Be warned: You may now need advance reservations for Hawaii activities
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Your Hawaii trip-planning process may become more complicated. Beginning May 12, Hawaii will require advance reservations for all out-of-state visitors to access the popular Diamond Head State Monument overlooking Oahu’s Waikiki Beach. This reservation requirement is just one of many being implemented at an increasing number of destinations across the Hawaiian islands, from Maui’s Haleakala volcano to Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, in order to manage traffic and overtourism challenges facing the state. According to the state tourism bureau, existing reservation systems already “have improved the quality of experience and reduced impacts on surrounding communities and resources.”
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Before setting up your Hawaii trip itinerary, or taking off for a spontaneous excursion while you’re there, be sure to scan the list below to see if your target destination requires advance reservations and how to make them. Keep in mind that many other activities and attractions across the islands, both public and private, may also be asking visitors to register in advance, so check in with those websites before you go.
Diamond Head State Monument
In order to access Diamond Head State Monument, and its great views overlooking Waikiki Beach, out-of-state visitors will be required to have entry reservations beginning May 12. The reservation system begins online April 28, with the ability to reserve a time up to two weeks in advance.
“This new reservation system will be instrumental in managing visitor capacity within Lēʻahi [the Hawaiian name for Diamond Head] and protecting its natural environment and cultural sites, improving the experience for everyone and allowing us to be better stewards of this special place,” said John De Fries, Hawaii Tourism Authority president and CEO, in a statement.
The goal is to reduce traffic, particularly in the bottleneck areas of the narrow summit trail and in the road tunnel entry to the park. The park set visitation records in 2019, with more than 6,000 people on a given day, which is an astonishing number given the limited space at the viewpoints and along the access trail. The new reservation system is tentatively planned to allow a maximum of 3,000 visitors per day, with adjustments to be made going forward as appropriate.
Visitors parking at Diamond Head must book specific two-hour time slots beginning at 6 a.m., while walk-in and drop-off visitors need to reserve one-hour times of arrival. Visitors must pay entrance fees of $5 per person, plus $10 for parking in advance. To make reservations beginning April 28, visit the Diamond Head website for instructions.
Haleakala National Park
Reservations are currently required to enter Maui’s Haleakala National Park from 3-7 a.m. daily. The reservation system was put in place in order to manage the overwhelming crowds that had been coming to watch the spectacular sunrises from the crater rim at 10,000 feet above sea level. Make reservations for a specific day up to 60 days in advance at recreation.gov. The reservation costs $1, and is good for everyone in a given vehicle, while the per-vehicle park entrance fee of $30 must also be paid. Aside from the sunrise-viewing period, reservations are not required to enter Haleakala National Park.
Haena State Park
In order to hike the popular Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s north coast to reach Hanakapiai Beach and other amazing scenic spots — and to even access the road and parking areas leading to the trailhead — visitors must make reservations for Haena State Park, which encompasses the area. Dan Dennison, communications manager for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, told TPG that the reservation system has already “achieved the goal of reducing daily numbers from a high of 3,000 pre-reservation system to 900 or fewer people daily.” Before the controls were put in place, Dennison said “cars would line the road and park illegally for miles” leading into the park.
Three reservation systems are available for park entry. Shuttle bus access ($35), timed parking plus entry ($10 per car plus $5 per passenger — and you must leave by the end of your time slot or your vehicle will be towed!) and entry only ($5), for people entering the park on foot or bike, or being dropped off by a Hawaii resident. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance for given dates and times. Visitors must make separate reservations for camping in the park. To make reservations, go to the park’s website.
Waianapanapa State Park
Maui’s popular Waianapanapa State Park also requires reservations for nonresidents to visit. The park, located at the far end of the famed “Road to Hana,” saw increased crowds in recent years, so it instituted a reservation system in 2018. The park credits the system for “bringing serenity back to one of the most impacted regions of the state … adjusting patronage numbers to reduce crowding and impacts on the sensitive resources,” said State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell.
Visitors must select a date and time slot to reserve parking ($10), which can be done up to 30 days in advance. Visitors arriving by car with a Hawaiian resident (who can enter for free) must pay $5. Make reservations at the park website.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Oahu’s Hanauma Bay is one of the world’s greatest snorkeling spots, with a beautiful white sand beach bordering a protected bay of calm waters teeming with tropical fish. Because of the bay’s beauty, the nature preserve became overwhelmed with visitors in recent years, detracting from the experience and stressing out all the pretty fish. Tour buses to Hanauma have been banned, and the park is now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays to make sure the fish “have two days of undisturbed rest.” In addition, reservations are required for all nonresidents to enter the park.
Timed-entry reservations can be made at the Honolulu Department of Parks & Recreation website. Reservations can only be made two days in advance and they sell out very quickly, so be ready at your keyboard precisely at 7 a.m. Hawaii time to get a slot. The park entry fee is $25 (free for ages 12 and under), along with a $3 charge for parking upon entry.
Hawaii has been trying to operate with a delicate balance of welcoming visitors while protecting the environment and local communities, as well as preserving the experiences people travel so far to encounter. Diamond Head’s new reservation system is just the latest in an increasing number of programs to manage visitor access. Expect to see additional reservation systems in the future, and prepare to plan out your itinerary a little further in advance.
Featured photo by Art Wager/Getty Images.
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