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Camping On The Big Island Of Hawaii (Guide For All The Best Places To Camp)

Tent camping on the Big Island at Spencer Beach Park
Spencer Beach Park

Camping on the Big Island of Hawaii can be a great way to explore the island on a budget. As the name states, the Big Island is quite large. Luckily there are a wide array of different campgrounds around the island providing a nice selection of places to stay. 

There are County Parks, State Parks and National Parks that all offer camping opportunities on the Big Island. And lastly, there are private campgrounds offering some of the best places to stay on the island, but for a little extra money.

Planning a camping trip to the Big Island can be tricky, because nearly all campsites have different application processes, and different time windows when you can book your campsite. So in this ultimate camping guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know to camp on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Rest assured, all of the camping areas offer stunning views of this beautiful island. Some of the campgrounds are set up next to, or on the beach, with the waves crashing ashore. Others are in beautiful countryside surrounded by nature, or even close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

But you will definitely want to have a waterproof tent if you plan to camp along the east side of the island, as it is one of the wettest cities in the U.S.

There is no free camping on the island, so you will need to plan in advance and book some campgrounds and camping areas before your visit. So let’s dive into this guide for camping on the Big Island.

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Map of all the Campgrounds on the Big Island

Camping At Hawaii State Parks:

The Big Island of Hawaii has a few State Parks that offer camping. There is the option of renting rustic cabins with bunk beds. Or reserving a spot in an undesignated site for tent camping in a camping area. 

Camping permits are available 30-90 days in advance depending on the site. Individual details for each camping area listed below.

List of State Park Camping Areas including Prices:

  • Ainapo Cabin – $50/night ($30 for Hawaiian Residents)
  • Kalopa State Recreation Area – $30/night ($20/night for Hawaiian Residents) Cabins -$100/night ($70 for Hawaiian Residents)
  • Keanakolu Ranger & Bunkhouse Cabins – $90/night ($60 for Hawaiian Residents)
  • Kiholo State Park Reserve – $30/night ($20 for Hawaiian Residents)
  • Waimanu Campsite (temporarily closed, due to unsafe road)

Ainapo Cabin:

Staying at Ainapo Cabin is the best way to reach the Mokuʻāweoweo crater at the summit of Mauna Loa. This is unique camping experience basically right on the volcano.

But getting to the Ainapo Cabin is a challenging adventure. In order to reach the cabin, you can either hike from the road or drive an unmaintained road through Kapāpala Ranch (many people have stated, that even a 4wd vehicle has challenges on this road) and Kapāpala Forest Reserve.

The cabin is a basic A-frame shelter that runs off solar-power. There is a water catchment tank and composting toilet. You will still need to filter the water before consumption. We suggest bringing a Platypus Gravity Works water filter. (Read our full review of the Platypus Water Filter here)

Camping at the Ainapo Cabin requires advanced permits.

Hikers who intend to travel to the summit must register beforehand at the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Backcountry Office at (808) 985-6178. 

You will definitely want to check with a park ranger for all the details on accessing this cabin. We also highly suggest, downloading the AllTrails app to help you GPS track your route. And prepare for colder temperatures.

Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance.

Kalopa State Recreation Area

The Kalopa State Recreation Area is located in the northeast tip of the Big Island. For the Kalopa State Recreation Area you can either book a cabin or a campsite.

Cabins can sleep 8 people. Each cabin comes equipped with bunk beds, toilet facilities, and hot showers. No linen, blankets, or towels are provided. There is a 3-night stay minimum.

For tent camping, you will have a roofed shelter, plus shared toilet and shower facilities.

Reservations can be made 90 days in advance.

Keanakolu Ranger & Bunkhouse Cabins

Located in the northeast tip of the Big Island, you can rent 2 different cabin styles at Keanakolu Ranger & Bunkhouse Cabins. The Ranger Cabin has 5 bed frames and The Bunkhouse has 20 bed frames. You must provide your own pad & linens. Both require a licensed 4wd vehicle to access the cabins.

There is an outhouse, composting toilet and catchment water which needs to be filtered before consumption. There is also a wood-stove for heat, but no fire-wood is provided.

Campers are allowed to bring their own generator. Cabins are wired with light and outlets for a generator hook-up.

Reservations are available only 30 days in advance, but also must be no less than 7 days before occupancy.

A popular time to visit is from June to October when plums, apples, and pears are in bloom. Fruit is available to pick by permit only.

Kiholo State Park Reserve

Kiholo State Park Reserve is located in a remote area on the northwest part of the island. The area consists of historic lava flows.

There are no facilities and no water provided.

Guests are only allowed to camp here on weekends. Permits can be booked up to 30 days in advance.

Gate closed from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am April 1 to Labor Day; from 6:00 pm to 7:00 am after Labor Day to March 31.

Waimanu Campsite

Waimanu Campsite is closed until further notice.

Camping at Hawaii County Parks:

camping area at Spencer Beach Park
Spencer Beach Park

There are 10 beach parks that make up the County Park camping areas. So if you are dreaming of camping on the beach, this is one of the best options.

Reservations for a camping permit can be made up to 1 year in advance

During the summer months (June-August), guests are only allowed to stay 7 total nights at each campground. During the non-summer months (January-May and September-December) a guest can stay for 14 total nights. 

All campsites are $21.00 per adult per night ($6.00 per adult per night for Hawaii Residents) with the exception of Mauna Kea Recreation Area. 

With the purchase of a camping permit, you get free parking. Many of the sites are walk-in sites, so you won’t be able to directly set up next to your car. 

List of County Park Camping Areas (alphabetical):

  • Isaac Hale Beach Park (currently closed due to 2018 Lava Flows)
  • Kapa`a Beach Park
  • Kohanaiki Beach Park (Gate closes from 9pm-5:30am)
  • Laupãhoehoe Beach Park
  • Mauna Kea Recreation Area (Cabins & Bunkhouse – $150/night ($75 for Hawaiian Residents)
  • Miloli`i Beach Park
  • Mãhukona Beach Park
  • Punalu`u Black Sand Beach Park (best beach for seeing sea turtles)
  • Spencer Beach Park (Gate closes from 8pm-7am)
  • Whittington Beach Park

You must print your permit before checking into a County Park Campground. 

Aerial view of Punaluʻu Beach
Aerial view of Punaluʻu Beach

Isaac Hale Beach Park

Isaac Hale Beach Park is located on the east side of the island. It is temporarily closed due to the 2018 lava eruption. No update for when it will re-open.

Kapa`a Beach Park

Located at the north tip of the Big Island is Kapaa Beach Park. Here you will find an undesignated camping area where you can choose your camping spot anywhere in the camping area.

There is no drinking water, you must bring your own.

Kohanaiki Beach Park

Kohanaiki Beach Park offers a sandy beach on the east side of the island in Kailua-Kona. Here, you can find some great snorkeling.

This is one of the better county park camping options as they have outdoor showers, flushing toilets, and drinking water.

There is a security guard on duty 24 hours. Although the gate closes at 9pm and reopens at 5:30am. You will not be able to come or leave during those hours.

There are no specific campsites, rather a designated camping area where people can set up their tent.

Laupãhoehoe Beach Park

Located on the northeast part of the island is Laupãhoehoe Beach Park. Camping is in a large field, there are no designated campsites. But you must stay within the camping barrier.

There are restrooms, outdoor showers and drinking water.

Mauna Kea Recreation Area

There are 7 cabins that can accommodate up to 6 people or 1 large bunkhouse that can accommodate 48 people.

Campers are responsible for providing all their own pads, bedding and cooking items.

The gate closes when the park closes and there are nightly security guards on duty.

Miloli`i Beach Park

Miloli`i Beach Park is located on the Southwest corner of the Big Island. It’s an Ancient Hawaiian fishing village.

The camping area is very small here and provides little to no privacy.

There is no running water at this camping area, so you must bring your own water for drinking, showering, hand washing, etc.

Mãhukona Beach Park

On the northeast tip of the island is Mãhukona Beach Park.

This area is known for some great snorkeling. It’s a littler quieter up here, so if you want to camp with some peace and solitude, this campground might provide that.

You must bring your own water. There are only portable toilets provided here.

Punalu`u Black Sand Beach Park

Punalu`u Beach Park is known as the black sand beach located on the southeast part of the island.

Plus it is one of the best beaches for seeing sea turtles. The lush green colors against the black sand is really a beautiful scene.

This beach might be one of the better camping options on the island.

There are outdoor showers, drinking water, flushing toilets, etc.

You will most likely encounter many locals also camping here too.

Spencer Beach Park

Spencer Beach Park is probably the best county park camping option on the northwest part of the island. It has a nice sandy beach and is great for snorkeling.

There is just about everything you need for a successful camping trip. There is drinking water, outdoor showers, flushing toilets, and even a lifeguard on duty during the day.

During the day, this beach can be quite popular.

There is a small camping area up on the hill where you can set up your tent.

There is also a nightly security guard from 6pm-6:30am. So you can know you are safe while camping here. The gate does close from 8pm-7am.

Whittington Beach Park

A nice camping area on the southeast part of the Big Island is Whittington Beach Park.

There are restrooms and outdoor showers, but no drinking water.

Camping At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

view of Nāmakanipaio Campground from the road
Nāmakanipaio Campground at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And currently since Nov 2022 there are two active volcanoes on the island, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

There are actually a couple great campgrounds within the park. Both are operated on a first-come-first-served basis, so no advanced permits are needed. 

You are only permitted to stay 7 consecutive days.

List of the Volcanoes National Park Campgrounds including Prices:

  • Nāmakanipaio Campground- $15/night (Pay at Volcano House)
  • Nāmakanipaio Camper Cabins – $80/night
  • Kulanaokuaiki Campground- $10.00/night (Pay at the campground’s self-registration station)

Do note, there is an additional National Park entrance fee of $30 for vehicles, $25 for motorcycles and $15 for pedestrians/bicycles. Each pass is valid for 7 days. Or you can use a National Parks Pass

Namakanipaio Campground is located near the main entrance to the park. It operates on a first- come, first-serve basis. When you arrive, you can enter the camping area and see if there are any campsites available. If there are, set up your tent, and head to Volcano House to pay for your site. 

Each site will have picnic tables and a campfire grill. There are communal bathrooms & showers.

Nāmakanipaio Camper Cabins are a unique cabin accommodation in the National Park. Each cabin is 200 sq ft and fits 1-4 people. Cabins come with 1 full bed & 2 twin bunk beds, bed linens and towels. There is one outlet in the room.

There are communal bathrooms & showers located at Namakanipaio Campground.

Cabins require advanced reservations

Kulanaokuaiki Campground is a rather remote location, but can offer a very unique experience in the National Park. Campgrounds run off a first-come, first-serve basis. There is a fee station located on the premises. 

Private Campgrounds:

tent camping on the big island at Ho‘okena Beach Park
Ho‘okena Beach Park

There aren’t a ton of private campgrounds on the Big Island, but there are still a few good options if you prefer finding a privately-run camping area. 

Most of these private campgrounds will have their own set of rules, and different application processes. 

List of Private Campgrounds on The Big Island:

  • Hamakua Guesthouse and Camping Cabanas ($68+ per night)
  • Ho‘okena Beach Park ($21 per person/ per night) (Gate locked 8pm-7am)
  • Arnotts Lodge ($25 per person/ per night)

Ho‘okena Beach Park 

Ho’okena Beach Park is the perfect place to be tent camping right on the beach with serene beauty. But, the process for a camping permit here was very intricate. 

First, you need to apply via their website. Someone will then reach out to you whether or not you are approved. Then, there is a contract you must sign. Additionally, you must send them a copy of your license for each guest staying on property. 

They no longer allow walk-in permits, so you must plan at least a day in advance if you want to camp here. 

The day before arrival, you will receive a code into their parking lot. The main gate will be locked from 8pm – 7am.

More details about our experience here below. 

Arnotts Lodge

Arnott’s Lodge offers a unique option for camping on the Big Island. They allow guests over the age of 7 to stay on their yard. The cost is $25 per person/ per night. 

One interesting rule is that you must have proof of onward travel. I guess they have had problems with squatters in the past.

You are allowed to sleep in your vehicle or campervan here! There is no age restriction for this option. 

Use Hipcamp for Private Big Island Camping:

Hipcamp is also another popular website for finding private campgrounds on the Big Island. 

Especially on the Big Island, there are tons of unique glamping options around the island. 

Use Hostelworld For Finding Private Campsites on the Big Island:

Hostelworld is another great place for finding camping opportunities around the island of Hawaii. 

Some hostels allow camping in their yard for a discounted price, or you can rent a bed in the hostel. Both offer affordable accommodation for adventuring around the Big Island. 

Book a campsite or room on the Big Island through Hostelworld

Glamping & Luxury Camping on the Big Island

Camping cabana at Hāmākua Guesthouse
Hāmākua Guesthouse

If you really want to camp on the Big Island, but don’t want to give up the creature comforts, there are some glamping and luxury camping options available.

If you don’t know what glamping is, it stands for “glamorous camping”. It’s essentially a step up, from sleeping on the ground in a thin walled tent.

Glamping & luxury camping can definitely range significantly, in both comfort and price.

Here are a few examples for luxury camping on the Big Island:

Hamakua Guesthouse & Camping Cabanas – Hamakua Guesthouse and Camping Cabanas have more of a glamping or hostel vibe. 

The most affordable camping option is the standard outdoor hammock camping cabana. It’s basically like a screen porch with two hammocks, shelves, and a safe.

The price for a hammock cabana starts at $68 per night. But they do offer a 30% discount if you stay for 2+ nights, dropping the price down per night. More details about our experience staying here, below. 

There are no toilets in the cabanas, so you will need to use the bathrooms located in the guest house. The two bathrooms in the guesthouse a great place to grab a hot shower. Plus, there’s also a communal kitchen located in the guest house.

The guesthouse is a great place to grab a bed if you are tired of camping on the Big Island. There are different room options depending on the amount of people. Or you can rent the whole upstairs which accommodates 6 people. 

They also have a tiny cabin for rent, that has beds and a more rustic vibe. But it’s a great spot to post up in Hilo. Especially for when it rains, it will be nice to have a roof over your head. 

Hawaiian Hula Hut Big Island Hawaii – Here you will stay in a 24 x 24 sq ft Yurt. But you won’t be sleeping on an air mattress, rather a comfy bed. Plus there is a full kitchen, couch, running water, etc. Oh and you get your own private pool! So this is basically a studio apartment, that just happens to be in a yurt.

“Glamping” at its finest with wrap around lanai and jetted tub – If that yurt sounded a little too lush, then consider this glamping yurt. It is a bit more rustic, but also surrounded by a screened in porch…

Luxury Hawaii Glamping Dome w/ Outdoor Bathtub – For extreme luxury in a camping setting, check out this glamping dome. It even has an epic outdoor bathtub you can soak in while staring up at the stunning night sky. The kitchen is outside, adding in that camping vibe. But the price for this glamping set up might be more than just renting an vacation rental somewhere else.

For more glamping options on the Big Island, check out Glamping Hub.

Renting Camper Vans on the Big Island

Technically, it is illegal to sleep in a vehicle on the Big Island of Hawaii from 6pm – 6am. 

But you are able to sleep in a vehicle on private property. 

So there is a loophole if you want to rent a campervan on the Big Island for camping, but you will just need to stay at the private campgrounds. Or on private property where people allow sleeping in vehicles.

Hipcamp can be a great place for finding people’s land that allows overnight camping in vehicles. 

All of the state parks and county park campgrounds don’t allow vehicle camping. 

There are no rules stating whether or not you can sleep in vehicles in the National Park.

The best part of renting a campervan is you get your bed, kitchen, and vehicle all in one package. No need to bring your camping gear, since the campervan should come with all the essentials. 

Rent a campervan from a local on Outdoorsy or RVezy.

Our Review of Big Island Camping:

panoramic view of camping on the big island of Hawaii at Spencer Beach Park
Panoramic View of Spencer Beach Park

Spencer Beach Park:

Spencer Beach Park was the first campground we stayed at on the island. We were actually pretty impressed with the grounds albeit the small area for tent camping.

There was a large pavilion you could hang in during the day with flushing toilets and running non-potable water. Plus a large washing sink and outdoor showers for use. 

There is a separate parking lot, and you will have to walk your camping gear to your spot on the grass. Which is really only a short walk.

There are no designated sites, so it is more of a free-for-all camping style. Choose the desired spot of your liking and set up your tent (within the designated area).

Spencer Beach Park is on the Kona side (west), so that means sunshine and good beach weather.

The beach park has easy access to the beach, basketball courts, picnic tables and plenty of shade from trees on the lawn.

We only stayed here for one night, but after 10pm the camping area was quiet and everyone had their own personal space.

Hamakua Guesthouse and Camping Cabanas: 

Hamakua camping cabanas offers a unique accommodation opportunity on the Big Island. While you aren’t setting up a tent, it’s a similar experience.

There are 5 cabanas in the front yard that are just big enough to hold 2 hammocks (they provide), a safe, and shelving unit. They are basically the size of a small screened-in porch.

So depending on how you feel about sleeping in hammocks, you may love or despise this place.

We did notice there are 2 different types of cabanas. Some cabanas (#1, 2, and 3) are fully screened-in with no gaps. I would recommend requesting one of these (they are also a shorter walk to the bathroom/guesthouse).

But the other cabana units just have a mesh curtains with plenty of gaps. This lets flies, mosquitoes, and lizards come and go with ease.

Jake and I got the latter and were bothered by mosquitoes flying around us while we tried to embrace hammock sleeping life. And it was a little hot for blankets, so we definitely found some mosquito bites the next morning.

We also had a nice lizard friend who joined us for the evening, but we didn’t mind him as much. So honestly, we found our cabana stay to be less desirable than using our own tent.

The nice part about staying at Hamakua, is the guesthouse is available to anyone camping in the cabanas. There are 2 bathrooms with showers, a full kitchen and outdoor grill station. As well as a tv, wifi, electricity for charging, and a couch.

Next time we would probably just rent a room or just choose a camping area nearby.

Nāmakanipaio Campground:

If you plan to visit Volcanoes National Park then Nāmakanipaio Campground is the closest campground to the park. It’s a beautiful camping area with tall beautiful trees. 

We really enjoyed our stay here. Especially because you can camp right next to your vehicle. So you don’t have to lug your gear around, rather be just feet from your vehicle. 

Plus it did rain pretty hard while we were here, so it was nice to have a shield from the rain by just jumping in the car.

When we were visiting the island, we got a lucky surprise that the Mauna Loa volcano started erupting for the first time in 38 years! We got to see the red glow of the volcano right from our campsite. 

We also did a night hike in the park where we were able to see the eruptions from Kilauea and Mauna Loa. It was nice that our campsite was nearby and all setup. Just an all around unique experience.

The cost is $15 per site and is first come-first serve. You pay at the hotel (Volcano House) near the visitor center.

There are flush toilets, showers, sinks (both indoor & outdoor), and grills for cooking.

Once you pick your desired spot, head to Volcano House to pay for your camping permit. It’s near the visitor center. 

Ho‘okena Beach Park:

Ho’okena Beach Park was the last camping area we stayed at on the island. After adventuring around the island, it was nice to stop here and relax. 

But I will say getting this permit was more of a challenge. Once you know the days you want to stay, you put the dates in and how many days you want to stay. They ask for a payment, but that does not mean you are approved yet for the permit.

An agent will get back to you with more information if you are approved. You will need to send pictures of your I.D. and sign a contract. A couple days before arriving, they will send you a pin to get into the gate. 

This area has one of the last active Hawaiian canoe fishing villages. It is also home to Spinner Dolphins, so if you look out you might be able to spot some pods. 

But the beach here has some big rocks and coral, so you will need to be careful when entering or exiting the beach or swimming around in the shallow water. 

During the day, the entire beach park is open to the public, which also includes flush toilets and sinks. But after park hours, there will only be access to the porta potties in the parking lot. 

Weather on the Big Island:

Hawaii has many different micro-climates. But Hilo on the east side of the island is one of the wettest cities in the U.S. So you should plan for rain if you plan on camping or visiting this area. 

When we stayed here for a few days we never saw fully blue skies and the weather was quite dreary. 

You can expect drier weather on the west side (the “Kona side”). There’s plenty of hot weather and sunshine here, although it does still rain in that area.

Unless you only stay on the Kona side, you should plan to experience some rain.

And if you choose some campsites at higher elevations, prepare for chilly nights and mornings.

Tips for camping on the Big Island

Like mentioned above, the Big Island is quite large, so if you plan to visit more than one campsite, it would probably be a good idea to rent a car. We also think it’s worth adventuring to different parts of the island.

We love to use the web browser Kayak for finding the best deals. 

Keep all your valuables with you or out of sight. Vehicle theft is an ongoing problem in Hawaii.

Always have your own toilet paper. Some camping areas don’t get as much attention as they need, so there might not be toilet paper in all the bathrooms. Especially the more remote areas. 

Also, we suggest bringing your own hand soap, because many of the campgrounds will not have any.

Hawaii residents will get a discount at almost all the camping areas. Reservations and camping permits will only be accepted if the local has a valid drivers license. 

Check out our guide for all the car camping essentials checklist.

Takeaway | Camping on the Big Island

There are some really great camping opportunities on the Big Island. The island is quite large, and there are campgrounds located all around the island.

Camping is really one of the most affordable ways to stay in Hawaii, so it’s a good option for those on a strict budget.

If you are still deciding which island in Hawaii to visit, the Big Island offers a different vibe than the other major islands. Here, you can find a slower pace of life, fewer tourists, and more uninhabited land.

The road around the island is high up in the countryside, rather than along the coast. There aren’t many houses built on the coast because of the lava rocks and unstable ground.

The main attraction to this island is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, so we suggest spending a day or two exploring the area. As well as visit many of the beautiful beaches along the coast.

We hope this guide for camping on the Big Island helps you have a great camping adventure on the island!

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