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An Inside Look at Hawaii’s National Park Sites (and How to Celebrate the Centennial)

Shutterstock / Henner Damke

The National Parks Service is commemorating its 100-year anniversary in 2016, prompting travelers from across the U.S. to explore the nation’s pristine forests and parklands. If you’re looking for a tropical alternative to popular spots like Yellowstone and Yosemite, consider checking out these eight Hawaiian National Park sites.—Margot Bigg

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

WHERE: Big Island, Hawaii

Spanning over 12 percent of the entire Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes: Maunaloa and Kilauea, the latter of which has been erupting continuously since 1983. While the active volcanoes are a sight to behold, the park also plans to unveil a new museum featuring art, photographs, and historic artifacts in November 2016..

How to Celebrate: The park offers a variety of special programs, including ranger-led “CentennialAfter Dark in the Park and Hike” night walks.

Insider Tip: For an unusual souvenir, pick up some Macadamia Nut Honey Wine at the Volcano Winery.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Guide

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Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

WHERE: Big Island, Hawaii

Hawaiian for “place of refuge of Honaunau,” the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Parkis a 420-acre park on land that once served as a sanctuary for fugitives who had broken sacred Hawaiian laws or who were fleeing death. Once they reached the park, they were absolved by local priests and could return to society. Today, the park is known for fishponds and palm groves, along with remnants of ancient fishing villages, including a 960-foot stone wall.

How to Celebrate: Centennial events include classes and demonstrations covering topics ranging from traditional musical instruments to native flora and fauna.

Insider Tip: Make sure to check out the Hale o Keawe Heiau, a ceremonial temple built in around 1700 that once served as a royal burial chamber.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Big Island Guide

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Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site

WHERE: Big Island, Hawaii

Easily one of the most culturally significant sacred sites on the Big Island, if not in all of Hawaii, the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Siteencompasses an enormous coastal temple, or heiau, dating back to 1790. The temple was conceived by Kamehameha the Great who believed through a prophecy that by building it, he would be able to unite and rule all the Hawaiian Islands. Another submerged temple just offshore is dedicated to shark gods—come just after sunrise, and you’ll likely spot at least a few black-tipped reef sharks swimming in the surf.

How to Celebrate: Centennial celebrations include a ho'okupu (gift giving) ceremony and Hawaiian arts and crafts demonstrations.

Insider Tip: Bring along your smartphone and a pair of headphones to listen to the park's free audio tour.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Big Island Guide

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World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

WHERE: Oahu, Hawaii

Spanning across nine sites in Hawaii, Alaska, and California, the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument focuses on the US involvement in WWII, particularly in the Pacific region. The bulk of the sites are in Hawaii, including the sunken remains of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor and its accompanying visitors’ center, a short boat ride from the shore.

How to Celebrate: The big focus at Pearl Harbor this year is on honoring the 75th anniversary of the attack, with a packed schedule of events over the first 11 days of December, including daily military band performances, commemorative ceremonies, public speakers, and even a memorial parade.

Insider Tip: Travelers wishing to commemorate those lost in the Pearl Harbor attacks are welcome to scatter flowers, but please do not bring leis as the string can harm marine life.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Honolulu and Oahu Guide

Shutterstock / Henner Damke

Haleakala National Park

WHERE: Maui, Hawaii

Considered sacred among native Hawaiians, the stunning Haleakala National Park features a diverse variety of geological features, including lush tropical rainforests, moonlike deserts, and Maui's highest peak.Although most visitors come here for short day hikes, the more adventurous can opt to camp out right in the park.

How to Celebrate: In honor of the NPS centennial, Haleakala is running a wide range of programs related to the centennial, including interpretive programs, symposiums, and an art exhibit at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. 

Insider Tip: Early risers can catch fabulous sunrises at Puu Ulaula Overlook, which, at 10,023, is the park's highest summit.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Haleakala National Park Guide

Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail

WHERE: Big Island, Hawaii

This trail follows the path of earlyHawaiian people, connecting old island settlements along the coast for more than 175 miles, passing through all four of the island's NPS parks and sites. The trail follows along the Kohala and Kona Coasts from the island’s northernmost point down to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, following the approximate route of early Hawaiians who used to travel from settlement to settlement by foot.

Insider Tip: The trail is still under development, but can be accessed at all four NPS-managed parks on the Big Island.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Big Island Guide

High above Kalaupapa by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

WHERE: Molokai, Hawaii

Perhaps the best-known attraction on the quiet island of Molokai, Kalaupapa National Historical Park encompasses a rugged coastal area surrounded by 3000-foot-high cliffs. The park is far off the beaten path—accessible only via plane or a steep hike or mule ride. Though now an NPS-managed park, it originally served as a settlement for Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) patients in 1866, during an era when those suffering from the ailment were sequestered from society to prevent the disease’s spread.

How to Celebrate: Centennial events include a Founder’s Day celebration on August 25th and a fall film festival.

Insider Tip: The park allows only 100 visitors per day, so reservations are essential.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Molokai Guide