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Parks on the Big Island of Hawaii

From fiery volcanic landscapes to serene marine preserves, Big Island parks are as varied and volatile as the island herself.

They offer endless opportunities for exploring the natural and cultural wonders of the Big Island by land, water and air.

The following list of Big Island parks and recreation areas are grouped by region. Since the Big Island is more than twice as big as the other Hawaiian islands combined, it's a treasure best savored in segments. It'll save you from endless hours in the car.

Hilo Region

Wailuku River State Park

Home of the misty and mythical Rainbow Falls, and Boiling Pots (a succession of bubbling pools connected by ancient underground lava tubes), this park features fascinating natural marvels. In Hilo, follow Waianuenue Avenue: Boiling Pots Area is at the end of Peepee Falls Drive; Rainbow Falls is on Rainbow Drive.

Liliuokalani Park

Bordered by the Waiakea Peninsula, this 30-acre park offers stunning vistas of Hilo Bay, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Created to honor Japanese migrants to Hawaii, the ornate Yedo gardens feature footbridges, gazebos, and a tranquil pond. The park is next to the Hawaii Naniloa Resort in Hilo.

Shakespeare in the Park

Rain or shine, you'll find the Hilo Community Players continuing the state's longest Shakespeare theater tradition with free productions in Kalakaua Park. Take along an umbrella, dry seat and picnic paraphernalia for a perfect afternoon in the park. Call the East Hawaii Cultural Center in Hilo for performance information.

Wailoa River State Recreation Area

Centered around an estuary, this landscaped park is a wonderful spot for strolling or boating, playing or relaxing. Located along the banks of the Wailoa River in downtown Hilo, this 131.9-acre park is accessible by parking at end of Piilani Street, off Pauahi Street.

Akaka Falls State Park

A self-guided, 0.4-mile hike through dense tropical vegetation offers vistas of two magnificent waterfalls: Kahuna Falls; and the 442-feet Akaka Falls. Follow Highway 220 3.6 miles southwest of Honomu, drive to the end of Akaka Falls Road.

Laupahoehoe Point Park

Although the ocean is always too rough for swimming (except for a few daring and skilled surfers), this low-lying lava peninsula offers stunning views and a gentle woodland trail, picnic area, restrooms, cabins and camping facilities. Follow Highway 19 about 3 miles southeast of Honokaa, 12 miles north of Laupahoehoe.

Kalopa State Recreation Area

A family nature hike along a 0.7-mile loop trail leads through an ohia forest at an elevation of 2,000 feet. Trails through an adjoining forest reserve are also accessible. Located 5 miles southeast of Honokaa, 3 miles inland from Highway 19 (Mamalahoa Highway) at the end of Kalopa Road.

Mauna Kea State Recreation Area

At a cool elevation of 6,500 feet, this shrubby landscape offers exquisite vistas of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. However, occasional military maneuvers can be a bit disruptive. Follow Saddle Road (Highway 200) 35.1 miles west of downtown Hilo. (Some rental car companies prohibit travel along Saddle Road because of potentially hazardous driving conditions.)

Kohala Area

Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

This landscaped area is always ideal for picnics and sunset strolls, but the beach is safe for water activities only during periods of calm surf. It's on Queen Kaahumanu Highway (Highway 19), 2.3 miles south of Kawaihae.

Kohala Historical Sites State Monument

The birthsite of King Kamehameha I and the Mookini Heiau (sacred sacrificial site) are located on the North Kohala peninsula. Follow Highway 270 (Akoni Pule Highway) to mile marker 20 and turn onto the one-lane Upolu Airport Road. Turn left at the dead-end and follow the coastal dirt road to the heiau (temple). Hawaiian heiau sites remain sacred today, so please respect them. Kamehameha's birthsite is a bit farther along Highway 270 and is designated by a road-side sign.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

A partially restored Hawaiian coastal village is the setting for daily activities which include storytelling and reenactments of early Hawaiian life. A populated marine preserve is also nearby. This 262-acre park is located 12.4 miles north of Kawaihae on Highway 270 (Akoni Pule Highway).

Kailua-Kona Coast

Puuhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge)

The restored Hawaiian religious sanctuary is a National Historical Park with a visitor's center, guided tours and authentic exhibits. All who sought political or religious refuge were welcomed at this asylum, which dates back to the mid-1500s. On Highway 11 south, look for mile marker 104. Then follow Route 160 makai (toward the sea). Admission is $2.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park

In addition to an underwater park, this marine conservation district features the Hikiau Heiau (temple for Fertility God, Lono) and Captain James Cook monument. Half-day treks are available for adept horseback riders, sturdy hikers, and skilled kayakers. Snorkeling, SCUBA diving and glass-bottom boat cruises into the sacred and pristine bay are also offered. Follow Highway 11 (Mamalahoa Highway) to Captain Cook, south of Kailua-Kona. From the Captain Cook or Keei Junction, turn onto Highway 160 (Puuhonua Road). Take Government Road, then Beach Road to Napoopoo Beach.

Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area

You'll find populated tidepools, picnic areas, surfing possibilities and lifeguards at this westside beach park. Follow Highway 11 (Kuakini Highway) until it ends in Kailua-Kona.

Volcano

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Soggy rainforests and steaming fissures, fiery lava streams and desolate lava fields are among the features of this 377 square-mile park. This sacred home of Pele, Hawaiian Goddess of the Volcano, also contains the most active and accessible volcanoes in the world. You'll find a museum and a visitor's center to help you interpret the Big Island's unique and dynamic volcanic environment. The park's eruption update telephone number is (808) 967-7977. There's a $10 park admission fee per vehicle. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is about three hours from Kona (95 miles), one hour from Hilo (30 miles); lodging is available. The entrance is well marked south of Hilo on Route 11. Call the park at (808) 985-6000 for more information.

Volcano Beach Parks and Lava Tree State Park

You'll find several wild volcanic beach parks along the Big Island's southeastern point. Along the way, you'll pass Lava Tree State Monument, a fascinating forest of lava tree skeletons. From Hilo, follow Route 11 south to Route 130. Continue to Highway 132 (Kalapana-Kapono Beach Road).

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