By far the longest of all National Parks in Hawaii, the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail offers ample opportunity for exploring the west coast of the Big Island. It was established as a National Historic Trail in 2000 for the "preservation, protection and interpretation of traditional Native Hawaiian culture and natural resources." The trail follows in the footsteps of the ancients, crossing through numerous archaeological sites. Ala Kahakai can be accessed from within any of the other four Hawaii National Parks on the Big Island, or from many public access points along the coast.
Of all the National Parks in Hawaii, you definitely won't want to miss Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Research conducted at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has taught scientists much about earth's origins and the birth of the Hawaiian Islands. The active Kilauea volcano is of course the featured performer. You can stand on the summit and peer into the Kilauea crater. Walk through the massive Thurston Lava Tube or across a lava crater. Steam vents and sulfur banks provide evidence of what’s taking place underground.
It was in the interest of preserving the culture and natural history of Hawaii that Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park was established. It is obvious from the numerous fishponds, freshwater springs and a wealth of archaeological sites that the Kaloko-Honokohau area was once a sizeable Hawaiian settlement. The massive Kaloko Fishpond is particularly impressive. As you stroll through the 1160-acre park, keep an eye out for a variety of Hawaiian artifacts and petroglyphs, and take time to enjoy the nice beaches.
In ancient Hawaii, the penalty for breaking certain kapu (sacred laws) was death. The only hope for survival was to somehow escape and make your way to the Pu’uhonua, or place of refuge. Upon reaching the Pu’uhonua, the person who broke the kapu would be protected from harm. Visitors to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (place of refuge at Honaunau) will appreciate how much of that sense of peacefulness can still be felt today. Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park was established to preserve this sacred site.
Established in 1972 as a National Historic Site, Pu’ukohola Heiau stands as one of the best preserved ancient temples in all of Hawaii. The site has great historical significance as it played a pivotal role in King Kamehameha’s efforts to bring all of the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom united under his rule. The Visitor Center provides extensive information regarding the history of Pu’ukohola Heiau and the other Hawaiian temples that are part of the park, Mailekini Heiau and Hale o Kapuni Heiau.
Of the eight total Hawaii National Parks, National Monuments and National Historic Sites, five have been established on the Big Island. The others are Haleakalā National Park on Maui, World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument on O'ahu, and Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Moloka'i. 5 of the 8 Hawaii National Parks are significant historical parks, established to preserve an important piece of Hawaii's ancient past.
In addition to great Hawaii National Parks, there is still more to explore at the fourteen Hawaii State Parks, Monuments, and State Recreation Areas on the Big Island.