If you bring your own equipment, remember that you can't transport fuel (even in a canister) on the plane. If your camping stove requires butane fuel, just leave it at home; butane is very difficult to find in Hawaii. Makai Camping (www.makaicamping.com)
The best places to camp on Oahu are listed below. TheBus's Circle Island route can get you to or near all these sites, but remember: On TheBus, you're allowed only one bag, which has to fit under the seat. If you have more gear, you're going to have to drive or take a cab.
Note: To make a reservation, go on line to www.hawaiistateparks.org/camping/fees.cfm, and click "Online Reservations." Camping fees are $32–#52 per night per site for 6 people (each site holds 10 people); an additional fee of $3 will be applied to each extra person over six people. Payment can be made with a credit card.
Sand Island State Recreation Area -- Believe it or not, there is a campground in Honolulu. It's just south of Honolulu Harbor at a waterfront park. Don't be put off by the heavy industrial area you have to drive through to reach this 102-acre park with grassy lawns, ironwood trees, and sandy beaches. Campers have great views -- better than those of some of the guests in the $400-a-night rooms in Waikiki -- of the entire Honolulu coastline all the way to Waikiki. In addition to the scenery, the most popular activity here is shoreline fishing, especially along the western shore of Sand Island. Swimming is an option, but watch out for the rocks along the shoreline bottom; the water quality is occasionally questionable too. The park is also a good base camp for visiting Honolulu attractions; it's just 15 minutes from Waikiki or Pearl Harbor.
Only tent camping is allowed in this park, and only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. You'll find picnic tables (some under small covered shelters), restrooms with cold showers only, and potable water. You'll need a permit; the fee is $18 per campsite per night. Applications are accepted no earlier than 30 days in advance and can be purchased online at www.hawaiistateparks.org/camping/fees.cfm, or by writing to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks Division, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809 (tel. 808/587-0300). Permits are given for a maximum of 5 days in every 30-day period (and because you can only stay on weekends, 5 consecutive days aren't possible). The gates close at 6:45pm in the fall and winter (from the weekend after Labor Day until Mar 31) and 7:45pm in the spring and summer (Apr 1 until the Fri after Labor Day). The gates do not open until 7am the next morning; cars cannot enter or leave during that period. TheBus 19 stops at Nimitz Highway and Puuhale Road; it's just over a mile to walk to the park entrance.
Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area -- At the southern end of central Oahu, above Halawa Heights, this 385-acre wooded park offers a cool mountain retreat with hiking trails and picnic facilities. This area, in the foothills of the Koolaus, is filled with eucalyptus, ironwood, and Norfolk pines. The remains of the Heiau Ho'ola (Temple of Treating the Sick) are on the grounds, and specimens of Hawaiian medicinal plants are on display. An excellent 5-mile hiking trail, the Aiea loop, offers magnificent views of Pearl Harbor and the mountains. There's tent camping only; campers have the choice of flat, open grassy areas or slightly sloping areas with shade trees. Facilities include picnic tables, restrooms with cold showers, outdoor grills, a dishwashing area, a covered pavilion, drinking water, and a public phone. Supplies are available in Aiea, 2 miles away.
You'll need a permit, which costs $18 per campsite per night; applications are accepted no earlier than 30 days in advance. Online at www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu/keaiwa.cfm or write to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Permits are limited to a 5-day stay in every 30-day period. Camping is permitted Friday through Tuesday nights. The gates close at 6:45pm in the fall and winter (from the weekend after Labor Day until Mar 31) and 7:45pm in the spring and summer (Apr 1 until the Fri after Labor Day). The gates do not open until 7am the next morning; cars cannot enter or leave during that period.
The Windward Coast
Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens -- This relatively unknown windward-side camping area, outside Kaneohe, is a real find. Hoomaluhia means "peace and tranquillity," an apt description for the 400-acre botanical garden. It's hard to believe you're just a half-hour from downtown Honolulu, considering the rare plants all around and the craggy cliffs in the background. The gardens are laid out with areas devoted to the plants specific to tropical America, native Hawaii, Polynesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Africa. A 32-acre lake sits in the middle of the scenic park (no swimming or boating allowed, though), and there are numerous hiking trails. The Visitors Center can suggest a host of activities, ranging from guided walks to demonstrations of ancient Hawaiian plant use. The facilities for this tent-camp area include restrooms, cold showers, dishwashing stations, picnic tables, grills, and water. A public phone is available at the Visitors Center, and shopping and gas are available in Kaneohe, 1 mile away.
Permits are free, but that may be changing. You have to get here on a Friday no later than 3pm, as the office is not open on weekends. Stays are limited to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights only. You must apply in person, and at this time permits can only be obtained at the gardens. For inquiries and reservations, contact Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens, 45-680 Luluku Rd. (at Kamehameha Hwy.), Kaneohe, HI 96744 (www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu/keaiwa.cfm; tel. 808/233-7323). The gate is locked at 4pm and doesn't open again until 9am the next morning. TheBus no. 55 (Circle Island) stops 4 miles from the park entrance.
Kualoa Regional Park -- This park has a spectacular setting on a peninsula on Kaneohe Bay. The gold-sand beach is excellent for snorkeling, and fishing can be rewarding. Two campgrounds are available: Campground A -- in a wooded area with a sandy beach and palm, ironwood, kamani, and monkeypod trees -- is mainly used for groups, but has a few sites for families, except during the summer, when the Department of Parks and Recreation conducts a children's camping program here. Campground B is on the main beach; it has fewer shade trees, but a great view of Mokolii Island. Facilities at both sites include restrooms, showers, picnic tables, drinking fountains, and a public phone. Campground A also has sinks for dishwashing, a volleyball court, and a kitchen building. Gas and groceries are available in Kaaawa, 2 1/2 miles away. Gate hours are 7am to 8pm; if you're not back by then, you're locked out for the night.
Permits are free but limited to 3 to 5 days (no camping in the "A" section Mon-Thurs; no camping in the "B" section on Thursday). Contact the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation, 650 S. King St., Honolulu, HI 96713 (www.honolulu.gov/parks/parkuse.htm; tel. 808/768-3440). You must apply for a camping permit in person at any satellite City Hall. Kualoa Regional Park is in the 49 to 600 area of Kamehameha Highway, across from Mokolii Island. Take TheBus no. 55.
Kahana Bay Beach Park -- Under Tahiti-like cliffs, with a beautiful, gold-sand crescent beach framed by pine-needle casuarina trees, Kahana Bay Beach Park is a place of serene beauty. You can swim, bodysurf, fish, hike, picnic, or just sit and listen to the trade winds whistle through the beach pines.
Both tent and vehicle camping are allowed at this oceanside oasis. Facilities include restrooms, picnic tables, drinking water, public phones, and a boat-launching ramp. Note that the restrooms are at the north end of the beach, far away from the camping area, and there are no showers. You'll need a permit; the fee is $18 per campsite per night. There's a 5-night limit, and no camping at all on Wednesday or Thursday nights. You can get a permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks Division, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809 (www.hawaiistateparks.org/camping/fees.cfm; tel. 808/587-0300).
Kahana Bay Beach Park is in the 52 to 222 block of Kamehameha Highway (Hwy. 83) in Kahana. You can also get there via TheBus no. 55.
Waimanalo Bay State Recreation Area -- Just outside the town of Waimanalo is one of the most beautiful beachfront camping grounds on Oahu: Steep verdant cliffs in the background, a view of Rabbit Island off shore, and miles of white-sand beach complete the picture of Waimanalo Bay State Recreation Area. This campground is close to Sea Life Park and relatively close to Hanauma Bay, Makapuu, and Sandy Beach.
Ocean activities abound: great swimming offshore, good surfing for beginners, and plentiful fishing grounds. There is tent camping only at the 12 sites, which ensures plenty of privacy. The campsites (in numbered slots) are all in the open grassy lawn between the ironwood trees and the shoreline. Each campsite has its own picnic table, barbecue grill, and garbage can. Other facilities in the area include a central restroom with showers, water fountains, and a dishwashing sink. A public telephone is by the caretaker's house.
Permits are free but limited to 5 nights (no camping on Wed or Thurs nights). Contact the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation, 650 S. King St., Honolulu, HI 96713 (www.honolulu.gov/parks/camping.htm; tel. 808/523-4525), for information and permits. Permits are not issued until 2 weeks before your camping dates.
TheBus no. 57 stops on Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72), about a mile's walking distance to the park entrance.
The North Shore
Malaekahana Bay State Recreation Area -- This beautiful camping site has a mile-long gold-sand beach, with two areas for tent camping. Facilities include picnic tables, restrooms, showers, sinks, drinking water, and a phone. Stays are limited to 5 nights (no camping on Wed or Thurs nights). Camping fees are $18 per campsite per night; permits can be obtained at any state parks office, including the Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks Division, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809 (www.hawaiistateparks.org/camping/fees.cfm; tel. 808/587-0300). The park gate is closed between 6:45pm and 7am; vehicles cannot enter or exit during those hours. Groceries and gas are available in Laie and Kahuku, less than a mile away.
The recreation area is on Kamehameha Highway (Hwy. 83) between Laie and Kahuku. You can take TheBus no. 55.
Camp Mokuleia -- A quiet, isolated beach on Oahu's North Shore, 4 miles from Kaena Point, is the centerpiece of this 9-acre campground. Camping is available on the beach or in a grassy, wooded area. Activities include swimming, surfing, shore fishing, and beachcombing. Facilities include tent camping, cabins, and lodge accommodations. The tent-camping site has portable chemical toilets, a water spigot, and outdoor showers; there are no picnic tables or barbecue grills, so come prepared. The cabins sleep up to 22 people in bunk beds. The cabins are $238 per night for the 14-bed cabin and $344 per night for the 22-bed cabin. Rooms at the lodge (must have a group of 15 for meal service) are $95 for a shared bathroom and $95 to $105 for a private bathroom. "Home cooked" meals can be had for $9 to $10. Tent camping is $15 per person, per night. Many groups use the camp, but there's a real sense of privacy. Parking is $3 per day. Reservations are required; contact Camp Mokuleia, 68-729 Farrington Hwy., Waialua, HI 96791 (www.visitcampmokuleia.com; tel. 808/637-6241).
Camp Mokuleia is on Farrington Highway, west of Haleiwa.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.