Best Parks in Big Island

10 Best parks on the Big Islang range from ocean time to camping to lava trees

With so much gorgeous land worth preserving, the Big Island is loaded with parks. These aren't the kind with swing sets and basketball courts, but unique state parks with waterfalls, lava trees, beaches, and views. If you're on the east side in Puna you can visit the remnants of a generations old lava flow that hardened vertically around trees. In Kona there's plenty of snorkeling and swimming and tanning at beach parks along the sunny coast.

What's great about parks on the Big island is that most of the time you can count on amenities such as bathrooms, BBQ areas, picnic tables, pavilions, showers and camp grounds. If you're looking to spend a few days camping by the ocean, Spencer Beach Park is always a reliable option. Offering some of the best camping on the island, it's located along the sunny Kona Coast with a generally calm beach. For great snorkeling, check out Kahalu`u Beach Park in Kona with its fine white sand and abundance of fish, or Mahukona at the other end of the coast, except there's no sand here.

Over on the east side of the Big Island outside of Pahoa, Lava Tree State Park is home to hundreds of vertical, hollow lava columns that stand to remind us of a lava flow from several hundred years ago. You can have lunch and take a walk around the rainforest park.

Whatever you're looking for park wise, 10 Best has you covered for the ten best parks on Hawaii.


Lava Tree State Park
Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt

Yes, trees covered in lava. Well, there aren't trees left in the lava, the lava gathered around them in the shape of the trees and the trees burned away, leaving hollow vertical lava tubes standing all over the park. The trail is just over a half mile longs and waves its way through the flat ground park. There are bathrooms, and it's just a couple of miles towards the coast outside of Pahoa. The lava covered the trees in the 1970s. This is a good quick stop while heading down to explore the winding Puna Coast drive along the ocean.

Local Expert tip: Have a picnic here.

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North Big Island

Mahukona Beach Park is a highly unique and intriguing place. Contrary to its name, there's actually no beach. It's a cement laden park along the water that blends naturally beauty and history. The underwater world here is one of the best places on the island to snorkel. Not only because of it's rampant, colorful fish population, but due to underwater archaeological finds. A sort of underwater museum boasts remnants from the plantation and railroad days. Bring snorkel gear and look for the ladder into the water at the north end of the beach. Backing the beach is the near intact structure of the Hawaiian Railroad Company which functioned here for years. Explore the ruins, but be careful. There are shaded picnic areas here but other than that there are no facilities here so bring water. On Highway 270 look for the access between mile markers 14 and 15.

Recommended for Parks because: Mahukona is home some of the best snorkeling on the island, combining a flourishing world of fish along with historical relics.

Jade's expert tip: Bring lunch because the nearest town is far away.

Read more about Mahukona Beach Park →

Offering some of the island's best camping, Spencer Beach Park has bathrooms, cold water showers, pavilions, electricity, picnic areas and even tennis courts. You can hang out here for free during the day but over night tent and trailer camping can only be enjoyed with a county permit. On any given day, especially weekends, you'll find a large amount of families camping. Those who camp alone with also have fun here because the campers always socialize. Since this is in an area where there aren't any hotels nearby, you can camp here and then explore other attractions and beaches the next day.

Local Expert tip: Come early on weekends to get a good spot.

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In times of yore, those in trouble � women, thieves, and escaped prisoners trying to evade capture � could find safe haven within the walls of this sacred burial ground, wherein lie the remains of Keawe, forefather of the legendary King Kamehameha I. Furthermore, priests who maintained the grounds would absolve offenders of any wrongdoing, allowing them to leave free of reprisal. Today, the pu`uhonua and some 180 acres of royal koi ponds, temple bases, and village sites surrounding it are protected by the National Park Service. It's said that there was about thirty of these sort of places throughout the islands, but this is the only one left standing today.

Local Expert tip: This is the top historical attraction on the island.

Read more about Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park →

A lot of beaches on the Big Island are beautiful, but you can't park anywhere near them. Old Kona Airport beach is attractive AND has lots of parking. In fact, an odd element is that the original airport runway now functions as a parking lot. It's ideal for a family outing, with picnic tables and shelters, showers, and Little League fields, plus ample opportunity for tidal pool exploration. The northern section of the mile-long beach is favored by local surfers and boogie boarders. Centrally located in Kailua Kona, it's a convenient stop when visiting the many restaurant and shops in the area.

Local Expert tip: A perfect stop during a day in town.

Read more about Old Kona Airport State Park →

Easily offering one of the best vistas on the island, this leaf-like peninsula extends far into the Pacific. In the mid-'40s, tragedy struck the village located here when a tsunami swept across the peninsula and claimed the lives of 24 people. A memorial in the park remembers that dreadful incident. Today, Laupahoehoe Point is a terrific place to spend the afternoon, whether your aim is to explore surrounding waterfalls or do some fishing. (Have care: the undertow can be deadly during winter months.) Camping is permitted at the park, and facilities include a pavilion area, restrooms, showers, and camping sites with drinking water and electrical outlets.

Local Expert tip: Drop by when driving between Hilo and Kona.

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Easily one of the Big Island's most popular beaches, Kahalu'u offers parking, equipment rental stalls, a covered pavilion, and a snack bar. A reef far offshore prevents the waters from getting too rough, making a terrific snorkeling opportunity. Have care, though: the beach tends to get crowded early since thousands of locals and tourists flock here to take advantage of the calm turquoise waters. The amount of fish you'll see here on any given day is amazing, to be frank. If you use the fish food we suggest you'll most likely have a swarm of fish around you. Kahalu'u is situated between Kailua-Kona and Kealakekua.

Local Expert tip: Buy some fish food at the beach for an epic snorkeling experience.

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Volcano National Park
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt

Encompassing 520 square miles, this national park is one of the most photographed locales in the Hawaiian chain. For more than 70 million years, volcanic heat and pressure from inside the earth have molded the dramatic landscape, which includes Thurston Lava Tube, still-active Halemaumau Crater, and the highly active Pu'u O'o vent, which has been spewing lava since 1983. Visitors are able to drive the park's 66 miles of roadways, which wind in and out of dense tropical rain forest, but are encouraged to stay on guard since volcanic activity is commonplace and conditions change often. There is also the option to explore the more than 155 miles of marked trails on foot. The Kilauea Visitor Center sits just inside the park's main entrance. The park was designated a World Heritage site in 1987.

Local Expert tip: Dedicate a full day to the park.

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This state park, hidden away in a dense forested area just northwest of Hilo along the gorgeous Hamakua Coast, features two of the Big Island's most majestic scenes: Kahuna Falls and 'Akaka Falls. The former, easily the smaller of the two, cascades over a tree-lined cliff into the canopy below. Meanwhile, the latter tumbles more than 440 feet into a lush gorge, creating a spectacular scene that's been photographed countless times over the years. The trail leading to the waterfalls is moderately strenuous, and the entire walk takes less than an hour. It's idea to drop by the fall on your way to or from Hilo, otherwise it's sort of out of the way if you're in Kona.

Local Expert tip: Explore the trail.

Read more about 'Akaka Falls State Park →

Hapuna Beach, nestled between Kawaihae and Puako, is known for being one of the cleanest, most family-friendly beaches on the Big Island. Its smooth, white sands extend far out into the surf, so wading in the shallows is easy on your feet. During summer months, the beach is at its widest and stays crowded from sunup to sunset; in contrast, winter months bring unfriendly waters with deadly riptides. (Combined with the fact that lifeguards don't work the beach during this season, swimming is unwise.) Beach facilities include camping areas, picnic tables, men's and women's showers, a snack bar, and a pavilion.

Local Expert tip: Spend a full beach day at Hapuna with lunch and ocean toys.

Read more about Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area →


Meet Jade Eckardt

Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Jade has traveled the world and doesn't intend to stop, yet the Hawaiian Islands are still her favorite place. She spent seven years living on Oahu and...  More About Jade