Hawaii’s state parks: Worth a visit?
Are Hawaii’s most popular state parks worth your visit just because they’re, well, the most popular?
Depends on how much time and patience you have for exploration.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority’s just-released 2007 Hawaii State Parks Survey reports that our parks enjoyed 10.1 million visits from residents and visitors last year. That’s a 10 percent jump from figures collected from a previous survey in 2003.
Residents can visit most of ‘em anytime the mood strikes; interisland airfares are still low. But, if you’re visiting, which of them should you fit into your already busy Hawaii vacation schedule?
We broke down the pros and cons of Hawaii’s 10 most visited state parks for you.
1. Nuuanu Pali State Wayside (Oahu)
Why you should go: Pali means “cliff” in Hawaiian. This one has sweeping views of the windward side of the island from more than a thousand feet up.
Why you might skip it: It’s almost always crowded. It’s almost always windy and cold, too—so bring a jacket or sweater. Skirts not advised; it’s that windy.
2. Wailua River State Park (Kauai)
Why you should go: For ground- and mountain-level vistas of Hawaii’s longest navigable river, or a riverboat trip to foliage-lined lava cave Fern Grotto.
Why you might skip it: The only way to get to Fern Grotto is the riverboat tour, which costs $20.
3. Haena State Park (Kauai)
Why you should go: There’s great snorkeling and scuba diving at Kee Beach, multiple sea caves to explore, and an impressive view of the Na Pali Coastline.
Why you might skip it: Parking can be a hassle.
4. Diamond Head State Monument (Oahu)
Why you should go: A half-hour climb ends with sweeping views of Oahu’s entire south shore, and the best views of Waikiki.
Why you might skip it: It can be a hot hike. It’s always crowded at the top.
5. Makena State Park (Maui)
Why you should go: To explore the south shore park’s more than 165 coastal acres of white sand beach—a favorite getaway for Maui residents
Why you might skip it: If you walk north to “Little Beach,” you should know it’s the island’s most popular spot for nude sunbathers.
6. Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area (Big Island)
Why you should go: It’s the island’s finest beach—a half-mile long stretch of white sand with crystalline waters and great bodysurfing and body boarding.
Why you might skip it: The Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, which plopped itself on the beach’s once unsullied north end 15 years ago. The surf can be dangerous here, so use caution.
7. Iao Valley State Monument (Maui)
Why you should go: It’s the most dramatic and lush stream-cut valley on an island that’s full of them. You can see the Iao Needle—a lava remnant—and the green cliffs of dormant Puu Kukui volcano.
Why you might skip it: Lush comes at a soggy price—it’s also the second wettest place in the state.
8. Waimea Canyon State Park (Kauai)
Why you should go: Mark Twain didn’t call Waimea Canyon the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” for nothing. At 10 miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep, it’s nirvana for hikers.
Why you might skip it: You’ll need more than a day-long visit to fully explore its acreage.
9. Na Pali Coast State Park (Kauai)
Why you should go: It’s popular, but not crowded. The park occupies more than 16 miles of pristine, valley-rich coastline on the island’s north shore—inaccessible to automobiles and unforgiving to casual hikers.
Why you might skip it: That “unforgiving to casual hikers” thing. Fully exploring Na Pali and its valleys via its Kalalau foot trail requires overnight camping plans.
10. Kaena Point State Park (Oahu)
Why you should go: It’s the most remote spot on the state’s most populated island—a narrow wave-pounded peninsula with unspoiled views of Oahu’s north and east shores, and the Waianae Mountains.
Why you might skip it: If you’re getting there by car, you’ll have to choose between its windward and leeward sides.
What’s your favorite Hawaii state park?