Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park is definitely at the top of my favorite national parks list. The national park is a volcano divided into two sections. The summit district is at the top of the volcano with a mars looking landscape and the Kipahulu district is on the backside near the ocean and has the most gorgeous rainforest that you get to by driving one of the world’s most beautiful drives. The drive isn’t for the faint of heart but it’s bucket list worthy for sure.

Haleakala National Park

We flew in from the Big Island in the afternoon and picked up our rental camper van from Campervan Hawaii. This van itself was a highlight of this trip! We then stopped at Safeway to purchase the most expensive groceries of our lives and finally hit the road for the campground near the top of Haleakala.

Our sweet campervan!

Summit District

There are only six campsites at Hosmer Grove Campground and reservations are really hard to get. We were hoping for two nights, so that we could spend more time at the summit, but were only able to secure one night. We got to the campground after dark and left before the sun so I have no idea what anything other than the bathroom looks like. One of the coolest things about the campervan is that we didn’t have to set anything up. We pulled into our parking spot, put the shades in the windows, and went to sleep. I get the van life movement.

Lights of all the other cars driving up the Haleakala switchbacks for sunrise

One of the top things to do in Haleakala is to watch the sunrise from the top of the volcano. You are above the clouds so the sunrise is magical. The internet had lots to say about this and I was a little nervous about whether it would be as epic as it was made out to be. It was. The top of the volcano is really cold and windy, so bring as many clothes and hand warmers as you can. We bundled up in as much as we could and walked over to grab a spot. Getting in the park before sunrise requires a permit but there were still a lot of people there for sunrise. Don’t let that scare you though. I actually thought that is part of what made it so moving. We were standing next to strangers waiting and hoping to catch a beautiful sunrise. Eventually everyone starts chatting with each other, sharing hand warmers, holding each others cameras. You learn what brought people to such a moment. Some for fun, some to remember loved ones.

Sunrise in Haleakala National Park

Before the sun rose the sky started changing colors and the second the sun peeped the clouds someone started singing a Hawaii chant which they continued until the sun was fully above the clouds. Talk about a magical, beautiful, moving moment. It’s one that will stay with me forever. We waited a bit to watch the sky a little longer but by this point we were frozen. Another perk of the campervan is we could make more coffee in the parking lot!

Heading out on a cold & windy hike into the crater

We sat in a the van for a bit, drinking coffee and warming up, while waiting for the temperature outside to rise. Eventually we got out of the warm van and hiked into the crater. I walked a little ways. The Husband walked a little farther than me. The elevation at the top of Haleakala is 10,000 feet so walking out of the crater is no joke.

Haleakala National Park crater from the Sliding Sands Trail
Haleakala National Park crater from the Kalahaku Overlook

Kipahulu District

While we were only able to get one night at Hosmer Grove, we were able to secure two nights at Kipahulu Campground which is in the section of the national park near the ocean. It’s one of my all-time favorite campgrounds. Getting there is not for the faint of heart though. First, we had to drive down from the top of Haleakala which is a very windy road full of tight switchbacks. Once we got down from the mountain we had to drive around the island of Maui to get to Kipahula. To get there you take the famed Road to Hana! Honestly, it was a lot to drive in one day because both driving down the volcano and driving the Road to Hana requires a lot of intense concentration.

Sunset from the Kipahulu Campground

The campground is a grassy area with picnic tables. One of the coolest things is that the campground is right on the ocean. There’s no beach, just lava rocks, but you are probably 30 feet from the ocean, and serenaded by the ocean every waking moment. Heaven on earth. And if that isn’t enough, there is an epic hike that starts just outside of the campground.

Kipahulu Campground

The next morning we walked a short distance from the campground to the start of the Pipiwai trail. We started the hike first thing in the morning and I’m glad we did because the trail was busy as we were walking back. If you plan to hike this trail, please wear proper hiking footwear and take your 10 essentials. The trail is wet, muddy, and steep in some parts. We saw people in all kinds of craziness, like flip flops and a 16oz bottle of water.

Pipiwai Trail

This is one of the most magical trails I’ve hiked. You start out in the rain forest, a thick rainforest with not a lot of air flow, and a decent incline. At this point I was questioning my life choices. Eventually we made it to the banyan tree and took a quick picture break.

Banyan tree on the Pipiwai trail

Sometime after that we entered the bamboo forest. Coolest part of the hike for sure! The bamboo clanking around sounded like wind chimes. And there was air flow again!

Epic bamboo forest on the Pipiwai trail

After the bamboo forest we crossed a few water falls and eventually made it to the end to see more waterfalls. It felt like a scene from Jurassic Park. You’re able to get closer to the falls than this picture and we did. The canyon walls are so high you have to be pretty far back to get multiple falls in one shot. Waimoko Falls on the left is 400 ft.

Waterfalls at the end of the Pipiwai trail

On our way back to camp we swung by the Pools of ‘Ohe’o near the visitor center. Apparently back in the day you could swim in these but that is no longer the case. We visited in March which is the rainy season and all the water looked liked chocolate milk.

Pools of ‘Ohe’o

We loved our time in Haleakala National Park. We wanted to spend more time at the summit exploring the crater but will have to save that for another trip. Camping in Kipahulu was epic and such a perfect location. Not only were we within walking distance from trails and the ocean, Hana is just down the road and we were able to leisurely explore the area. Overall a fabulous few days.

A Visit to the Big Island of Hawaii

The Island of Hawaii, or the Big Island as most everyone knows it by, has so much to do. It made for a perfect start to our (rainy) Hawaii trip.

We started our Big Island visit by visiting Hawaii Volcanos National Park and stayed at the Volcano House hotel in the park. We had a blast and you can read more about that in my post.

The national park is closer to the town of Hilo and there is lots to do and see in the area. The Wailuku River State Park was a fun surprise. There are two viewpoints in this park and both are right off the parking lots. The first viewpoint is an 80-foot waterfall called Rainbow Falls. We happened to visit in a very rainy season and the waterfall was raging. There weren’t any rainbows but the sheer power of the water was even better.

Rainbow Falls

Right next to the water fall is a huge banyan tree. I don’t know that this was the biggest we saw but it definitely had the most branches.

Just up the road from Rainbow Falls is Boiling Pots. The name comes from when the water is raging, like it was, the water looks like it’s boiling. There was no charge for this park and both sections were worth the stop.

Boiling Pots

Lava Tree State Monument was a cool stop. This was one of the first places we stopped in Hawaii and we were blown away by the flora. It’s a little out of the way but I’m glad we made the drive.

Lava Tree State Monument

Just around the corner from Lava Tree is an area where recent lava flows covered the road. The location is on Google and is known as End of the Road. It’s a crazy thing to see. In general there is lots of this in Hawai’i, in particular on the big island, so if you’ve already seen lots of lava this may not be as exciting. For us it was at the beginning of our trip and was so cool.

End of the Road

The Panalu’u Black Sand Beach was one of our favorite stops. It had been raining for a few days and sunshine was predicted for a few hours so we drove to the beach. We got there early in the morning and were two of four people there. The beach was beautiful and peaceful and just perfect. Not only is the sand black and the beach lined with coconut palm trees, it is known for green sea turtles sun bathing on the shore. Because we were there so early the turtles were still making their way to the beach. We watched them slowly swim to the shore and work their way up the beach. It was a site I will never forget. Eventually more people showed up, including the life guard who created barriers around the sea turtles because they are protected and tourists don’t have boundaries. For whatever it’s worth, the black sand is beautiful but is not comfortable to walk on. It’s crushed lava rock.

Panalu’u Black Sand Beach

We had some time to kill on our way to the airport so we stopped at Pu’uhonua o Honaunu and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Parks.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunu National Historic Park was fascinating and gorgeous. A section of the park was a sanctuary for people who broke sacred laws (kapu) but first they had to make it there by swimming across the bay and walking across the lava rocks. That’s crazy to think about. I’m definitely grateful to be living in this century.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunu National Historic Park

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park was interesting too. We didn’t have as much time here but walked down to the beach where we saw lots of sea turtles (!!) and a fishpond and fish trap. Native Hawaiians created a fishpond where they could capture and hold fish until they were ready to eat them. Within the pond were fish traps built out of rocks. During high tide the water would bring in the fish and as the tide would leave the fish would get stuck in the traps as the water lever went down. Genius. I love learning how people used to lived.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Parks

We stayed at the Volcano House most of the time except for the last evening when we stayed at a treehouse in the jungle. The treehouse was a neat experience but probably not something I would do again for a number of reasons. You have to climb a 15 foot ladder to enter or exit. I knew that when I made the reservation but my brain didn’t really process what that meant. I don’t love heights so climbing a wet, wooden ladder with a bag on my back wasn’t my favorite. The rain forest was gorgeous though and we were surrounded by the sound of the rain forest….coqui frogs included. Like all night long. It was neat for one night. The treehouse was off the grid, cool idea, but the lead acid battery for the solar was inside the treehouse (which is tiny) and did not have a vent to the outside. That’s dangerous and it made sleeping a little unnerving. We let the host know but I’m not sure if they made any changes. For that reason, I would not recommend the Air BnB but it was a once in a lifetime stay.

And a random shoutout, the macadamia nut milk lattes at Kona Coffee & Tea are AMAZING!

I’ll leave you with a funny tidbit. Hawaiians love Toyotas. In particular, lifted Tacomas. Their police vehicles are 4Runner’s. We’re Toyota fans so we support their love. I’ve just never seen so many lifted Tacomas in one place. It’s pretty comical.

After the Big Island we hopped over to Maui for a few days. It’s not a bad way to spend a week if I do say so myself. 🙂

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

The Hawai’i national parks have always been on our bucket list but weren’t something we expected to visit anytime soon. We were planning to take a trip somewhere in March and still trying to figure out where to go. I casually suggested Hawai’i if we could do it cheap and next thing you know I was trying to figure out it. Spoiler alert: Hawaii and cheap cannot be used in the same sentence. We did it as inexpensive as we could but honestly, once I had researched everything there was no way we weren’t going to make it happen.

We flew into Kona and rented a car through Turo. It was my first Turo experience and I loved it. I’m all for anything I can do myself. We left the airport, picked up our car which was waiting for us in the airport parking lot, and hit the road to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park. It’s a two hour drive which after a 5.5 hour flight was a little long, but sometimes that’s how ya roll.

Drive to Hawaii Volcanos National Park

We stayed at the Volcano House because we wanted to be near the crater so we had the best chance of seeing lava. Unfortunately for us, the volcano stopped erupting several days before we arrived. We saw a tiny orange glow the first night but then it stopped. The Volcano House made a great home base though.

When I first started planning for Hawaii, so many of the top things to do lists were suggesting visiting active lava flows. I eventually learned that lava flows come and go, which makes sense, and seeing active lava is not something you can really plan for. Just an FYI if you are planning a trip and expecting to see lava flowing into the ocean like I was. Prior to our trip, I followed USGS Volcanoes and Hawaii Volcanos National Park on social media so I could stay current on the lava situation. Between when we booked our trip and arrived, Mauna Loa erupted once and Kilauea started and stopped multiple times. Basically, don’t get your hopes up.

We visited in March and it was really rainy. The side of the island where the national park is is more rain foresty so that means it rains often. Be sure to bring a rain jacket but don’t let the rain prevent you from planning a trip. Granted I live in the desert and rain is a treat, but the rain added to the adventure.

We don’t own rain jackets so we borrowed some from friends for this trip. On our first full day on the island we woke up to rain but were really excited to use our rain jackets so we hopped in the car and set out to adventure in the rain. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Our first stop was Crater Rim Drive to see into the crater. It was pouring rain so I’m not sure why we actually left the hotel but we thought our rain jackets were going to save us. They didn’t. Turns out, the rain jacket I borrowed was actually a wind breaker, and rain jackets don’t protect your pants from the rain. We were sopping wet in about 60 seconds.

We got back in the car, went back to the hotel, and changed into dry clothes. Because my rain jacket was actually a wind breaker, the down jacket I was wearing underneath ended up soaking wet. Overall this was a hilarious and humbling experience. Just a reminder of how little we can actually control in life. After using a hair dryer to dry my down jacket, we drove into Hilo so I could buy an actual rain jacket. We learned two lessons in this experience. 1. Exploring in light rain is fun. Pouring rain does not make for a good experience even if you are fully waterproof. 2. Make sure your gear is actually waterproof.

Over the next two days we explored as much of the park as we could in short bursts. Rain was is the forecast so we didn’t want to do anything that would leave us out in the elements for hours on end. That meant shorter adventures but we still saw so much and had a blast. The Chain of Craters Road is 18.8 miles and takes you from the visitor center all the way to the ocean. It’s a beautiful drive with stops all along the 18 miles. Some of our favorite stops were:

Thurston Lava Tube. The lava tube itself was a little anticlimactic but the area is beautiful. Oh, and it was raining so being in the tube gave us a quick rain break.

The entrance of the Thurston Lava Tube
Inside the Thurston Lava Tube

The parking lot for the lava tube is on the opposite side of the road of the trail…just a little FYI. There is a trail right in front of the parking lot so we started down that. Eventually we turned around and figured out where to go. The walk to the lava tube is through the rain forest and the flora is just gorgeous.

Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone Hike. This hike starts at the Mauna Ula Trailhead parking lot. It takes you through a lava flow from the 1969 – 1974 eruption of Kilauea and to the top of the Pu’u Huluhulu cinder cone. The trail is marked with cairns so be sure you’re paying attention.

We were hiking in a drizzle so we basically had the trail to ourselves. The contrast between the lava and flora is beautiful. The lava carrot below is one of my favorites. Nature is the coolest.

Holei Sea Arch. The Chain of Craters road ends at the parking lot for the Holei Sea Arch. It’s a 90 foot arch carved cut into the lava flows by the sea.

Holei Sea Arch

The drive down to the sea is gorgeous. Prior lava flows ran all the way to the ocean and you can see it on the drive. When it was active it looked like a lava water fall running off the cliffs.

The sea arch is a short walk from the parking lot. In general there isn’t much to do down here but it is gorgeous.

Just passed the arch we noticed a small grouping of coconut palm trees so we walked over. I’m not sure of the story behind them. They either grew out of the lava or the lava somehow missed them. So random.

On our way back up the road we stopped at the top of the hill to eat lunch and take in the view one last time. The reflection of the clouds on the ocean was breathtaking. I could have stayed there all day.

Our final night in the park we ate dinner at the Volcano House. Exploring and hiking all days works up an appetite and the food was fantastic. The restaurant overlooks the crater so we were treated to sunset with dinner.

We had a great time and are glad we made the trip to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park.