Hawaii’s Hidden Gem State Parks You’d Better Plan For Or Else

While planning a visit to ‘Īao Valley on Maui, we started looking at other parks on the state website that require advance reservations. We are summarizing what we found and what the rules are now for entry. Even as residents, we forget about just how much planning is actually needed.

Visiting these Hawaii state parks requires adherence to specific rules and reservation systems intended to protect natural resources and ensure an enjoyable experience for all visitors. That’s especially true given the lack of infrastructure, including parking. Following are the rules for non-Hawaii visitors to understand.

As a side-note this is covering Hawaii State Parks only, and not those under the jurisdiction of the federal or local governments.

Our “CliffsNotes” summary for each of these parks is to book 30 days in advance.

Hawaii Vacation Deals | Waianapanapa State Park

Waiʻānapanapa State Park, Maui

Reservations at Wai’anapanapa are required for entry and parking, which can be made up to 30 days in advance. Arrivals must be within the first 30 minutes of the reservation period.

Fees are exempt for Hawaiʻi residents, who must show proof of residency. Visitors must pay online in advance.

Parking is limited and also needs to be reserved. Visitors must exit by the end time of their reservation to accommodate others.

Refunds are available up to 3 days prior. Changes can be made up to the day before, with possible fees for cancellations.

Waiʻānapanapa State Park is renowned for its natural beauty and unique geological features. While the reservation system can still be a hurdle, those who are able to plan ahead and secure a spot should expect to enjoy a rewarding and memorable experience. The park’s combination of striking scenery and relatively manageable trails makes it a must-visit for those traveling the Road to Hana.

Positive reviews on Waiʻānapanapa State Park:

Visitors always rave about the park’s stunning black sand beach, sea caves, and blowholes. The unique volcanic landscape and panoramic coastal views are also major draws. This one never tires for us.

Many appreciate the park’s relatively uncrowded nature due to the new reservation system, which limits the number of visitors and enhances the experience.

The park is generally reviewed as offering good value for its entry and parking fees.

Negative reviews on Waiʻānapanapa State Park:

Some visitors find the reservation system cumbersome, with difficulties in both advance planning and securing slots. There are concerns that tour companies may be taking up many reservations, leaving fewer for individual travelers.

Others noted that despite the challenges, checking availability frequently can sometimes yield last-minute openings.

A few reviews mentioned that certain trails are not well-marked and can be muddy and slippery, requiring caution. Some visitors expected a more extensive trail system and were thus disappointed.

Diamond Head | Things to do in Honolulu

Diamond Head State Monument

Reservations for Diamond Head are required and must be made up to 30 days in advance.

Fees are exempt for Hawaiʻi residents with proof of residency. Visitors must pay in advance.

Parking must be reserved, and visitors need to exit by the end of their reservation period.

Refunds and changes are allowed up to 3 days before the reservation date.

Diamond Head State Monument remains an ever-popular top attraction in Oahu for its stunning views and historical context. Despite challenges with the reservation system and parking, the well-maintained trail and rewarding summit experience make it a favorite among visitors. Proper planning and an early start can help mitigate some of the logistical issues.

Positive reviews on Diamond Head State Monument:

Visitors (including us) praise the breathtaking views from the summit, offering panoramic vistas of Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean below.

The site’s historical significance, with its military history and World War II bunkers, adds a fascinating educational value to the visit.

The trail to the summit, though steep and challenging, is well-maintained and includes informative signage.

The hike is, without doubt, rewarding despite its difficulty, with many comments noting the sense of accomplishment felt upon reaching the top.

Negative reviews on Diamond Head State Monument:

Similar to other parks, the reservation system can be frustrating, with some visitors struggling to secure entrance and parking passes.

The park can still become crowded, especially during peak times, making the hike less enjoyable for some visitors.

The narrow trails can lead to bottlenecks, particularly near the summit, where space is limited.

Photo credit.

ʻĪao Valley State Monument

Reservations for Iao Valley State Monument are required for entry and parking, with reservations available up to 30 days in advance.

Fees are exempt for Hawaiʻi residents with proof of residency, while visitors must pay online in advance.

Parking is limited, and advance reservation is necessary. Visitors must leave by the end of their reserved period.

Refunds are available up to 3 days prior, with changes allowed until the day before. More details here.

ʻĪao Valley State Monument is a very popular and highly recommended Maui destination for its natural beauty, historical importance, and cultural value. Visitors who plan ahead, secure reservations, and are prepared for varying conditions can expect to have a great time.

Positive reviews on Iao Valley.

Many Maui visitors praise the park’s breathtaking scenery, describing it as tranquil and a great place for reflection. The lush greenery, historic significance, and the iconic ʻĪao Needle are frequently highlighted as major attractions.

Reviews we read also appreciated the educational aspects related to the park’s history and cultural importance.

Some reviewers said the value of visiting ʻĪao Valley State Monument, in spite of the entry and parking fees, was good and that it remains a budget-friendly activity compared with other things on Maui.

The park’s well-maintained and easy trails were mentioned, including paved paths and clear signage, making them accessible and enjoyable for all ages.

Negative reviews on Iao Valley.

A significant number of visitors expressed frustration with the one-year-old reservation system. They noted that securing a spot can be challenging, and some felt that tour companies might be monopolizing reservations. On checking for this week, however, we found good availability.

Parking availability is another common complaint. Some visitors who couldn’t secure parking passes in advance found it difficult to find alternative parking options nearby, leading to frustration.

While some said the main paths are well-marked and maintained, other visitors found the trails to be less clearly marked and more challenging. The off-paved trails can be muddy and slippery, requiring caution.

The short length of the hikes also got mixed reviews. Some appreciated the easy and quick nature of the visit, while others expected a more extensive trail system and found the experience too brief.

Kalalau Trail Kauai

Hā’ena State Park

Reservations at Ha’ena are mandatory for all visitors, including those on foot. These must be made up to 30 days in advance.

Fees apply for non-residents, while Hawaiʻi residents are exempt with proof of residency.

Parking is extremely limited; advance reservations are necessary. The North Shore Shuttle is recommended as an alternative.

Access is strictly regulated to preserve the environment. Late arrivals may be denied access.

Changes can be made up to the day before, with refunds available if cancellations are made at least 3 days before.

The Kalalau Trail is popular for its scenic beauty and challenging hike. Camping permits can be reserved up to 30 days in advance. More details are here.

These guidelines help protect the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Hawaiʻi’s state parks, ensuring that visitors can enjoy them responsibly. For further details and to make reservations, visit the official Hawaiʻi State Parks website.

Hā’ena State Park is a crown jewel of Kauai, much loved for its natural beauty and serenity. There is a frustrating reservation system, seen as needed for preserving the park and ensuring a high-quality visitor experience.

Positive reviews on Hā’ena State Park:

Reviewers highlight the park’s exquisite scenery, including beautiful Ke’e Beach and the lush greenery of the Nā Pali Coast.

The park has great opportunities for snorkeling, hiking, sunbathing, and photography of amazing views.

Many of those who successfully access the park say that the reservation system is appreciated for limiting the number of visitors, ensuring a more peaceful and enjoyable experience.

Negative reviews on Hā’ena State Park:

Due to its popularity, securing reservations has been challenging ever since the new reservation system was implemented. Slots fill up very quickly, often leading to frustration for those unable to obtain reservations. The system’s complexity and limited availability are the most common points of criticism.

Some visitors find the park’s remote location and limited parking options inconvenient, particularly those unfamiliar with accessing the area.

We welcome your comments about our beautiful Hawaii State Parks.

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6 thoughts on “Hawaii’s Hidden Gem State Parks You’d Better Plan For Or Else”

  1. Do local’s have timed visits? If they are exempt from having a pass then what they can stay all day. Tourists with entrance appointments are set up to fail for late arrivals, traffic issues, etc. Sorry but this system seems to be designed to just turn and burn the tourist’s wallet.
    Just another fee for another activity that cost’s Hawaii nothing. IMO the governors green fee at the airport of $25 is like the entrance to Disneyland and the island is one big theme park with stores. IMO the only ride really available is “empty the wallet” Fastpass ride.

    1. Yep… some locals and government officials such as Bissen like to cry about visitors treating Hawaii like Disney. The reality is visitors do not view Hawaii this way, it is Hawaiian officials that are turning Hawaii into Disney with all of the fees.

      1. David

        Thanks exactly my point. You said it better than I could. Seems like the 25 dollar green fee resembles a Disneyland park gate admission.

  2. Aloha editors,

    My relatives and friends who haven’t gotten their permits for Kee beach tell me you need to be up at 12 midnight, Hawaii time, and exactly 30 days ahead of your anticipated visit in order to get a permit. No ifs ands or buts. And believe me the folks who run the entrance to the park do not mess around. However once my relatives got there they thought every hoop was worth it. This is not a Disney attraction, it is the real deal and something worth preserving for our descendants!

  3. I’ve been to Haena twice using the shuttle and had no problems whatsoever. There’s greater availability than trying to reserve a parking space.

  4. I have been to Iao Valley many times Before the reservation system went into effect. This past February my family were there for our every other year vacation and was denied entry. We found a parking spot beyond the park and walked back but halfway to the trail area we were accosted by a group of teenagers on motorcycles. They crashed the visitor booth and terrorized the visitors as they dangerously popped wheelies and disrupted what would have been a tranquil visit. I am 73 and had to physiclaly had to restrain one bike rider from rolling into my wife. No one, including the people in the admission booth, called the police or did anything to discourage this activity. These actions, along with ridiculous prices and fees have convinced me to never visit this beautiful part of the world again. 34 years of enjoying the islands has come to an end for me. Mahalo.

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