Camping Hawaii: Guide to Visiting Hawaii on a Budget

We love Hawaii and have visited over a dozen times. But in order to submerse ourselves in the Aloha spirit regularly, we had to find a ways to visit Hawaii within our small budget. After all, just airfare and hotel alone can set you back thousands of dollars and that’s not even inculding food and entertainment. Camping is a great way to visit Hawaii and it doesn’t break the bank. Here’s how we camp in Hawaii, plus other tips to help you visit Hawaii on a budget. With a few key supplies and an adventurous mindset, you can experience all the amazing things Hawaii has to offer, even on a very small budget.

Camping Hawaii Malaekahana Oahu
Watching the most amazing sunrise at Oahu’s Malaekahana Campground

Camping in Hawaii isn’t about luxury or even rest and relaxation. We are adventurers so for us, we are just looking for a way to surf and hike all day and need a safe and comfortable place to sleep at night. Hawaii campgrounds don’t have many amenities, but if you too are just looking for a place to lie your head in between beach days and mountain explorations, then camping in Hawaii is a great option.

Camping Hawaii, Olomana Ridge
Camping in Hawaii is perfect for you if you’re looking to explore mountains like these all day

Rules of Camping in Hawaii

Closed Days

All Hawaii campgrounds are closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays so if you are trying to plan a trip and want to save the most amount of money, fly into Hawaii on Friday and out on Wednesday. If you’re staying longer than that, you’ll have to find other accommodation for 2 nights.

Fires

No fireplaces or grills are provided at this park.  Campers must bring grills or other fire containment devices.  In the past, we’ve always traveled with our Jetboil Flash Cooking System with Java Kit, MSR Pocket Rocket, GSI Bugaboo Nesting Cook Set so we can save money by cooking our own food. See tips for saving money below for more info on our cooking system.

Permits

You can’t just show up and camp in Hawaii. You don’t need reservations per se but you need a permit which must be booked online ahead of time as there is no staff at the campgrounds that you can buy a permit from. In addition, make sure you print your permit ahead of. A printed permit is required to camp in all these campgrounds (but I have never actually seen anyone check if you have your permit). Also note that all fees are non-refundable.

Tent Camping Only

Also note, these are tent only campgrounds. There are no RV sites at the following campgrounds except for Waiʻānapanapa State Park, which is the only State Park in Hawaiʻi that has a small area designated for camper vans.

Hawaiian State Parks

There are 53 Hawaii state parks on 5 islands– Oahu, Kauai, Hawaii, Maui, and Molokai. We have stayed at a few, but our absolute favorite is Malaekahana State Recreation Area (not to be confused with the Malaekahana private campground next door to it, which is probably great too, but much more expensive).

Camping Hawaii Malaekahana Oahu, Ultimate Guide to Visiting Hawaii on a Budget
Chilling on the beach with the uke at beautiful Malaekahana

For those of you who get stoked having to “rough it” a bit, you’ll love camping here. There are large bathrooms with flush toilets, sinks, and cold showers. Each campsite has a picnic table. There is also a large dishwashing station which is really nice.

Camping Hawaii Malaekahana Oahu
Playing hacky sack in the big grassy area at Malaekahana Campground Hawaii

This campground is surrounded by huge trees, there’s a large grass area for the kids, the sandy beach is great for long walks, and the outer reef provides a great place to surf while the area close to the shore is calm and safe for kids to play in.

Camping Hawaii Malaekahana Oahu
The crystal clear, calm waters on the shore of Malaekahana State Beach

I like that the campgroud is away from the road so it feels secluded and quiet, but it can also feel too secluded (I’m sure it’s safe, but I wouldn’t camp here by myself).

One drawback to camping here (or positive depending on how you look at it) is that they lock the gates right after sunset until sunrise so going out or having an exciting nightlife can be a challenge. Luckily we are there to surf and an early evening in isn’t a problem.

Camping Hawaii Malaekahana Oahu
Another epic sunrise from the secluded shores of Oahu’s best campground

Not all of the Hawaii state park campgrounds are as easy as this one to get to. Many require 4WD to get to especially those near the mountains.

State Park price and rules:

  • For residents: $12 per campsite per night for up to 6 persons; $2 per night for each additional person*.  Maximum fee per site: $20/night.
  • Non-residents:  $18 per campsite per night for up to 6 persons; $3 per night for each additional person*.  Maximum fee per site: $30/night.
  • *Children 2 and under free 
  • NO CAMP SET-UP BEFORE 2 PM.  Check-out time is no later than 12 noon.
  • PARK HOURS:  Summer (April 1 through Labor Day): 7 am – 7:45 pm; Winter (after Labor Day through March 31): 7 am – 6:45 pm.  OVERNIGHT PARKING PERMIT REQUIRED AFTER HOURS. 

City Campgrounds

Each island also has it’s own set of campgrounds.

Haena on Kauai is a great campground, however it is currently closed due to storm damage.

Another of our favorite campgrounds is Bellows Field Beach Park on Oahu. Bellows is beautiful with turquoise waters a sandy golden beach. We don’t stay here as often though because the surf isn’t very good in front of the campground. If you don’t surf, you will love that the camping is right on the beach and you can watch the sunrise from your tent.

Bellow Beach, Camping Hawaii: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Hawaii on a Budget
The calm shores of Bellows Beach
Photo copyright and credit: Hawaii Travel Guide

I also like how close this campground is to Kailua. When we camp here we keep life simple and just go to Whole Foods in Kailua for pre-cooked food. Kailua is filled with a lot of great dining options and a couple nice breweries. There aren’t picnic tables at Bellows so I recommend bringing an outdoor blanket with you.

Bellows Beach, Camping Hawaii: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Hawaii on a Budget
Looking back at camp from the water’s edge at Bellows Beach Campground

If you choose to eat out and not deal with food, I highly recommend just bringing a Jetboil Flash with Kuju Coffee Pocket PourOver packets and a mug so you can enjoy your coffee by the water in the morning. The sunrises here are incredible!

Links to each island’s county or private campgrounds:

What To Bring With You

We found that if we pack a few key essentials so that we can sleep comfortably, then the rest is pretty easy. Here’s the bare minimum of what you need to bring if you want to camp in Hawaii.

Camping Hawaii Malaekahana Oahu, Ultimate Guide to Visiting Hawaii on a Budget
cAMping in Hawaii only requires a minimal amount of gear but one thing is essential, a waterproof shelter

Quick Dry Towels

One negative of camping is that it can rain a lot in Hawaii and being prepared for it will help so much.

Tip: Bring an extra towel. It will help so much to have one to use for swimming and showering and an extra to use to dry your feet when you go into the tent or to dry dishes.

Clothesline

Bring a string or paracord for a clothesline so that you can at least hang your stuff to dry when the rain stops.

Don’t leave your stuff on there when you leave though. We have had really cute bikinis stolen when we left them out to dry and weren’t there.

Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress

Many of the campgrounds are under the trees and a lot of the trees drop seeds that are sharp and pointy. Bring a good sleeping pad or air mattress and you will be much happier. A big air mattress is probably overkill for how big and heavy it is to travel with. We recommend Klymit’s ultra lite sleeping pads for their comfort and breathability.

Blanket or Sleeping Bag

You don’t necessarily need a sleeping bag because it doesn’t get that cold at night, in fact a sleeping bag is probably too hot, but you do need something. If you don’t tend to get cold easily, then pants and a sweatshirt could be enough. If you want to be a minimalist, skip the pillow. Personally, if I have a good airmattress, I can skip the pillow or I roll up a jacket. A light, travel blanket from ENO is a great way to go for just a little warmth.

Tent

Last trip it rained so much the ground around our tents flooded. We had two tents, an REI Passage and Alps Mountaineering Taurus. The REI leaked horribly and we got soaked. The Alps was completely water tight. Lesson learned, waterproof your tent before your trip.

The only negative was that it having the rain tarp on this tent made it super hot so I recommend doing as the Hawaiians do and buy a tarp to hang over your tent to stay dry and have a lightweight and breathable tent. A hanging tarp like this also give you a place to hang out during the day if it is raining.

Lights

We love our Luci lights. They deflate to pack down really small and are solar so you can charge them during the day. We love the Pro Series because it has a USB input to charge your phone too.

I also recommend bring a headlamp so you don’t step on anything when you walk to the bathroom at night.

Cooler

If you already have a cooler like this Yeti one, bring it with you on the plane If not, you can buy one of the white foam ones at Foodland when you land. It is nice to be able to keep some food cold while you are camping (especially beer).

Hawaii on a Budget: How to Save Money on Food

Camp Cooking

We cook a lot of our food while we are at the campground by bringing this basic cook system of:

These camp cooking systems require small butane canisters and since you can’t fly with these, you will need to head to find a outdoor store on the island of your choosing. On Oahu, our go-to outdoor store is Go Bananas (get directions here).

Costco

When we went for two weeks (we’d tent camp Friday to Wednesday and Airbnb for the two nights that the campground was closed), we’d go to Costco when we’d arrive and stock up on foods like bread, peanut butter, jelly, mac-n-cheese, eggs, macadamia nuts, Kind bars, almond milk, and cereal.

Foodland

We shop at Foodland when we are in Hawaii. Get a Foodland card to save a ton of money. They have very good prices on premade foods and many days we just get the 2 pounds of poke from the deli, a rotisserie chicken, and a bag of tortilla chips for a great tasting lunch. At only $30 this is a great deal to feed our large family.

Farmer’s Markets

While not always the cheapest option, you really must go to a Farmer’s market while in Hawaii. When our kids were younger, going to the Farmer’s market near Haena, Kauai was their favorite part of the trip. Click here to find a list of all the farmers markets in Hawaii.B

Hawaii on a Budget: How to Save Money on Airfare

You can get flights to Hawaii from many destinations in the U.S. for just under $400 round trip but you need to be watching the fares. Download the Skyscanner app here and set up alerts on your phone.

We fly Hawaiian Air and have never had trouble carrying on our big backpacking backpacks. In them we pack our tent, air mattresses, and lightweight sleeping bags. The only bag we check is our surfboards.

Summary

A trip to Hawaii doesn’t have to break the bank. With an adventurous mindset and quality gear, you can have a wonderful vacation on a small budget by camping in Hawaii.

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