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The Best Conservation Areas To Visit On The Big Island Of Hawaiʻi

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Forest reserves, also known as conservation areas, are different in every state. The ones on the Big Island of Hawai’i are great for anyone wanting to escape it all. The next time you’re on the big island, grab a pair of hiking boots and check out these unique spots that showcase the natural beauty of Hawai’i. They range from active volcanos to snowy mountains and everything in between. Don’t be afraid to venture out if you’ve never been to these places. Jumping into the unknown is encouraged here; this could be your next incredible vacation. 

Mauna Kea Ice Age Reserve, snow on a mountain with telescope buildings on top

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park 

Known as probably the most popular park in Hawaii, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park should be on your go-to list due to its rich history and excellent views. Here you can witness live volcano eruptions at either Kīlauea or Mauna Loa. Still, please remember to be safe and respectful of these areas. Eruptions are no joke and can cause serious harm to you and everything around you. The park is also home to species on the brink of extinction, and coming here can help spread awareness of these delicate issues. Parking is an issue if the park is full; make sure to call or visit their website ahead of your visit.  

Lava shows through a crack in cooled rock at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park 

Manukā State Wayside

This reserve is 25,000 acres with tons of different habitats. Because of recent lava flow, new vegetation has been growing, making this spot an exciting stop for anyone wanting to see a developing reserve. If you want to go on a hike, definitely check out the Manukā Nature Trail. You’ll explore forests, lava trails, and cultural sites. All in all the experience will take about 2 to 3 hours, but we absolutely recommend it!

Plants hang over lava rock at Manukā State Wayside

Kipāhoehoe Natural Area Reserve

This reserve has everything from wetlands to lowland grasslands and even a beach with a cool Instagram-worthy spot. Established as a reserve in 1983, Kīpāhoehoe has more than 117 native fauna unique to the conservation. It’s a great spot to see how lava ages and changes nature. 

water crashes on to lava rock at Kipāhoehoe Natural Area Reserve

Pu’u Maka’ala Natural Area Reserve

Located in the Puna and South Hilo districts, Pu’u Maka’ala is known for its wet native forests and has some of Hawaii’s rarest birds. If you’re a bird-watching fan, you must check out this area. Test your luck and try to catch a glimpse of an ʻAkiapolaʻau Honeycreeper or the super rare Alalā (Hawaiian crow) that is on the brink of extinction. 

waves come on to th shore of the beach at Pu'u Maka'ala Natural Area Reserve

Upper Waiākea Forest Reserve

Check out the Upper Waiākea Forest Reserve if you want a good trail. Filled with plenty of fun trails, four are probably the best if you want to get a workout. Pu’u O’o Loop, Emesine Cave, Kaumana Trail, and Pu’u O’o Volcano Trail are all considered moderate. We encourage you to wear hiking boots since the trails can be rocky. 

vegetation covers Kaumana Trail

Laupāhoehoe

Make sure you pack your camera because this spot is perfect for getting pics of the gorgeous birds who call it home. Laupāhoehoe is considered a tropical forest and has beautiful native birds for perfect for filling up your Instagram feed. Located in the North Hilo District, just above 1,600 to 4,600 feet in elevation, this area was once a fishing village before the 1800s.

water crashes on to shore at Laupāhoehoe

Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve

Replace your boots with some skis while you’re at Mauna Kea. Considered the highest mountain on the reserve (at 13,800 feet), you can find actual snow here, even in the summer. Considered a piko (where life begins), this area is highly sacred to native Hawaiians as a home and a place of worship for the gods. Keeping this in mind, it’s essential to remain respectful throughout your visit.

snow covers mountains at Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve

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