Front of black campervan that was rented on Big Island of Hawaii
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Weekend Campervan Adventure on Big Island of Hawaii

We rented a campervan in Texas way back in 2020 and we really enjoyed our weekend exploring the area. But that experience was nothing compared to our campervan rental in Hawaii! We enjoyed exploring the Big Island in this Hymer Aktiv campervan. The experience made us realize that vanlife may indeed be a great fit for us…soon.

renting a campervan big island hawaii

For us, there is honestly nothing quite like the thrill of exploring a new landscape. We love experiencing new cultures and new environments. No travel experience has made us feel as alive and energized as the unlimited exploration afforded by the RV life.

Stay as long as you choose. Go wherever you please. Meet whomever you were meant to meet. It’s an incredible way to appreciate the most unique, unplanned, surprising moments in life.

For our dollar, we believe it’s wise to leave the “best laid plans” behind. Instead, allow yourself to be surprised with how the experience comes together. In my mind, the need to be in control could actually hurt in the long run.

hawaii volcanoes national park van camping trip
Driving through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

We spent a weekend in a converted Dodge Sprinter van that we rented through Outdoorsy. It was equipped with toilet, shower, and a great solar power setup. That van opened our eyes to the possibility of eliminating obnoxious planning and going whichever way the wind blows. It was liberating and kinda thrilling!! I think we’re hooked.

Camper Van Adventure on Hawaii’s Big Island


I have to start this off by letting you know a very simple but important fact. The Big Island is not the easiest place to experience van life. It’s a tough area for RVs in general. That’s especially true if you have no experience with the RV lifestyle.

You see, RVs are not very common out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Big shocker, I know. There are so many reasons that’s true.

RV Parks in Hawaii

There is not a single RV park or RV resort on the island. Only a small number of campgrounds accommodate any type of RV. And they only allow the small variety.

Looking for full hookups for your RV or van, complete with water, sewer and electric? Look elsewhere. Somewhere within the continental 48 states. As far as I can tell, there is not a single location with RV hookups on the Big Island!

PREPARE TO ROUGH IT OUT THERE

When you think about RVing Hawaii, consider whether you are ready for a more primitive experience. Think about if you’re prepared for minimal to no amenities or services.

There’s one more important thing to consider. Be honest about whether your rig is equipped for the experience. Otherwise, you may be a stressed out mess before the adventure even begins.

van camping in hawaii volcanoes national park

Research and Gather Info From Experienced RVers

LACK OF INFORMATION MAKES IT TOUGH TO PLAN

The reality of RV and van life on the Big Island is that helpful information is hard to come by! No doubt about it. You could easily spend hours trying to scour every “official” source online. That would likely leave you exhausted and still void of any useful information.

So let us help you understand how to tackle the planning phase of your Hawaii van life experience. We’ve been there and done it. We have also had many conversations with others who have first-hand van life experience in Hawaii.

we rented a campervan on the Big Island of Hawaii
Van campin’ on the Big Island of Hawaii

Together, we can get you squared away. You’ll soon be ready to plan an awesome Big Island van life adventure.

Manage Your Expectations

Allow me to set your expectations. If you’re looking for a luxe van life experience of the RV resort variety, this isn’t it. The Big Island is pretty rustic when it comes to RV and campervan accommodations, to say the least.

BE RESILIENT AND BE REWARDED

But, if you hope to get off the “tourist path” and blaze your own trail into the heart of this beautiful island, you are in for a real treat.

What you often find are camping spots that look a lot more like parking lots than anything else. There is nothing glamorous, super private, or downy soft comfortable. Find a spot to park, then get off the road for a rest.

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT VAN LIFE IN HAWAII

A few other things to prepare yourself for as you plan your trip:

  • Most campgrounds and beaches do not allow dogs (sad).
  • Several state and county campgrounds are closed due to COVID (as of Apr 2021), so check availability carefully.
  • No open fires are allowed in any campground locations that we researched…with the exception of barbecue pits in some locations.
  • If you are not a resident of Hawaii, you will be paying higher camping fees (sometimes $21/night per person).

Overnight Campervan Camping in Hawaii


What are your best options for places to lay your weary head while living the vanlife on the Big Island? We will list and discuss each one below, in order of our personal preference.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in a campervan

I personally believe seeing the national park during your time here on the island is non-negotiable. That probably goes without saying. But, I said it. You simply must.

CAMPGROUNDS

Having said that, this national park offers limited options for overnight stays.

  • Namakanipaio Campground – Elevation: 4,000′. Toilets and water available. Currently closed for season (Apr 2021). Certain images indicate Namakanipaio can accommodate vans and small vehicles at campsite. But, the details on site say these are “walk to/boat to” sites.
  • Kulanaokuaiki Campground – Elevation: 2,700′. Pit toilet available. We were planning to say at this campground when we arrived at the national park. When we drove up, we realized our only option was to park and sleep in the small parking lot. All sites were “walk to” only, specifically for tent camping.

HILINA PALI OVERLOOK

Elevation: 2,200′ (approx). Pit toilet available. This spot is located within the national park. That said, let me stress it is NOT an official campground. Moreover, it is NOT designated for overnight parking. Having said that, it is located at the end of Hilina Pali Rd. That’s a very loooong one lane road.

I estimate that road is maybe ten miles long. Because of that, it’s also one of the most peaceful spots you will ever experience. It overlooks a huge area of rugged coastline with a million dollar view.

If someone chose to break the rules and stay here overnight, they probably wouldn’t see another soul after sunset. Odds are they definitely wouldn’t see a park ranger. Of course, I’m not endorsing such irresponsible behavior. 🙂

Even if you don’t camp here, you owe it to yourself to make the drive down that one lane road. Plan to and spend a couple of hours just hanging out. There are a couple hiking trails that shoot off from this spot. In my opinion, it’s a bit of a dream location.

camping in hawaii volcanoes national park

HIPCAMP LOCATIONS

While we were familiar with Hipcamp before starting our research for this van tour, we had not used it before. When we finally took a closer look at Hipcamp, we were pleasantly surprised. It was good to see the camping options available on the Big Island.

OUR EXPERIENCE WITH HIPCAMP IN HAWAII

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like there were a ton of options on the Kona side of the island. But, the ones we did see offered the “authentic” experience we were looking for with this adventure.

our hipcamp spot on the big island of hawaii

We ended up at Barbara’s place, a two acre plot of land (with house) on the Big Island. It’s located about an hour south of Kailua Kona in Miloli’i.

Barbara cares for a small flock of about six or seven sheep. She entertains roosters and wild turkeys. And she tends to an incredible orchard of fruit and avocado trees. Even though it is located just off the main highway, it is a very peaceful environment.

feeding goats at the hipcamp big island hawaii location
Her sheep love their Cheerios!

Discuss access and vehicle clearance details with hosts!

When we arrived at our host location, we ran into some issues. Our van had a height of 9.5 feet. That height made it difficult to easily clear the fruit trees at the property entrance. We stopped trying after after 30 minutes. It simply wasn’t possible to squeeze the van past the trees and up a slippery slope.

We parked just across the road rather than on Barbara’s property. But it was all good!

LESSONS LEARNED

There is a lesson to be learned from our personal experience. Book early. You will benefit from having a discussion with the host about the logistics and accomodations. Take the time to understand what is and what is not included. Trust me, the knowledge and planning will make for a much smoother trip.

State and County Campgrounds

None of the campgroudns on the island are typical of campsites you’ve probably experienced on the mainland. There is less structure, less privacy, and fewer amenities. In fact, with most of them you probably wouldn’t really know they were campgrounds if you just stumbled upon them!

LOWER EXPECTATIONS

But don’t be picky. All you need is a safe place to lay your head at night, right? Let go of your expectations and just enjoy what comes your way, which can often pleasantly surprise you.

You can explore State of Hawaii camping options and research Hawaii County (Big Island) camping spots.

As a non-resident, you will pay a bit more than Hawaiian residents. But, I think you’ll find the cost is worth the memories you make.

Free Overnight Parking

CAVEAT: THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and prefer to save money, take some time to find free overnight camping. But please understand, your experience with this option is definitely not guaranteed.

KAWAIHAE HARBOR

A friend of ours lives on the island. She has spent quite a bit of time locating safe overnight spots where she can sleep in her van. She shared one particular harbor area that had worked out well for her. It’s Kawaihae Harbor in the North Kohala region of the island.

Kawaihae Harbor is located just north of Spencer Beach Park. It’s a family-friendly beach spot where you could enjoy teh whole day on the sand.

The best (and biggest) beach on the island, Hapuna Beach, is located just a bit further south of Kawaihae.

Spend the day at one of these beaches and you’ll be a happy camper. Around sunset head to nearby Kawaihae Harbor and park in their lot for the night. Again, no guarantees as things change over time. But, according to our friend, she has never been asked to move her van after dark.

our big island hawauu campervan rental experience

HAWAII HARBORS

Harbors may be your best friend. Generally speaking, harbors around the island are potential options for overnight parking. The exception is if the area is gated off. But, in general, there is minimal activity at the harbors after dark.

Of course, I cannot guarantee all harbors allow overnight parking. Some areas may have security on the premises to discourage visitors after dark. All I can tell you for sure is that Kawaihae Harbor comes recommended based on firsthand experience.

BRING YOUR FISHING GEAR

Another local recently let us in on a little secret that could help you with your overnight parking:

According to her, overnight fishing is allowed pretty much anywhere on the island. You will not be bothered or asked to move if you appear to be fishing. So, toss a cheap fishing pole in with the rest of your gear. The fishing gear gives you a plausible reason for “overnight parking” at any accessible beach location.

As I said, I don’t offer this tip based on personal experience. But, I would definitely be willing to try it out the next time I rent a van in Hawaii. I trust our source for this information, so that’s good enough to share it here.

What’s the worst that could happen? You have your sleep disturbed and have to make a move in the middle of the night. Not a lot of fun, but maybe that risk makes sense for you!

Our Big Island Camper Van Adventure Itinerary


We picked up our campervan rental at the Kona Airport, just north of Kailua Kona. That was on Saturday afternoon. Then we immediately drove to our condo in Kailua Kona to load her up. We were excited to start our road trip as soon as possible!

Stop #1 – Hipcamp Location in Miloli’i

For our first night, we headed straight to the Hipcamp spot. It was already about 4:00 pm and we knew we wanted to get set up before sunset. That was a good decision given the extra time it took to access our location.

hipcamp big island hawaii location

Our Hipcamp host provided chips and guacamole (from her own avocado trees) for us up on her deck. We watched the sunset while we snacked.

There’s something special about the sun setting over the ocean. It was all the more special to enjoy great conversation. Of course, we also enjoyed a nice bottle of wine.

sunset at our hipcamp big island hawaii location

Stop #2 – South Point Park

We hit the road around 9:30 am the next morning. Our destination was about 30 minutes further south to visit South Point Park. That’s the most southerly point in the entire United States. Cool, right?

The wind, waves, and incredibly clear turquoise water will blow you away. Here is a fun picture of the rental van with the ocean in the background.

Front of black campervan that was rented on Big Island of Hawaii
Gorgeous South Point on the Big Island of Hawaii

Just a few minutes after we arrived, we heard a group of guys nearby yelling and running around frantically. It didn’t take us long to realize that they had something BIG on their fishing line! We saw it thrashing around 100 yards offshore and knew we had to stay and watch the outcome.

Well, within less than 20 minutes, they had landed TWO large sailfish! They were massive. I estimated each one weighed at least 100 pounds. Those guys were losing their minds with excitement at their incredible catch.

It was quite the spectacle to watch. Seeing that group so jazzed put a smile on our faces. I imagine every time they tell that story of their big catch of the day, they recreate their excitement.

catching fish south point big island hawaii
One of their big catches of the day – a sailfish!

We headed off to our next destination simply amazed at our perfect timing for that visit. I mean, WOW!

Stop #3 – Kulanaokuaiki Campground

We rolled into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park around 1:00 on Sunday afternoon. The beautiful day greeted us with perfect weather and minimal crowds. Since we were pretty tired, we headed straight to the campground where we had planned to camp for the night.

When we arrived, we realized that Kulanaokuaiki Campground only offers walk-in campsites for tent camping. We couldn’t get our van into, or near, a campsite. Nope, our only option was to park in the small parking lot instead. We prepared sandwiches for lunch with bread and produce we bought at the farmer’s market in Keahou.

Meal on plate near sink in our campervan rental in Hawaii

While we were eating, a couple of ladies rolled into the parking lot to unload their bikes. They were heading out on a cycling trip through the park. We started to chat with them and luckily for us, we received a few great recommendations. They suggested hikes and a couple areas where we might be able to park for the night. One of the gals just happened to be from Texas. A small world moment.

Stop #4 – Hilina Pali Overlook

Our black campervan rental in Hawaii parked near hiking trail

So after a short nap, we headed back out to see what else we could discover for the day. That little excursion led us to Hilina Pali Overlook at the end of Hilina Pali Road. It was one of the most peaceful and quiet spots I’ve ever experienced. We fell in love with the area. Then we enjoyed the short hike down the hillside toward the coastline.

After enjoying a snackish post-hike dinner, we came face to face with a wild pig. What a surprise! Then we relaxed and just enjoyed the peace and quiet. It as such a pleasure to reading our books and take time to crochet (that was Julie, not me).

Imagine the serenity of sitting in outdoor lounge chairs next to the van with a view of vast Pacific Ocean. (We may or may not have “fallen asleep” at this location. We will never say.)

van camping in hawaii volcanoes national park

Stop #5 – Mauna Ulu Hike

hawaii volcanoes national park hikes

You remember the ladies we met at the campground earlier? Their top recommendation was a short 2.6 mile hike located near the Mauna Ulu parking lot. We thought it would be perfect to get up early on our last morning to see what this hike had to offer.

van camping in hawaii volcanoes national park
The first ones at the trail head!

My oh my are we glad we made that decision! The day greeted us with mild 60-degree temperature, a clear sun, and a light mist. We headed out across the lava fields left by Mauna Ulu’s eruption.

stunning rainbow in hawaii volcanoes national park
The incredible rainbow we saw in the park

We were completely blown away by the scope of the lava. The vegetation pushes its way up through that lava. Then we spotted a remarkable rainbow created by a perfect mix of sunshine and morning mist. It was almost too good to be real.

flowers in hawaii volcanoes national park

The first half of the 2.6 mile hike to Pu’u Huluhulu (meaning: hairy hill) was mostly flat. It then has a gentle uphill slope across lava fields. The final quarter of the trail ascends rather quickly with switchbacks. It ends in a densely forested area. Basically, it was the perfect morning hike before we had to head back to reality and civilization.

hiking in hawaii volcanoes national park
Looks like Todd is walking on another planet

Other Stops to Add to Your Itinerary

Honestly, we weren’t interested in pushing it really hard for this weekend. Rather, we wanted plenty of time to relax and soak in the van life. If you prefer to squeeze more out of your van adventure, I recommend adding these stops to your itinerary:


Special Thanks to Outdoorsy


We can’t end this without saying a huge thank you to Outdoorsy. They helped us make this Hawaiian van life adventure a reality by sponsoring a portion of our trip. It really was a dream come true and we had an amazing time!

We talk about Outdoorsy RV Rentals quite a bit on TREKKN because we have personally rented from them multiple times. Also, we met their team and really trust what they offer. Based on our experience, Outdoorsy is our go-to recommendation for RV rentals.

campervan rentals big island hawaii

Learn More About Van Life


As you can tell, we are pretty fascinated with campervans. We rent and write about vans a lot. In fact, we like camper vans so much that we also hire other adventurers who live in campervans to write for TREKKN. Needless to say, we know a lot about camper van living.

Choose another article and learn more about van life:

what you need to know about renting a campervan Big Island Hawaii

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50 Comments

    1. Yes! We will be right behind you. πŸ™‚ After we move back to TX and get our next RV, that is likely the first place we will hit…hopefully in the Fall.

      Good luck in the giveaway, Rachelle!

  1. We’ve been looking at a trip from Baltimore to PA just to enjoy the great outdoors.
    Nice giveaway, someone is going to be real happy to win! Thanks

  2. It’s not exactly one destination but my biggest RV bucket list is to take a Rocky Mountain national parks road trip. Starting with Glacier, hitting Grand Teton, and Yellowstone and then maybe dropping down to MOAB and the Grand Canyon.

  3. I’d love to visit the Smoky Mountains in the fall. I’ve only driven through there before but it’d be great to stay several days.

  4. I would love to do a camper van trip on the Big Island like you did! It’s one of my favorite places on earth and seeing the island this way would be absolutely incredible!!

    1. Thanks Mitch! Glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you stick around to enjoy some more. πŸ™‚ There’s plenty of great photos headed your way!

      Peace.

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