Janda has explored four continents, by train, motorcycle, cross-country skis, mountain bike, snowshoes, sea kayak, hiking, backpacking, etc.
Want to go to Hawaii but don’t want to splurge for a traditional hotel-on-Waikiki vacation? Perhaps you aren’t drawn to the hula skirts, mai tais, or flowers on the food. But if you’re a nature lover, a hiker, or a bird watcher, you must go see that gorgeous set of islands in the Pacific.
There are several lodging options, and the most natural and least expensive is camping—on the beach or in the mountains! If you already own backpacking equipment, like a sleeping bag, a lightweight sleeping mat, and a small backpacker tent, you have all you need. Of course, bring along a swimsuit for the surf, a rain jacket and a light jacket or sweatshirt for cool evenings. If you have a snorkel, toss that in too, as the islands abound with excellent places to experience underwater flora and fauna.
How To Get There?
Your biggest expense for the trip will be plane fare to Hawaii. Usually the least expensive fares are to Honolulu, but not always, so shop carefully online, and you may save hundreds of dollars. Check for baggage fees, especially if you’re carrying camping equipment.
Then you’ll need to decide which islands to visit, based on the amount of time and money you have to spend in Hawaii and how long you want to stay on each island. Which ones you visit will depend on what you like to do. They're all different. Hawaii is actually composed of 137 islands, including eight large islands, many minor islands, islets, atolls, seamounts, etc. Six islands are readily available to tourists, but one, Lanai, doesn’t have camping facilities.
To choose, you’ll need information as to what attributes each island has, the cost to get there, and what activities are available. The following info about each island—in order, geographically, from northwest to southeast—will be helpful.
Kauai is the oldest, northernmost, and greenest of the islands. It is the island of adventure, but it is also the most expensive to reach.
Some great reasons to go there:
- Mountains with beautiful rainforests in valleys
- High cliffs and waterfalls
- Rivers, many of which are good places for kayaking
- Waimea Canyon State Park—the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”—which is 10 miles long and has a drop in altitude of 3,600 feet
- Fabulous swim beaches
- Many feral chickens, whose origin links from the early Polynesians to hurricanes
Read More From Skyaboveus
Oahu is the island home of Honolulu, the state capital. It’s the most populous and busiest with many diverse cultures. It is the least expensive to reach by plane because it has the majority of Hawaii’s population. If you go, be sure to see the following:
- Waikiki Beach, one of the most famous surfing beaches as well as busiest areas for seaside hotels in the world
- Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the U.S.S Arizona Memorial, the historical site of Japan’s famous attack on the American naval fleet, which brought the U.S. into WWII
- The Polynesian Cultural Center, a fascinating introduction to the indigenous peoples and cultures of the islands, with eight simulated villages presenting their arts and crafts, including famous dances and luau (if you’re on a budget, you can skip the luau and have an inexpensive, tasty buffet)
- Hanauma Bay, a spectacular, easily accessible place to snorkel and see many marine sights, including coral reefs, bright-colored tropical fish and large green sea turtles.
- Diamond Head, the remnants of an ancient volcano, with hiking trails and a great view of Waikiki.
- Iolani Palace, the elegant residence of the ruler of the kingdom of Hawaii, from 1883 and later the capitol of the state until 1969
- The North Shore, for surfing!
Molokai is the most rustic and least populated of the main islands, with fewer modern amenities. But it’s a fascinating locale. You can see the following:
- Beautiful high sea cliffs
- Hawaii’s longest continuous fringe reef, which grows near the coastline around the island and is separated from the shore by a narrow, shallow lagoon
- The scenic, distant site of a former colony where patients with leprosy were treated and housed
- Kaule o Nanahoa, a rock that’s a famous phallic symbol, revered by the indigenous people who believed the ceremonies dedicated to it insured fertility
Maui is the second least expensive to fly to from the mainland. It has the most varied beaches—with black, red, or white sand. Check out these wonderful sites:
- Haleakala National Park: You can drive to the top of the 10,000-foot volcano, with its fabulous sunrises and sunsets, and have the opportunity to bicycle up or down the mountain. Unique plants and birds can be seen, including the rare and endangered silvertooth, which looks similar to the yucca of the American Southwest, only silver. Free car camping is allowed.
- The Hana Highway, magnificent and renowned, is one of the most highly ranked drives in the world. Start out on that road several hours before sunset. Though it’s only 68 miles long, it has 620 curves with 59 bridges, of which 46 are only one lane, all winding along cliffs above the coast, through one of the most fabulous sections of coastal rainforest in the world. A few pullouts allow for taking pics. You will need two to four hours to make the drive.
The Island of Hawaii
The island of Hawaii is called the “Big Island.” It contains 63% of the land of the state of Hawaii, yet only 13% of the people. Five volcanoes make up most of the land of this island. Check out these sites:
- Kilauea, the most recently visibly active volcano in Hawaii. Visitors usually can walk out onto lava flows at the shore. It hasn’t erupted since late 2018.
- Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, both volcanoes at almost 14,000 feet, and two other important volcanoes
- Several resorts, waterfalls, fascinating coastal scenery and coffee plantations
- Many climate zones, from tropical to polar tundra up on the volcanoes
- Beautiful scenery from black sand beaches to molten magma to snowy mountaintops
Map of the Hawaiian Islands
The Cost of Camping in Hawaii
Choose the islands you want to visit and in what order. You can book a round-trip ticket from your nearest airport to Honolulu or one of the other airports and then arrange separate flights to each island you intend to visit, or you can arrange a multi-destination ticket.
In most cases, the former is the most economical, with each inter-island flight costing between $50 and $100 per person. These short flights run frequently, as often as hourly, so it’s easy to plan your schedule. Tickets are more economical the closer together the islands are, so be sure to notice the arrangement of the islands and plan accordingly. The main islands are a chain about 300 miles long from northwest Kauai heading southeastward, to Oahu (where Honolulu is), Molokai, Maui and the island of Hawaii on the southeast end, so the trips between won’t be long.
If you fly into Honolulu, from there you may head north to Kauai or south toward Maui, depending on how many islands you plan to visit. Or you could pay extra to fly to one end of the chain or the other.
A Package Deal?
Another option is to look online or through a travel agent to find a package deal for a few nights in a Waikiki hotel included in the roundtrip airfare. That package would provide lodging on Oahu and inexpensive airfare to and from the mainland.
Camping on Oahu?
Camping on Oahu may not be as convenient as on the other islands, with some parks being open only on weekends and with rental-car parking in the city of Honolulu being expensive and complicated. So hotels there are a reasonable option, and public transportation is readily available. If you choose that option, be sure to indicate when making flight reservations that you only want a hotel for a few nights.
To drive to campgrounds, you’ll need a rental car. While you’re making flight reservations online, you may include car rentals at less expense than booking them separately. The cost for a compact car may be between $20 and $100 per day, depending on which island and what type of car, but check online carefully for the many fees and surcharges. The roads are good, and the islands are small enough that you can drive all around each in one or two days, seeing most of the sights and possibly staying in more than one campground, yet not driving many miles.
The cost of round-trip air fare, inter-island transport and car rental for four or five islands may run between $1000 and $1800 per person, depending on your original destination. Of course, touring fewer islands will cost less. And if you’re traveling with other people, you can share the car expense and camping fees, lowering the cost per person.
Camping Permit Info
You’ll need to book most campgrounds online ahead of time and print the permits before your trip, as few of the public campsites have the availability of purchasing permits on site. The cost savings between campgrounds and hotels can be hundreds of dollars per week per person.
Websites for national parks, state parks, county parks and forest preserves are convenient and helpful, with a full description of each area, photos, prices, availability of drinking water, fireplaces, and showers, etc. Search online for an overview of camping in Hawaii. Of course, most camp areas are for tent campers, but there are a few RV parks and rentals in Hawaii.
Forest reserves are the least developed of all choices. Dirt roads or trails may lead to wilderness campsites, sometimes requiring hikes up steep trails, but the rewards are quiet, privacy and unspoiled views. Pupukea Forest Reserve on the northern tip of Oahu and Waimanu Campsite on the Big Island are excellent examples. No amenities other than an occasional pit toilet are included.
County parks are a handy option. There are ten parks on the island of Hawaii. All of these sites are on beaches, and most of the campsites cost $21 per person per night. On Kauai, county parks are quite inexpensive, only $3 per person, and payments may be made at the park in some cases.
The county of Maui includes two islands with three camp areas, one on Maui and two on Molokai. Fees are $10 per night per person on weeknights and $20 on weekends. If you want to camp in the vicinity of Honolulu, look for online options and reservations. There are both city and county parks, and the cost is $32 for a 3-night permit and $52 for a 5-night permit.
There are 55 state parks in Hawaii, with 14 providing overnight camping. Most state parks charge $18 per night, per person. In most cases, campers are limited to three to five consecutive nights in one park. Special rules apply to camping at Na Pali Coast State Park on Kauai because of the extreme popularity of the wilderness campsites there. Most sites at Na Pali can be reserved up to one year in advance online.
Two national parks offer camping:
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island (Mauna Kea is the tallest of the volcanoes, at 13,784 feet)
- Haleakala National Park on Maui
There are drive-in and hike-in sites for both. If you camp at one of these parks, bring warm clothing and sleeping bags, as both are in the mountains, with nighttime temperatures often falling into the thirties. Entrance fees to these parks are $30 per carload for seven days, and some of the campsites are free while others charge $10 or $15 per night.
A Tri-Park Pass is also available for those two parks, as well as Pu’uhonuo o Honaunau National Historical Park for $55, providing entry for a private vehicle, driver and spouse, for one year. Camping in the parks makes visiting the awesome sites in and around the volcanoes quite convenient.
One downside to camping in Hawaii is that many campgrounds don’t provide showers, and some others just have outside or beach showers, with nude bathing prohibited. Especially for women, getting the salt and sand off without revealing too much, even with a swimsuit on, may be tricky. Often, these sites are near the shore of the ocean, a river or lake where you can rinse off, but sand or salt may remain on your skin, which can be irritating for some.
Guided Camping Tours
Those trips cost more than camping on your own, but the tour companies provide the equipment and transportation and arrange many outdoor activities.
Planning ahead for meals is important for those on self-directed trips. If you’re in one of the populated areas, especially near a beach, at mealtime, there are plenty of restaurants and fast food. And you can often save considerable money by walking or driving a few blocks inland, away from the shore, with a possible price difference of 50%.
Some campgrounds provide grills or campfire rings with grates, and some provide firewood or allow campers to gather it in the area. But in many campgrounds, you’ll want no-cook food items, silverware, and a GI can opener. Or you could bring freeze-dried camping food and a lightweight backpacking stove.
In some parks, no drinking water is available. You can buy jugs of water at markets or convenience stores on your way from the airport to the park.
Weather is so consistent in each area that the best advice is to consider altitude and direction when planning your trip. Temperatures along the coastlines average a low of 63 and a high of 88, including both winter and summer. Of course, mountain camping is much cooler. The northeast corner of each island is generally the rainiest and coolest area. Camping in Hawaii is usually very comfortable.
Animals of Hawaii
The islands have evolved many species of plants and animals that can’t be found elsewhere. Camping allows you to see many different species not found by tourists in the more-developed areas. There are no native terrestrial amphibians or reptiles, though there are sea turtles and one species of sea snake, which is venomous but very rare.
Watch for the endangered nene goose, the state bird, as well as many other beautiful and interesting birds. The Hawaiian cardinal is outstanding! The only native land mammal is the Hawaiian hoary bat, although the monk seal lives part of its life on land also.
Sea creatures are part of the allure of the islands, including whales, dolphins, sharks, the sea turtles, seals, sea lions and a wide array of bright-colored and unusual tropical fish. Some invasive animal species introduced include cats, pigs, goats, chickens, rats, mongooses (which were introduced to control the rat population), wallabies, pronghorn antelope, and of course, humans, which are perhaps the most invasive of all!
Your Opinion About a Camping Trip to Hawaii
Plants of Hawaii
Few plants grew in Hawaii when the early Polynesian voyagers arrived in Hawaii around AD 500-800, although there were some indigenous plants that grew near the volcanoes. But Polynesians brought plants with them that they needed for food, such as breadfruit, taro, banana, sweet potato and sugarcane. Other plants they brought were needed as building materials and the ti plant to make clothing. Later settlers brought mangoes, papayas, pineapples and a variety of vegetables, as well as beautiful flowers, including orchids, ginger, jasmine and hibiscus.
With all this information and choices of inexpensive options, you can have a wonderful trip to Hawaii, explore from one to five islands, camp in exotic locations and have tasty meals at a much lower cost than you ever thought. And best of all, while other tourists are heading back to hotels for the night, campers have the privilege of spending the night out in nature, with the surf or the mountains, palm trees, starlight and the moon. What are you waiting for? Just go!
Quiz About the Hawaiian Islands
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- Where are the Hawaiian Islands?
- in the Atlantic Ocean
- in the Baltic Sea
- in the Pacific Ocean
- In the Antarctic Ocean
- in the Indian Ocean
- What country does Hawaii belong to?
- the United States
- the Philippines
- How many islands are in the Hawaiian Islands?
- How many venomous species of animals live in the Hawaiian islands?
- more than 100
- in the Pacific Ocean
- the United States
Interpreting Your Score
If you got between 0 and 1 correct answer: You may need to study a little before you go to Hawaii!
If you got 2 correct answers: You'll enjoy your trip more if you read more about Hawaii before you go.
If you got 3 correct answers: You're pretty well prepared for your trip to Hawaii!
If you got 4 correct answers: You really know Hawaii! You could lead the trip or go on your own!
Questions & Answers
Question: Any research on the safety of camping in Hawaii? It seems I heard someone say it might not be that safe.
Answer: I have not been able to find any recent info about the safety of camping in Hawaii. When we were there a few years ago, we had no problems, and no one warned us of anything to worry about! And in fact, we did camp one night on Kauai in an area that was obviously frequented by several homeless people who were very helpful to us, with suggestions. If you find out anything our other readers should know, please post it on here so others will know!
© 2020 Janda Raker
Janda Raker on March 24, 2020:
Fanny, thanks for taking itme to look at my article! Hawaii is wonderful! I hope you get to go soon and that my info helps you plan your trip!
Fanny on March 24, 2020:
Looks like a fun place to visit. I can not wait to go!.__Great Info! Thanks
Janda Raker (author) from Amarillo, Texas on March 23, 2020:
Jerre, thanks so much for stopping by. Glad I was able to share some info with you. Maybe you'd consider one of the "civilized" tours, like a cruise around Hawaii! It's well worth your time!
Jerre Hodges on March 23, 2020:
Your article was very informative and if I were a camper, I would be getting ready to head for Hawaii.
Janda Raker on March 14, 2020:
Maisie, thanks for letting me know that my article was vivid enough to let you feel those trade winds! Great comment! :-)
Maisie Everett on March 14, 2020:
I imagined I felt the trade winds as I read this!
Janda Raker (author) from Amarillo, Texas on February 25, 2020:
Thanks, Eurofile! Glad you enjoyed it! I hadn't posted a new article in a couple of years because of lots of health issues--mine and my husband's, mostly involving "replaceable parts"! But it feels really good to be sharing travels suggestions again!
Liz Westwood from UK on February 25, 2020:
This is a detailed and helpful guide to camping on Hawaii. You give some great tips and a great insight into the pros and cons of this kind of holiday.