Any townie knows it’s hard to wipe off the residue of city stress. Hawaii’s parks are our respite. Don’t worry; since campers can’t reserve a spot more than two weeks to 30 days in advance, you don’t have to plan your whole year around it. Each campsite requires its own permit, and fees, restrictions, deadlines and time restraints are site-specific.
Palaau State Park, Molokai
The undesignated campgrounds at Palaau State Park overlook the remote Kalaupapa Peninsula. Between 1866 and 1969, around 8,000 people (90 percent being native Hawaiians) were made to live out their Hansen’s disease in exile there. In addition to this historic landscape view (the Kalaupapa Lookout is the only place to see the colony), Palaau will also connect you to the infamous Phallic Rock. A one-nighter here could change your life. The legend goes that the fertile demigod Nanahoa threw his wife over the cliff in a jealous quarrel. She turned to stone, but Nanahoa became both a rock and a hard place.
Waianapanapa State Park, Maui
Chief Kaakea, according to legend, was a large and insecure wife beater. Popoalaea was his beautiful wife who couldn’t take it anymore. The hidden Waianapanapa Cave was a perfect hiding place for her, until he found and killed her. Every spring, the waters of the cave turn red. Scientists say this is because of shrimp, but it’s more fun to imagine that Popoalaea is raging against the man. On the road to Hana, the Waianapanapa State Park is the whole package–the only campsite in the state to offer RV, lodging and tent campgrounds. It features snorkeling, blowholes, anchialine pools, a stone arch, thick trails and a small black-sand beach. The rustic cabins are without much amenity, but are a cheap stay ($60/night and house up to six people). You’re not looking for a Trump hotel anyway, right?
Kokee State Park, Kauai
You know that ubiquitous view of Kalalau Valley featured on every poster of Kauai? It was taken from Kokee State Park. At more than 4,300 square miles, you can spend weeks on its trails and never see another tourist. It’s rainiest between October and May, but foggy, too, and perfect for running ahead of your hiking group to wait for the best moment to jump out and scare everybody. There are 19 hiking trails on this plateau that peak at 4,200 feet and trek through thick rain forests of native plants, exotic birds, boar and those who hunt them and–okay, a slight possibility of encounters with centipedes the size of your flash light. In addition to the ample campsites around the park, The Lodge at Kokee is an owner-operated sheltered campground that offers private rooms of bare necessity, a gift shop, minimal restaurant and cocktail bar for daytime drinking ([thelodgeatkokee.net]). Although a room with a kitchen might call your name, perhaps Kokee is best experienced by pitching a tent and sleeping in bags.
Kahua Kuou, Oahu
The Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect Kaneohe from flooding, but what we get in addition to the protection is a serene 400-acre refuge that offers walking tours, hiking trails, picnic areas, pavilions and 15 miles of designated biking–but did you know you can stay the night, as well? A sort-of secret, camping at Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is really the only campsite safe from becoming a tent city like other Oahu campgrounds. The eight sites at the City-maintained Kahua Kuou provide a nice view of Hoomaluhia’s lake. For now, the City is granting camping permits for no charge (Soon, we’ll be charged $30-$50/stay; reservations are made through the City, [camping.honolulu.gov]). Hoomaluhia means “to make a place of peace and tranquility,” an understatement for those who have ever seen a sunrise from a tent at the base of the Koolaus.
Namakanipaio Campground, Hawaii
While not a state park, the Namakanipaio campground at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a little more expensive, but it’s way better than either of the two state parks on the Big Island that allow camping. Nights under the fragrant, towering eucalyptus trees are crisp and can be foggy and wet, but on a clear night you can see to the ends of space. Bring extra flannel and imagine warmth from the lava’s reflection on the sky. After all, Kilauea Crater is just right over there. Tent sites are first come, first serve ($15/night), and there are 10 modular cabins maintained by Volcano House that sleep up to four people with a picnic table, fire pit and barbecue grill outside ($55/night, [hawaiivolcanohouse.com]).