Hawaii is a state like no other. Perched hundreds of miles out in the tropical reaches of the Pacific Ocean swells, it’s home to an array of wildlife and wondrous natural phenomenon that anyone used to North America’s deserts and snow-tipped peaks could be forgiven for thinking were of another planet. This is a land of soaring coastal mountains of more than 3,000 feet, deep, verdant valleys of thick palm groves and sprawling vines, majestic beachfronts of pearly white sand, and – of course – dominating volcanic rises to dwarf all others.
Here are five of the best state parks in all of Hawaii, where visitors can get a taste for the weird, wonderful, cinemascopic beauty from Big Island to the remote coastal reaches of northern Kauai.
Proudly remote and inaccessible, the beauty of the Na Pali Coast issues forth from its many secluded coves, secret beach bays and wild soaring cliff tops. This is the stuff of tropical dreams, where pearly sand stretches rub shoulders with verdant valleys and the only sound is the fluttering of butterflies or the tweeting of exotic birds high in the canopy overhead. Perched on the northern coast far from Kauai’s main roadway, the Pali State Park can only be reached by hiking the famous Kalalau heritage trail, flying over on a helicopter drop off, or arriving by sea catamaran along the coast.
Volcanic formations and topographic protrusions oscillate from valley floor to mist-covered cloud canopy at this truly breath-taking state park in west-central Maui. Visitors are invited to hike the various jungle trails that lead their way past soaring peaks and gushing rivers, deep into the verdant heart of the Iao Valley. It’s here that the formidable rise of the so-called "Needle" (that’s Kuka‘emoku to locals) towers overhead, casting its long shadow across the land where King Kamehameha first defeated Maui’s forces in the late 18th century – a formative moment in the historic unification of the Hawaiian archipelago.
A web of walking trails and harder hiking routes is strewn out across the lush valley bottoms and grand plateaus of the Koke’e State Park, offering visitors some of the best panoramic views of Hawaii’s most spectacular geological wonder, the Waimea Canyon. Here, a patchwork of deep greens and dusty reds cling to the stratified mountain sides as they carve their way northwards to the drama of the Pali Coast, while visitors should be sure to stop off at the Kokee Museum, a great introduction to the hiking routes, natural history and human heritage of the area.
This instantly-recognizable feature of Oahu’s island topography has presided over the skyline of Hawaii’s capital since it was first settled in the 11th century. The volcanic cone itself is much older though, ranging an estimated 200,000 years into the archipelago’s past. Known today as Le'ahi by locals, there are a number of trails that now wind their way up the steep hillsides of the Diamond Head, passing through deep-carved tunnels to emerge into the crater itself. Here, lookout points present some of the best whale-spotting and picture-taking opportunities in the capital, while the old fire station stands as testimony to Honolulu’s former strategic importance.
Accessible on the Queen Ka'ahumanu Road south out of Kawaihae, this world-famous coastal park is home to one of the most pristine recreation beaches on all of Big Island. Most visitors head straight for the legendary Hapuna Beach, where light swells sustain body boarders and longboarders throughout the year (though these can get dangerous when large), while others arrive in search of the abundant diving or snorkelling opportunities that exist in the numerous volcanic coastal beds nearby.