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Epic Hawaii Road Trip Itinerary for National Park Lovers

It’s no secret we love the national parks, so our trip to Hawaii centered around visiting the two national parks there – Hawai’i Volcanos and Haleakalā. We were in Hawaii for a week and visited the Big Island and Maui (Haleakalā and Hana). We felt like we had enough time to explore the parks, and saw so many epic sites, but did not have time to explore the entire island. If you love the parks and want an epic weeklong itinerary, feel free to use what we did as a baseline.

We visited Maui in March 2023. Since then, Maui experienced devastating wildfires that destroyed Lahaina. We spent time in Lahaina and it was one of the places on my epic Hawaii itinerary. I’m sharing our time on the island to remember the special time we had and the beauty and history Lahaina holds. I have no doubt Lahaina will return but not sure how long it will take or what the new Lahaina will look like. My deepest condolences to all affected by the fires.

Day 1: Fly into the Kona airport on the Big Island. Rent a car and drive to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park. Spend two nights at the Volcano House in the national park.

Bonus tips: Grab lunch at Kona Brewing, stop at the grocery store to get any food/snacks for the next few days, and then grab a macadamia nut milk latte from Kona Coffee and Tea before hitting the road to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park. It’s a two hour drive so the caffeine boost is helpful after a long day of flying.

Day 2: Spend the day exploring Hawai’i Volcanos National Park. We made dinner reservations at the Volcano House restaurant and it was a fantastic choice after spending the day exploring and hiking.

Suggested activities: Obviously get your picture with the sign because were you even there if you don’t have a sign picture? Stop in the Visitor Center to get your map and learn about the park. Drive Crater Rim Road and stop at the view points to see inside the crater. Grab a picnic lunch, drive Chain of Craters Road, and stop at any or all of the stops. Our favorite stops were the Kīlauea Iki Overlook, Thurston Lava Tube, Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone hike, lunch on a curb near the Kealakomo Overlook starring out into the ocean, and the HöleiSeaArch. We wanted to hike the Kīlauea Iki trail but had heavy rain storms off and on and didn’t want to be hiking in the middle of that.

Day 3: Do any remaining things in HVNP and explore the area outside of the park. Can either spend one more night at the Volcano House or stay in a unique AirBnB for the night.

Some of our favorite stops were Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach, Wailuku River State Park (make sure to stop at both stops – Rainbow Falls and Boing Pots), and Lava Tree State Monument. We stayed in a treehouse in the rainforest outside of HVNP. It was a fun and unique experience but I have mixed feelings about the specific place we stayed.

Day 4: Book an intra island flight for the afternoon to Maui. Spend the morning exploring a few more places on the way back to the airport.

Our favorite stops were Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park and Kaloko-Honoköhau National Historical Park. If you didn’t get to see the black sand beach yesterday, stop even for a few minutes on your way to Kona. We flew Southwest inter-island but learned they only fly once a day and the flight is often delayed. I’d suggest flying Hawaiian Airlines for inter-island. Once in Maui we picked up the campervan (highly recommend Campervan Hawaii!), stopped at the store for groceries, and headed up to Hosmer Grove Campground to camp for the evening. Because our flight was delayed we pulled in in the dark and didn’t have time to explore. Sad face.

Day 5: Get up super early to watch the sunrise on Haleakala, explore the top of the crater, drive the Road to Hana, and camp at Kīpahulu Campground.

If you’re not staying at Hosmer Grove, be sure to reserve your sunrise ticket ahead of time. Post sunrise, hop in the van to warm up and drink some more coffee. Once warm go hike/explore the top of the crater. Drive to the Kīpahulu Campground in the afternoon and explore the Road to Hana on your way. Stop at attractions as you have time/interest. Driving in at the end of the day seemed ideal for exploring as a lot of the day traffic was on its way out. We had a chill drive and not many people were at the stops. We loved Kīpahulu Campground! Not only did we listen to the ocean for days, it’s such a beautiful area, and there is so much to do nearby.

Day 6: Hike the Pipiwai Trail in the morning. Drive to Hana in the afternoon and explore the sites you missed on the drive in. In general, have a chill day in one of the most beautiful places.

Day 7: Chose your own adventure day. This is your last day in Maui so find one more place to explore.

Our final destination was Lahaina. We visited in March which is prime whale watching season and scheduled a tour for the afternoon. Unfortunately, a storm rolled in that day and our tour was cancelled. We stayed at the Best Western on Front Street which was a fun vibe until we tried to go to sleep. The location was great and made for a fun last evening. We were able to do some souvenir shopping, eat, people watch, and get ready to head home. Problem with staying on Front Street is the party doesn’t stop just because you have an early morning flight. :/

Day 8: Return the campervan, head to the airport, and fly home. 🙁

We loved this campervan! It allowed us to experience Maui in a way we never could have staying in a hotel. This will forever be one of our favorite road trips. We rented from Campervan Hawaii and had a fantastic experience. The van was clean and had all the extras needed to live in for a few days. They even gave a full five gallon jug of water. 10/10 stars.

If you have questions about our trip, logistics, etc, feel free to leave a comment. Happy planning!

The Road to Hana – Maui, Hawaii

If you’ve been on the Road to Hana you know how epic it is. If you haven’t been on the Road to Hana, you should add it to your bucket list. It legitimately might be one of the most beautiful drives we’ve ever taken. We had some fun and exciting (not) weather on our drive so we got to experience the Road to Hana in a number of situations. Definitely got the heart pounding a little faster at times.

Road to Hana

If this is your first time hearing about the Road to Hana, it’s a 59 mile stretch of road in Hawaii on the island of Maui between the towns of Kahului and Hana. The last 35 miles are what people are really referring to when they talk about the Road to Hana. The road takes you though a gorgeous, dense rain forest on the edge of a mountainside. The road is not for the faint of heart. There are 59 one lane bridges and 620 curves in the road. The road is pretty narrow in general and you have to be constantly paying attention.

Road to Hana

There is etiquette for driving the Road to Hana. Pay attention for locals and let them pass. Another biggie is at the bridges, traffic is supposed to proceed in order of arriving at the bridge. Sometimes one side would never stop which means the other side can never go. It was really frustrating when this would happen. If we all take turns we’ll all get where we are going.

One Lane Bridge on the Road to Hana

Aside from the beauty of the drive itself, there are stops all along the road which is probably a large reason as to why there is such a draw to this road. Waterfalls, different colored sand beaches, epic vistas, arboretums, food and beverage stops. It’s truly an epic adventure. There are a million websites telling you where all the stops are and which are the best and must do. Honestly, it got a little overwhelming trying to make sure we saw it all. We’ve become pretty adaptable when we travel and have learned to have a list of things we want to see but then figure it out as we go based on how we feel in the moment. That worked well for us on the Road to Hana.

Road to Hana

Lodging along the Road to Hana is hard to come by and can be expensive. Just passed the town of Hana is the Kīpahulu District of Haleakala National Park. We were fortunate to grab a campsite at the Kīpahulu campground within Haleakala National Park and it made the perfect home base.

Kipahulu Campground

If you’re planning to drive the road, get the smallest car you can get. For real. The lanes are narrow and you are going to be so much more comfortable in a smaller car. Think smaller and harrower. No wide race cars. We saw some people in Chargers which took up the entire lane. We had a Mercedes Metris campervan and it was the max size I’d want to drive. We met a couple at the campground who had rented a Sprinter Van and it was a bit big for the road.

Keanae Arboretum

One of our favorite stops was the Keanae Arboretum to see the rainbow eucalyptus trees! Seriously, my favorite trees ever. A close second is any tree wrapped in vines, which are also all over Hawaii. The eucalyptus reminded me of rainbow colored redwoods. I’m not sure if they even come close to redwoods in right but they are tall. Add rainbow bark and you have the coolest tree ever! It’s a free and quick stop. There are lots of other beautiful plants to look at too.

Rainbow Eucalyptus at Keanae Arboretum

The Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park is a must do. It’s one of my favorite hikes ever. It can be very wet and muddy, at least in March, so please make sure you are wearing appropriate hiking footwear.

Pipiwai Trail – Haleakala National Park

We had reservations at Waianapanapa State Park, the black sand beach, but didn’t end up going. I don’t remember why we didn’t go. Oh right, we spent too much time driving sketchy roads the day before and needed a break from driving. We had seen black sand on the Big Island so we had already checked that box. Instead, we had a leisurely day around camp and it was just what we needed. We explored the national park, drove into Hana, and explored the other end of the road.

Koki Beach

Koki Beach is a red sand beach. It’s not a good beach for swimming as it has dangerous currents, but it’s beautiful to look at.

Practically every turn in the road has a waterfall. Some you can swim in and some you cannot because they are on private property. The day we left it was storming really bad and the waterfalls all looked like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Waterfalls on the Road to Hana

Some of our food stops were for coffee, ice cream, shaved ice, and banana bread. Everyone raves about Aunt Sandy’s and it’s legit. Don’t skip the banana bread. The Huli Huli chicken is supposedly legendary but it was closed when we got there. 🙁

Food Stops on the Road to Hana

There is no cell service on the Road to Hana. We downloaded the Guide Along app ahead of time and highly recommend it. The app is GPS based and narrates the drive. It tells you of upcoming stop ideas, must see places, and the history of the areas you are driving though.

A couple tips. Driving there and back to Hana from anywhere in Maui makes for a long day. If you can, I’d suggest staying someone near Hana so that you can really enjoy yourself. The weather can be unpredictable. It was literally flooding in Haleakala when we left and by the time we got to the start of the Road to Hana, it was sunny with blue skies. Always have your rain gear in Hawaii. Be respectful of private property. The entire area is absolutely gorgeous, and we all want to enjoy it, but people do live in the area and many of the attractions are on private property. Respect signs and do not go in areas you are asked to stay out of.

Rainbow on the Road to Hana

One final story before I wrap up this adventure. On our final morning at the Hosmer Grove Campground, we woke up to a crazy storm and a flood warning. The weather was only going to get worse as the morning went on, and we had afternoon whale watching reservations in Lahaina, so we decided to book it out of the area as fast as possible on a sketchy road in the middle of a sketchy storm. It felt like we were in the scene of a movie trying to outrun something. Flooded roads, dodging fallen trees, rain pouring. Being that it’s a rain forest, I’m sure it’s normal for that area, but this desert girl was a little freaked out. The Hana road crew was out cleaning up the road in the middle of the storm which made me feel better about our life choices in that moment. When we finally got out of the storm we saw the rainbow above and all was right in the world again.

The Road to Hana is an epic adventure and worth how every many hours of days you have to spend on it.

Death Valley National Park

If I’ve learned nothing else from this past year, it reminded me how important it is to do the things you want while you can. As such, my travel list has grown substantially. It’s possible all this time at home has provided extra time for wanderlust and list creating.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park was on my list because it’s a national park but it was never a priority. The hottest place on earth? Meh. I mean, what’s really great about that? Boy was I wrong! Death Valley is so cool! We were there for three days and only scratched the surface. Little Miss was supposed to join us but ended up having a conflict so we brought a couple friends. Traveling with friends is so much fun! We arrived in the afternoon and tried to squeeze in a few sites before dark.

Badwater Basin

At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. The area is covered in salt flats that you can walk out on. We walked out a ways but the scenery wasn’t changing so we turned around. Apparently we stopped too soon and if you walk out farther the salt flats start to get really cool. Next time.

Right next to Badwater Basin is the Devil’s Golf Course. We almost didn’t stop here and I’m so glad we did! Pictures do not do the area justice. Those are not rocks but rather rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain to create the jagged spires you see. They are fascinating to see in person!

As we worked our way back to camp we drove Artists Drive Scenic Loop. It’s an 8.5 mile one way drive that winds through hills splashed with different colors.

Artist Palette

We had a little bit of daylight left after we finished the scenic drive so we stopped at Golden Canyon. We didn’t get very far in but what we saw was so cool. Apparently Star Wars was filmed in the some of the canyons back in the day and Golden happened to be one of the locations.

DAY 2

Our goal for the morning of Day 2 was the Ubahebe Crater and we stopped at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes on the way. If you haven’t been to sand dunes before, they’re similar to Las Vegas. Everything looks close but you soon find out your destination is miles away.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

We planned to hike to the highest dune at only a mile away. Easy peasy, right? Not! We got 1/2 or 2/3 of the way there and decided we were good. The constant up and down sand hills is tiring. The dune we were going for is the tallest one you see in the right side of the picture below.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

We read that it’s best to visit Ubahebe Crater earlier in the day as the wind picks up in the afternoon. That’s not a joke. We left camp later in the morning that planned so by the time we made it to the crater is was close to lunchtime. The wind is legit and was making it so hard to walk. You can walk around the entire crater but we opted for only a short section. Pictures do not do the crater justice. It’s huge and so cool in person.

Ubahebe Crater

The picture below is an accurate depiction of how windy it was. We planned to have a nice picnic lunch on the edge of the crater but instead huddled behind the truck in the parking lot.

If you are planning to visit the crater, the turn off of 190 is not well marked. We were traveling north on 190 and completely missed the turn off. Next thing we know we were at the sand dunes, which at this point we didn’t realize are after the turn off. Once we left the sand dunes we kept on driving and eventually realized we were driving west, towards the other exit of the park. Nothing like adding a bunch of unnecessary miles to the day!

After lunch we worked our way back to camp and stopped at the Keane Wonder Mill & Mine. It was a gold mine in the early 1900’s and we spent some time exploring the area. I love seeing bits of history and imaging what it would be like to be alive during that time. I cannot, however, imagine mining in Death Valley pretty much anytime of year.

Keane Wonder Mill & Mine

After our mine exploration we headed back to camp. The boys had to do a little camper maintenance (change a broken leaf spring on a trailer) and they needed enough daylight to get the task done. Once the sun set, we watched a movie outside. Is there anything cooler than watching a movie outside while camping? I think not.

DAY 3

On our third day and final day in the park, we got up early to watch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point. It’s a short walk from the car but a very popular destination. Get there early to ensure a parking spot. This view of Death Valley is stunning. Even if you don’t get here for sunrise, be sure to stop by.

Full Moon Setting from Zabriskie Point

Our next destination was Dantes View, a viewpoint 5,500 feet above the valley floor. On the way, we drove through the 20 Mule Canyon which was a fun little side trip. Dantes View is 25 miles from Furnace Creek and not really worth the drive in my opinion. The view was nice but the drive was long and it was really windy up there. Personally, I’d rather have spent that time exploring the other areas of the park.

Dantes View

Next up, the boys wanted to ride Artist Drive so we picked up their bikes and dropped them off. Man, that road is steep! The picture below is one of my favorite from the trip. I was driving up the road and looked in my rear view to see this image. So I stopped and took a picture.

Riding Bikes on Artist Drive

And they rode their mountain bikes which makes it extra hard. But now they can say they rode in Death Valley!

Artist Palette

We visited in February 2021 and unfortunately, the Visitor Center was closed due to the pandemic. But we did get to see the iconic sign! The temps were perfect when we were there.

Our last stop was Harmony Borax Works. I had no idea borax is mined in California nor what it’s used for other than my favorite ant bait, but now I do! Borax was found in Death Valley in 1881 and a plant built shortly thereafter. The borax had to be hauled from Death Valley to the nearest railroad. They filled wagons, like the ones in the picture below, full of borax and then had 20-mule teams haul it 165 miles to the railroad. You know how on your box of borax is says 20 mule team and has a picture of mules and wagons? Now you know where that came from. Just another one of the many reasons I love national parks.

Harmony Borax Works

Unfortunately, our time in Death Valley had to come to an end but we will be back. There is still so much to explore. We stayed at the Sunset campground which is literally a parking lot. Most of the campgrounds in Death Valley do not take reservations but after speaking with a ranger, I learned they rarely fill up. We visited the end of February and the campground was hardly full. If you aren’t able to make a reservation I wouldn’t worry too much.

Full Moon Rising at the Sunset Campground in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is barren and there is not much shade. I would not recommend visiting in the summer. The gas was stupid expensive so make sure you fill up before entering the park. I can’t think of any other tips other than to add Death Valley to your bucket list.

One our way home from Death Valley we stopped at Lake Mead for one night. We stayed at the Lake Mead RV Village at Boulder Beach. The sites are a little close together but you’re camping close to the lake so that’s expected. We weren’t right on the lake but it isn’t a far walk. Boulder Beach Campground is right next door and would be a great place to stay also.

In order to build the Hoover Dam, a railroad was built to carry the supplies to the dam. A section of the Hoover Dam Railroad system still remains and has been converted to a hiking/biking path. I LOVE the Rails-To-Trails system! This trail has five tunnels, gorgeous lake views, ends at the Hoover Dam parking garage, and there are signs all along explaining how the railroad and dam were built. Once again, the boys rode their bikes and the girls walked. If you’re in the area, I’d suggest checking it out.

That’s a wrap on the Death Valley National Park recap! If you’ve been to DV, what did you think? Hopefully you loved it it as much as we did!

Highway 395 in California

We recently returned from our annual summer road trip and California was the destination this year. Little Mister (he’s not so little anymore so I probably need to come up with a new name) has been wanting to visit Alcatraz for years so we centered our trip around Alcatraz. Per usual, I then added on as much as possible within driving distance from said destination. I am fairly certain the family has a love/hate with this tactic but I don’t care. 🙂

Our first destination was Lake Tahoe and we took Highway 395 to get there. If you’ve not taken a trip down 395, add it to your list. Not only is the scenery gorgeous, there is so much to do! We only stopped a handful of times but we will definitely be back to explore the area further.

Our first stop was the town of Randsburg for a soda from their soda fountain. Randsburg is about a mile off the highway so it didn’t add too much time to the day. It’s an old mining town and has some cool looking buildings and a jail you can explore. The Randsburg General Store serves food, sells groceries, and has a soda fountain that has been in operation since 1904. I tried the lime phosphate soda while The Husband tried the root beer. Both were good and it was neat to experience a bit of history.

Old fashioned sodas from the Randsburg General Store

At this point we had been driving all day so we spent the night in Lone Pine at the Boulder Creek RV Resort. I was rather impressed with the campground. The sites are nicely spaced and clean and they have a well stocked store. They also have quite a few fun things to do on the grounds. There is a pool, playground, birds, desert tortoises, and a handful of swings to relax in. We didn’t spend much time at camp but it made for a nice place to stay on the way up the 395. The only downside is you have to actually call to make reservations. I run into this every so often and it boggles my mind.

Our next stop was the Hot Creek Geological Site. A chamber of magma lies below the surface causing boiling hot water, colored pools, fumaroles, and occasionally geysers. It’s a couple miles off the highway and easy to get to. The first two miles are paved and the final mile is dirt but well maintained. There is a short, steep paved path down to the river.

Hot Creek Geological Site

You cannot go in the river or walk over to the pools but you can get close enough to see the steam coming off the pools. That blue color is really incredible.

The Earthquake Fault in Mammoth Lakes was a little farther of a stop than I expected but the area is beautiful and the fault was cool to see. Technically it’s a fissure but it was caused by an earthquake and you can see how the two sides of rock go together. Aside from the neat history lesson and geology, the forest is gorgeous and the trees are huge. I’d love to come back to this area to camp and ride bikes.

Earthquake Fault – Mammoth Lakes

Our final stop on the 395 was Bodie Historical State Park, a gold-mining ghost town. Bodie is a little farther of a journey off the highway, about 20-30 minutes each way, but definitely worth a stop. Because Bodie is a state park there is a small entrance fee. Additionally, for $2 cash, they sell a brochure that tells the history of each building. I would recommend getting the brochure. It made walking through the town more exciting because we knew what we were looking at.

My favorite stop in the town was the bank, or what’s left of the bank. I spent many years working for a bank and have a soft spot for all things banking.

The only downside of driving the 395 was the gas prices. We paid $4 – $5 a gallon in all of California, but the highest prices were definitely along the 395. It’s a collection of small towns so high prices are expected but it definitely hurts the wallet.

If you are planning a trip to this area check out California Thru My Lens. Josh has tons of information on all the stops along the 395.

To read about the rest of this trip visit:

Lake Tahoe

San Francisco

Yosemite National Park

*For the beginning of this road trip check out Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

After Sequoia we headed to Yosemite.  Yosemite spans nearly 1,200 square miles but the majority of the visitors stay within the seven square mile area know as Yosemite Valley.  Many of Yosemite’s well know features can be accessed or seen from the valley.   Read more

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

After our Yellowstone trip we fell in love with the National Parks.  We immediately started planning our next National Park trip and picked Yosemite as the destination.   Read more

Yellowstone National Park

*For the beginning of this road trip see the Grand Teton National Park post.

I don’t even know where to begin with Yellowstone.  This is definitely someplace to add to your bucket list.   Read more

Grand Teton National Park

This is the first of several posts about our trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  This is the trip that started our love affair with the National Parks.  Read more