Dog Friendly Apostle Islands National Lakeshore


Dog Friendly Apostle Islands

Being avid travelers to the US National Park sites in addition to being loving dog owners, we were excited when we found out that unlike most US National Park System designations, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is actually rather dog friendly. Everything’s better with your dog, including vacation.  Being able to bring your dog on vacation with you is vital to helping you unwind and relax while visiting a new place.   We spent an extended weekend in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore with our pup Gordie and were so happy to find so many dog friendly activities to do with him while there.  Here is our guide on Dog Friendly Activities in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore area. 


Looking for another dog friendly vacation? See our Dog Friendly Door County, Wisconsin Guide and our A Day at Starved Rock State Park guides.   


FYI This post is written based on a trip taken in Mid-August. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


Hike the Meyers Beach Sea Caves Trail with your Dog

Our top dog friendly recommendation for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is to hike the Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail.  We loved hiking this trail with our pup!  Unlike most trails at other National Lakeshores, such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, you can hike here with your dog.  Our dog loves a good hike so he was in heaven.  

Meyers Beach Sea Caves

The Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail leads you to Lake Superior’s waterfront cliffs where you can see some of the Apostle Islands sea caves and Lake Superior from above.  This trail goes through the woods and is mainly shaded (we love a shaded trail) until you reach the sea caves at 1.8 miles. 

At 1.8 miles, you reach the Crevasse, an impressive 100-yard-long fracture in the rocks.  We actually got to Kayak into this sea cave on our kayak tour of the lakeshore (see all the detailed about sea kayaking Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in our What to do Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Unfortunately, sea kayaking is not dog friendly, hence why it did not make it into this guide). 

You can continue on the trail for more sea cave views until the 2.2 mile point but after that, the trail only leads to some remote campsite through the woods and there are no further views of the sea caves.   

Dog Friendly Apostle Islands

Not too hard of a hike for your or your pup

We did this hike with Natalie’s parents and our dog.  It was a really nice hike as it was not overly strenuous and had some great views of the sea caves without kayaking.  Natalie’s parents, who do not do much hiking at all, felt it to be very manageable for beginners.  They also were not disappointed with the views.  On the hike back from the sea caves, Natalie’s Dad was sure to tell each hiker we passed about the cool views.  It was adorable.   

Caution: Be careful as the edges along the trail may be undercut/slippery.  You don’t want you or your pup to fall into the water from the trail.  It’s not a short fall! 

4.6 miles round trip, 269 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Cost: $5 fee to park (cannot use America the Beautiful Pass) 


Hike Lost Creek Falls with your Dog

Our next top dog friendly activity for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore area is to hike Lost Creek Falls.  Our pup loved, and we mean LOVED, hiking this trail.  This trail brings you through a peaceful wooded setting to a more impressive than we expected waterfall and small pool area. Our dog LOVED running through the pools of water around the waterfall at the ‘summit’ of this hike.  He was really living his best life zooming back and forth. 

Dog Friendly Apostle Islands

The trail is well-maintained with some boardwalks. We did this hike in the morning and had the waterfall/pool area all to ourselves.  It was so pretty and serene! 

2.2 Miles, 216 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Cost: Free to park

Dog Friendly Apostle Islands

Tip: Bring good bug spray and tick wipes for your dog.   

The bugs were actually not bad at all during our trip (we all got less than 3 mosquito bites on our 5 day trip) and found no ticks on our dog while there.  However, this very wooded trail with water at the end is typically notorious for both.  We think our bug spray and tick wipes helped prevent us having an issue here.  These are the tick wipes we use with our dog.  This is the non-chemical bug spray we use with our daughter.   This is the deet bug spray we use on ourselves. 


Take the Madeline Island Ferry with your Dog

Our third dog friendly activity recommendation for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore area is visiting Madeline Island/taking the ferry to Madeline Island.  Again, our dog was living his best life on the ferry to the island and on the island itself.  The pictures speak for themselves. 

Dog Friendly Apostle Islands

Fun Fact: Madeline Island is the largest and most developed of the 22 Apostle Islands. It is well known for its beaches and hiking trails/biking trails.  It also has some eclectic shops and restaurants.  

Dog Friendly Madeline Island Ferry

The journey to Madeline Island with your dog is half the fun. To access this island, you take the Madeline Island Ferry from Downtown Bayfield.  This ferry ride offers scenic views of Lake Superior, Bayfield, Madeline Island and some other of the Apostle Islands in the distance.  And you can soak in all these views with your pup as the ferry is dog friendly.  

Cost: $17 per person round-trip, $30 per car round-tip.  Dogs ride for free.  The ferry is a bit pricey but again, part of the experience.  See the Madeline Island Ferry Rates for the most up-to-date prices. If you are interested in more ferry ride experiences, see our, coming soon ***, Two-Week Fjords of Norway Road Trip. 

Also, unless it is an extraordinarily busy weekend, you typically do not need to book this ferry in advance.  Just arrive about 15-20 before the time you would like to depart and you should have no problem getting on the ferry you want. See the Madeline Island Ferry Schedule for the most up-to-date times. 

Dog Friendly Madeline Island

On Madeline Island, explore the downtown area with your pup.  A particularly good spot to visit is the Pub Restaurant & Wine Bar at the Inn on Madeline Island as they will serve dog treats while you dine on the patio.  You also can go hiking on some of the trails in the area.  However, note that, unfortunately, not all the trails in the parks on Madeline Island are dog friendly.  The casper trail (1.2 miles one-way) near downtown is dog friendly though so be sure to check that one out!  See the map below for all the Madeline Island trails.


Explore Cornucopia with your Pup

Our next dog friendly Apostle Islands area recommendation is visiting the small artsy and eclectic town of Cornucopia.  Cornucopia is located not far from Meyers Beach and the sea caves hike.  There are several small boutique and resale shops in this town as well as a few restaurants on the main street, many being dog friendly.  The harbor area is very picturesque here too.  

Dog Friendly Apostle Islands

For a dog friendly dining experience in Cornucopia, try eating at the Fat Radish Restaurant.  This restaurant is known for its tasty farm-to-table dishes and is of course dog friendly.  Note: this restaurant has limited evening hours (Wed-Sun) and brunch hours (Sun only).  

We actually visited Cornucopia during Cornucopia days (mid August) and there was also a flea market and fundraiser food sale going on.  Our pup was welcome here too.  


Explore Downtown Bayfield with your Dog

Bayfield is a charming small-town on the largest Great Lake.  This town is very walkable with many cute small shops and restaurants, many that are also dog friendly.  Bayfield reminded us of the shops and restaurants in the small towns in Door County. Plan to spend a morning or an afternoon here. Here is a list of dog friendly spots to eat and shop in Bayfield: 

  • Big Water Coffee Roasters 
  • Big Water’s Bakery (get ther Rhubarb Ginger Scone!)
  • Greunke’s First Street Inn & Dining
  • Portside Bar & Restaurant
  • Pier Plaza Restaurant & Lounge 

Where to Stay near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore with your Dog

We highly recommend staying at Mission Springs Resort while visiting the Apostle Islands area with your dog.  We stayed here and had a great extended weekend with our pup and family.  This resort, located right on Lake Superior, offers you superb lake views while also offering plenty of outdoor areas for your pup to explore.  We loved walking down to the lake in the morning with our pup at our side and a hot beverage in our hands.  Mission Springs Resort truly offers you a serene place to unwind and have a great time with your family, including your dog, around the campfire.  For more details on staying here, see our Where to Stay Near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore post.

Call or text Katie at 715-209-8321 for availability or visit the Mission Springs Resort website for the best price and most up to date availability.  Katie is a great resource while visiting the area and during your stay as well.  She is a fantastic host, allowing you your space yet is available for any questions!  

If Mission Springs Resort is fully booked, some other places to stay with your dog in Apostles Islands include the Inn on Madeline Island and this Bayfield Condo.  There are also campsites on the mainland/islands that allow dogs. 


Looking for another dog friendly vacation? See our Dog Friendly Door County, Wisconsin Guide and our A Day at Starved Rock State Park guides.   


We hope this guide helps you plan your dog friendly trip to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

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What to do Apostle Islands National Lakeshore


With stunning sea caves, dramatic sandstone cliffs and pristine beaches, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is truly a northern Wisconsin gem. Centuries of freezing, thawing and wave activity has sculpted a very unique shoreline here, making the scenery at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore unforgettable.  In addition to beautiful shoreline views (visible through hiking and sea kayaking), there are also several cute small towns to explore and inland hikes to take in the area.   After planning a trip to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for several years, we are excited to share our ‘What to Do in Apostle Islands’ guide with you so can start planning a trip to the area of your own. 


FYI: This post is written based on a trip taken in mid-August. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


Go Sea Kayaking along Apostles Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands Sea Kayaking

Our top recommendation on what to do on Apostles Islands National Lakeshore is to go sea kayaking.  We have been dreaming of kayaking these sea caves for years and the experience really lived up to our expectations. Pictures really do not do these picturesque sea caves justice.  Seeing the sea caves up-close and on the water is breathtaking.  Further, sea kayaking allows you to not only see these sea caves but to actually go in them!  We had so much fun kayaking into sea caves of all different sizes.  We really got a kick out of ducking down to get into some of the smaller sea caves. These tight caves stand in sharp contrast to the expansive nature of some of the bigger sea caves.  

Tip: Go Sea Kayaking from Meyers Beach

There are several options on where you can start your sea kayaking tour.  Despite the options, we highly recommend picking a tour that leaves from Meyers Beach.  Logistically, this is the easiest trip to coordinate, as you do not have to take a ferry, and per the park ranger we spoke with, the prettiest sea caves of different tours offered.  You can also take sea caves tours from Sand Island and Madeline Island.

Apostle Islands Sea Kayaking

Book a Sea Kayaking Tour with Lost Creek Adventures

Although you could kayak from Meyers Beach without a guide, we highly recommend using one.  The outfitters can ensure the water conditions are safe, guide you through the stable sea caves (some are not stable and are at risk of collapse) and supply you with the right gear (sea kayak, wet suit (we needed even with air temps in the low 60s) and wet bag).  

Here is a list of the certified Sea Kayaking Outfitters on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  We took a half day tour with Lost Creek Adventures Kayaking and would highly recommend using this company.  Our guides (shout out to Nat and Otis) were great and the group we went kayaking with was small (4 other double kayaks), making the outing more intimate and customized.  We got to explore so many sea caves on this half day trip and were able to go further on the shoreline than most groups due to having a group of relatively strong kayakers.  Our guides were also kind enough to snap and share some pictures of us kayaking from their phones too.  This half-day trip cost $83 per person and was worth every penny. 

Apostle Islands Sea Kayaking

Tip: Go as early in the morning as possible for calmer waters

Per our research and the Apostle Island National Lakeshore park ranger we spoke with, the water at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is usually much more calm early in the morning.  Therefore, kayaking as early as possible in the morning will make your trip more enjoyable and less likely to be canceled.   

Apostle Islands Sea Kayaking

Caution: Use a sea kayak while kayaking Apostles Island National Lakeshore

Due to the unpredictable and powerful nature of Lake Superior, use a sea kayak rather than a smaller kayak when kayaking here.  People have drowned kayaking the Apostle Islands so be sure to use the proper equipment to keep yourself safe.  Also, as recommended above, go kayaking with a guide so they can ensure the water conditions are safe for your trip.  They monitor the waters and will reschedule your trip if it is not safe to go.   The outfitter will also advise you when a wetsuit is needed for your trip (often needed due to cold Lake Superior temps).  Our use of wet suits was included in our rental price at Lost Creek.  Most of the outfitters include wetsuit in their base rental costs but be sure to check with the outfitter you use. 


Hike from Meyers Beach above the Sea Caves

What to do Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Our next recommendation on what to do while visiting Apostle Islands is to hike from Meyers Beach above the sea caves. We loved hiking this trail!  It takes you to a spot where you can see some of the Apostle Islands Sea Caves and Lake Superior from above for about 0.5 miles.  This trail goes through the woods and is mainly shaded (we love a shaded trail) until you reach the sea caves at 1.8 miles.  At 1.8 miles, you reach the Crevasse, an impressive 100-yard-long fracture in the rocks.  We actually got to Kayak into this sea cave on our kayak tour (see above).   You can continue on the trail until the 2.2 mile point for more sea cave views.  However, after that, the trail only leads to some remote campsite through the woods and there are no further views of the sea caves. 

4.6 miles round trip, 269 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Cost: $5 fee to park (cannot use America the Beautiful Pass) 

Dog Friendly Apostle Islands

Note: You can bring your dog hiking at Meyers Beach! 

Unlike most trails at other National Lakeshores, such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, you can hike here with your dog.  Our pup loved exploring this trail!  See our Dog Friendly Apostle Islands Guide for more Dog Friendly recommendations in the area. 


Looking for another dog friendly vacation? See our Dog Friendly Door County, Wisconsin Guide and our A Day at Starved Rock State Park guides.  


We did this hike with Natalie’s parents and our dog.  It was a nice hike, not overly strenuous and had some great views of the sea caves without kayaking.  Natalie’s parents, who do not do much hiking, felt it to be very manageable for beginners.  They also were not disappointed with the views.  On the hike back from the sea caves, Natalie’s Dad was sure to tell each hiker we passed about the cool views.  It was adorable.  

Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail

Caution: Be careful as the edges along the trail may be undercut/slippery.  You don’t want to fall into the water from the trail.  It’s not a short fall! 


Hike Lost Creek Falls in Apostle Islands

Lost Creek Falls Apostle Islands What to Do

Our third top recommendation on what to do in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is to hike Lost Creek Falls. This trail brings you through a peaceful wooded setting to a, more impressive than we expected, waterfall and small pool area.  The trail is well-maintained with some boardwalks. We did this hike in the morning and had the waterfall/pool area all to ourselves.  It was so pretty and serene! 

2.2 Miles, 216 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Cost: Free to park

Note: Dogs are allowed to hike here too!

Our dog LOVED running through the pools of water around the waterfall at the ‘summit’ of this hike.  He was really living his best life zooming back and forth.  See our Dog Friendly Apostle Islands Guide for further dog friendly activities in the area.

Dog Friendly Apostle Islands

Tip: Bring good bug spray.  

The bugs were actually not bad at all during our trip (we all got less than 3 bites on our 5 day trip) but most other people we know who have been here recommended good bug spray for this very wooded trail.  This is the non-chemical bug spray we use with our daughter.   This is the deet bug spray we use on ourselves.  


Visit Madeline Island in Apostle Islands

Madeline Island

Our next what to do in Apostle Islands recommendation is to visit Madeline Island. Madeline Island is the largest and most developed of the 22 Apostle Islands. It is well known for its beaches and hiking trails/biking trails.  It also has some eclectic shops and restaurants.  

Fun fact: Although Madeline Island is one of the 22 Apostle Islands, it is the only one not part of the National Lakeshore. 

Madeline Island Ferry

Madeline Island Ferry

The journey to Madeline Island itself is half the fun. To access this island, you take the Madeline Island Ferry from Downtown Bayfield.  This ferry ride offers scenic views of Lake Superior, Bayfield, Madeline Island and some of the other Apostle Islands in the distance.  You can soak in all these views with your pup as the ferry is dog friendly.  

Cost: $17 per person round-trip, $30 per car round-tip.  Dogs ride for free.  The ferry is a bit pricey but again, part of the experience.  See the Madeline Island Ferry Rates for the most up-to-date prices. If you are interested in more ferry ride experiences, see our, coming soon, Two-Week Fjords of Norway Road Trip. 

Also, unless it is an extraordinarily busy weekend, you typically do not need to book this ferry in advance.  Just arrive about 15-20 minutes before the time you would like to depart and you should have no problem getting on the ferry you want. See the Madeline Island Ferry Schedule for the most up-to-date times. 

Tip: Get ice cream in La Pointe on Madeline Island before heading back to Bayfield to enjoy on the ferry ride back

Town Park and Bog Bay State Park

Visit Town Park and Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island

While on Madeline Island, be sure to visit the parks here–Town Park and Big Bay State Park. Town Park and Big Bay State Park both offer some nice trails to explore the beaches and woods on Madeline Island.  The boardwalk between Town Park and Big Bay State Park was our favorite trail here.  The trail is about 2 miles long.  It is mostly shaded, the breeze from the lake is perfect and the boardwalks are very well-maintained.  You can also hike around the lake here.  See map below from this trail as well as others on the island.

 Madeline Island Map

Visit La Pointe, Downtown, Madeline Island

The downtown area here is eclectic and artsy with some cute shops, galleries and restaurants.  Note, hours are very limited and variable at the shops here. If you are looking for a dog-friendly spot, visit the Inn on Madeline Island (stay overnight with your pup or eat at the Pub Restaurant on the patio). 


Explore Cornucopia in Apostle Islands

Cornucopia is another artsy and eclectic small town located near Meyers Beach/Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  There are several small boutique and resale shops here as well as a few restaurants on the main street.  The harbor area is very picturesque along Lake Superior.  

For a more high-end meal in a casual environment, try eating at the Fat Radish Restaurant in Cornucopia.  This restaurant is known for its tasty farm-to-table dishes.  Note that this restaurant has limited evening hours (Wed-Sun) and brunch hours (Sun only).  

We actually visited during Cornucopia days (mid-August) so there was also a flea market and fundraiser food sale going on at the time. We felt like a local exploring this town celebration.


Apostle Islands Cruise

If you want to see the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore beyond Madeline Island and without kayaking, taking an island cruise is the best way to do it.  The National Park Service offers narrated scenic cruises and shuttles to different islands.  In addition to the cruises offered by the National Park Service, you can also take a private water taxi or boat. 

Apostle Island Cruises & Charters


Visit an Orchard & Apple or Berry Pick 

While we were in the Bayfield area, blueberries were in season for picking and we went to Blue Vista Farms.  We picked the most delicious blueberries we have ever tasted here.  The price was reasonable and the little farm store on site was adorable too (if you are looking for some prepared local products).  Be sure to check the farm website for hours prior to visiting though as they are limited.

There are tons of farms in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Bayfield area.  Many of them are located close to each other. Each has unique offerings and different hours to help fit your schedule/interests. Some other options include:


Explore Bayfield 

Bayfield is a charming small-town on the largest Great Lake.  This town is very walkable with many cute small shops and restaurants.  It reminded us of the shops and restaurants in the small towns in Door County. Plan to spend a morning or an afternoon here.  Be sure to get a rhubarb scone at Big Water’s Bakery!  


Visit Friendly Valley Beach

This beach located South of Bayfield is a little hidden gem that our accommodations host told us about. If you are looking to spend some time at the beach but do not want to spend the money it costs to go to Madeline Island, this is the way to do it! You can walk along the beach and out onto some sand bars that go into the lake.  Parking here is free. 

Friendly Valley Beach Location


Visit Delta Diner 

This restaurant is more than just a meal, it’s an experience.  Delta Diner is a throwback to 1940’s east coast diners and looks like something straight out of the 1940s.  Although we did not get to try this place during our visit due to limited Thu-Sun hours (see website), we hope you get a chance to get a meal here during your visit.  

This restaurant is another activity our accommodations host told us about!  Katie at Mission Springs Resort is really a great resource for activities and any questions you may have about your visit to the area.


Where to Stay Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

We highly recommend staying at Mission Springs Resort in Ashland, about 20 minutes south of Bayfield and 30 minutes southeast of Meyers Beach.  This resort is close enough to all of the activities in the area yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle. It is truly the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring.  This resort has been family owned and operated for over 75 years.  It is family friendly and all the accommodations are dog friendly.   And with charming cottages and a large modern lake house, there is something to fit everyone’s accommodations needs.  Located right along the Lake Superior shoreline, you’ll be hard pressed to find another spot with better views to drink your morning coffee.  For more on staying at this place, please see our Where to Stay Near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore post. 

Call or text Katie at 715-209-8321 for availability or visit the Mission Springs Resort website for the best price and most up to date availability.  Katie is a great resource while visiting the area and during your stay as well.  She is a fantastic host, allowing you your space yet is available for any questions!  


FAQs about Apostle Islands National Lakeshore 

When to Visit Apostles Islands?

Visit in the summer, ideally June-early September. Outside of that window, sea kayaking outings are limited/not offered due to the unpredictable and cooler weather.  You can also visit the sea caves in winter by walking on the ice (when it is safe) but you will not be able to go sea kayaking and will likely have limited hiking options due to ice/snow as well.  

Where to Stay near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore?

We recommend staying at Mission Springs Resort.   For more on staying at this place, please see our Where to Stay Near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore post for more details. 

Is Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Dog Friendly? 

Yes!  Unlike Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and many of the other National Parks, you can hike here in many spots with your dog.  See our Dog Friendly Apostle Islands Guide post for more information. 

Looking for another dog friendly vacation? See our Dog Friendly Door County, Wisconsin Guide and our A Day at Starved Rock State Park guides.  


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

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How to Hike with a Baby


Hiking with a baby

Hiking is a great way to spend time outdoors with your baby. Exposing our daughter to nature and adventure at an early age through hiking was very important to us.  However, the logistics of hiking with a baby can feel overwhelming.  With the unpredictability of an infant, in regards to pretty much everything (feeding, sleeping, changing, fussiness, etc.), and the logistics of hiking with a baby (supporting their head, carrying all your/their gear, protecting them from the sun, etc.), going on a hike with a baby can seem impossible. 

Hiking with a Baby
Various Hikes with our Baby

However, with the right mindset, gear, practice and dedication, it can be done successfully.  We spent a week hiking with our 5-week-old in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (even doing a 10+ mile hike one day), completed many hikes in Hawaii when our baby was 3-months-old, hiked in El Yunque National Rainforest in Puerto Rico when she was 7-months-old, hiked along the southern coast of Mexico when she was 8-months-old and hiked to more waterfalls than we can count in Iceland when she was 10 months old. Additionally, we have completed many hikes around our home with our infant. After all these hikes, friends and family asked us to share our tips on how to hike with a baby.  Below are our tips for hiking with your baby.  

How to hike with a baby
Hiking with our 10 month old in Iceland

For details on our first hiking trip with our baby, please see Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide For details on our Hawaii Trip with our baby, please see Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide, Haleakala National Park Quick Guide, Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide, 5 Stops on the Road to Hana and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide. More information on our Puerto Rico, Mexico and Iceland hiking adventures to come soon!

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


Flexible Attitude

When it comes to most aspects of life, including hiking with your infant, attitude really is everything.  Be patient and flexible with your adventure.  Know that your baby will be in charge and you are going to just have to go with the flow.  When our daughter is sleeping (she loves sleeping in her carrier), we hike as far as we can. When she needs to eat or is fussy, we stop and take our breaks.  We stop as much as she needs. 

For example, on a 10 + mile hike with her at 5-weeks-old, the first 6 miles of our hike, we only had to stop twice because she was mainly sleeping but the last 4 miles, we had to 5 times as she was cluster feeding.  If we would have had a rigid attitude about when we were stopping, this would have certainly frustrated us.  However, knowing we needed to be flexible and that we were going to roll with the punches set us up for success. 

Hiking with a baby

Set Realistic Expectations

Not only is having a flexible attitude important but also setting realistic expectations.  Everything takes longer with an infant, including hiking (and even writing this post) so set realistic expectations in regards to how long a hike will take you.  For example, when we set out on a long hike with our 5 week old, we knew that between stopping to feed, changing her diaper, doing tummy time with her, etc, it may take us twice as long to complete the hike as it normally would without her.  In reality, it didn’t take quite that long, but it was better to mentally prepare for a longer day than a shorter one.  Having these realistic expectations prior to starting this hike really helped us have a good experience. 

Hiking with a baby
Hiking on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with our 5 week old

Do a Trial Hike 

Hiking with a baby
Hiking in Haleakala National Park in Hawaii with our 3 Month Old

Before going on a long hike, try out a shorter hike.  We started with a 2 mile hike with our carrier at a nearby park.  This helped us navigate using our carrier with our baby and bringing all of our supplies with us.  It also helped us figure out when we were ready to do some longer hikes. 

We were ready to do some longer hikes and travel with our baby when she was 5, almost 6 weeks old.  However, a lot of people will not be ready at this point and that is okay.  Giving birth is a major event and it takes most mothers 6 weeks, if not longer, to recover.  Also, some babies will not be ready this young. If you have a baby who hates the carrier or is colicky, a hike at this age may not be right for you.  Give yourself grace.


Have the Right Gear 

Having high quality gear for hiking with your baby will make a big difference in both your comfort and your baby’s comfort.  Here are the items we use and recommend:

Front Carrier: Ergobaby Omni 360 Cool Mesh Baby Carrier

Having a comfortable and high-quality carrier is, in our opinion, the most important item to invest in for hiking with a baby.  This Ergobaby Omni 360 Cool Mesh Baby Carrier is great because it can be used from 7lbs-45lbs and you do not need a separate infant insert to use it with a newborn.  It offers great head support–on our hikes when our daughter was younger, it kept her head still and supported (while carrying her facing in). Now that she is older, since about 3.5 months, she really only wants to be carried facing out in this carrier. She does not want to miss seeing anything while hiking!

This carrier was recommended to us by our pediatrician for hiking as well as by family and friends for everyday use.  It is very comfortable for whoever is carrying the baby.  Natalie has hiked over 12 miles with it at one time, while also wearing a backpack, comfortably. With the way it is designed, it puts most of the weight of the baby on your hips. Further, this specific Ergobaby Carrier has a cool mesh design that helps keep the baby better ventilated. It also has an included head sun/rain cover that comes in handy often.  

Hike with Baby

Great for Hiking & Beyond

Beyond hiking, this carrier is great for everyday use.  Natalie often has worn it around the house when our daughter is fighting sleep as she really likes sleeping in it.  Natalie tried on a lot of different brands of carriers prior to purchasing this one and it is hands down the most comfortable (for both parent and baby) and easiest to use.  Some of the other carriers she tried on, especially the Infantino ones, had so many straps and felt very awkward.  Make the investment in this carrier. 

Portable Changing Pad: Skip Hop Portable Changing Pad

This changing pad is easy to lay on the ground and change your baby along the trail.  The Skip Hop Portable Changing Pad wipes off easily and has a place to store diapers, wipes and diaper cream as well.  It also fits compactly in your hiking backpack.  We use it when we are out and about during our day to day life too. 

Breastfeeding Tops: Bearsland Breastfeeding Tops

These breastfeeding tops make breastfeeding anywhere discrete and easy.  Bearsland Breastfeeding Tops make it easy to nurse her while sitting off the trail on a log.  Natalie has been living in them since our daughter was born, while traveling and at home, and owns 6 of them.  These particular tops are more economical than most breastfeeding tops which is a plus as well.  You may have to try out a couple types of breastfeeding tops before you find one that works for you.

Compact Umbrella: UV Protective Compact Umbrella

Hiking with a baby

A compact UV protective umbrella will allow you to create shade wherever you need it while hiking. When we hiked in Hawaii, this was particularly helpful as the sun was plentiful while shade was minimal on many of our hikes. We use it to create shade for our baby while hiking (especially important early on since babies cannot wear sunscreen until 6 months) and to create shady spots for our baby while changing her or doing anytime out of the carrier.  Also, when we unexpectedly got rained on while hiking in Hawaii, it kept our baby nice and dry. This particular umbrella is great because it is compact and UV protective. 

Diaper Bags: Munchkin Diaper Bags

You will need to pack out all your diapers and these contain them well in addition to keeping the smell down. 


Be Dedicated and Don’t be Paralyzed by Fear 

That being said, do not let your anxieties about hiking with your baby paralyze you.  To be honest, we were a bit nervous to take our baby on her first hiking trip. We were mainly fearful of the unknown and what kind of days she would be having on days we planned to do different things.  However, we are so glad we did not let those anxieties stop us and ripped the bandaid off.  We made our days flexible, nothing was set in stone and everything was on our own time.  With the right gear and expectations, we had a great first hiking trip with our baby girl and many other successful hikes since then. 

You CAN Hike with your Baby

Many people told us hiking and travel would not be possible with a baby.  However, that is not true.  Adventure is still completely possible with a baby.  People who say you can’t adventure with your baby are either too scared and/or not dedicated enough to make it happen.  Everything takes longer and requires a lot more planning with a baby, but once you accept that fact and work with it, you’ll realize it can be done. The reward and accomplishment of trying and completing traveling adventures with your little one is worth it.  

To read more about our hiking adventures with baby, please see Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide, Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide, Haleakala National Park Quick Guide, Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide, 5 Stops on the Road to Hana, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide and What to do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. More information on our Puerto Rico and Iceland hiking adventures to come soon!

For other traveling tips with baby, please see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips and Flying with a Baby post.


We hope this guide helps you plan a hike with your baby.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!


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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes (Kilauea and Muaona Loa). If you are fortunate enough to see a volcano actively erupting, you will never forget it.  Kilauea was actively erupting in the Halemaumau crater while we were visiting.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Further, there are a lot of other interesting sites at this park. You can hike through lava tubes, across volcano craters and along sulfur banks. You can also visit the impressive coastline made up of unique volcanic rock structures.  Driving the Chain of Craters road out to the coastline affords you some really great views of the black lava rocks too. 

We recommend spending a half a day to a full day at this park. Here is our quick guide on visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 


FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in early November. This adventure was also our first major trip away from the Midwest with our three month old daughter. We loved exploring the park with her! For tips on traveling with a baby, please see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, How to Hike with a Baby and Flying with a Baby posts.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do in Hawaii Volcanos National Park


If there is a volcano actively erupting , go see it!

This was hands-down the coolest experience we had at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and on the Big Island. It really made for an unforgettable adventure.  Make sure to get to the park early in the morning, at least two hours before sunrise, so you have ample time to hike out to the volcano and view it in the dark. Viewing it in the dark creates a surreal experience witnessing the red/orange glow before the sunrises. 

Kilauea Actively Erupting, pictures do not do it justice

To find out the best viewing spot for the current eruption, call the park between 9 AM and 5 PM Hawaii time and speak with a staff member. Had we not called the park the day before to find out where to go to see the eruption, we would’ve had no idea where to park our car or where to hike in the park.  Also, a volcano can stop or start to erupt at any time so if the volcano is actively eruptIng, try to go as soon as possible to see it. The Kilauea volcano was actively erupting in the Halemaumau crater during our visit. 

Note: Double Check Your Location 

Since we arrived at the park so early in the morning, and were a bit sleep deprived, we weren’t the most oriented.  We accidentally went down the wrong trail for over a mile before realizing that we were not on the right path to view the eruption. We could see the smoke and glow from where we were on the wrong path but realized we couldn’t see it up close from the trail we were on. Thankfully, we hiked quite quickly and were still able to get back to the best viewing spot about an hour before sunrise.  Just be mindful that navigating the park at night is difficult. 

As you will be arriving at the park very early in the morning, in the pitch darkness, be sure to bring your headlamp. These are the headlamps we use and recommend. 

Also, for hiking on Lava Rock, you need a solid pair of hiking boots. Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Thurston Lava Tubes

These lava tubes are super neat to see. There is a lot of cool flora growing around where you enter them. We visited several lava tubes while in Hawaii (one on the road to Hana and another one in Hilo) and this one was the most accessible. It was the easiest/largest to walk through and required no crouching/crawling. The hike into and through these tubes is quite short. You will need less than 30 minutes to complete it. 

Thurston Lava Tubes

To access, park at the Thurston Lava Tubes Parking Lot. If the Thurston Lot is full, park in the Kilauea Iki Overlook Parking Lot (0.5 miles away, can walk on Kilauea Iki Rim Trail to access), On Crater Rim Drive


Hike Part of the Kilauea Iki Trail

This trail goes through the rainforest, around part of the rim Kilauea Iki Crater, before descending down into the crater floor itself.  This trail is 4 miles round trip and you can hike as much or as little of it as you please.  We hiked part of the trail along the rim of the crater.  The rainforest and crater views were pretty from here.  After hiking 4 miles to see the erupting volcano that morning and waking up so early, we weren’t feeling overly ambitious to hike down into a crater to see a dormant volcano.  Had the volcano not been erupting, we would have hiked this whole trail as it is rated as one of the best. 

Kilauea Iki Trail

To access, park at the Kilauea Iki Overlook Parking Lot, On Crater Rim Drive 


Drive Chain of Craters Road and Visit the Holei Arch

This road takes you from the higher elevations of the park down to the coastline. The temperature varied by 15°F between the two locations when we visited. The coastline here is very pretty. It is very impressive to see the large waves crashing against the lava rocks that descend into the ocean. When you see the rocky coast, it is even more impressive to imagine the orignal polynesian explorers landing in the area with their canoes. The Holei Arch is an interesting formation of the lava rocks to see at the coastline as well. Eventually, this rock formation will erode and be washed away.  

Holei Arch

Driving the Chain of Craters road will take you about 35 minutes one-way and it is definitely worth your time. There are several other craters you can stop and look at but none are as impressive as the Kilauea Iki Crater. Also, not much could compare after seeing an actively erupting volcano so keep that in mind if you are lucky enough to see that. 

Chain of Craters Road

Hike the Sulfur Banks

0.7 Miles loop trail, minimal elevation

Here you hike on a paved path through the rainforest before coming to a boardwalk that takes you through a volcanic thermal area and mineral deposits.  You can literally feel the heat and smell the sulfur from these thermal areas.

Sulfur Banks Trail

To access, park at the main visitors center 


Tip: Bring Food to the Park

There is really nowhere to eat in the park so it is very important that you bring food. We packed picnic lunches.


Where to Stay to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

If you plan to spend more than a day or go to the park multiple days, stay in Volcano Village or in Hilo. We chose to stay in Kona, which is about a 2 hour drive from the park. This made most sense for us as it was more centrally located by other things we wanted to do on the Big Island.  See our Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide for all our Big Island tips.  If you are looking for an Airbnb in Kona, we highly recommend the one we stayed at. 

Our Kailua-Kona Airbnb was perfect for us.  We had sunset views every night from the kitchen window and it had everything we needed (including lots of baby items which was a HUGE plus with a three month old). It was very spacious, updated and clean. Also, the host was super kind and helpful! If you looking to stay in Kona, definitely stay here!

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb

We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide on visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned


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5 Top Stops on The Road to Hana


Driving the Road to Hana was our favorite and most memorable activity we did on Maui.  With over 620 turns and 59 bridges, driving the windy Road to Hana is really an experience and not just a drive.  Along the way, you will see many picturesque waterfalls, lots of cute roadside fruit stands, gorgeous coastline views and lots of pretty unique rainforest flora.  

Best Road to Hana Stops
Road to Hana Sunrise Views

Build Your Own Experience on the Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is really a ‘build your own experience’ activity as the stops you choose to take along the way will really create a different experience for each person who drives it.  You can’t possibly stop at everything along the way, especially if you are driving the road back and forth in one day.  Given this conundrum , we narrowed the stops down to our 5 most recommended to help you plan your day. 

Unlike most blogs, we recommend stopping at places along the Road to Hana backwards. By this we mean drive to the furthest away location first and then make your stops on the way back.  This allows you to get an early start on this drive and drive a lot of the Road before most attractions are open. It also sets you up to get to our first stop, the Pipiwai Trail, early in the morning before the crowds arrive. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


Note: The mile markers on the Road to Hana are confusing

The mile markers start earlier on the Hana Highway than when the actual Road to Hana starts and then after you reach Hana, the mile markers start going down again.  Be sure to download offline maps so you can navigate the Road to Hana with your GPS.  We typically unplug (see Why you Should Unplug While Traveling) while on vacation but always use offline maps.  Even if you were not unplugged, it is likely your data will not work on this side of the island so download the offline maps regardless. 

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in late October


Stop #1 on the Road to Hana: Pipiwai Trail and Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools in Haleakala National Park

Pipiwai Trail, East Side of Haleakala National Park, 4.0 Miles Round Trip, 650 Feet of Elevation Gain

Mile Marker 42

Best Road to Hana Stops
Pipiwai Trail

This hike on the Pipiwai Trail was our furthest away stop on the Road to Hana and well worth the drive. It is actually located after Hana so make sure to not stop there and continue on to this trail in the Eastern part of Haleakala National Park.  

Unique Rainforest and Bamboo Forest Flora

Best Road to Hana Stops
Hike through a Bamboo Forest

This hike is super neat because you first hike through the rainforest and then through a bamboo forest before coming to the impressive Waimoku waterfall. On this hike, you will also see a huge Banyan Tree.  The contrasting views on this hike are well worth the effort.  We would rate this hike as relatively easy as the elevation gain is well spread out.  

Best Road to Hana Stops
Pipiwai Trail

Hike Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools

Oheo Gulch Trail, East side of Haleakala National Park, 0.6 Miles Round Trip, 100 Feet of Elevation Gain  

You can also hike the shorter Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools trail here that is 0.6 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation change.  This hike takes you through the rainforest, along the coast line and to a waterfall.  We completed this hike after the Pipiwai trail and found it to be very easy and scenic. The trailhead is at the same spot as the Pipiwai trailhead. 

Best Road to Hana Stops
Oheo Gulch

Arrive Early

We recommend arriving at this hike early.  When we arrived around 8am, we were one of three cars, but by the time we left after completing the hike, the parking lot was full and cars were parking in an overflow lot. Crowds can often take away from the experience so we are glad we got to the trail earlier than most. 

For more information and details on visiting Haleakala National Park, please see our Haleakala National Park Quick Guide.


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Stop #2 on the Road to Hana: Hana Farms

Mile Marker 31

Best Road to Hana Stops
Hana Farms

This cute farm stand is located right off the Road to Hana and easy to find. The chocolate chip banana bread here is absolutely delicious. There’s also a restaurant where you can sit down and eat a meal here. The restaurant was not open when we visited but the outdoor seating area was a really pretty spot to enjoy some fresh banana bread. 

Best Road to Hana Stops
Hana Farms

Stop #3 on the Road to Hana: Ka’eleku Cave

Mile Marker 23

This is a really neat lava tube right off the side of the road. Lava tubes form when the outside of lava hardens but the lava flowing inside continues to stay warm and fluid. The cave is short, approximately 1/3 mile, and leads to a large banyan tree. This cave felt like a real hidden gem!

Best Road to Hana Stops
Ka’eleku Cave

The floor inside the cave is quite slippery so wear footwear with a good grip. Both of us were wearing sandals and would not recommend that. Ideally, wear hiking boots (we recommend Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots). We also both went through the cave separately too as you have to crouch down quite a bit to get in there and with the floor being quite slippery, it was not safe for us to go through carrying our three-month-old daughter. However, it is very short so both of us were able to do it separately relatively quickly. 

Best Road to Hana Stops
Ka’eleku Cave

Note: This is VERY easy to miss.  It is not marked and you need to know just to look for it. Use our picture above so you know what you are looking for. Drive very slow around mile marker 23.  Had one other car not been parked across from where the entrance to this lava tube was, we would have likely missed it.   There is a pull off where you can park (on the side of the road closer to the coast line) that has two or three spots

Shout out to Heidi from Ordinary Sherpa for telling us about this free hidden roadside adventure!  Check out her podcast, Ordinary Sherpa, for more family adventure inspiration. We also are guests on Episode 026 of this podcast that you can listen to here.


Stop #4 on the Road to Hana: Upper Waikani Falls

Mile Marker 19

These waterfalls are located right off the side of the road across from a one-way bridge and are truly stunning. In our opinion, these are the prettiest set of waterfalls we saw while driving  the Road to Hana (Waimoku Falls in Haleakala at the end is more impressive but these are the best waterfalls on the journey there). To access these falls, you need to park up the road a bit and walk back to them as it is not safe to park directly by the one-way bridge.

Best Road to Hana Stops
Upper Waikani Falls

Stop #5 on the Road to Hana: Twin Falls Hike and Fruitstand 

Mile Marker 2

1.8 Mile Round Trip (without offshoots to each waterfall), 347 feet of Elevation Gain

Twin Falls hike is fun as it takes you to three different waterfalls through the rainforest.  The first two waterfalls you encounter on this hike look very similar and are a very short hike, about 0.2 miles from the parking lot.  The third waterfall is a bit further from the first two  but, in our opinion, the most scenic one so be sure not to stop hiking after the first two waterfalls.  You can also go swimming at this third waterfall.   

Best Road to Hana Stops
Last waterfall on the Twin Falls Hike

We took our time with this hike, hiking down to each waterfall and exploring around them, and it took us about 1.5 hours total.  The hike was relaxing, as it was relatively easy, and you saw a lot in a short period.  The trail, especially down by the waterfalls, was pretty slippery, as it had just rained so make sure to wear good hiking shoes. 

We actually hiked this trail a different day than when we drove the Road to Hana as it was only about 10 minutes from our Airbnb. We are glad we did it this way as we did not feel rushed hiking it at all. The Road to Hana is already a very full day experience.  

Arrive Around 7 AM

Prior to completing this hike, we read a lot of reviews online and the reviews were quite mixed.  A lot of people said they did not like the hike because it was too crowded.  To our delight, we enjoyed this hike a lot more than we expected as we nearly had it to ourselves. When we hiked this trail at about 7 AM, right around when it opened, we saw only about 10 other people total.  We found it to be really peaceful and pretty so arrive early if you don’t want any crowds to dampen your experience. 

Best Road to Hana Stops
First waterfall on the Twin Falls Hike

Bonus: Fruit Stand in the parking lot

The fruit stand in the parking lot at Twin Falls has some delicious banana bread.  Our loaf we got was still warm from coming out of the oven that morning. 

Best Road to Hana Stops
Twin Falls Fruitstand

Twin Falls Hike

Cost: This trail and these waterfalls are on private property so it costs $10/car to park here. This is very reasonable as the trail is very well maintained. 


We liked all these stops on the Road to Hana but if we had to choose two favorites, they were the Twin Falls Hike in Haiku and the Pipiwai Trail Hike in Haleakala National Park.

Other stops on the Road to Hana

Some other stops you may want to consider making on the Road to Hana:

Wailua Falls, Mile Marker 45 (after Hana), waterfall where you can swim, right off the road

Waianapanapa State Park, Mile Marker 32 (before Hana), Black Sand Beach and lava tubes. 

We opted not to stop at this state park because we were visiting 3 other black sand beaches (on the Big Island) and 3 other lava tubes (on Maui and the Big Island combined) on this trip . 

If you do decide to stop at the state park, make sure you check ahead and reserve tickets online if necessary. When we were visiting in November 2021, they were requiring timed entry reservations that had to be made prior to arriving at the park. We did not have any cell phone service in this area so even if you wanted to go to the park, you wouldn’t be able to if you had not made previous reservations (even if they were reservations available which seems, in our opinion, a bit irrationally restrictive).

Garden of Eden Arboretum, Mile Marker 10.5, Botanical Gardens. 


Other Road to Hana Tips

All-Day Event

The Road to Hana takes, at minimum, 2.5 hours to drive one-way.  With all the stops you will likely make to take pictures and with time spent waiting at one way bridges, budget for at least 3, if not more, hours each way.  In addition, you will likely make some longer stops to hike, explore state parks or eat at the roadside stands.  Budget at least a full day to drive this road both ways.  You may want to consider staying overnight in Hana if you really want to take your time driving on the road and be able to stop at all the stops you’d please along the way.  

Windy Road Cautions 

Note, as mentioned above, this road is VERY windy.  Anyone prone to motion sickness, like Natalie, beware.  For tips on preventing this, see our post, How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying. In addition, with the windy nature of this road, drive very cautiously.  Do not pass people and even though you will see some locals drive this road very aggressively, just don’t. Your safety and life is more important than saving a couple minutes.  Enjoy the journey! 

Best Road to Hana Stops
Windy Narrow Road to Hana Drive

Where to Stay on the Road to Hana

We recommend staying on the North side of the Island, in/around Paia or Haiku, near the start of the Road to Hana.  Most people stay in West Maui but if you are looking to explore more than the beach, this central location is great.  It allows you an early start for the Road to Hana, a good starting point for seeing sunrise at the Summit in Haleakala National Park and an easy drive to make a day trip to the West side or the South shore of the island. You alternatively could stay overnight in Hana itself if you want to spend more time on the Road to Hana. 

The Haiku Airbnb we stayed at was in a really nice quiet location.  It had all the amenities we needed and the host was very responsive and helpful. The landscape at the property was very pretty too. 

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:

We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to drive the Road to Hana.  Anything you’d add to our Top 5 Stops on the Road to Hana guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!


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Big Island Hawaii on a Budget Guide


The Big Island of Hawaii is a real Hawaiian gem.  We have visited all four major islands now and this one feels the most local to us.  The Northern coastline valley hikes, the blacksand beaches, the lava tubes, the secluded beaches and the rainforest hikes on this island are really unmatched.  The Big Island is also home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we got to see an actively erupting volcano, a once in a lifetime experience.

Also, although Hawaii may have a reputation for being an expensive place to visit, you really can visit Big Island, Hawaii on a Budget. Most of our favorite activities on the Big Island were free or cost very little. Your most expensive costs will be your flights, accommodations and rental car (you need a rental car to visit the Big Island). See our posts How to Book Accommodations on a Budget, 5 Ways to Save on Flights and How to Save on a Rental Car for more tips on how to save money on these.

Pololu Valley, Big Island Hawaii

This adventure was also our first major trip away from the Midwest with our three month old daughter. We loved exploring the island with her! For tips on traveling with a baby, please see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, How to Hike with a Baby and Flying with a Baby posts.

We recommend spending about a week, if not longer, on the Big Island.  Everything is quite spread apart and to see the whole island, even a week, may be quite challenging.  Here is our quick guide about the Big Island, Hawaii.  

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in early November

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do on the Big Island on a Budget


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes. While we were visiting this park, we were lucky enough to see one of those volcanoes actively eruptIng. It was truly unforgettable and a once in a lifetime experience! In addition to seeing an active volcano, there is a lot of different hiking to do at this park. You can hike through lava tubes, across a volcano crater and along Sulfur Banks (or sulphur if you are British). For all the details on visiting this park, see our Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Cost: $35/car or no charge with America the Beautiful Pass

Budget Tip: If you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in one year, this pass pays for itself and will save you money   


Pololu Valley Lookout and Hike Pololu/Awini Trail

This area was our favorite hike that we did on the Big Island. It gives you  the most bang for your buck. You see a lot of beautiful scenery without an excessive amount of hiking. This hike starts at the Polo Valley Lookout point. You get some stunning views even just from the lookout point you can drive up to. Even if you are not able to hike, it is worth seeing the lookout point from the beginning of the trail. 

Pololu Valley

Pololu/Awini Trail Hike

From the lookout point, you descend down on the Pololu trail about a half mile on a rocky path into a rainforest valley before coming to the black sand beach. From here, you can continue on up the other side of the valley into the mountainous rainforest on the Awini trail. You really can hike as far as you want on this trail or as little as you want on this trail. In our opinion, the best views are from the valley floor after the initial descent before the beach or from the lookout point at the beginning of the trail. 

Pololu Valley Trail

Arrive Here Early

When we got here at approximately 9 AM, there were only a couple cars in the parking lot but when we left, there were cars parked up the entire street. It was nice to have the valley almost completely to ourselves in the morning.

Cost: Free


Kaunaoa Beach

Kaunaoa Beach

This white sand beach located on the Northwest side of the island was our favorite beach on the island. It had a good amount of shade, something very important to us especially with our three month old daughter. Although we have a stellar sun tent (which we highly recommend), the additional natural shade helps keep her (and us) cooler and more comfortable. It also had soft sand and clear water – great to walk in and wade out to cool down. Further, due to the limited public parking to access this beach and the fact that it is located behind a private residence/ resort, it did not feel overcrowded. There are also very clean bathrooms and a shower area not far from the beach.

We visited this beach twice since we liked it so much. We were able to set up under a tree.  The ocean breeze and shade made for very comfortable afternoons relaxing on the beach.

Kaunaoa Beach

Parking at Kaunaoa Beach

The parking situation at Kaunaoa Beach is a bit tricky. If you want to almost guarantee you are going to get parking, arrive before 9 AM or after 4 PM. There are only 40 spots in the parking lot. You have to get a ticket from the front gate attendant at the Mauna Kea private residence/resort.  The public parking is gated so the attendant at the front always knows if there is a spot available.  The first day we visited this beach, we had no problem getting parking right away but the second time we had to circle around for about 10 minutes before a spot became available and we could drive back to the parking area. Try going around lunchtime (if not going early morning or late afternoon) to get a spot when a lot of people tend to leave. 

Kaunaoa Beach

Cost: Free


Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Punaluu Black Sand Beach

We visited three black sand beaches on the Big Island (also at Waipio Valley and Pololu Valley) and this was our favorite of the three. The sand is much darker than any other black sand beach we have seen (including the one in Santorini Greece—coming soon, Santorini, Greece Quick Guide). The sand here is also much more fine and soft than the others we visited. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at this park. Be sure to bring food with you as there is none available here and nothing in the close surrounding areas.

Tip: If you are visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this beach  is only about 20 minutes Southwest from the main park entrance. We recommend visiting both on the same day to decrease driving (unless you are staying on the East side of the island). 

Cost: Free


Waipio Valley Lookout and Hike

Waipio Valley

This stop is a cool lookout point over a mountainous valley that leads out to a black sand beach on the coastline. Here, you can also hike down into the valley and onto the black sand beach. This hike involves a very steep descent on a paved road (about 1,000 feet of elevation) and then a hike through the rainforest on a flat dirt (more like mud) road before coming out to the black sand beach. This hike was extra special because we saw some wild horses on the beach and crossing through the river in the valley. Definitely not something you see every day! The hike in total is about 3 miles or so roundtrip, depending on how far you go out onto/across the black sand beach. 

Waipio Valley

You can alternatively hire someone to drive you down into the valley but we found the hike to be rewarding and not overly strenuous as it was mainly in the shade. We recommend completing this hike before noon though to avoid full sun as that would have made it feel a lot more difficult. 

Waipio Valley

We completed this hike with our infant daughter so Natalie had approximately 15 extra pounds strapped to her. If she can do this hike with the extra weight, have confidence you can do it too if you are physically active. For all of our tips on hiking with your baby, see our How to Hike with a Baby post.

Cost: Free

Note: Check to make sure the hike down to Waipio Valley is open to visitors during your visit. Last we heard in March 2022 after our visit, the hike was closed to only locals. However, this may change so just be sure to check before deciding to hike. Regardless of the hike being closed, you can still view Waipio Valley from the elevated viewpoint and this is still very pretty (and little physical exertion required).


Hike to the Secluded Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach

This beach is really neat because it can  only be accessed by hiking out to it.  Consequently, this seclusion keeps the crowds down as people in general like easier beach access. It is about 1 mile to 1.5 miles one-way hike out to the beach and with little to no elevation change. 

For hiking to the beach, you have to drive on a very bumpy and rough road to get to the trailhead. This road is so rough that we ended up parking on it about a half a mile further away from the trailhead because we thought it would be much easier to walk on it then drive on it in our sedan rental car (and we were right). There are several spots along this road that you can park on before getting to the actual trailhead and we would recommend doing that even if you have a 4WD vehicle. You have to drive so slowly that it is quite frustrating and you can almost move faster walking. 

Makalawena Beach

This beach is pristine and well worth the effort to get to it. It is rated as one of the best on the Big Island. It has classic white sandy beaches and clear blue water. We enjoyed setting up our sun tent and playing in the sand with our daughter. We love our sun tent, especially for beaches like this where shade is super limited as it allows us to create our own. 

Cost: Free


Sunset in Kona

Sunset in Kona

The sunset in downtown Kona really is unmatched. We recommend watching it by the waterfront! There are several restaurants you can eat at and watch the sunset but if you plan to get a sunset spot, you  will need to get their hours in advance. There are plenty of areas where you can watch the sunset for free though. Just walk around and you’ll find them.

We could see the sunset from our Airbnb (which was awesome too) but seeing it on the waterfront really is magical.  We have seen a lot of sunsets in cool locations and this definitely is in the top five.

Cost: Free


Rainforest Hike on the Makaula Ooma Trails

Makaula Ooma Trails

If you are looking for a hike that mainly only locals do and where you will not see many other people, this is the hike for you. This rain forest hike was really pretty. It took us through a lot of different rainforest flora and the best part, we only saw three other people the entire hike. This also is located very close to the Airbnb we recommend in Kona. This hike does not take you to a specific lookout point but really makes for a peaceful hike through the rainforest.

This hike can cary in length. It can be as short as a mile with minimal elevation gain or as long as 4 miles with approximately 700 feet of elevation gain if you hike the whole path.

Shout out to our Airbnb host for recommending this to us!

Makaula Ooma Hike

Cost: Free


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Explore Hilo

Hilo is the biggest city on the East side of the island yet it feels very local and not touristy. It felt like ‘Old Hawaii’ to us and much different than the more glamorous and built up Kona side of the island. There are a lot of different things you can see in this city. We just spent a brief afternoon here and recommend seeing the below, particularly the Kaumana Caves. 

Given the untourist nature of this area, don’t expect a lot catering to non-locals. We arrived in Hilo around 2 PM and found most restaurants were actually closed for lunch. If you are looking for a lunch spot, we would recommend arriving sooner than that.

Also, since there is so much driving and so much to see on the Big Island, you could consider flying into Hilo and out of Kona or vice versa to break up your time on the island as there is an airport (less popular so less flights to it) in Hilo as well. This logistically did not work for us but definitely something to consider.

Kaumana Caves

Kaumana Caves

These lava tubes are located a short drive outside the city center. They are super cool and definitely our favorite thing we saw in Hilo. These caves felt much more untouched than the Thurston Lava Tubes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Given this, there is a lot more skill and care that is required to explore them. Make sure you are wearing proper hard-soled shoes and that you have a headlamp with you otherwise you won’t make it very far in these caves. 

As far as hiking boots, we recommend Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots which we have been using for over 7 years.  These are great in the cave and the rainforest. And these are the headlamps we use. 

Kaumana Caves

These caves also do get quite narrow eventually and require quite a bit of crouching down and crawling.  We were limited in how far we could go as we had our three month old daughter with us in the Ergobaby. Regardless, even going a short distance in these caves is worth seeing. 

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

This waterfall gets its name from the rainbow that tends to form within the waterfall midday. When we visited, we did not see a rainbow at this waterfall but think it is worth checking out if you are in Hilo. For your best chance of seeing the rainbow, try to go around noon when the sun is most full. This waterfall is very accessible too. We were able to roll our stroller up to it which is always a huge plus. Sometimes you just need a break from baby carrying! Likewise, it is wheelchair accessible. 

It also feels a bit strange because you literally are right in the city center and all of a sudden bam, there’s a big waterfall.  Don’t expect to be by yourself at this waterfall though. Since it is so accessible and near the city center, a lot of people are usually there. This is a brief stop.

Tip: If you are in Hilo, go see Rainbow Falls. However, we would not recommend driving across the entire island just to see this. We recommend doing a big loop to see/hike Waipio Valley, visit Akaka Falls State Park and then visit the stops in Hilo. This itinerary will save you some driving and allow you to see more sites. 

Cost: Free 

Boiling Pots

Boiling Pots

This destination is another natural phenomenon that you drive up to right from the city center. Like Rainbow Falls, this is a brief stop. It is also stroller and wheelchair accessible. If you are in Hilo, definitely make the stop here. However, like Rainbow Falls, do not drive across the whole island just to see this.

Cost: Free

Liliuokalani Park and Gardens

Liliuokalani Park and Gardens

These Japanese gardens located along the oceanfront have a lot of different pretty and unique flora. Our favorite site here was the huge Banyan tree. There are additionally some nice paths to walk on around the gardens and most are stroller/wheelchair accessible. We also enjoyed eating some takeout in the park overlooking the waterfront.  Like Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots, stop here if you are in the area but do not drive across the island to see it. This is not a must do but a good spot to relax. 

Cost: Free


Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls State Park

This state park is located on the Northeast side of the island. It is in between Waipio Valley and Hilo. It is home to one of the biggest waterfalls in Hawaii. It really is quite impressive! There is about a half mile loop path that you can walk on. It is a paved path but does have some stairs. This is another brief stop. Combine this with visiting Waipio Valley.

Cost $5/person, $10 to park (if you park in the lot but the lot was full so we parked on the road for free)


Where to Eat

On the Big Island, things are really spread apart. Many of the places you will visit here will not have a lot or any restaurants around them. Given this, we packed lunches most days or ate at our Airbnb (which had a full kitchen). Definitely be sure to pack a lunch for the beaches and the National Park as you will not really have any other food options.

Downtown Kona, where many of the Kona Restaurants are located

The restaurants with the best views and the most variety on their menus are in Kona. However, there are really some hidden gems where you can get a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch while traveling around the island in some of the small towns. We would recommend just stopping where it is convenient for you. 

South Kona Fruitstand

Also, the roadside fruit stands are really great! Our favorite one was south of Kona, South Kona Fruitstand.  Natalie had a pineapple passionfruit smoothie here that was out of this world. We also got some unique pineapple carrot cake here.  Can we fly back to the Big Island just to get these? That’s how good it was! 

South Kona Fruitstand


Visiting Big Island, Hawaii Budget Tip: Go grocery shopping at Costco

In Hawaii, food is significantly more expensive than the continental US, particularly in the Midwest where we live.  It makes sense given that almost everything needs to be shipped to islands.  However, at Costco, some products are still the same price as they are in the midwest.  We were surprised that we could get large bags of spinach, rotisserie chicken and some other produce for the same price we could at home.  Other things are still more expensive than they would be at home but significantly less expensive than they are at other grocery stores in Hawaii.  

Definitely buy pineapple when you are at Costco as you will not find it for less anywhere else! And with anyone familiar with Costco, the produce is always great quality.  If you have a Costco membership and are going to be staying more than a couple days, it makes complete sense to go shopping here. We did most of our grocery shopping at Costco and then some things that we just really did not need large quantities of, we bought at the local Safeway. 

Costco on the Big Island is located about 10 minutes south of the airport. It was quite close to our accommodations but depending on where you’re staying, it will probably make most sense to stop there after you land if you fly into Kona.


Where to Stay on Big Island Hawaii on a Budget

The Big Island of Hawaii is very BIG.  Unlike the other Hawaiian islands, if you want to see the whole island, you have to do a lot more driving.  In our opinion, there is no perfect central homebase spot to stay because everything is pretty spread apart.  Ideally, you would see this island by hopping around from different accommodations every night or so.  However, packing up and moving every day or so can be stressful and may not actually save you as much time as you think.  

Views from our Airbnb in Kona

We wanted a consistent homebase for our whole time on the Big Island and we chose to stay just outside of Kona.  If we were to visit again, we would stay here or on the more Northern end of the island.  The activities we enjoyed most, other than visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, were located in these areas (Pololu Valley, Waipio Valley, Makalawena Beach and Kaunaoa Beach). If you want to spend more time exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will probably prefer to stay in Hilo or Volcano Village. 

Our Kailua-Kona Airbnb was perfect for us. We had sunset views every night from the kitchen window and it had everything we needed (including lots of baby items which was a HUGE plus with a three month old). It was very spacious, updated and clean.  Also, the host was super kind and helpful! And as always, this accommodation was budget friendly. If you are looking into Kona, definitely stay here!

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to the Big Island on a budget.  Anything you’d add to our guide on visiting Big Island, Hawaii on a Budget? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!


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Haleakala National Park Quick Guide


West side Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park is a very unique park. It offers a lot of contrasting scenery and this guide on visiting Haleakala National Park will help you see all the highlights. There are actually two sides to the park, the West and the East side. On the West side, you can watch the sunrise over the Haleakala summit, the world’s largest dormant volcano, and hike through a volcanic crater. Whereas on the East side of the park, lush greenery awaits! Here, you can hike through the rainforest and a bamboo forest to several waterfalls. We recommend visiting both sides of the park for the full experience.

East side of Haleakala National Park

Note: The East and West side of Haleakala National Park cannot be accessed from the same road. They have to be accessed completely separately and you would not be able to visit them both feasibly in one day. To be centrally located to visit both sides of the park, we recommend staying on the north side of the island, somewhere near Haiku or Paia. 

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in late October. This adventure was also our first major trip away from the Midwest with our three month old daughter. We loved exploring the park with her! For tips on traveling with a baby, please see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, How to Hike with a Baby and Flying with a Baby posts.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do at Haleakala National Park


West Side of Haleakala National Park

The West side of the park is where you can partake in the ritual of watching the sunrise at the Haleakala (means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian) Summit.  This is also where you can hike into the crater of the largest dormant volcano in the world.  


Sunrise at the Haleakala Summit

The sunrise at the summit at Haleakala National Park is a surreal experience.  The sun rising over the dormant volcano among the clouds is really a sight everyone should see in-person in their lifetime. The colors that illuminate the sky are out of this world. You feel like you are in the clouds at 10,000 feet. Pictures and videos of this sunrise simply do not do it justice. 

Get Tickets in Advance

To attend sunrise at the Haleakala Summit, you must reserve advance tickets at recreation.gov.  The tickets are available to buy 30 days in advance. These tickets sell out fast so set an alarm for the day and time for when the tickets you want go on sale. Keep in mind, they go on sale at 7 AM Hawaii time so figure out what time that will be in your time zone so you are not SOL.

These tickets are $1 and you need to either also buy entrance to the park (do not have to buy in advance) or an America the Beautiful pass (must buy in advance).  We buy an America the Beautiful pass every year because it pays for itself when you visit more than 2 parks in one year and allows you unlimited access to all the parks for one price.  One year, we visited 12 National Parks with this one pass so we definitely got our money’s worth. 

Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

Arrive at least an hour before Sunrise

Once you have a ticket, you can enter the park between 3 AM and 7 AM on the day of your ticket. You will want to arrive about an hour prior to sunrise to see the whole sunrise.  Make sure to check what time the sunrises when you are visiting as it changes throughout the year.

If you want to have the best view at the summit, plan to arrive earlier than an hour in advance. We arrived about an hour in advance and were able to get our own spot but we did not have the most prime spot on the summit to watch the sunrise. It was a fine spot for us to watch the sunrise but with how the viewing platform was set up, it was hard not to get other people in some of our pictures. However, it is not all about the picture as pictures really do not do the IRL experience justice anyways. 

Dress Warm

The summit at Haleakala is approximately 30° cooler than at the lower elevations where most people are staying. We were well prepared for the 40° weather we encountered that morning but most people we saw there were not. Some people were wearing flip-flops and we can only imagine their feet felt frozen.

Windy Road Leading to Summit

The road you drive on to get to the Haleakala Summit is quite windy (as in curvy).  Nothing in comparison to the Road to Hana but anyone prone to motion sickness, beware. Like the Road to Hana, you must drive this road quite slowly at points. Be sure to budget enough time to drive up this windy road before sunrise. 


Hike the Sliding Sands Trail

Sliding Sands Trail

This hike contrasts other trails you may hike on Maui as it takes you into the dormant volcano landscape.  Variable colors of this landscape are quite neat to behold. The best views, in our opinion, are actually near the beginning of the trail.

Choose your own length

Sliding Sands Trail

You can hike all 11 miles of this trail or you can hike just part of it.  We hiked 3 miles of this trail round-trip. We had planned to hike to the bottom of the crater, which is 2.5 miles one-way, but with how we were feeling with the elevation, we opted to only hike 1.5 miles one-way. Like we said, the best views of this crator are from the beginning of the trail anyways. The view at approximately 1 mile into the crater is worth walking at least this far.. For someone who just wants to get a short taste of the trail, we would recommend just hiking the 1st mile in. The extra half mile we completed did not add much from a view standpoint. 

Tip: Hike the Sliding Sands Trail during Sunrise

If you plan to hike this trail on a day other than the day you watch the sunrise at the summit, try to start this hike before sunrise. That way, you can watch the sunrise while hiking on the trail.  You will still be at the high elevation (nearly 10,000 feet still) so you will be able to watch the sunrise over the clouds and will likely have the trail completely to yourself, unlike the Summit.  Just be sure to bring your headlamp so you can watch where you are hiking! The trail is well maintained and fairly smooth but trip hazards are always present. These are the headlamps we use and recommend. 

Sliding Sands Trail

Also, remember, if you plan to enter the park between 3 AM- 7 AM, you need a sunrise reservation so be sure to get another ticket for sunrise entrance.  These tickets only cost $1 so make an extra reservation even if you are not 100% committed to doing this hike on a different day.  

Beware of the Elevation

Sliding Sands Trail

At nearly 10,000 feet of elevation, this trail feels a lot harder than it would at a lower elevation. We are both in  good shape and really felt the elevation doing this trail.  We were certainly not acclimated at all to the elevation.  Remember, the climb up will be much more difficult than the descent down. Be mindful of how you are feeling. We ended up hiking 2 miles less than we initially planned because of how we were feeling.


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Lookout Points

Haleakala Crater

Along the road that leads to the summit of Haleakala, there are a lot of different spots that you can pull off onto and soak in the views with minimal effort. Make sure to check these out. The view from the Haleakala Visitors Center is worth checking out as well. 

There is also one other trail on the West side of this park, the Halemauu Trail, you can hike. However, based on everything we have read and pictures we have seen, the Sliding Sands Trail views are more impressive than this trail’s views.  Also, if you are looking for a full day hike, you can hike from the Sliding Sands Trailhead to the Halemauu Trailhead (parking lot at MM 14) which is an 11.2 mile hike.  To do this, you would need either 2 cars or to hitchhike a ride back to the Sliding Sands Trailhead (Haleakela visitors center parking lot) or be overly ambitious and hike 22.4 miles.


East Side of the Haleakala National Park

Waimoku Waterfall on the East side of Haleakala National Park

The East side of Haleakala National Park is located south of the town of Hana and, presumably, would be your last stop while driving the Road to Hana.  At this part of the park, there are two different trails that you can hike–the Pipiwai trail and Oheo Gulch trail.  We recommend hiking both.


Pipiwai Trail 

4.0 Miles Round Trip, 650 Feet of Elevation Gain

Banyan Tree on the Pipiwai Trail

Unique Rainforest and Bamboo Forest Flora

This hike is super neat because first, you hike through the rainforest and then, you hike through a bamboo forest before coming to the impressively tall Waimoku waterfall.  On the hike, you will also see a huge Banyan Tree.  The contrasting views are well worth the 4 mile round-trip hike.  We would rate this hike as relatively easy as the elevation gain is well spread out.  

Bamboo Forest on the East Side of Haleakala National Park

Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools 

0.6 Miles RoundTrip, 100 Feet of Elevation Change 

Oheo Gulch

You can also hike the shorter Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools trail here that is 0.6 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation change.  This trail takes you along the coastline, through the rainforest and past a waterfall.  We completed this hike after the Pipiwai trail and found it to be very easy and scenic. The trailhead is at the same spot as the Pipiwai Trailhead. 

Arrive Early

We recommend arriving to hike on the East side of the park early.  When we arrived around 8 AM, we were one of three cars in the parking lot, but by the time we left after completing the hike, the parking lot was full and cars were parking in an overflow lot. 

Bring Food

There is nowhere to eat at either part of the park so make sure to bring some snacks.  On the East side of the park, take advantage of some of the roadside fruit stands on the way to/from the park.  We highly recommend Hana Farms at MM 31.  

For more information on driving the Road to Hana and Maui, see our 5 Stops on the Road to Hana and Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide post.  


Where to Stay when visiting Haleakala National Park

As noted above, the East and West side of Haleakala National Park cannot be accessed from the same road. They have to be accessed from completely separate routes and you cannot feasibly visit both sides in one day. To be centrally located to visit both sides of the park, we recommend staying on the North side of the island, somewhere near Haiku or Paia 

The Haiku Airbnb we stayed at was in a nice quiet location.  It had all the amenities we needed and the host was very responsive and helpful. The landscape at the property was very pretty too and the price was much more budget friendly than other accommodations in the area.  

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Haleakala National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide to visiting Haleakala National Park? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!


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Visiting Maui, Hawaii on a Budget


Maui is the most popular of the Hawaiian islands and for good reason.  After our visit, we understood why so many people love it and visit there again and again.  From the beautiful beaches to the exotic rainforests to the endless beautiful waterfalls to the world’s largest dormant volcano, the adventures on this island are countless.  And although Hawaii, particularly Maui, may have a reputation for being an expensive place to visit, you really can visit Maui on a budget. Most of our favorite activities on Maui were free or cost very little.

Your most expensive costs will be your flight, accommodations and rental car. See our posts 5 Ways to Save on Flights, How to Book Accommodations on a Budget and How to Save on a Rental Car for more tips on how to save money on these.

Road to Hana Views on Maui

Highlights of our time on Maui, while on a budget, included watching sunrise over the summit at Haleakala National Park, hiking through a bamboo forest, seeing countless awe-inspiring waterfalls, driving the insanely windy Road to Hana, visiting cute roadside fruit stands and relaxing on the perfectly picturesque white sand beaches. 

This was also our first major trip away from the Midwest with our three month old. We loved exploring the island with her! For tips on traveling with a baby, please see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, How to Hike with a Baby and Flying with a Baby posts.

We recommend spending at least 5 days on Maui, if not longer, to see these highlights as well as to spend some time relaxing on the beach. Here is our quick guide on Maui, Hawaii.  

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in late October

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do on Maui on a Budget


Drive the Road to Hana

Upper Waikani Falls

This was our favorite and most memorable activity we did on Maui.  With over 620 turns and 59 one-lane bridges, driving the windy Road to Hana is really an experience not just a drive.  Along the way, you will see many picturesque waterfalls, lots of cute roadside fruit stands, gorgeous coastline views and lots of pretty unique rainforest flora.  

Build Your Own Experience

Hana Farms

The Road to Hana is really a ‘build your own experience’ activity as the stops you choose to take along the way will really create a different experience for each person who drives it.  You can’t possibly stop at everything along the way if you are driving the road back and forth in one day.  See 5 Stops on the Road to Hana post to see our recommendations on where to stop on your journey.   Our favorite stops were the Twin Falls Hike in Haiku and the Pipiwai Trail Hike in Haleakala National Park.  

All-Day Event

Pipiwai Trail

The Road to Hana takes, at minimum, 2.5 hours to drive one-way (unless you drive like a local which you will understand if you travel the road).  With all the stops you will make to take pictures and with time spent waiting at one way bridges, budget for at least 3 hours, if not more, each way.  In addition, you will likely make some longer stops to hike, explore state parks or eat at the roadside stands.  Budget at least a full day to drive this road both ways.  You may want to consider staying overnight in Hana if you really want to take your time driving on the road and be able to stop at all the stops you’d please along the way.  

Windy Road Cautions 

Coastline View Road to Hana

Note, as mentioned above, this road is VERY windy.  Anyone prone to motion sickness, like Natalie, beware.  For tips on preventing this, see our post on How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying.  In addition, with the windy nature of this road, drive very cautiously.  Do not pass people and even though you will see some locals drive this road very aggressively, don’t contribute to the chaos. Your safety and life is more important than saving a couple minutes.  Enjoy the journey! 

Cost: Free but bring cash to buy items at fruit stands and for stops along the way (hikes, food trucks, botanical gardens, etc.).


Sunrise at the Summit at Haleakala National Park

Sunrise at the Summit at Haleakala National Park

Seeing the sunrise at the summit at Haleakala National Park is really a surreal experience. The sun rising over the dormant volcano among the clouds is really a sight everyone should see in-person in their lifetime. Pictures and videos truly do not do this justice. The colors that illuminate the sky are out of this world. You really feel like you are in the clouds with the summit at 10,000 feet.

For more information and for all the details on watching the sunrise at Haleakala, see our Haleakala National Park Quick Guide.

Explore more of the West Side of Haleakala National Park

Sliding Sands Trail Views Haleakala National Park

Also, while on the West side of Haleakala National Park, be sure to check out the Sliding Sands Trail and some of the other lookout points after you watch the sunrise. See our Haleakala National Park Quick Guide for other tips on what to do there, including seeing the East side of the park. 

Note: The East and West side of Haleakala National Park cannot be accessed from the same road. They have to be accessed completely separately and you will not be able to feasibly visit them both in one day. To be centrally located to visit both sides of the park, we recommend staying on the north side of the island, somewhere near Haiku or Paia. 

Cost: $35/car (valid 7 days throughout the entire park) or free with America the Beautiful Pass (pays for itself if you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in one year), $1 for sunrise tickets – bought ahead of time.


Hike through a Bamboo Forest in Haleakala National Park

Pipiwai Trail

Pipiwai Trail, Haleakala National Park, 4.0 Miles Round Trip, 650 Feet of Elevation Gain

This hike on the Pipiwai Trail was our furthest away stop on the Road to Hana and well worth the drive. It is actually located after Hana so make sure to not stop there and continue onto this trail in the East part of Haleakala National Park.  

Unique Rainforest and Bamboo Forest Flora

Pipiwai Trail

This hike is super neat because you first hike through the rainforest and then through a bamboo forest before coming to the impressively tall Waimoku waterfall. On the hike, you will also see a huge Banyan Tree.  The contrasting views keep your interest throughout and well worth the 4 mile round-trip hike.  We would rate this hike as relatively easy as the elevation gain is well spread out.  

Hike Oheo Gulch  

Oheo Gulch

You can also hike the shorter Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools trail here that is 0.6 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation change.  We completed this hike after the Pipiwai trail and found it to be very easy and scenic. The trailhead is at the same spot as the Pipiwai Trail. 

Arrive Early

We recommend arriving at this trailhead early.  When we arrived around 8am, we were one of three cars, but by the time we left after completing the hike, the parking lot was completely full and cars were parking in an overflow lot. 

Cost: $35/car (valid 7 days throughout entire park) or free with America the Beautiful Pass (pays for itself if you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in one year)


Hike Twin Falls

Twin Falls Hike

1.8 Mile Round Trip (without offshoots to each waterfall), 347 feet of Elevation Gain

Twin Falls is a fun, short hike as it takes you to three different waterfalls through the rainforest.  The first two waterfalls you encounter on this hike look similar and are a very short hike, about 0.2 miles from the parking lot.  The third waterfall is a bit further of a hike from those two but, in our opinion, the most scenic of the three so be sure not to stop hiking after the first two waterfalls.  You can also go swimming at this third waterfall.   

Twin Falls Hike

We took our time with this hike, hiking down to each waterfall and exploring around them, and it took us about 1.5 hours total.  The hike was relaxing, as it was relatively easy, and you saw a lot in a short period.  The trail, especially down by the waterfalls, was very slippery, as it had just rained so make sure to wear good hiking shoes. 

This hike is another stop on the Road to Hana, at the very beginning at MM 2.  We actually hiked this a different day than when we drove the Road to Hana as it was only about 10 minutes from our Airbnb. We are glad we did this as we did not feel rushed hiking it at all then as the Road to Hana is already a very full day experience. 

Arrive Around 7 AM

Prior to completing this hike, we read a lot of reviews online which were quite mixed.  A lot of people said they did not like the hike because it was too crowded.  To our delight, we enjoyed this hike a lot more than we expected as we nearly had it to ourselves. When we hiked this trail at about 7 AM, right around when it opened, we saw only about 10 other people.  We found it to be really peaceful and pretty so arrive early if you don’t want any crowds to dampen your experience. On and off rain the day we hiked also kept the less adventurous away.

Bonus: Fruit Stand in the parking lot

The fruit stand in the parking lot at Twin Falls has some delicious banana bread.  Our loaf we got was still warm from coming out of the oven that morning. 

Twin Falls Hike

Cost: This trail and these waterfalls are on private property so it costs $10/car to park but this is very reasonable as the trail is very well maintained. It may be closed if rainfall has been excessive recently.


Day Trip to West Maui

Kaanapali Beach

West Maui is the most popular area to stay on the island.  This is where many of the classically white sand beaches and big resorts are located.  We spent our day on the West side of Maui exploring Kaanapali Beach.  Along this 3 mile stretch of beach, there is a paved path that stretches its length.  Parent bonus, this path is stroller friendly (because sometimes taking a break from baby carrying/wearing is needed).  There are many shops, restaurants and stands located along this path.  This beach is great for people watching but with that, do not expect any seclusion here.  Do not go here if you don’t want to see other people. 

Free Kaanapali Beach Access

How to Access Beach

Although this beach has resorts all along it, all shoreline beaches in Hawaii are open to the public. To access this path and beach for free (while not staying at one of the resorts along Kaanapali Beach), look for the blue Shoreline Access signs.  These signs point you to where you can find parking and where you can take a public paved path back to the beach.  Try to arrive earlier in the day as these free public parking areas fill up fast.

Cost: Free


Day Trip to the South Shore of Maui

Free Makena Landing Beach

The South Shore of Maui, around Wailea, has many nice white sandy beaches like the West side of Maui but with less hustle and bustle.  The beaches in this area are great for snorkeling and seeing sea turtles.  We recommend exploring the Makena Landing beach/reef as we saw sea turtles here. This area feels more high end and residential than West Maui. Fittingly, the high-end designer Shops of Wailea are located in this area.  

Near Wailea Beach and Polo Beach on the South Shore, like on Kaanapali Beach on the West Shore, there is a 1.5 mile paved path along the South shoreline.  However, this path mainly goes past condos and resorts and not as many shops or restaurants.  It is more peaceful than the path in West Maui and makes for a relaxing afternoon stroll.  Again, to access this path/beaches and parking, look for the blue Shoreline Access signs on the road.  

Cost: Free


Explore Iao Valley State Monument

Iao Valley State Monument

Iao Valley State Monument is a great place to spend a morning exploring the rainforest. This state park is among the rainforest-covered mountains in the heart of Central Maui. The climb up to the summit where you can see the Iao Needle shaped monument (shoots 1,200 feet in the air from the valley floor) was not difficult and was much shorter than we expected. Through this area, there are approximately 0.6 miles worth of trails through the rainforest. There are also some other trails that go further into the rainforest, created by locals going to swim in the river, but these are not maintained by the state park. 

Cost: $5/person and $10 to park

Iao Valley State Monument

Baldwin Beach

Baldwin Beach

This beach was located near our Airbnb and we enjoyed relaxing at it.  It has white sandy beach and clear blue water.  Since the beach is located on the North side of the island, it has some pretty rough waves so it is not the best for swimming but good for relaxing on the beach and watching surfers. 

Cost: Free


Where to Eat on Maui


Tin Roof

This restaurant is really a hidden gem.  It is located in an unassuming strip mall in the heart of Kahului. Although very unassuming, this is a popular place for lunch as the owner was a Top Chef winner.  We had the garlic shrimp and the pork belly and would highly recommend both. Order ahead to get takeout otherwise, expect to wait in a line for a good 30 minutes or so. This restaurant also does not have much seating inside so getting takeout is your best bet anyways.

Tin Roof Maui


Food Trucks

Food Truck views in downtown Kahului

The food truck scene on Maui is really on-point. To us, it seemed like there were different food trucks set-up everywhere we visited. Our favorite food truck spot was located in downtown Kahului, right across the street from Costco. There are many options of what to eat at this food truck spot but we recommend Earth Aloha Eats. We both enjoyed some really good plant based food here. 

For more info on the Maui Food Truck scene, see this blog post (not ours).


Hana Farms

Hana Farms

This farmstand and restaurant is located along the road to Hana at approximately mile marker 31. The chocolate chip banana bread here is absolutely delicious. There is also a restaurant where you can sit down and eat a meal here. The restaurant was not open when we visited but the outdoor seating area was really pretty spot to enjoy some fresh banana bread. 

Hana Farms


Monkeypod

Monkeypod Patio in Wailea

This restaurant has two locations on Maui, one in Wailea on the South shore and one on Kaanapali beach on the West side of Maui. Everything in this restaurant is made from scratch. They are very well known for their Mai Tais (named best on Maui year after year). We really do not think you could go wrong with anything on the menu. We ate at the location in Wailea and had a peaceful lunch on the garden surrounded patio. 

Monkeypod Kitchen


Maui Budget Tip: Go grocery shopping at Costco

In Hawaii, food is significantly more expensive than the continental US, particularly in the Midwest where we live.  It makes sense given that almost everything needs to be shipped to islands.  However, at Costco, some products are still the same price as they are in the midwest.  We were surprised that we could get large bags of spinach, rotisserie chicken and some other produce for the same price we could at home.  Other things are still more expensive than they would be at home but significantly less expensive than they are at other grocery stores in Hawaii.  

Definitely buy pineapple when you are at Costco as you will not find it for less anywhere else! And with anyone familiar with Costco, the produce is always great quality.  If you have a Costco membership and are going to be staying more than a couple days, it makes complete sense to go shopping here. We did most of our grocery shopping at Costco and then some things that we just really did not need large quantities of, we bought at the local Safeway. 

Costco on Maui is located about five minutes from the airport. Most likely, it will make the most sense for you to stop at Costco after you land in Kahului. 


Where to Stay on Maui on a Budget

We recommend staying on the North side of the Island, in/around Paia or Haiku, near the start of the Road to Hana.  Most people stay in West Maui but if you are looking to explore more than just the beach, this central location is great.  It allows you an early start for the Road to Hana, a good starting point for seeing sunrise at the Summit in Haleakala National Park and an easy drive to make a day trip to the West side or the South shore of the island. 

The Haiku Airbnb we stayed at was in a really nice quiet location.  It had all the amenities we needed and the host was very responsive and helpful. The landscape at the property was very pretty too. This place more budget friendly and better bang for your buck than other options we researched.

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Maui on a Budget.  Anything you’d add to our guide to visiting Maui, Hawaii on a Budget? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!


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Mammoth Cave National Park: What to Do


Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park

With the largest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave National Park truly lives up to its name.  This cave system is a geologic wonder made out of limestone and sandstone.  It is even a UNESCO world heritage site.  The caves here are expansive and many feel more like large underground tunnels rather than the claustrophobic caverns many people associate with caves.  We recommend at least a ½ day visit to this park, including taking a Cave Tour, hiking some of the trails and exploring the visitors center. This park is the perfect stop if you are headed south towards Nashville as Mammoth Cave National Park is only located a couple miles off of I-65, about 1.5 hours north of Nashville.  

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in mid-November


Cave Tour

Mammoth Cave National Park Cave Tour
Mammoth Cave National Park Cave Tour

A Cave Tour is the main way to see part of the park’s underground cave system.  We took the Domes and Dripstones Tour (about 2 hours) but there are many different tours that highlight various parts of the cave system.  On most of the tours, you walk about a mile but this distance varies.  Make sure to check out the Mammoth Cave National Park website to pick the tour that is right for you.  

Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park

Tip: Reserve tour tickets well in-advance.  We visited in the off season, late November, and had no problem purchasing walk-up tickets but during peak season, these tours often sell out weeks prior.  If you plan to visit during peak season (late spring, summer, early fall), buy your tickets ASAP.      


Hiking

There are over 80 miles of hiking trails here.  Near the visitors center, there are about 7 miles worth of different short (mostly 1 mile or less round-trip) trails to explore.  These trails vary with different features including sinkholes, rivers, springs, ridgetops, cave entrances and one even has a historic train engine.  These trails are home to the most unique paths within the park.   

Mammoth Cave Railroad Trail
Mammoth Cave Railroad Trail in November

Further, there are over 10 miles of forested trails on the main park roads.  We hiked part of the Mammoth Cave Railroad trail which is located right on the road we took in/out of the park.  We were afforded some pretty fall colors on this hike.      


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Visitors Center

The visitors center here has some really nice displays and information.  Take some time to walk around here, read and learn more about the park.  Budget 30 minutes to an hour depending on how much you want to read/videos you want to watch.  


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Mammoth Cave National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!


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Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide


Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote and secluded National Parks in the US.  It is located about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico and the only way to access it is by seaplane or boat.  This National Park is home to the massive Fort Jefferson, a large brick structure built in the 1800s to help protect the shipping lanes in this part of the ocean and then later used to hold Civil War prisoners. This park preserves not only Fort Jefferson but also the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the most western of the Florida Keys. This island is surrounded by the clearest blue water and is well-known for its excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. You can visit this National Park for the day or stay at one of the 8 primitive campsites overnight.  We recommend spending at least a morning or an afternoon exploring this park, if not more time.  Here is our quick guide for visiting Dry Tortugas National Park.

Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park

FYI: This post was written based on a trip taken in mid-March

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


How to get to Dry Tortugas National Park

Snorkeling, Fort & Moat, Dry Tortugas National Park
Snorkeling, Fort & Moat, Dry Tortugas National Park

There are two ways to get to Dry Tortugas National Park

  1. Take a Seaplane…Key West Seaplane Charters
  2. Take a Ferry…Dry Tortugas Ferry

Both options have their pros and cons but we highly recommend taking the seaplane, which is what we did. 

Fun Fact: Last time we were on a plane this size was when we met 7.5 years ago in Belize.  Crazy how a plane ride can change your life forever! 

Why take the Seaplane 


It’s Faster

Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park
Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park

The seaplane takes 35 minutes each way whereas the ferry takes 2.5 hours each way. If you take the ferry, you will be spending 5 hours of your day on it where conversely, on the seaplane, you will only spend a little over an hour. This allowed us our whole morning to explore Key West prior to going to Dry Tortugas as we went on the 2pm-6pm seaplane trip.  The plane ride to/from Dry Tortugas goes by very fast as well .  On the ride, the pilot is either pointing out different wildlife and viewpoints or an educational recording about the park is playing.  You’ll be at the park or back in Key West before you know it. 


The Views from Above

View from above on the Seaplane
View from above on the Seaplane

The views from above on the seaplane are really neat!  You fly at 500 feet elevation so you can see into the water quite well from the plane. Our pilot pointed out sharks, dolphins, stingrays and sea turtles along the way which were all very fun to see.  You’ll also see some sunken shipwrecks and other islands on the way to the park.  Our favorite view was seeing Fort Jefferson from above before landing on the water at the park. 


Avoid the Crowds 

Moat Views, Dry Tortugas National Park
Moat Views, Dry Tortugas National Park

Further, when you visit on the 8am or the 2pm seaplane trip, you will almost completely have the island to yourself.  The only other people at the park at those times will either be from one of the two small 10-person seaplanes or campers on the island (there are only 8 remote sites). If you visit on the ferry, it carries up to 175 people and it will certainly feel more crowded during your visit.  Be sure to book the seaplane in advance and book the 8am or 2pm trip to avoid any crowds. 

The seaplane is about twice the cost of the ferry (which is still expensive) but with all the pros to taking the seaplane, we think the extra cost is well worth it.


Other Seaplane Logistics

Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park
Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park

With the seaplane you have the option to do a full day trip (8 hours total, with 6.5 hours at the park) or a half day trip (4 hours total, with 2.5 hours at the park).  We did the half day trip and felt it was adequate to tour Fort Jefferson and do all the snorkeling we wanted around the Fort.  However, if you are looking to spend more time relaxing on the island or want to snorkel for more than an hour, you may want to book the full day tour.  Keep in mind though, the full day tour is twice the cost of the half day tour. 

Included with your seaplane trip is the use of snorkel gear for the day as well as a cooler of soft drinks of your choice to enjoy on the island. Both of these were added perks. It was especially nice to not have to pack or purchase our own snorkel gear for the trip.  


Caution: Beware of Motion Sickness

If you are prone to motion sickness (like Natalie), you may experience it on the seaplane.  Prior to our trip, one pro that sold us on the seaplane was being told it was a way to avoid the motion sickness sometimes experienced on the ferry.  However, on our trip, we did not find that to be the case.  Our pilot did several banking 360 degree turns to show us different creatures on our trip to/from the park.  Although these turns provided us some stellar wildlife views, they did not bode well for Natalie’s stomach. 

If you take meclizine for motion sickness, try to take that before the flight to/from the island.  Also, make sure you are hydrated and are dressed cool as the plane tends to be quite warm (which does not help with any motion sickness).  See How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying post.  Again, we recommend taking the seaplane over the ferry and would both take it again but just be aware that it may be a bit of a roller coaster ride for your stomach.


What to do at Dry Tortugas National Park


Snorkel

Snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park
Snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park

The snorkeling at Dry Tortugas National Park was hands down the best snorkeling we have ever done. The water here is crystal clear and the coral reef growing around the moat of Fort Jefferson is so colorful.  We saw many different colored and sized fish while snorkeling around the moat.  If you are a more experienced snorkeler, you can also snorkel in some deeper water on the North and South Beach of the park which is supposed to be stunning as well.  We highly recommend spending at least an hour, if not more time, snorkeling while visiting the park. 


Tour Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

At the park, you can take a self-guided tour of Fort Jefferson.  This took us about 45 minutes to do.  On the tour, you can read history about different aspects of the Fort.  It was also really astounding to walk through this brick fortress as it was built at this very remote location with such limited resources in the 1800s.  The architecture of the Fort is really pretty.  From the top of the Fort, you get great views overlooking the park as well.  

Water Views from Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park
Water Views from Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Relax on the Beach 

Pristine Beach, Dry Tortugas National Park
Pristine Beach, Dry Tortugas National Park

The beach here is pristine.  If you have time, enjoy a beverage overlooking the clear blue water while on the white sandy beach.   


Where to Stay when visiting Dry Tortugas National Park


Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

We opted to stay in Key Largo and take a day trip to Key West (about 2.25 hours from Key West) to visit Dry Tortugas National Park. Going to Dry Tortugas this way does make for a long day (we left at 6am and got back to our place around 11pm).  If you want to spend more than part of a day exploring Key West, in addition to visiting Dry Tortugas, you will want to stay in Key West or another one of the more southern Florida Keys such as Marathon.  

We stayed at a cute Airbnb, perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic in Key Largo and would highly recommend it if looking to stay further up in the Florida Keys.  On our trip, we also visited Everglades National Park (see Everglades National Park Quick Guide), Biscayne National Park (see Biscayne National Park Quick Guide) and Miami in addition to Key West, the other Florida Keys (see Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide) and Dry Tortugas National Park so we wanted a more central homebase than one of the more Southern Florida Keys.  

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Dry Tortugas National Park.  Anything you’d add to our Dry Tortugas National Park guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!


Did you find this post helpful? If so, please share it with a friend, like our Always Have a Trip Planned Facebook Page, follow our Always Have A Trip Planned Instagram and subscribe to our emails below.

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