There are more than 50 state parks scattered across the Hawaiian Islands, each one special in its own way. The sheer amount of great parks can be overwhelming to newcomers. To help you decide which ones to visit, we've rounded up Hawaii's best state park.
Heʻeia State Park
There aren’t many who come to Heʻeia without getting on the water. Crystal clear and full of Hawaii's tropical ocean wildlife, it's one of the park’s best assets. Located on Kaneohe Bay Sandbar on Oahu's windward side, this coastal park features the Heʻeia Fish Pond and Heʻeia Kea small boat harbor. To truly get a feel for the place, pair a kayak or catamaran tour with some snorkeling. Local non-profit Kamaʻaina Kids manages the park and offers tours that put proceeds towards the conservation of the area and Hawaii’s youth programs.
Kaʻena Point State Park
Congregating at beautiful Kaʻena Point—the westernmost tip of Oahu—this state park functions as a protected sanctuary for some of the most endangered birds on Earth, including the majestic Albatross. The point can be accessed by hiking three miles from either the Keawa’ula Section on the west side of the island and the Mokuleia Section in the south, with both directions. Try and spot the large sea cave from the west side, and always look out for spinner dolphins if you venture to the park early in the morning.
Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park
Also known simply as Kahana State Park, this lush valley park is Hawaii's only public ahupuaʻa land division. At close to 5,300 acres from sea level at Kahana Bay to 2,670 feet at Puʻu Pauao in the Koʻolau mountain range, Kahana State Park is one of the wettest spots on Oahu. The site sees an average annual rainfall of 75 inches along the coast to 300 inches towards the back of the valley. Kahana Bay and the surrounding area was very important to the native Hawaiians, and the park continues to function as a “living park” with about 30 families still living on its grounds. Visitors can enjoy several hiking trails, sightseeing spots, and campsites.
Puʻu ʻUalakaʻa State Wayside Park
One of the most scenic spots on Oahu, Puʻu ʻUalakaʻa State Wayside Park overlooks the entire south shore of the island including Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach. Residents also refer to this spot as Tantalus Lookout as it is located on Mount Tantalus just a few miles from downtown Honolulu through a rainforest and switchback-heavy road. On clear days, Pearl Harbor and even the lush Manoa Valley can be visible in the distance. The photogenic park is a hidden gem and has amazing sunsets when the weather is nice.
ʻĪao Valley State Park
ʻĪao Valley State Park is located within the West Maui mountains where King Kamehameha I conquered the Maui army in 1790 during the battle of Kepaniwai. A paved 0.6-mile trail will get you to the best viewpoint overlooking Kuka‘emoku, nicknamed the “ʻĪao Needle,” rising 1,200 feet high. The lower part of the park contains a small botanical garden with native Hawaiian flora, and the middle section will take hikers past a peaceful river and grove of trees.
Mākena State Park
This state park is known for two things, the iconic dormant volcanic cinder cone Pu‘u Ola‘i and the adjacent popular white sand beach known as Big Beach or "Oneloa Beach.” The 165 acres just south of Wailea on Maui is great for families and 1.5-mile long Oneloa Beach is one of the more popular ones on the island. Visitors enjoy bodysurfing, surfing, shore fishing, and swimming during calm weather.
Waiʻānapanapa State Park
Just about three miles from downtown Hana town, the 122-acre Waiʻānapanapa State Park is a major highlight along the Road to Hana road trip on the island of Maui. This state park is known for its breathtaking black sand beach, volcanic rocks, seabird sanctuary, a Hawaiian heiau (religious temple), and lava caves. The beautiful scenery and tidepools can be enjoyed from a series of hiking trails along the rugged coastline.
Akaka Falls State Park
About 11 miles north of Hilo on the Big Island, Akaka Falls State Park is known primarily for the thundering 442-foot Akaka Waterfall. Widely accessible thanks to the 0.4-mile loop paved footpath with handrails, the park offers plenty of opportunities to view the cascade along the trail. Also visible from the state park is 300-foot Kahūnā Falls, as well as several other smaller waterfalls, native trees, and exotic plants.
Wailuku River State Park
Possibly the easiest waterfall to view in the entire state, the lookout to view Rainbow Falls inside Wailuku River State Park in Hilo is just a short walk from the parking lot. The 80-foot falls may not be as big as some of the other waterfalls on the Big Island, but the chance of catching some rainbows when the spray of the water meets the sunshine makes it worth it all the same. When the rainfall hasn’t been too heavy, you can see the natural lava cave behind the water, believed to have been home to the ancient Hawaiian goddess Hina.
Hāpuna Beach State Park
Hāpuna is located on the west side of Big Island, and while the park itself encompasses over 60 acres of land, most people come here for the white sand beach. A section of the popular Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail runs through the park along the shoreline if sunbathing or lounging isn’t your style, though keep in mind that the beach at Hāpuna is considered one of the best on the island. With four A-frame shelters available to rent overnight from the Division of State Parks, one can easily spend an entire weekend here soaking in the sun.
Wailoa River State Park
With a convenient location between downtown Hilo and Hilo Bay, the 131-acre Wailoa River State Park is the perfect place to launch a boat or spend the day fishing. Or, wander around the relaxing, landscaped park and pay your respects to King Kamehameha I (a replica of the famous Thomas Gould statues can be found here). Take the time to walk across the unique bridges or utilize one of the picnic tables for lunch. You’ll often see small gatherings at the park, as residents are able to rent out the pavilions for events.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Located on the west side of Kauai island, Waimea Canyon provides spectacular views of waterfalls in the distance, with splatters of greenery within the red and gold soil. With its sweeping canyon measuring 10 miles across and 3,000 feet deep, this state park lives up to its nickname, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” There are multiple hikes to enjoy of various experience levels throughout the area, as well as lookouts to view sweeping vistas from the rim of the canyon that was formed millions of years ago.
Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
One of the most iconic and beautiful areas of Kauai, the Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is a playground for adventure-seekers and nature-lovers. Towering sea cliffs rise above the valley as high as 4,000 feet above sea level and the remnants of native Hawaiian settlement can still be found along the shoreline. The notorious Kalalau Trail inside the park is one of the most difficult hiking trails in the state, but even intermediate hikers can enjoy portions of the trail to Hanakapiai Beach. This state park is lovely from the land side but absolutely stunning from the water.
Kōkeʻe State Park
Kōkeʻe State Park is located in northwestern Kauai offering hiking trails and campsites within the lush valley of the inland region of the Garden Isle. If you’re not going for the tropical plants and wildlife, go for the historical aspects such as the Kōkeʻe Museum that provides educational exhibits on the weather, vegetation, and animal life of the region.
Polihale State Park
Ask any Kauai resident for the best camping sites on the island, and they will most likely mention Polihale State Park on the west side. The remote beach is only accessible via four-wheel-drive vehicle and provides an incredibly long, isolated coastline with killer sunsets and views of the Nā Pali Coast in the distance. Swimming is possible when the waves are smaller but be prepared for dangerous surf when strong, offshore currents are present.