Camping on the Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii has many locations where you can camp. Many of them require permits, but for some, you only need four-wheel drive. While it is much more common for people to stay at hotels in Hawaii, camping is a popular alternative to the typical Hawaiian vacation.
Do you want to be adventurous? My father-in-law once came to Hawaii and camped during his stay. He said it was the cheapest vacation he had ever been on. If you would like to do the same, here are some great places to camp.
The following list gives you the places to camp (in no particular order), a map to their locations at the bottom, and useful information for each place. Depending on what parts of the island you want to visit while you are on the Big Island, you will have to decide between different campgrounds at various locations. If you want to be on the beach, the west-side of the island has plenty of camping spots. If you'd rather see the lava up-close at Kilauea, an active volcano on our island, then you will want to camp near it in Ka'u.
For more information about camping in Hawaii and obtaining the proper permits for your stay, visit the County of Hawaii website.
Kiholo Beach is an untouched part of Hawaii. There are a few houses near the coast, but they left the beach the way nature intended it. Kiholo has black and white sand in parts which makes it unique. Over time, the ocean has crushed coral, olivine, and lava rock, making the sand speckled and colorful.
You will need four-wheel drive to get to this serene beach. The road to the beach is about a mile long and gets pretty rocky in some parts, so be careful while driving down and get insurance on that rental car.
To camp here, you do NOT need a permit. You are free to park your car, set up your tent and camp as long as you aren't blocking the road.
One unique feature of this beach is the Queen's Pond. It is a brackish water pond, meaning it gets water from a freshwater spring as well as the ocean. This pond is significant in Hawaiian culture because it is the place they would send women each month when they were menstruating. The pond is now blood-free and is very cool to swim in. It is an underwater cave that you can swim through. If you attempt to do so, make sure the tide is low. I once went in when the tide was low and swam to the back of the cave, but the tide came up and I had to hold my breath until I got to the opening. If you are up for an adventure, you should try it, but make sure you have a waterproof flashlight as it's dark.
This beach does not have bathrooms or any other amenities. If you plan to camp here, make sure you bring everything you need and take your trash with you.
Camping at Spencer Beach
Spencer Beach Park
Spencer Beach is one of the best beaches on the island. It's a great place for kids as the water is pretty mellow, but it also has a stunning reef that attracts a variety of Hawaiian marine life. If you like to (or want to) snorkel, this is the place for you.
You will have water, a pavilion, bathrooms, a basketball court, and a few barbecues to keep you entertained while you are camping. You will set up your tent on one of the flat, sandy areas near the pavilions near other campers. Make sure to dress warm and bring plenty of blankets because the on-shore winds get pretty strong at night.
This site offers small, rustic, and private wooden cabins that have a bed and the bare minimum. If you want to camp but you aren't sure about sleeping on the ground, this is a great compromise. You will feel like you're camping while being safe from rain and other disturbances.
This campsite is very close to Volcanoes National Park, which is great if you want to visit. Sometimes the campground may smell like sulfur from the volcano. Be aware of the amount of vog (fog caused by the volcano) in the area. The vog is very bad for anyone with asthma or other respiratory problems.
There are bathrooms at this location with water, so you will not have to worry about bringing toilet paper or water.
Namakani Paio and Kulanaokuaiki
These are two campgrounds in Volcano. They are quiet and private, grassy areas with bathrooms and barbecues. They are very close to Volcanoes National Park, which is where you can visit to see the lava.
Namakani Paio is a small, green campground with bathrooms. You will set up your tent on some soft grass and have access to barbecues in case you want to cook your dinner. Like the cabins, you must be aware of the vog levels and also dress in layers, as this is area is at a high elevation. This campground is ideal for families and children, but it is nowhere near the sunny beaches.
Hapuna Recreation Center
Hapuna Beach is one of the most popular and beautiful beaches on the island. Locals love this beach because it's big and there are often waves large enough for body boarding. You cannot camp directly on the beach, but at the top of the hill near the parking lot, there are these old cabins that you can rent out.
The cabins have the bare minimum but are much more comfortable than the backcountry cabins. They have bathrooms, picnic tables, and showers. Be sure to book your stay seven days in advance. You will love your stay here at Hapuna, one of the must-see spots on the Big Island.