Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located in the upper peninsula (UP) of Michigan, is one of the most picturesque areas of the midwest.  The coastline here, lined with unique colorful cliffs, is absolutely breathtaking.  Here you can hike, kayak or take a boat cruise along the serene and scenic Lake Superior Coastline to soak in all the views.  Our guide on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore will go through how to see it all.

Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Chapel Basin Loop Trail

Likewise, if you explore further into the UP, beyond Munising which is the hub for visiting Pictured Rocks, you will be treated with more stunning scenery.  From waterfalls to a historic lighthouse to a very blue natural spring, the upper peninsula of Michigan will not disappoint.  This guide will also help you explore the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Upper Tahquamenon Falls

We spent 5 days exploring the Pictured Rocks and surrounding area in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  We would recommend spending at least that much time in this area, if not more, if you want to explore beyond Munising.  Here is our guide to making the most of your time visiting Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the upper peninsula of Michigan.  

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

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 near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


Hike Chapel Basin Loop along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

10.2 miles, 770 feet of elevation gain

Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (The North Country Trail between Chapel Beach and Mosquito Beach)

Although there are many options and different combinations of routes to hike on the trails in this area, we recommend hiking the Chapel Basin Loop (see map highlighted below).  This hike gives you amazing views of the Pictured Rocks.  The North Country Trail, between Chapel Beach and Mosquito Beach, is the only place you can see these unique multicolored cliffs from land.  This hike will also take you past two waterfalls (Chapel Falls and Mostiquo Falls), to a unique rock formation (Chapel Rock) and to two beaches (Mostiquo Beach and Chapel Beach).  If you are only going to do one hike in Pictured Rocks, do this one!

Arrive Early at the Chapel/Mostiquo Trailhead

Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Mostiquo Beach

When we arrived at the Chapel/Mostiquo parking lot at 8:15 am on an early September weekday, we were one of only 3 cars in the parking lot.  However, by the time we finished our hike, the parking lot was completely full and many people were also parked along the road.  If you arrive early, we recommend hiking toward Chapel Falls/Rock first to have the trail more to yourself.  We hiked towards Mosquito Falls first and saw no people on the trail for the first 6 miles, making this section of the hike very serene and peaceful.  However, once we got near Chapel Beach, we then saw dozens of people. If we did this hike again, we would hike it in reverse to avoid more people. 

Other Chapel Basin Loop Tips

Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Views along the Chapel Basin Loop

You have to drive on a primitive road, with lots of deep potholes, to access this trailhead so having a 4 wheel drive/high clearance vehicle is recommended. 

Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls are very minor waterfalls in comparison to seeing Tahquamenon Falls and some of the other waterfalls we outline in this guide. However, we recommend hiking past them as they do help break up the hike on the way out/back.  

Budget at least 5 hours to complete this hike.  We hiked the trail in less than 4.5 hours but it took us much longer to actually complete the hike because we had our 5 week old daughter with us and we had to stop frequently to feed/change her.  Expose them to nature and hiking young, right?!  For tips on hiking with an infant, see our How to Hike with a Baby post

No dogs are allowed on the trail here.  The fee is a minimum of $180 so best to leave fido at home for this one. For tips on a Dog Friendly Vacation, see our Dog Friendly Door County, Wisconsin Guide


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Hike Beaver Basin Wilderness Trails along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Variable routes and lengths

Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
COVES section off Beaver Basin Wilderness

This area of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is  much less trafficked than the Chapel/Mostiquo area.  There are several different hiking options in this area, all offering a little bit different scenery.  You can combine these trails anyway you please.  On the map below, highlighted is the out and back route we completed.   

Hike to the COVES section

Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Beaver Basin Wilderness (Left), COVES section of the North Country Trail (Middle), Little Beaver Lake (Right)

We hiked through the forest, past Little Beaver Lake and then west on the North Country Trail until the COVES group campsites.  The section of the North Country Trail we hiked on here was really pretty and felt untouched.  Throughout the COVES section, you can climb down into some of the different coves along the lake for even better lakeshore views.  

The forest trail, leading out to the lakeshore, is really unique as well with lots of interesting rock formations.  Alternatively, or as an add on, you could also hike around Beaver Lake and east on the North Country Trail. 

Note, you cannot see the Pictured Rocks from this hike, you can only see those on the North Country Trail in the Chapel/Mostiquo area. 

Again, no dogs are allowed on this trail.  


Visit Miners Castle on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks/Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Miner’s Castle

Here, from the upper viewpoint, you can see the unique Miners Castle rock formation against the beautiful Lake Superior turquoise water. This viewpoint is only a very short walk from the parking lot and off a paved path.  You can hike to a lower viewpoint but the view is not as good from close-up.  

You can also hike down further to Miners Beach/Elliot Falls and on part of the North Country Trail along the Lake Superior Lakeshore.  We opted not to do this as we had had more serene beach and waterfall views on our other hikes but this is a great option if you want to see the lakeshore with a relatively short hike.  

For a full list of hikes in Pictured Rocks, see the National Parks Service Pictured Rocks Hikes webpage. 


Visit Tahquamenon State Park

Tahquamenon State Park, located along the Tahquamenon River, is rated as one of the best state parks in Michigan. This is because this park is home to the very large and impressive Upper Tahquamenon Falls.  

Upper Tahquamenon Falls 

Upper Tahquamenon Falls Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Upper Tahquamenon Falls 

This 50 foot waterfall, with its grandeur, will not disappoint and can be viewed from several viewing platforms.  It also can be viewed from a paved path but the best views are at the viewing platforms. The walk to each of these platforms is about 1/3 mile on a paved path as well as wooden stairs.  To get up close with the falls, go to the upper viewing platform.  For more encompassing views, go to the lower viewing platform.  We recommend going to both.  Each is about 100 stairs to climb up and down but completely worth the effort. 

Upper Tahquamenon Falls Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Upper Tahquamenon Falls 

Lower Tahquamenon Falls 

Lower Tahquamenon Falls 
Lower Tahquamenon Falls 

The Lower Falls is a series of smaller waterfalls but equally beautiful.  Here, you can walk down the path and onto the wooden viewing platform, about 0.5 miles, to see all the cascades in this area.  You can also hike through the forest around the falls as we did.  Another option here is renting a rowboat to ride out to a small island among the falls.  On this island, you get contrasting views of the falls and can go for a short 0.5 mile hike through the forest on the island itself. 

Lower Tahquamenon Falls 
Lower Tahquamenon Falls 

Tahquamenon River Trail

You can also hike between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls along the Tahquamenon River trail. This trail is 4.8 miles one-way or 9.6 miles roundtrip.  We hiked a mile out and back of this trail, starting at the lower viewing platform from the Upper Falls. The trail was beautiful!  When we visited, the weather was questionable and we did not want to be stuck in the rain on a 9+ mile hike with our 5 week old so we opted not to do the whole trail but that would be a pretty way to see more of the park.  

Taquamenon River Trail
Taquamenon River Trail

During peak season (not when we were visiting on a weekday in early September), there is a shuttle (Jordan’s Shuttle Service) that runs between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls. This shuttle will take you back to where you started your hike, at either the Upper Falls or Lower Falls, so you would only have to hike the trail one way.  

If you hike between the falls,you may have the trail all to yourself.  When we hiked part of the trail, we saw no other people on it (granted it was on a weekday, not during peak season and questionable weather). Most people drive between the two falls (about a 10 minute drive).  

Other Tips on Tahquamenon State Park

Between hiking and exploring at the Upper Falls and Lower Falls areas, we ate at the Tahquamenon Brewery. This restaurant is very conveniently located in the Upper Falls parking lot.   We’d highly recommend you break up your visit this way. The food and brews are on-point here.  See more in the Where to Eat section below. 

Tahquamenon Falls is about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Munising.  You could camp at this park but we would not recommend that as it is more east than most of the activities recommended in this guide. 


Explore Grand Marais 

Grand Marais is home to a very pretty section of coastline along Lake Superior and a cute little town.  Here, we hiked to a lighthouse, a waterfall and sand dunes. We also stopped at a former log slide and got coffee from a trendy local shop.    

Au Sable Light Station

Au Sable Lighthouse
Au Sable Lighthouse

Our first stop in Grand Marais was a hike to the Au Sable Light Station along the Lake Superior coastline.  This lighthouse was built in the 1870s to help ships navigate after many shipwrecks occurred in the area.  We visited on a very windy day with extremely large crushing waves on Lake Superior and it was very obvious to us why this lighthouse was needed.  This hike is 3 miles round trip and is very flat, wide and easy.  Unlike most of the other hikes on this trip, dogs are allowed.  

Beach Views along Au Sable Lighthouse Trail
Beach Views along Au Sable Lighthouse Trail

Log Slide Overlook

Log Slide Overlook Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Log Slide Overlook

Next, we headed to the Log Slide Overlook. This overlook is a very steep sand dune that was used to slide logs onto ships in Lake Superior many years ago.  This steep log slide offers pretty views along the Lake Superior shoreline. You can hike down the log slide but we would not recommend that as it is exceedingly steep and people often need to be rescued while attempting to do this.   The overlook is just a short walk from the parking lot but be prepared to walk in the sand briefly.  Dogs are not allowed here. 

Sable Falls

Sable Falls Pictured Rocks
Sable Falls

After the Log Slide Overlook, we hiked at Sable Falls. The short (0.33 mile) hike to this pretty waterfall is well worth the effort. You hike mostly down a wooden staircase. After the falls, you can continue down to the beach. It is less than 0.25 miles further down to the beach but note the beaches on the other hikes we did on this trip are, in our opinion, much prettier.  There is also a trail (0.5 miles one-way) to some sand dunes that we opted to hike on as well. Dogs are allowed to hike with you here.  

Sable Falls Pictured Rocks
Sable Falls

Other Grand Marais Tips

While in Grand Marais, be sure to check out the trendy The Dream Bean Machine for some coffee, tea, smoothies or baked goods.  This Volkswagon van turned locally owned small coffee shop is super unique and cute.  

Dream Bean Machine in Grand Marais
Dream Bean Machine

Although we did not have time for it, another place to consider checking out is Lake Superior Brewing. Note, dining options are very limited in Grand Marais and many have limited hours.  Especially after peak season, be sure to check the hours prior to planning to eat anywhere here. 


Visit Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring

Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring

Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring is a large natural freshwater spring, located in Palm Books State Park.  The very clear and turquoise water is unlike any we have seen before.  At the spring, there is a self-operated pull raft, with the middle cut out, that takes you across the spring and allows you to get a close-up look at the spring.  It is neat to see the spring bubbling up and the fish that live in the spring as well.  We would recommend trying to visit the Kitch-iti-kipi Spring on a weekday to avoid crowds.  It is a popular attraction as there is little to no effort required to see it. It is only a short walk from the parking lot on a paved path.

Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring Upper Peninsula of Michigan Guide
Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring

Indian State Park

This state park is located less than 10 minutes from Palm Books State Park where Kitch-iti-kipi Spring is located.  We stopped here to do a short 1 mile loop that goes along the lake and through the forest.  The lake is pretty but there is nothing particularly unique about it.  We stopped here to break up our drive a bit more and get some activity as there is no hiking at Palm Books State Park.  Unlike at the popular spring, we saw no other people while here, making our visit very peaceful.  

Indian Lake State Park
Indian Lake State Park

Pictured Rocks Cruise

A Pictured Rocks Cruise is a great way to see the unique and colorful Pictured Rocks from the water.  This option is especially great for anyone who is not inclined to hike the Chapel Basin Hike we recommend above.   We chose not to take a cruise because we saw stellar views of the Pictured Rocks on our hike.  Natalie also saw one of the cruise boats off shore swaying quite aggressively despite being quite a sizeable vessel and was also concerned for sea sickness.  See post on How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying if you too experience this unfortunate feeling. 


Kayak Pictured Rocks

Kayaking offers, in our opinion, the best way to see the rocks from the water.  However, we had our 5 week old with us so this was not an option.  Beware though, Lake Superior is powerful and only strong kayakers/swimmers should consider doing this.  Paddle Pictured Rocks is the most highly rated company in the area that leads these tours. 


Where to Eat near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


Tahquamenon Falls Brewery

Tahquamenon Falls Brewery
Tahquamenon Falls Brewery

Tahquamenon Falls Brewery, located in the parking lot of the Upper Falls at Tahquamenon State Park, offers a nice setting to eat, drink and recharge while visiting the park.  The brewery was a nice surprise for us as we did not know it existed prior to visiting.  It is also not very obvious that it exists from the main area of the parking lot, so be sure to venture up by the giftshop to find it.  We have never seen a brewery located within a state park either so that made the experience a bit more unique.  We enjoyed the food and brews here, getting a flight of beers to taste. 

Pictured Rocks Pizza

Pictured Rocks Pizza in Munising has delicious brick oven pizzas.  We enjoyed a build-your-own pizza here.  Be sure to check the hours when visiting as it was only open 12p-5p daily during our stay. 

Muldoon’s Pasties

The specialty food item of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the pastie.  A pastie (pronounced PAST-TEE) is essentially an individual pie filled classically with meat and vegetables.  We tried this UP delicacy at Muldoon’s Pasties (but you will see signs advertising them at different restaurants all over the UP).  These reminded us of a pot pie but all top crust encompassing the fillings.  At Muldoon’s, they also have fruit pastie options. We tried both the traditional savory and sweet.  We both agree that the savory pasties are better than the sweet.  These pasties are very large and one is certainly enough, even for our healthy hiking appetites. If you want to try both the savory and sweet, get the sweet ones to go for later. 


Where to Stay near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


We recommend staying in/around Munising.  Through Airbnb, we rented a very clean modern camper, placed on a local’s property, outside of Munising.  The Pictured Rocks Camper had a full kitchen as well as a fire pit and swing outside.  This location was the perfect base for the two of us and our infant.  However, if there were more people than that, it would feel quite cramped. 

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

Limited Options

There are other Airbnb options, VRBOs and hotels in the area too but they are limited so try to book as far in advance as possible. With limited options in this rural area, rentals are a bit pricer than we expected. The most economical way to explore the area is to camp.  There are campsites within Pictured Rocks at Little Beaver Campground, as well as along the North /country Trail, and at Tahquamenon State Park. Be sure to book any sites within Pictured Rocks as early as possible as those tend to be more difficult to secure. 

Backpacking

Another great way to see this area is backpacking.  When our daughter is a bit older, we plan to take her backpacking along the North Country Trail.  We loved our time on the less trafficked parts of this trail and think a backpacking trip along here would be very serene and rejuvenating.  For tips on backpacking, see What you can Learn from our First Backpacking Trip


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Anything you’d add to our guide on visiting Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore? 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. 


We hiked throughout this park with out 3 month old daughter. For tips on hiking with an infant, please see our How to Hike with a Baby post.

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 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! See our How to Hike with a Baby post for all our baby hiking tips and tricks. 

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

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! See our How to Hike with a Baby post for all our baby hiking tips and tricks. 

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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New Orleans, Louisiana Quick Guide


A trip to New Orleans, Louisiana is not one you will soon forget.  From enjoying the city’s vibrant jazz music to the delicious Creole cuisine, you will not be disappointed with your experience.  This city’s music and food well represent the melding of French, African and American cultures that has occurred here. At almost every corner, you can experience the festive Mardi Gras spirit of New Orleans with around-the-clock nightlife.  The unique architecture throughout the French Quarter makes you feel like you have been transported back in time to the early experiences of the city 300 years ago.  We recommend spending at least 2-3 days in New Orleans (allowing you plenty of opportunities to try out different restaurants) or more if you want to explore beyond the French Quarter.  Here is our guide on visiting New Orleans, Louisiana.

French Quarter, New Orleans
French Quarter, New Orleans

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

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 New Orleans


French Quarter Walking Tour

French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans
French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans

A walking tour is a great way to see the French Quarter as the area is easily walkable.  We took a self-guided audio tour that is no longer available, but this walking tour (link below) hits most the same spots (Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, St. Louis Cathedral, etc.).  This company offers several other tours as well including a Secrets of the French Quarter Tour and a self-guided option.  In addition to taking a walking tour of the French Quarter, make sure to explore some of the different costume and voodoo shops in the area for a fun experience as well. 

French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans
French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans

French Quarter Walking Tour


Food Tour 

Food Tour, New Orleans
Food Tour, New Orleans

A food tour is one of the best ways to see New Orleans since food is such a large part of the culture.  On our food tour, we ate seafood gumbo, pralines and beignets as well as drank delicious cocktails. It was a really fun and delicious way to experience the city!  We love walking food tours and highly recommend taking one in any city.  See…coming soon…Why You Should go on a Food Tour. 

The Best of the French Quarter


City Park

City Park, New Orleans
City Park, New Orleans

City Park is a beautiful, large, green space, located just outside of the French Quarter. It is full of heaps of big oak trees.  We enjoyed spending our morning walking around this large and expansive park.  Alternatively, you can rent bikes to ride around the park rather than walk it.  

Walk to City Park from the French Quarter
Walk to City Park from the French Quarter

FYI this park is located about 2 miles from the French Quarter so you can either walk or Uber to get here if you are staying in the French Quarter.  We opted to walk, and the walk from the French Quarter to City Park went by very quickly as we passed by a lot of different types of classic New Orleans architecture.  We really liked seeing all the different, and some very impressive, southern houses along our walk to the park. 


Visit a Cemetery 

New Orleans Cemetery
New Orleans Cemetery

This may sound like an odd recommendation but the cemeteries in New Orleans are interesting to see because they are above ground (because the water table is quite high) and very impressive. We visited St. Louis Cemetery #3 (on our walk to City Park) but there are different cemeteries you can visit throughout the city.  


Other Things To Do

Below are New Orleans activities our friends/family have done and recommended but we either did not have time to do them or they were not operating when we visited in early January. 


Where to Eat in New Orleans


Adolfo’s

Adolfo's, New Orleans
Adolfo’s, New Orleans

This hole-in-the-wall Italian Creole restaurant was our favorite place we ate at during our entire time in New Orleans. The ocean sauce served with many of the dishes is out-of-this-world good.  Make sure to get a dish served with this sauce!  The ambiance in the dimly lit and small dining room makes for a more fun experience too.  FYI, this is a cash-only restaurant. 

Adolfo’s


Clancy’s Restaurant

Clancy’s is an elegant Creole restaurant with a supper club vibe.  This restaurant is slightly higher priced but a great place to celebrate a special occasion (we celebrated Sam’s birthday here). The first courses we ate here were our favorites!  FYI, this restaurant is located about 5 miles from the French Quarter so you will need to take an Uber or other form of transportation to get here. 


Mother’s Restaurant

Mother’s Restaurant is a diner where you can get classic Southern Creole food including red beans/rice, jambalaya, shrimp po’boy, fried chicken and seafood gumbo. This diner is simple and without any frills, but you will definitely get a good homestyle meal here. 


Cafe Du Monde

Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans
Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans

This New Orleans classic stop is a must. The beignets are so delicious, and the atmosphere is fun as it is located off the main square in the French Quarter.  We stopped at Cafe Du Monde several times for coffee/beignets while in New Orleans and would recommend you do the same.  The beignets here were one of our favorite foods in New Orleans and they are quite inexpensive.  


Deanie’s 

Deanie’s Seafood is a classic seafood restaurant that provides you with some of the most delicious yet simple seafood options. We ate here for lunch and really enjoyed the fresh fish of the day.  We were based in the French Quarter so we ate at the French Quarter location but there are several locations throughout the New Orleans area. 


Where to stay in New Orleans


French Quarter

We HIGHLY recommend staying in the French Quarter because you will be within walking distance of most of the main attractions and activities/restaurants we suggest. The Dauphine New Orleans is where we stayed and we recommend it as is located right in the heart of the French Quarter.  The location and price were on-point, and we found the rooms to be comfortable.  There are a lot of unique Airbnb’s in the New Orleans area too so make sure to check into those if you are looking for somewhere a bit more memorable to stay. Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb 


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

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Looking to save on your trip? See some of our travel budget guides below for more tips on this.


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Visiting New York City on a Budget


Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge Views from Brooklyn Bridge Park

New York City is a city unlike any other as it is not only the most densely populated city in the US but also is one of the most influential cultural capitals of the world.  This bustling city has something for everyone with its entertaining Broadway shows to its expansive green space in Central Park.  And although New York City can be very expensive to visit, with a little planning, you can visit this city on a budget. We recommend spending at least 3 days, if not more, in NYC.  Here is our guide for visiting New York City, New York on a budget. 

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


What to do in New York City on a Budget


Brooklyn Bridge

An iconic spot and must see in New York City is the Brooklyn Bridge.  We walked across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn as well as back but beware that it is a much further walk than you would expect. The bridge may only be about a mile long but there is approximately a mile lead in on both sides. 

Tip: To get to the park where we took our first picture on this blog post with the Manhattan Skyline, you have to get to the Brooklyn Bridge Park (on the water, south of the bridge) and it is quite a hike from the bridge itself.  If you are not as apt to walk as us, you may want to take a cab.  

Brooklyn Bridge

Cost: Free


Broadway Show

Broadway is home to the best of the best as far as shows and talented cast members.  We recommend splurging on tickets as close to the stage as you can afford.  Being closer to the stage truly makes the Broadway experience magical.  We saw Aladdin on Broadway and it was our favorite part of our New York City trip. 

Tip: Use the Today Tix App to get better prices on tickets.  We got to sit within the first couple rows at Aladdin as we got tickets for less than half of their normal box office price using this App. We also used this App to get tickets to a Stomp show for a very fair price.

Today Tix

Cost: Variable, use the Today Tix App for a discounted price


Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

If you are in New York City, you need to visit the Statue of Liberty.  It is one of, if not the most, iconic symbol of America.  We enjoyed the Ellis Island Immigration Museum as well learning about the rich history of immigrants coming to America.  We did not go inside the Statue but if you want to go inside of it, make sure to buy tickets early as these tend to sell out months in advance.

Tip: Book a ferry to the Statue of Liberty at the earliest time possible because it will be much less busy in the morning.  As the day goes on, more and more people are dropped off on the island and inherently, without people having a specific time they have to leave, more and more people continue to accumulate.  

Statue of Liberty National Monument

Cost: Variable ticket cost for ferry depending on what type of ticket you buy


Central Park

In all the chaos of New York City, this park feels like a serene green space getaway.  This massive park is truly one of a kind with all the different activities within it, even including a small Zoo.  We enjoyed going for a morning run here twice and seeing what the park had to offer without the crowds. 

Tip: If possible, go here on a weekday and early in the day.  We visited Central Park on three separate occasions on our short four day trip and we enjoyed our two early morning weekday visits much more than our weekend afternoon visit.  On a nice day, this park can get quite busy and although we like people, we don’t like crowds. 

Central Park NYC

Cost: Free


Bonus: Attend the Taping of a Show

We had planned to do this, we got tickets to Good Morning America; however, for a reason unknown to us, the studio was closed to a live audience the day when we had tickets to attend so we hope to do this another time. 

Tip: These tickets are free but not easy to get. Make sure to check for tickets well in advance to know when you need to request them. 

Book Show Taping Here

Cost: Free


What to eat in New York City


Black Tap Shakes 

This restaurant specializes in unique, GIANT and artistic milkshakes.  We lucked out and stumbled upon a pop-up Black Tap Shakes food truck that offered a limited selection of the normal shakes they offer in their restaurant.  We were happy to find this food truck as we did not have to wait and there is a typically 1+ hour wait at the restaurant. 

Black Tap Shakes


New York City is a melting pot of people and the number of different authentic ethnic restaurants reflects that well.  We loved all the food we ate in NYC (Thai, Indian, Lebanesse, Mexican) but we do not have further restaurant recommendations as most of the spots we picked were based on convenience to where we were at the time we wanted to eat.  


Where to stay in New York City on a Budget

Stay somewhere between Central Park and Time Square.  We stayed at the DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel Metropolitan NYC and felt it was a good central location as well as fairly priced.  The location of this hotel allowed us to walk everywhere we visited in the city from here. Alternatively, if you don’t want to walk, you could easily use the Subway system from this location as well. 

Hilton DoubleTree Metropolitan


We hope this post helps you plan your trip to New York City on a budget.  Anything else you’d add to our guide to visiting New York City on a Budget?  We’d love to hear your feedback.  Please send us an email or leave us a comment.

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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Pacific Northwest Road Trip: Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park and Seattle


Mount Rainer National Park
Mount Rainer National Park

On this road trip, you’ll explore downtown Seattle, hike a mountain right outside of the city (Mount Si) and visit two National Parks (Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park). Here are all the details from our Pacific Northwest Road Trip itinerary below.

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


Day 1: Fly into Seattle, Explore the Seattle Waterfront 


Fly into Seattle

Depending what time you arrive in Seattle, you may have more or less time to explore.  See 5 Ways to Save on Flights to get the best deals flying into Seattle.  


Seattle Waterfront

Seattle Waterfront
Seattle Waterfront

We took this evening to explore some shops down by the Seattle Waterfront and see the iconic ferris wheel and boardwalk views.  We had a delicious dinner full of seafood from Ivar’s Fish Market.  This restaurant is located right along the waterfront and recommend trying it for a classic Seattle seafood dining experience. 


Where to Stay

We stayed at The Loyal Inn in downtown Seattle.  This hotel is nothing fancy but the location and price were right.  We were able to walk everywhere we visited from here and parking was included with our stay (big money saver). 


Day 2: Explore Seattle


Morning Run to the Waterfront 

Seattle City Views
Seattle City Views

This morning, go for a run or walk on the Elliot Bay trail at Myrtle Edwards Park along the waterfront.  This path will give you pretty views of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound and the Seattle Skyline.

Myrtle Edwards Park
Myrtle Edwards Park

Pike’s Place Market 

Pike's Place Market
Pike’s Place Market

Next, head to the well known Pike’s Place Market.  This colorful market is really fun to see in-person with its flying fish, plentiful fresh fruit and beautiful fresh flowers.  There are plenty of different places where you can get a meal here as well. This market reminds us of the Mercat de la Boqueria in Spain (see…coming soon Barcelona, Spain, Quick Guide).  

Pike's Place Market
Pike’s Place Market

Gum Wall

Gum Wall, Seattle

Down an alleyway next to Pike’s Place is your next stop, the instagram famous Gum Wall. This is literally a wall of chewed gum, built piece by piece and continuing to grow each day, it makes for a very colorful and unique display.  Add to the wall if you’d like! 


First Starbucks 

Not far from Pike’s Place and the Gum Wall is the first original Starbucks.  This tiny shop is neat to see since it is where the mega brand got its start.  Try to go here earlier rather than later if you plan to order something as this location tends to be a pretty crowded touristy spot. 


Hello Robin Ice Cream Sandwiches

Hello Robin Ice Cream, Seattle
Hello Robin Ice Cream

If you eat dessert at one place in Seattle, eat it at Hello Robin.  We loved this place.  This shop specializes in homemade cookies that you can order alone or as an icecream sandwich with homemade local ice cream in the middle of two homemade cookies of your choice.  So delicious!  We visited the location in the cute Capitol Hill neighborhood.  There are tons of restaurants in this area too if you want to get some dinner before dessert.  Consider trying Momiji for some sushi! 


Day 3: Hike Mount Si


Hike Mount Si

Mount Si Hiking Views
Mount Si Hiking Views

This 8 mile round trip hike with approximately 3,200 feet of elevation gain certainly is a challenge.  Hiking Mount Si will be an experience that you do not soon forget though.  The moss covered trees at the bottom of the trail starkly contrast the pine covered forest at the top.  On this hike, it went from feeling like a very humid rainforest at the bottom, to being a cold rain in the middle and then to snowing at the top.  

Typically, when you reach the summit of Mount Si, you are afforded expansive views over the Snoqualmie valley.  However, on the day we visited, it was quite foggy and cloudy so we did not get those views but the snow covered mountain top was still very picturesque.  We enjoyed this hike and felt very accomplished after doing it.  This trail is located driving only 45 minutes east from Seattle, making it a popular hike. However, we only saw about 10 other people on the trail on our weekday hike in May.   


Snoqualmie Falls 

Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls

On your drive back to Seattle, stop off to see the massive Snoqualmie Falls.  It was pouring rain when we arrived here so we did not spend too much time at the falls but boy is it ever giant! 

For dinner, try some sustainable seafood at the trendy The Walrus and the Carpenter (Ballard neighborhood) or dumplings at the more casual Din Tai Fung (University Village).   


Day 4: Mount Rainier National Park, Drive to Olympia


Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainer National Park
Mount Rainer National Park

After resting up from your Mount Si hike, drive towards Mount Rainier National Park which is about 2.5 hours from Seattle.  On this drive, you might be afforded some views of Mount Rainier on a clear day, like we were. We spent only part of a day exploring Mount Rainier National Park.  Part of a day is certainly not enough time to see all the park has to offer but we enjoyed hiking two of the trails and driving through the park.  Like every other National Park we have visited, the views are truly stunning everywhere you look. 

Mount Rainer National Park
Mount Rainer National Park

Trail of the Shadows

Trail of Shadows, Mount Rainer National Park
Trail of Shadows, Mount Rainer National Park

This trail is a relatively flat 0.7 Mile loop that takes you through a pretty meadow, peaceful forested area and past a replica of an early homestead cabin.  This trail leads into the Rampart Ridge Trail (info below) and is located across road from National Park Inn at Longmire.  If you are really short on time, the hike will give you picturesque Mount Rainier views (on a clear day) and a quick taste of what the park has to offer. 


Rampart Ridge Trail

Rampart Trail, Mount Rainer National Park
Rampart Trail, Mount Rainer National Park

If you have a little more time and are inclined to hike some elevation, definitely hike the Rampart Ridge Trail.   This hike is approximately 4.6 miles round trip with 1,336 feet of elevation gain.  On this hike, you are rewarded with even better Mount Rainier and valley views.  We hiked this trail in early May and at times, we had trouble finding the path with how much snow there was still on the ground. However, this made for more of an adventure! The trailhead for this hike is on the Trail of Shadows, located across the road from the National Park Inn at Longmire.  


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


Drive the Park

Driving Mount Rainer National Park
Driving Mount Rainer National Park

Throughout the park, you will see all sorts of varying views.  Some are very snowy and others are not snowy at all.  Drive through Mount Rainier National Park and get as close to Paradise Inn as time allows and contingent on the road being open.   On this road, you will get astounding views of the park, especially if there is a lot of snow.  At certain spots when we were driving it on, the snow was over 16 feet high on both sides! 

Mount Rainier National Park

Tip: Make sure to check road conditions before going to Mount Rainier National Park and know if you need snow tires or not. Also, make sure the park/roads are open (when planning the timeframe of your trip and then again the day of your trip). They often close roads with heavy snow.  We visited in early May and the roads had just opened.


Drive to/Stay in Olympia

After visiting Mount Rainier National Park, we started our drive to the capital city of Olympia, Washington. Olympia is the perfect city to stay in-between visiting Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park as it is roughly equidistant from both. 

Olympia is the capital of the state of Washington and very much so reminded us of Madison, Wisconsin.  It is a young, active, earthy and eclectic city. 


Where to Eat in Olympia

We loved eating at several mom & pop restaurants near the capitol. Some of our favorites included:   


Where to Stay in Olympia

We set-up home base for 2 nights in Olympia at Governor Hotel Red Lion Inn.  The hotel rooms here were quite nice for the price and this hotel is located less than a block from the main drag in Olympia.  Again, parking was included with our stay here.  See How to Book Accommodations on a Budget for more tips on booking a hotel on a budget. 


Day 5: Olympic National Park, Drive back to Olympia

This day, after breakfast, (consider eating at New Moon Cafe) start your drive towards Olympic National Park. As we were only visiting this park for one day, we chose just one part to visit, Quinault Lake/Rainforest. This area of Olympic National Park is about 2 hours from Olympia.  


Quinault Rainforest, Olympic National Park

Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park
Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park

The drive from Olympia to the Quinault Rainforest was very pretty with lots of large, mature trees.  Once we arrived at the Quinault Rainforest, we were in awe of its beauty.  We were in the northwest corner of America yet we were in a temperate rainforest.  Certainly not an experience you get everyday!  Here, we hiked through the rainforest and then looped back parallel to the lake. The lake here was beautiful as well.

Quinault Rainforest
Quinault Rainforest

Tip: Spend more time at Olympic National Park

If time allows, add on a day or two and consider staying at the rustic and secluded Lake Quinault Lodge.  We stopped in at this lodge while hiking, and it was very cozy.  Further, if you can add on even more time, consider spending a week or two exploring even more of Olympic National Park (it is nearly a million acres!). This park is made up of very different ecosystems including temperate rainforests, snow-capped mountains and miles of coastline. We only had time to explore one of the temperate rainforests but hope to visit again in the future. 


Day 6: Drive from Olympia back to Seattle to Fly Home

Capitol Lake, Olympia
Capitol Lake, Olympia

On your last morning, take some time to walk around the pretty trail around Capitol Lake.  This trail at Capitol Lake was located directly behind our hotel.    

Finally, head back to Seattle, about 1 hour from Olympia, to catch your flight home.  Depending on how much time you have you could spend some more time in Olympia or Seattle.


Have you taken a road trip from Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park or Olympic National Park?  Have you hiked Mount Si? We hope this guide helps you plan your road trip to the Pacific Northwest.  Anything you’d add to our Pacific Northwest Road Trip?  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.