If you want to get away from it all while exploring the beauty of the Big Island, plan a trip to Kalopa State Park. When traveling north from Hilo on the Hawaii Belt Road, this beautiful green space serves as a wonderful place to stretch your legs before continuing on your road trip. With its diverse mix of native trees and plants, the main hiking trail serves as the main attraction. But you can also just come here for a picnic or even camp overnight.
The entrance to the park lies about three miles from the main highway. So, you’ll need to watch for signage alerting you to the turn-in for Kalopa Road on the south side of the street. Then, go down Kalaniai Road while following the signs to the parking area near the cabins. That’ll get you closest to the main trail, camping cabins, and park amenities. Planning on doing a little tent camping here instead? Go straight to the campgrounds to get set up.
The state park space sits adjacent to the huge Hamakua Forest Reserve. With its isolated setting, this park serves as a phenomenal place to explore all the native plants and even spot wildlife in their natural habitats. The interconnected spaces can prove disorienting, however, if you hike beyond the well-marked Nature Trail. Thankfully, you can pick up a trail guide near the trailhead to perfectly plot your route – just be sure to leave a $1 donation for this service. Then, as you walk the trail, follow the white and blue paint marks on the trees to stay on the right path.
Additional trails weave their way through the forest reserve beyond, including the Perimeter Horse Trail, Gulch Rim Trail, and the Old Jeep Road. Unless you’re well prepared to travel those paths, it’s best to stick with the short but sweet Nature Trail to start. Since the park sits along the slopes of the Mauna Kea Volcano, rainfall is common, resulting in oft slippery and difficult-to-navigate trails. So, even on the Nature Trail, you’ll want to wear grippy closed-toe shoes, comfy layers, and rain gear. Hiking poles are helpful as well.
As you walk along the Nature Trail, you’ll get enveloped by the ohi a lehua trees, ferns, and other vegetation along the paths. The lush rainforest scene promises to keep you enamored as a result, especially if you catch sight of rare vegetation, like loulu palms and hibiscus flowers. The trail is just three-quarters of a mile long, but you can expect to spend at least an hour exploring the entire stretch.
After your hike, head over to the picnic area to enjoy your peaceful lunch if you brought one. The picnic tables are perfect for relaxing in paradise, although it’s equally fun to lay out a blanket on the grass. There are restrooms nearby as well in case you need to freshen up.
If you fall in love with the park, you can get a permit and stay awhile. You’re welcome to grab a tent spot on the campgrounds, but it’s even better to secure your own cabin. The eight-person units come fully equipped with bunk beds, kitchenettes, and restrooms complete with hot showers. They even provide a few dishes and eating utensils for your use.
-Sign up for a camping permit well before coming by to stay the night.
-Bring cash in ones, so you can leave a donation for your trail guide.