A Guide to Hawaii's State and County Parks


Beyond Hawaii's iconic beaches and bustling resorts lies a world of untamed beauty waiting to be discovered. There is also the paradise of state and county parks, where the real magic of the islands unveils itself. Whether you seek adventure, serenity, or a deeper connection with Hawaii's cultural heritage, these hidden gems offer a captivating glimpse into the soul of the archipelago. Join us as we venture off the beaten path, where lush valleys, volcanic wonders, and secluded coastlines await, promising an unforgettable journey through Hawaii's most exquisite natural treasures.

Oahu State and County Parks

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, located on the island of Oahu, is a true aquatic gem and a must-visit destination for snorkeling enthusiasts and nature lovers. This stunning bay was formed within a volcanic crater, creating a unique and protected marine environment. It is renowned for its crystal-clear waters, abundant marine life, and vibrant coral reef, making it one of the best places to snorkel in Hawaii. Snorkelers here can expect to encounter colorful fish, sea turtles, and a variety of other marine creatures, all set against a backdrop of underwater cliffs and coral formations. To preserve this delicate ecosystem, Hanauma Bay operates as a nature preserve, with strict guidelines in place to protect the environment. Visitors are required to watch an informative video about reef etiquette and conservation efforts before entering the park.

The bay also offers amenities such as lifeguards, restrooms, and picnic areas, making it a family-friendly destination. However, because of its popularity, Hanauma Bay can get crowded, so arriving early in the day is advisable. The bay is usually closed on Tuesdays to allow for reef recovery and maintenance, so it's a good idea to check the schedule before planning your visit. Hanauma Bay is not only a place to witness the natural beauty of Hawaii's marine life but also a testament to the importance of conservation and responsible tourism in preserving these fragile ecosystems.

Diamond Head State Monument

Diamond Head State Monument, located on the island of Oahu, is one of Hawaii's most iconic natural landmarks and a popular destination for both outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs. This ancient volcanic crater, known as "Leahi" in Hawaiian, offers visitors the chance to hike to its summit, providing breathtaking panoramic views of Honolulu, the Pacific Ocean, and the lush landscape of Oahu. The hike is a moderately challenging 1.6-mile round trip, featuring a series of switchbacks and a steep staircase that leads to the summit. Along the way, you'll encounter informative signposts explaining the geological and historical significance of Diamond Head.

At the summit, visitors are rewarded with a truly stunning vista that makes the effort worthwhile. You can see the sprawling city of Honolulu, the sparkling waters of Waikiki Beach, and even as far as the Waianae Mountains on a clear day. The summit area also houses a historic military bunker built in the early 20th century, offering a glimpse into the area's military history. Diamond Head State Monument is a must-visit for those looking to combine outdoor adventure with breathtaking views and a touch of Hawaiian history. It's advisable to arrive early to avoid crowds and the midday heat, and be sure to bring water and wear comfortable hiking shoes.

Waimea Bay Beach Park

Waimea Bay Beach Park is a picturesque and renowned destination located on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. This beach is famous for its dramatic, towering winter waves, which attract some of the world's top surfers. During the winter months, Waimea Bay is a magnet for big wave surf competitions, including the prestigious Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest, which only runs when waves reach a minimum height. It's a spectacle to watch surfers ride waves that can reach heights of 30 feet or more. The bay's iconic shoreline is flanked by large, lush cliffs and framed by the lush, green backdrop of the Waimea Valley, creating a stunning natural setting.

In contrast, during the summer months, Waimea Bay transforms into a peaceful, family-friendly beach with much calmer waters. The large sandy beach is perfect for sunbathing, picnicking, swimming, and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters. A massive rock, known as "Jump Rock," stands near the shore and is a favorite spot for thrill-seekers to leap into the deep waters below. There are lifeguards on duty during the summer months, but it's essential to check the surf conditions and heed any warnings, as the ocean can still have strong currents at times. Waimea Bay Beach Park is not only a natural wonder but also a place where you can experience the dynamic beauty of Hawaii's coastline throughout the year.

Ala Moana Regional Park

Ala Moana Regional Park is a sprawling urban oasis situated between downtown Honolulu and the Waikiki district on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Covering approximately 100 acres, this park is a beloved recreational haven for both locals and visitors. One of its most notable features is the expansive sandy beach that stretches along its southern shoreline, offering a peaceful escape from the city's hustle and bustle. The calm, protected waters are perfect for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and even beginner-level surfing. The park provides plenty of picnic areas with tables and grills, making it an ideal spot for families and groups to gather for a day of outdoor fun.

Ala Moana Regional Park is not just about beach activities; it also boasts a variety of amenities. There's a wide promenade along the beachfront, great for walking, jogging, or just enjoying the scenic views of the Pacific Ocean. The park features beautifully landscaped gardens, a lagoon with paddle boats for rent, tennis courts, and even a music pavilion where cultural events and performances often take place. Additionally, the park hosts popular events like the annual Honolulu Festival, attracting visitors from around the world. With its central location and diverse recreational opportunities, Ala Moana Regional Park is a cherished retreat for both relaxation and active pursuits.

Manoa Falls Trail

Manoa Falls Trail is a popular hiking trail located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, within the lush Manoa Valley. This relatively short and family-friendly hike is known for its accessibility and the stunning natural beauty it offers. The trailhead is easily accessible from Honolulu and Waikiki, making it a convenient escape into nature for both locals and tourists. The trail is approximately 1.6 miles round trip and takes hikers through a dense rainforest, passing by bamboo groves, banyan trees, and a variety of tropical flora.

The highlight of the hike is undoubtedly the 150-foot Manoa Falls, a picturesque waterfall surrounded by vibrant greenery. The trail leads to a viewing area at the base of the falls, where visitors can enjoy the refreshing mist and take in the scenic beauty. While the hike itself is relatively short, it's important to be prepared for the occasional muddy and slippery sections, especially after heavy rainfall. Due to its popularity, the trail can get crowded, so it's advisable to visit early in the day to avoid the crowds and to enjoy a tranquil experience in this tropical paradise. Manoa Falls Trail offers a convenient and rewarding escape into the heart of Hawaii's lush rainforest, making it a must-visit for nature lovers and hikers of all levels.

Manoa Falls Trail

Maui State and County Parks

Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā National Park is a breathtaking natural wonder located on the island of Maui in Hawaii. The park is renowned for its stunning landscapes and unique geological features, with the focal point being the dormant Haleakalā volcano, which stands at over 10,000 feet above sea level. One of the most popular activities at the park is witnessing the sunrise or sunset from the summit of Haleakalā, an experience that feels almost otherworldly as the sun rises above the clouds, casting an ethereal glow across the volcanic crater. The park offers several viewing areas, including the famous "Pu'u 'Ula'ula" (Red Hill) summit, which provides a mesmerizing panorama of the crater and the surrounding islands.

Haleakalā National Park also boasts an extensive network of hiking trails that allow visitors to explore the diverse landscapes within the park. Whether you're interested in hiking through the otherworldly cinder desert of the summit area, descending into lush bamboo forests, or taking in the views along the Sliding Sands Trail, there's a trail for every level of hiker. Additionally, the park is home to unique flora and fauna, including the silversword plant, which is found nowhere else in the world. To fully appreciate the park's beauty and history, visitors should explore the visitor centers and learn about the cultural and ecological significance of this remarkable place. Haleakalā National Park is not just a natural wonder; it's a testament to the rich geological and cultural heritage of Hawaii.

Iao Valley State Monument

Iao Valley State Monument is a picturesque and culturally significant site located on the island of Maui, Hawaii. This lush valley is nestled in the West Maui Mountains and is known for its dramatic landscapes, steep green cliffs, and the iconic Iao Needle. The Iao Needle is a striking, slender pinnacle that rises approximately 1,200 feet above the valley floor, surrounded by a dense rainforest and often shrouded in mist. The valley is a popular destination for both nature enthusiasts and history buffs, offering hiking trails that lead to viewpoints overlooking the needle and the surrounding scenery.

Beyond its natural beauty, Iao Valley holds historical significance as the site of a pivotal battle in Hawaiian history. It was here in 1790 that King Kamehameha I defeated Maui's warriors in his quest to unify the Hawaiian Islands. Visitors can explore the area's cultural history by visiting the park's visitor center, which provides insights into the valley's historical and ecological importance. Iao Valley State Monument is a serene and reflective place, offering a glimpse into Hawaii's natural beauty and its rich cultural heritage, making it a worthwhile stop for those exploring Maui.

Waianapanapa State Park

Waianapanapa State Park is a mesmerizing natural gem located on the rugged eastern coast of the island of Maui, Hawaii. This park is known for its striking contrast of colors, where lush green vegetation meets the deep blue Pacific Ocean and the volcanic black sand beach. The beach itself is one of the highlights, with its unique black sand created by the volcanic activity in the area. Visitors can stroll along the shoreline, sunbathe, or even take a refreshing swim in the clear, cool waters.

The park also features a network of trails that lead to various points of interest, including sea caves, lava tubes, and hidden coves. The highlight of these trails is the Waianapanapa Caves, where visitors can explore the dark and intriguing lava tubes created by ancient volcanic eruptions. Additionally, the park is home to a stunning natural lava arch known as the "Arch of Wahine," providing a picturesque backdrop for photographs. Camping facilities are available for those who want to immerse themselves in this unique coastal environment. Waianapanapa State Park is not just a visual feast for the eyes but also a place where you can experience the geological wonders of Hawaii's volcanic past while enjoying the tranquility of the Pacific Ocean.

Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area

Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area is a hidden gem located on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Nestled in the upcountry region of the island, this recreation area offers a serene and cooler escape from the coastal heat. The park is known for its lush, misty forests, diverse hiking trails, and breathtaking views. One of the main attractions is the forested Polipoli Trail, which takes hikers through a beautiful expanse of native and non-native trees, including towering pine and eucalyptus trees that create a unique and enchanting atmosphere.

The park provides a network of well-maintained hiking trails, including the popular Polipoli Springs Loop Trail and the Redwood Trail, which is lined with tall redwood trees. The elevation here ranges from around 6,200 to 7,300 feet above sea level, resulting in cooler temperatures than the coast, making it an ideal spot for a refreshing day of hiking. While exploring the trails, you'll encounter vibrant native flora and fauna, and you may even spot the rare Hawaiian petrel bird. Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area offers a peaceful and off-the-beaten-path experience for nature enthusiasts and hikers looking to immerse themselves in Maui's upcountry beauty. It's essential to come prepared with appropriate clothing and gear, as weather conditions can be unpredictable, especially at higher elevations.

Hawaii (Big Island) State and County Parks

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a remarkable and dynamic destination that showcases the incredible power of nature. The park is home to two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, and is one of the most geologically active places on Earth. Visitors can witness volcanic activity up close, including lava flows, glowing craters, and the ever-changing landscapes shaped by the forces of nature. The Kīlauea Visitor Center serves as a hub of information, providing updates on current volcanic activity, safety guidelines, and educational exhibits about the park's geological and ecological wonders.

One of the highlights of the park is the opportunity to witness the mesmerizing glow of lava at night, particularly at the Halema'uma'u Crater within Kīlauea Caldera. The Chain of Craters Road provides access to various overlooks and hiking trails, allowing you to explore the park's diverse environments, from lush rainforests to stark lava fields. The Thurston Lava Tube is another popular attraction, offering a chance to walk through an ancient lava tube formed by past volcanic eruptions. For more adventurous visitors, backcountry hiking and camping opportunities are available on Mauna Loa, one of the world's largest shield volcanoes. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park provides a unique opportunity to witness the raw power of the Earth's geological processes and is a must-visit for anyone interested in volcanoes and natural wonders. Be sure to check the park's website for current safety information and any park closures due to volcanic activity.

Hawaii (Big Island) State and County Parks

Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls State Park is a scenic natural wonder located on the Big Island of Hawaii. The park is named after the stunning Akaka Falls, a 442-foot waterfall that plunges dramatically into a lush tropical gorge. A well-maintained loop trail within the park offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a short hike through a lush rainforest, leading to multiple viewpoints where you can admire the majestic Akaka Falls and the surrounding natural beauty. The trail is paved and includes steps and railings, making it accessible for most visitors, including families with children.

In addition to Akaka Falls, the park is home to another waterfall, Kahūnā Falls, which can be viewed from the trail. The combination of these towering waterfalls, vibrant vegetation, and the soothing sounds of rushing water create a serene and picturesque setting that's perfect for photography and enjoying the tranquil ambiance of Hawaii's rainforests. Interpretive signs along the trail provide information about the park's flora, fauna, and geological history, making it both a visually stunning and educational experience. Akaka Falls State Park is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and hikers looking to immerse themselves in Hawaii's lush and enchanting landscapes.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

Lapakahi State Historical Park is a captivating historical and archaeological site situated on the northwest coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. This park offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and explore the remains of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village that dates back to the 15th century. The village, known as Lapakahi, is nestled amidst a rugged and stunning coastal landscape. As you wander through the park, you'll encounter stone walls, house foundations, and other remnants of the village, providing a glimpse into the daily lives of Hawaii's indigenous people.

In addition to its historical significance, Lapakahi State Historical Park offers educational programs and interpretive exhibits to help visitors understand the rich cultural and ecological history of the area. The park's coastal location also makes it a great spot for bird watching and enjoying the scenic views of the Pacific Ocean. It's important to be respectful and considerate while exploring the park, as this site holds deep cultural importance to native Hawaiians. Overall, Lapakahi State Historical Park offers a fascinating blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, making it an excellent destination for those interested in Hawaii's heritage.

Waipio Valley Lookout

The Waipio Valley Lookout is a breathtaking viewpoint located on the northeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. It provides visitors with a stunning panoramic view of the Waipio Valley, often referred to as the "Valley of the Kings." The valley features lush, emerald-green cliffs that plunge dramatically to the valley floor, which is dotted with taro fields and a picturesque black sand beach. This viewpoint offers a jaw-dropping perspective of the rugged terrain, deep valleys, and the powerful Hi'ilawe Falls, which is one of Hawaii's tallest waterfalls, cascading down from the back of the valley.

Access to the valley floor is limited and challenging, as the road leading down into the valley is steep and requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle. However, many visitors choose to admire the Waipio Valley from the lookout itself, as the view is already awe-inspiring. The lookout is an excellent spot for photography and appreciating the natural beauty and grandeur of Hawaii's landscapes. Additionally, the area has historical and cultural significance, as it was once the residence of Hawaiian ali'i (royalty) and remains a sacred place in Hawaiian history and mythology. The Waipio Valley Lookout is easily accessible by car, making it a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the Big Island of Hawaii.

Kauai State and County Parks

Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon State Park, often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," is a magnificent natural wonder located on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. This geological masterpiece showcases a deep, colorful canyon with rugged terrain, soaring cliffs, and vibrant shades of red, orange, and green that create a visual spectacle. The canyon was carved by the Waimea River over thousands of years and offers visitors unparalleled panoramic views of one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in Hawaii. The park spans over 1,800 acres and is home to a network of hiking trails, including the popular Canyon Trail, which provides various vantage points for soaking in the canyon's grandeur.

In addition to its striking natural beauty, Waimea Canyon State Park offers numerous lookout points along the Waimea Canyon Drive, including the Waimea Canyon Lookout and the Pu'u Hinahina Lookout, which provide excellent photo opportunities. The canyon is known for its ever-changing appearance throughout the day, as sunlight and shadows play across its rugged terrain. Visitors are advised to check the weather conditions and be prepared for cooler temperatures at the higher elevations within the park. Exploring Waimea Canyon is a must for anyone visiting Kauai, offering an unforgettable experience of Hawaii's geological wonders.

Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park

Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is a pristine and rugged natural wonder located on the northwestern coast of the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Known for its breathtaking beauty and remote wilderness, the park encompasses the iconic Na Pali Coast, characterized by towering sea cliffs, lush valleys, hidden beaches, and cascading waterfalls. The coastline is virtually inaccessible by road, making it one of the most untouched and pristine areas in Hawaii. The park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a variety of activities such as hiking, camping, and boat tours that provide an opportunity to explore this remarkable coastline.

One of the most famous hiking trails in the park is the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile trek that traverses the rugged terrain and offers stunning views of the coastline. Along the way, hikers can camp at designated areas and experience the wilderness of Na Pali up close. Boat tours departing from nearby ports like Hanalei and Port Allen provide an alternative perspective of the coast, allowing you to witness hidden sea caves, marine life, and the soaring cliffs from the water. Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers, offering an unforgettable immersion into the pristine beauty of Hawaii's natural landscapes. Visitors should be prepared for challenging conditions, as the terrain can be rugged and unpredictable weather is common in this remote wilderness area.

Polihale State Park

Polihale State Park is a remote and wild coastal park located on the western side of the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Known for its stunning and secluded beach, Polihale boasts a vast, uninterrupted stretch of golden sand that seems to go on forever. The beach offers panoramic views of the Na Pali Coast to the north and the island of Niihau to the west, creating a breathtaking backdrop for sunset enthusiasts and stargazers. Due to its remote location and lack of city lights, Polihale is also a fantastic spot for stargazing, with clear night skies revealing countless stars and constellations.

Access to Polihale State Park is via a partially unpaved road that can be rough and challenging, so visitors are advised to use four-wheel-drive vehicles for the journey. The park has limited facilities, with picnic tables, restrooms, and outdoor showers available, but there are no lifeguards on duty, so swimming conditions should be assessed carefully. Camping is permitted at Polihale, making it an excellent destination for those seeking a remote and rustic camping experience by the beach. Polihale State Park is truly a hidden gem on Kauai, offering a tranquil and unspoiled beach escape for those willing to make the journey to this remote corner of the island.

Molokai State and County Parks

Pala'au State Park

Pala'au State Park is a serene and culturally significant park located on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. Nestled in the upcountry region of the island, the park is known for its peaceful ambiance, lush forests, and the famous Phallic Rock (Kaule o Nanahoa). The park offers visitors the opportunity to explore the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Molokai while enjoying a tranquil and reflective environment.

The park is home to the distinctive Phallic Rock, a large stone formation with a culturally significant shape. According to Hawaiian legend, the rock represents the genitalia of the demigod Nanahoa, and it is considered sacred by the local community. Visitors can view the rock and the surrounding area via a short and easily accessible trail. In addition to the unique rock formation, Pala'au State Park features picnic areas and a few interpretive signs that provide information about the park's cultural and natural history. The park is a peaceful and contemplative place to learn about Molokai's rich cultural heritage while immersing oneself in the island's lush upcountry scenery.

Halawa Valley

Halawa Valley is a remote and culturally significant destination located on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. This lush valley is one of the oldest settlements in the Hawaiian Islands and holds deep cultural and historical importance to the native Hawaiian community. The valley is known for its verdant, tropical landscapes, towering waterfalls, and vibrant flora and fauna. Visitors to Halawa Valley can explore its rich cultural heritage through guided tours offered by local residents who share their knowledge of the valley's history, traditions, and significance to the Hawaiian people.

One of the highlights of a visit to Halawa Valley is the opportunity to witness Mooula Falls, a majestic waterfall that cascades down the valley's lush cliffs. Hiking to the falls is an adventure in itself, with trails leading through dense vegetation and offering panoramic views of the valley and the coastline. While the hike is rewarding, it can be challenging due to the rugged terrain, so it's advisable to go with a knowledgeable guide. Halawa Valley provides a unique and authentic Hawaiian experience, allowing visitors to connect with the island's culture and natural beauty while respecting its cultural significance and traditions.

Lanai State and County Parks

Hulopoe Beach Park

Hulopoe Beach Park is a stunning and pristine coastal destination located on the island of Lanai, Hawaii. This park is renowned for its exceptional beauty and offers visitors a perfect blend of natural wonders and recreational opportunities. The crescent-shaped beach is known for its soft white sand, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and vibrant marine life. It's an ideal spot for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, and tidepool exploration. The Hulopoe Bay Marine Sanctuary, which encompasses the waters around the beach, is home to a diverse range of marine species, making it an excellent place for snorkelers and divers to encounter colorful fish, green sea turtles, and the occasional spinner dolphin.

Hulopoe Beach Park is also home to the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, which has enhanced the park's amenities, including restrooms, showers, and a beachside restaurant. The park's well-maintained picnic areas make it an excellent spot for a beachside lunch, and there are hiking trails nearby, such as the Lanaihale Trail, which leads to the island's highest peak, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. With its natural beauty and accessibility, Hulopoe Beach Park is a true gem on the island of Lanai, offering a delightful escape for visitors seeking a tranquil and picturesque beach experience.

Kahoolawe State and County Parks

Kanapou Bay

Kanapou Bay is a remote and pristine coastal area located on the Hawaiian island of Kahoolawe. This island was historically used for military training and bombing practice by the United States military but was returned to the state of Hawaii in 1994. Since then, efforts have been made to restore the island's natural environment and cultural heritage. Kanapou Bay is a significant part of these conservation and restoration efforts.

The bay itself features a pristine sandy beach and clear turquoise waters, making it an idyllic spot for swimming, picnicking, and snorkeling. The bay is surrounded by arid landscapes, and it's often noted for its stark beauty and the contrast between the azure waters and the island's rocky terrain. While access to Kahoolawe and Kanapou Bay has been limited in the past due to unexploded ordnance from military activities, efforts have been made to make the island and the bay safer for visitors. Kanapou Bay, along with the entire island of Kahoolawe, serves as a symbol of Hawaii's commitment to conservation, cultural preservation, and the restoration of a once-devastated landscape.

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