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While you could stay in a luxurious resort that offers an ocean view, if you really want to get up close and personal to some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet, why not camp? Plus, you’ll save hundreds or even thousands of dollars that you can use to take part in all sorts of fun outdoor activities in Hawaii, from sunset cruises to flight-seeing and more.
Keep in mind that while most of the island campgrounds in Hawaii are free, you’ll probably still need to obtain a permit. Regulations and fees vary little across the state – but it’s a far cry from what you’d pay for an upscale hotel room or even a moderately priced one at that. Plus, can you imagine zipping open your tent in the morning to incredible views of the dazzling Pacific Ocean?
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One of the best attractions on Kauai, Koke’e State Park is home to the best campsites throughout the entire island chain. Camping here offers the chance to taken in panoramic views of the lush, emerald-hued valley of Kalalau as well as the glistening waters of the Pacific. It’s also ideal for viewing kaleidoscopic tropical birds and indigenous plants. Enjoy hiking in the native rainforest along the rim of Waimea Canyon as well as trails that run through neighboring forest reserves. The park makes an outstanding base for hikers who want to take a trek on some of Kauai’s most challenging and scenic trails. It offers tent camping only with minimally developed sites for the chance to truly connect to nature, though there are restrooms and outdoor showers available.
Anahola Beach Park is a local favorite as it has something for just about everyone, with its white sands protected from high surf by a reef. It’s a great spot for beginning divers and snorkelers, and as the ocean bottom has a few pockets of sand, kids can enjoy swimming here too. The beach park also offers one of the few overnight campgrounds on Kauai’s east coast, which means you can stay here and have easy access to all of its delights. It includes a number of facilities such as restrooms, cold showers, pavilions and picnic tables. The only downside is that since it is such a fabulous place, even though it’s fairly remote, it can get pretty crowded in the summer. Many feel that is well worth it for the opportunity to have such incredible natural beauty right at their fingertips, however.
Set along Kauai’s northwestern shore, Hanalei Bay is renowned for having one of the best beaches in Hawaii with its half-moon shaped bay, golden sands, dramatic cliffs and waterfalls that plunge for 4,000 feet just a short distance from the beach. The small section of the bay known as Black Pot Beach mouth of the Hanalei River has a camping area that features restrooms and showers, a picnic area and an illuminated pavilion. By staying here, you’ll enjoy convenient access to some of the best surfing in Hawaii as well as diving, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking too. This section usually offers the calmest surf among the wild North Shore swells, and with the sandy-bottomed beach sloping gently, it’s safe for beginners. Sunsets here are particularly glorious too, with the gorgeous backdrop of the pier and surrounding mountains.
Milolii Beach is a hidden gem nestled on the breathtaking Na Pali coastline and a favorite among outdoor adventurers, campers and backpackers. The only way to get there is to travel by boat or kayak, but that’s part of the fun of it. As the narrow channel through the reef is especially tricky to navigate when the tradewinds blow strong, you may want to arrange to have a commercial boat operator drop you off and pick you up. Along the way, you’ll be mesmerized at the awe-inspiring beauty that surrounds you. Once you’re there, you’ll enjoy the picture-perfect powdery sands and crystal clear waters as well as lush foliage, spectacular cliffs, magnificent falls and more. Of course, because it’s not easy to access, you won’t have to worry about crowds here.
Keokea Beach Park is set upon the northern shore of the Big Island in Niuli’i, North Kohala, Keokea. The small cove is protected by a man-made boulder wall, and while the coastline is rocky and water conditions are often rough, surfers and fishing enthusiasts will find it ideal. It’s also a great spot to camp for those who are looking for seclusion, as the sites are not used very often. There are lots of mature trees that grow in the grassy camping area which is fronted by the lava rock beach. This is also a perfect place for a picnic or BBQ as it has all of the amenities you’ll need, including covered picnic tables, drinking water, a dishwashing area, electric lights, restrooms and showers. Plus, you’ll be close to the unique plantation town of Kapaau, with many of its galleries located in historic buildings.
Laupahoehoe is another ideal place for those who prefer solitude and privacy, as well as outstanding fishing. Located on a peninsula on the northern coast of the Big Island, this incredibly scenic beach isn’t the type where you can lounge on the sand as it’s covered with black lava, but it is fabulous when it comes to gorgeous vistas – in fact, all campers here will enjoy spectacular views. The lava rocks along the shoreline contrast magnificently with the deep blue waters of the ocean, and on a sunny day, it’s especially jaw-dropping as the Pacific is an intense blue color. The beach is also a historic site – it was here where a tsunami swept in with waves that reached more than 45-feet, taking out a schoolhouse and killing 19 children and five adults. The names and ages of the victims were engraved on a rock, which serves as a memorial in the park. The village was later relocated further inland to avoid another tragedy.
Located between Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the small town of Naalehu, Punaluu is the largest, and arguably the most beautiful black sand beach in Hawaii. Coconut palms fringe its jet black shores, and on most days there are groups of Hawaiian green sea turtles that can be seen basking in the rays of the sun on the sands. Although it can be tempting, resist the urge to get too close – the fascinating creatures are protected by federal and state law. During the day, there is a snack vendor and all the amenities you need are also available, including restrooms and showers. While it’s not the best beach for swimming, when the water is calm you can take a dip or even enjoy snorkeling.
Located south of Kawaihae Harbor on the northwestern coast, Spencer Beach Park is one of the few white sand beaches on the Big Island. This park is amazing for those who want to sunbathe in the rays of the warm Hawaiian sunshine as well as enjoy swimming, snorkeling and diving, with ideal conditions here. As the shore is soft and smooth, it’s also a great place for a picnic, and as the water at its edge is shallow, it serves as a great playground for the kids to splash around. The campground offers all the amenities you need to, including restrooms and showers, grassy lawns, pavilions with electrical outlets and more. If you want to go for a walk, head to the adjacent Pu’ukohola Heiau, which was built by King Kamehameha I in 1791. Just a short stroll to the north is another ancient temple site, Mailekini Heiau on Pelekane Beach, which is considered a sacred area.
This small, just under an acre park on the south side of the Big Island, is almost always bright and sunny and offers some of the most gorgeous ocean, cliff and tidal views on the island. While most of the park doesn’t offer good swimming conditions due to strong currents, there are some very nice fish ponds that are often used by locals for swimming and fishing is popular here too. When entering the park, you’ll see shelters which each have picnic tables, and to the right of those are restrooms and a shady area for camping. A number of large fire pits allow for grilling too, although you will need to bring your own charcoal. The park does tend to get busy with locals on the weekend, including families that come to fish and picnic, during the week the park is often nearly empty, with only the occasional tourist or fisherman.
Haleakala Crater is a top attraction in Hawaii, renowned for its out-of-this-world landscapes, glorious sunrises, and flora and fauna that exist nowhere else on the planet. Camping here offers the best chance to get an in-depth look at all the region has to offer. The two wilderness campsites in the backcountry of Haleakala Crater require hiking to a rather high elevation. Holua sits at 6,940 feet, while Paliku is at 6,380 feet above sea level. The incredible lunar beauty of the crater along with some of the best stargazing opportunities on earth, make it well worth it for an unforgettable island experience. Pit toilets and non-potable water are available at both sites, and while they’re on a first-come, first-served basis, they are rarely full. To get to Holua, you’ll take a 3.7-mile trek down the Halemauu Trail, while Paliku requires a 9.2-mile hike on the Sliding Sands Trail. Due to the high elevation, you will need a jacket and a warm sleeping bag.
If you aren’t up to the challenge, there is another option here and you can drive right up to the campsite. Hosmer’s Grove offers tent-only sites and no open fires are allowed, but it does include running water and a pit toilet.
Kipahulu is a locals’ favorite. It sits on a grassy area just above the Pacific, with the sounds of the waves crashing along the coastline heard right from each campsite. While that’s a definite highlight, it isn’t the best part about camping here – it’s waking up and enjoying the Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo all to yourself. They’re just a short walk away and incredibly serene before the visitor rush hits. The downside is that there are few amenities, you’ll need to pack in just about everything you need. There is no water available, although there are picnic tables at some sites, a grill at each one, and some communal chemical toilets.
At this private oceanfront campground, there are accommodation options for everyone from solo tent campers to large group retreats. You can snorkel right from your campsite and enjoy clean, coastal comfort with facilities better than at public campgrounds. There are also A-frame plantation-style cabins, equipped with outlets, cots, fans, screened windows and storage lofts. The camp even offers Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, a fully-equipped kitchen, an outdoor shower, picnic tables, a BBQ grill and more. Plus, you can rent standup paddleboards and take them out on one of Maui’s best reefs.
Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island doesn’t have a single traffic light. But it does offer the chance to truly get away from it all and enjoy everything from watching the acrobatic spinner dolphins to taking in the spectacular views from atop Munroe Trail. Hulope Bay is an especially romantic spot offering lots of tranquility and breathtaking scenery. And, Hulopoe Beach Park is conveniently the only place where you can legally camp on the island. In addition to the gorgeous beach, the park features six campsites as well as picnic tables, BBQ areas, running water, restrooms and showers.