Sunrises, Sunsets, and a Million Rainbows in Between: Hawaii’s National Parks

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It hit me out of nowhere.

I was heading down the path. Working steadily up the inclines, but still taking time to look around and enjoy the views. That’s when I sensed it approaching. The crunching footsteps, increasing in amplification and pace. I sped up as well, breaking a sweat, trying in vain to increase the distance between us, but it was no use… my 40th birthday was coming for me, whether I was ready for it or not.

Once I actually accepted this fate, I decided to embrace it. If you’ve kept up on my Hashtag 59 blogs, you’ll know that my husband and I are on a quest to visit all of the U.S. national parks. It just so happened that we would be on park #38 as my birthday approached. An epic birthday deserves an epic trip, so we chose to check off our parks #39 and #40 as I transitioned from 39 to 40 years old. And we decided to do so in paradise.

There are two national parks on the Hawaii islands—Hawaii Volcanoes on the big island and Haleakala on Maui. Our 11-day trip involved visits to several other spots and a quick 24 hours on Oahu. Here are just some of the highlights.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Lava flows may not have been active in the park, but we were! The following photos show some of the areas we visited.

One of our first views was the Kilauea Iki overlook

One of our first views was the Kilauea Iki overlook

Our first hike at Hawaii Volcanoes was in the Kahuku Unit on the south end of the park. We only saw one other person as we explored the two-mile Pu‘u o Lokuana Trail, which features 1868 lava flows and a grassy cinder cone and its exposed red cinder mine.

Our first hike at Hawaii Volcanoes was in the Kahuku Unit on the south end of the park. We only saw one other person as we explored the two-mile Pu‘u o Lokuana Trail, which features 1868 lava flows and a grassy cinder cone and its exposed red cinder mine.

Lava fields for days! Suddenly, I was craving brownies!

Lava fields for days! Suddenly, I was craving brownies!

Chain of Craters Road ends at the Holēi Sea Arch—a lovely spot to watch the waves.

Chain of Craters Road ends at the Holēi Sea Arch—a lovely spot to watch the waves.

We spent a windy night camping at Volcanoes National Park. TMI pro tip: Skip the pre-bedtime bathroom run so your bladder wakes you up in the middle of the night; that way, you can get up and see the stars when it’s really dark. Using that strategy, I emerged from the tent in the dark. I almost fell down, and this time it wasn’t because I’m less than graceful when trying to get out of that tent. It was because—while I’ve camped in countless remote parks and contemplated the constellations—I have never felt the chest-gripping sense of awe that I felt in that moment, surrounded by stars. Then, I saw two shooting stars. Thank you, Hawaii.

We spent a windy night camping at Volcanoes National Park. TMI pro tip: Skip the pre-bedtime bathroom run so your bladder wakes you up in the middle of the night; that way, you can get up and see the stars when it’s really dark. Using that strategy, I emerged from the tent in the dark. I almost fell down, and this time it wasn’t because I’m less than graceful when trying to get out of that tent. It was because—while I’ve camped in countless remote parks and contemplated the constellations—I have never felt the chest-gripping sense of awe that I felt in that moment, surrounded by stars. Then, I saw two shooting stars. Thank you, Hawaii.

Haleakalā National Park

After our time on the big island, we island hopped to Maui for several days of adventure. Here are a few of the sights we enjoyed at Haleakalā.

The Pipiwai Trail includes a gigantic banyan tree, an enchanting bamboo forest and Waimoku Falls.

The Pipiwai Trail includes a gigantic banyan tree, an enchanting bamboo forest and Waimoku Falls.

As we made our way to secure a campsite at Hosmer Grove, at 7,000 feet elevation, our surroundings turned from sunny to overcast. Yet as we set up our tent around 5 p.m., we saw patches of blue sky and decided to take our chances that the summit would be clear. We drove up and lucked out. The sun was above the clouds, making for a breathtaking sunset. But my favorite view was looking the opposite direction, seeing the shadow of Haleakalā as the sun said goodbye to the day and to my 39th year.

As we made our way to secure a campsite at Hosmer Grove, at 7,000 feet elevation, our surroundings turned from sunny to overcast. Yet as we set up our tent around 5 p.m., we saw patches of blue sky and decided to take our chances that the summit would be clear. We drove up and lucked out. The sun was above the clouds, making for a breathtaking sunset. But my favorite view was looking the opposite direction, seeing the shadow of Haleakalā as the sun said goodbye to the day and to my 39th year.

And we celebrated my 40th birthday by watching it reappear! If you do this, make sure to dress warm. It may be Hawaii, but at 10,000+ feet, it gets chilly up there.

And we celebrated my 40th birthday by watching it reappear! If you do this, make sure to dress warm. It may be Hawaii, but at 10,000+ feet, it gets chilly up there.

After the sun came up, the rain and clouds quickly took over the mountain, but it helped create this sight on down the road. To some, turning 40 might seem like a bit of a rain cloud, but that just means you’ve seen more rainbows.

After the sun came up, the rain and clouds quickly took over the mountain, but it helped create this sight on down the road. To some, turning 40 might seem like a bit of a rain cloud, but that just means you’ve seen more rainbows.

When you visit Hawaii, consider checking out some of these outdoor experiences off the national park path

Big Island

  • Papakolea green sand beach

  • Punalu’u black sand beach for beautiful sand and—if you’re lucky—sunning sea turtles!

  • ‘Akaka Falls State Park for a tremendous waterfall

Maui

  • Iao Needle State Monument to see a lush monolith and its surrounding beauty

  • Waiʻānapanapa State Park for black sand and an awesome sea cave

  • Kaihalulu, the Red Sand Beach (I’ve heard nude people hang out there, butt I didn’t see any)

  • Pride of Maui’s Molokini Crater snorkel excursion

Thanks Holly for the tour of Hawaii through your amazing photographs! Have you been to Hawaii? Let us know your thoughts and additional stories below!

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