What to Know About Hawaii’s National Parks

Hawaii was the last state to add its star to the American flag (though only by a matter of months after Alaska). The state has as varied a history as it is biologically and geologically diverse.

Located over 2,000 miles southwest of the mainland Unites States, it is the only state that isn’t located on the North American continent and the only one comprised entirely of islands. Nearly the entire set of islands fall within the tropics creating an island paradise replete with volcanoes, rainforest, waterfalls, and scenic beaches. Hawaii only has two sites that carry the National Park status. However, one national memorial is also worth mentioning.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii

hawaii volcanoes national park
Westend61/Getty Images

Let’s face it, without volcanoes, Hawaii wouldn’t exist. They literally rose from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to create the more than 100 islands that make up the chain. At over 300,000 acres, the park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

Mauna Loa is the world’s largest volcano. This active volcano covers more than 2,000 square miles and last erupted in 1984. Kilauea on the other hand last erupted in 2018. The park offers guests the opportunity to hike over 100 miles of trails that wind around craters and through rainforests. Visiting this one-of-a-kind park offers an inside look into how the Hawaiian Islands were created and are constantly being created and destroyed at the same time.

Haleakalā National Park

Maui

Haleakalā National Park
Tourist hiking in Haleakala volcano crater on the Sliding Sands trail. Beautiful view of the crater floor and the cinder cones below. Maui, Hawaii, USA. Getty Images

Originally part of Hawaii National Park (which no longer exists), Haleakalā is a dormant volcano that towers over 10,000 feet above the Hawaiian landscape. Meaning “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, viewing the sunrise and sunset from the crater may arguably be one of the world’s best locations to view this twice-daily celestial event. Note: The National Park Service now requires a reservation (for parking) for those wishing to view the sunrise from the summit.

Aside from the atmospheric viewing, the park also offers guests the opportunity to walk through a seemingly surreal landscape complete with a multitude of climate zones. This naturally beautiful paradise is also home to more endangered species than can be found in any other facility in the National Park Service.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Hawaii

Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Getty Images

“A date which will live in infamy.” December 7, 2019, will mark the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that catapulted the United States into war with Japan. The Japanese Imperial Navy intended to destroy the United States’ Pacific Fleet. Fortunately, none of the aircraft carriers were at Pearl Harbor on that fateful day in 1941. More than 2,400 people died as a result of that attack including more than 1,100 aboard the USS Arizona when a bomb likely penetrated her forward deck causing an explosion that sent the battleship to the bottom.

Today, the site includes memorials for both the USS Arizona and the USS Utah which remain where they sank. Other sites include the USS Missouri Battleship, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin Submarine.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a hallowed reminder of a war that would cost the lives of over 400,000 Americans. Most of those who lost their lives aboard the USS Arizona are still entombed aboard the ship.

Looking For More Options In Hawaii

There are over 400 sites that make up the National Park System. There are 20 types of parks that include monuments, battlefields, historical parks and sites, lakeshores, parkways, rivers, and more. Hawaii has 8 sites that fall under the park system. Here’s a list of the rest of the parks worth visiting.

  • Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, Hawaii
  • Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Hawaii
  • Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii
  • Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, Hawaii
  • Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Molokai

Editors' Recommendations