online reservation for the USS Arizona Memorial (recommended), you’ll be charged a $1 reservation fee.
While no admission fees are charged at Kalaupapa National Historical Park, access to the park is limited to guests who are on guided tours, which have their own fees. Contact Kekaula Tours, (808) 567-6088, or Saint Damien & Mother Marianne Cope Molokaʻi Tours, (808) 895-1673, for information about guided tours on the island of Molokaʻi.
The three Hawaiʻi national parks that charge admission fees include the following:
• Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park - $30 per private vehicle (up to 15 passengers), valid for 7 days
• Haleakalā National Park admission - $30 per private vehicle (up to 15 passengers), valid for 3 days
• Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park - $20 per private vehicle (up to 8 passengers), valid for 7 days
Discounts are available for visitors arriving by motorcycle, bicycle or on foot.
If you’re planning to visit more than one of the above sites that charge admission, you may want to consider purchasing the Hawaiʻi Tri-Park Annual Pass ($55).
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AAA Travel Editor Katie Broome
AAA Travel Editor Katie Broome is an AAA Travel Expert.