National Parks in Hawaii, Part 1

In our first installment focusing on National Park Service units in Hawaii, we’ll be exploring the islands of O’ahu, Maui, and Moloka’i.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in O'ahu is one of the newest units of the NPS system; this monument was established in 2008 and is, in its entirety, comprised of sites located in Hawaii, Alaska and California. The portion in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor honors the three battleships on December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma and USS Utah. The monument now has a large visitor center and a campus of static and deeply informative displays and museum exhibits, as well as the iconic memorial to the USS Arizona.

 USS Arizona Memorial, photo by Derek Wright.

USS Arizona Memorial, photo by Derek Wright.

Please note that due to structural issues with the docking bridge, the USS Arizona Memorial is currently closed until repairs can be made. We have left the instructions for gaining tickets below for future travel planning.

To visit the USS Arizona, you will need a free timed entry ticket, either by reserving ahead of time on recreation.gov (the ticket window opens up on a rolling 60-day basis), or early morning at the memorial. Note that online reservations are only for afternoon tickets, and come with a $1.50 online service fee. If you wish to visit in the morning, you’ll need to arrive in the morning and wait in a short line to get a ticket. The NPS says it is rare that tickets will run out (only on peak national holidays), though we’d recommend arriving early. When we arrived, our timed ticket was for a boat tour that was two hours later, so that will leave you plenty of time to tour the museum, grounds and the other memorials on campus.

Some ancillary museums do require an entry fee—the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin and submarine museum, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. A group ticket can be purchased for all three, which also includes the free USS Arizona timed ticket, saving you a step.

The NPS Pearl Harbor visitor center and museum is quite spectacular, as the curators take you back to the early days of World War II, before the United States entered the war. Once your timed ticket is valid, go to the boat dock and board the shuttle boat, operated by the U.S. Navy, which will take you to the USS Arizona Memorial. On board, a park ranger will give a short interpretive talk, and is available for questions upon docking at the Memorial. The immediacy of the event is quite present; for us the still leaking oil from the sunken ship directly under the alabaster white memorial is a sharp reminder of the speed with which these events happened, and how recently they occurred.

Honouliuli National Monument

 View from Honouliuli Overlook, NPS Photo by Rebecca Rinas.

View from Honouliuli Overlook, NPS Photo by Rebecca Rinas.

Also in O’ahu, Honouliuli National Monument interprets Honouliuli Interment Camp, the largest in the state. This site is an even more recent to the NPS, established in 2015, and per the NPS, “will tell the history of internment, martial law, and the experience of prisoners of war in Hawai‘i during World War II. Honouliuli NM will be a place to reflect on wartime experiences and recommit ourselves to the pursuit of freedom and justice.” It’s not open yet for visitors, though we’ve heard some portions may be accessible in late 2018. You can get a stamp for the monument at WWII Valor in the Pacific, in the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

Kalaupapa National HistoricAL Park

 NPS Photo / T. Scott Williams.

NPS Photo / T. Scott Williams.

On the less visited island of Moloka’i, you’ll find Kalaupapa National Historical Park, which interprets and protects the history of two leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease) colonies, which operated from 1866 to 1969. “The park's mission is to provide a well-maintained community that ensures the present patient-residents of the Kalaupapa Settlement may live out their lives peacefully and comfortably. The park supports education concerning Hansen's Disease, an illness historically shrouded in fear and ignorance for many centuries.” [NPS] To visit the park, you’ll need to take an authorized concessionaire tour—all NPS visitors must be part of a scheduled commercial tour. To access the park, you’ll hike 4 miles with your group along the Pali trail, which is a strenuous and uneven trail that has a 1,700 foot elevation change, descending from some of the world’s tallest sea cliffs to a broad plain, which is Kalaupapa National Historic Park. One concessionaire (Kalaupapa Rare Adventures) does provide mule tours that allow you to ride down and then back up the Pali trail. If planning a trip with young family members please be aware children under the age of 16 are not permitted on the tours.

Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā National Park is on the south side of Maui, far away from the tourist centers. In fact, you’ll need to drive close to an hour to get to the park from the nearest towns of Wailea or Hana. There are two districts, the Summit and Kipahulu, and both offer a completely different experience. Most tourists head to the Summit district, which encompasses the famous Haleakalā peak. Head up the main road for stunning views of the park and the island as you ascend the peak. At the peak, there is a visitor center that is built from volcanic rock! The rangers are more than happy to answer questions. Do not forget to bring a jacket, the temperature can be 20-30 degrees cooler than in Wailea. Many opt to arrive for sunrise at the summit. Currently, the NPS is looking to continue a reservation system for sunrise visits that they piloted in 2016 and 2017, which scheduled entry between 3:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m, and allowed no more than 150 vehicles. Before heading out, do check in to see if the reservation system is operating. Visitors needed to obtain a $1.50 reservation online up to 60 days in advance at recreation.gov, and show photo identification matching the name on the reservation when paying their park entry fee at the entrance station. If you are more inclined to adventure on foot, there are many trails at the base of the mountain, near the park entry gates. Some of the trails require a guided tour with a ranger, as much of the land is protected wilderness with strictly limited access, so do call ahead to check availability.

 Haleakala National Park, Maui.

Haleakala National Park, Maui.

One rare treat at Haleakalā are the wilderness cabins, which are available for reservation. These are remote lodgings that are priced at $75 per night and located in the heart of the wilderness section of the park. Each cabin is a hike from the summit parking lot (and remember, you will be almost 7,000 feet above sea level), some of which are moderate and some more strenuous. The reservation window opens up at 180 days. For more info, please see the official page here.

On the other side of the park, you will find the Kipahulu district, which is reached from the winding, noodling Hana Highway. Take the time to enjoy the unforgettable drive, though do use the turnouts so locals can pass as you sightsee your way through the stunning rainforest. At the park, stop off at the visitor center for an orientation; the rangers there can recommend many hikes in the area, including the hike to the majestic Waimoku Falls. Do exercise caution when hiking, as the rocks and ground are often slick in the rainforest.

For both districts, don’t forget to fill up the gas tank before leaving, there are no services in either district!