Camping on Maui with Kids
Maui is an amazing destination to visit, but it can make for a very expensive trip. A great way to cut the cost is to turn it into a camping trip! Camping on Maui lessens the cost of your vacation and brings you closer to all the beauty the island has to offer!
Why Hawaii? Why Maui?
Hawaii is not just a beach destination. There are many different environments and the mountains/volcanos have just as much, if not more, to offer than the tropical side. Of course the beaches are pretty stunning as well, and you can find sand of nearly every color on Maui.
- Camping on Maui with Kids
- Why Hawaii? Why Maui?
- Camping Maui
- Backpacking on Maui
- Packing for Camping on Maui via Plane
- Vehicle Rental
- Camping on Maui Trip Itinerary
- Lessons Learned
- Camping on Maui with Kids
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Haleakalā National Park is definitely a highlight of Maui, and you should plan to spend at least a couple of days there. If you can make your trip longer, a full week in the Park will allow you to really get a feel for it, but you’ll want to give yourself at least 3 days if you only have a week to spend on the island in total.
We spent over a week in the park, doing 5 days up in the crater of the dormant volcano, and then a few days on the Kipahulu side of the park at the end of the trip (these areas are not connected and you don’t want to do them in the same day, it will take you about two hours to drive down from the summit, and then 2-3 more hours to do the Road to Hana).
Make sure you get Junior Ranger booklets at the National Park visitors centers, the Haleakalā booklets are really long and fun!
Maui Camping Cost Comparison
National Park campgrounds on Maui will cost you around $5/night. Many have stay limits of a few days to a week, but you could camp on Maui for 2 weeks and pay just $70.
A hotel on Maui is going to cost you $250-$1,000+ per night. That’s right, you can camp for two weeks for far less than what you will spend for one night in a hotel. There are some homestay and AirB&B options, but you aren’t likely to find anything under $250 (sometimes even when hotels look cheaper they have hefty resort fees, I saw one for $150/night plus $300/day resort fee).
A middle of the road cost would be an RV rental, though those will run in the $150/night range and will still add significant expense, but it will also cover your rental car (which if you’re camping is going to be your primary expense for the trip aside from the airfare).
Another middle of the road and super fun option is the Tentalows at Camp Olowalu (described in greater detail later on). There are tent sites ($10/night), single Tentalows ($150/night for 2p), and Family Tentalows ($200/night for 4p). We did a mix of these options, staying at a tent site for 2 nights, a Family Tentalow for 2 nights, and a single Tentalow for 1 night.
Maui Camping Benefits
The lower cost isn’t the only benefit to camping on Maui, but it’s a big one. As discussed above, you can take so much more time with a camping trip, allowing you to slow down and really spend time getting to know each place. Also being out in the elements helps you get to know a place better too!
Scenic Locations on Maui
Location is another major bonus of camping. I’ve taken camping trips on Maui several times in the past, and I’ve always been surprised that so many people would go to Maui any other way. Many campgrounds are on the most scenic parts of the island, and you get views you’d have to pay $500+ a night for otherwise, and some of the locations can only really be experienced with a tent.
The campgrounds are all relatively isolated so you won’t feel like a tourist, and you’ll have lots of space for kids to run around and play (there are some exceptions to this in the National Park, more about that later).
Sunrise and Sunset at Haleakalā
Camping in Haleakalā allows for a drastically (by many hours!) reduced commute time for sunrise or sunset, and if you’re going to Maui you really should see at least a sunrise or sunset from 10,000 feet.
If you camp in Hosmer Grove, you’re already at nearly 7,000 feet elevation, and have just a short drive in the morning – this is the difference between leaving Lahaina at 2:30am (which probably means waking up at least by 2am) and just rolling out of bed at 5:30am at Hosmer Grove.
I find it’s easier to get kids moving from a tent than from a bed too, so we really just rolled out of bed and hopped in the car and were on our way in less than 10 minutes. We watched sunrises and sunsets from Kalahaku, which is a beautiful spot and way less crowded than watching from the summit.
When you’re camping you pay more attention to the stars because you’re already outside, and Hawaii has some amazing stars! The night sky from Haleakalā is truly incredible, but even in areas with some light pollution the stars are still fantastic.
Downsides to Camping on Maui
Packing will be a lot trickier. Packing for camping with a plane trip is always going to take a bit more planning. Even if you’re a fairly minimalist camper, it’s difficult to pack everything for a plane trip. Whether you’re backpacking or not, you’ll want to pack like you are!
Additionally, because of the different environments you’ll likely be in, you’ll be packing for beach, desert, mountain, rainforest. You pretty much need all the things.
Showers can be tricky, but most beaches have showers you can use after swimming. There are no showers in the summit district of Haleakala, and after our 5 days there we were pretty dirty. I knew this would happen and made our next stop Camp Olowalu, where there are showers!
If you camp there aren’t any pools, and there are some amazing pools at some of the luxury resorts on Maui. The resorts themselves have so much to do and are so beautiful that some people end up spending most of their time there and never see the incredible natural landscapes Hawaii has to offer – no judgement here, I’m sure it would be a really fun and relaxing vacation… but it’s also just out of most people’s price range.
Laundry is more difficult. We stayed for 2 weeks and got pretty dirty, were able to handwash items when we stayed at Camp Olowalu and hang them to dry. Our first few days at Olowalu were hot and sunny and things dried very fast, then rains came and things were not drying out. Since we spent almost all our time outdoors, being totally fresh and clean wasn’t a huge priority; I made sure everyone had clean underwear and then rotated through their clothes, saving a fresh set for the day we spent at the aquarium.
Backpacking on Maui
Why Backpack Maui?
Many parts of the crater are too far for a day hike for younger kids, but if you take your time backpacking in one day and then out a different day, you can see most of it with only 4-6 mile days! And by spending a night or two in the crater you get to really experience the environment up close.
I always feel like I really get to know a place most at sunset, nighttime, and sunrise. Everything is more still, and you can be more still to just observe the landscape around you.
It also gives you the opportunity for better weather if you spend several days camping in the park (flip side, you have a little less flexibility in when you go since you have to get your permits ahead of time, so can’t choose a better weather window like you probably could for a day hike).
Backpacking Haleakala – Backcountry Campgrounds
There are two backcountry campgrounds, Hōlua and Palikū. On this trip we camped two nights at Hōlua and spent our middle day day-hiking into the crater. Palikū is a much longer hike; you could make this a loop with one night at each campground but then your last day you’d hike up the Keonehe’ehe’e Trail (Sliding Sands) which is 9 miles (or back the way you came on Halemau’u which is over 10 miles).
There is more detail on the campgrounds in the Trip Itinerary later on.
You access Hōlua by the 3.9 mile Halemauʻu Trail. The trail starts at the Halemauʻu parking area at 8,000 feet elevation, drops to the bottom of the crater, and then gradually climbs back up for the last mile as you’re approaching the campground.
You will want to make sure you have plenty of water for this hike because of the heat and elevation, and also be prepared to hike in clouds. Weather can change very fast. Also have sun and rain protection, and a puffy jacket.
One way to cut the amount of gear you need to backpack with is renting one of the three backcountry cabins. The cabins are nearby the two tent sites, with a third cabin at Kapalaoa Cabin located between the summit and Palikū on the Keonehe’ehe’e Trail. Renting each cabin one night would mean your hikes are 4-6 miles per day; cabins cost $75/night and can be rented 6 months in advance.
Downsides to Backpacking
We brought all of our backpacking gear rather than any car camping gear because of the Haleakala trip. I considered bringing two tents (our lightweight backpacking tent that packs down small [Tarptent Hogback], and our more comfortable car camping tent [Marmot Limelight 4p]), but I decided against it because of how much stuff we were already bringing.
On a longer trip taking a larger more comfortable tent might be the area I’d deviate from the “pack as if for backpacking” rationale. Our normal car camping tent is reasonably small, and is much better in the rain because it has usable vestibules. It is too heavy for backpacking at 8 pounds, but we would have been a lot more comfortable in Kipahulu in that tent.
Because we needed to bring three overnight backpacks, we couldn’t just pack all of our stuff in duffel bags or a large suitcase on the plane. Having two pieces of wheeled luggage would have been awesome and worked fine for car camping, having so many backpacks meant I just had straps all over the place as we walked from the airport to the rental car, but it’s a fairly short walk and we managed. It was also harder to organize within the vehicle with so many small bags (which backpack had the cooking stuff again?)
You can buy pack cover bags for your backpacks, but I wasn’t sure they’d be worth the expense (I’ve checked backpacks on planes a dozen times and never had issues, but when you NEED that pack for your backpacking trip it is a little nerve-wracking so the pack cover bags might be worth the piece of mind).
The two kids’ backpacks (38L and 40L) fit perfectly in a large army duffel bag I borrowed from a friend. This cut down on the number of smaller pieces of luggage to carry around, and also protected the packs! It also gave me some space for some small odds and ends.
I found the transition between car camping and backpacking difficult. It’s one thing to repack your gear when you’re doing either car camping or backpacking, but doing both added some packing stress.
Packing for Camping on Maui via Plane
What to Bring
We have comprehensive packing lists HERE, and we brought all the usual camping supplies. We used our Tarptent Hogback 4p tent (see our review of this tent HERE), two double Big Agnes insulated Q-core sleeping pads, two kids REI down sleeping bags, and a double Sierra Designs backcountry bed down bag. You’ll want to have warm bags and insulated sleeping bags if you’re camping in the crater, temps can get down to freezing and we saw snow while we were there!
One thing you won’t want to skip will be a clothesline (or two, especially if you’ll be handwashing some clothes, but they’re great for hanging up rain gear and swimsuits too). You’ll also want sunhats, sandals, hiking boots, full rain gear, and down jackets. We used our down jackets as much if not more than our rain jackets, but both were essential to the trip.
Don’t skip rain pants if you’re going to Kipahulu as it’s very wet. Sometimes you’ll be happy to hike in the rain in shorts and sandals, but we had numerous times that we were really glad to have rain pants.
You’ll also want to bring sunscreen, and make sure it is Reef-Safe sunscreen.
What You Cannot Bring on a Plane
Fuel is the major thing you cannot bring on a plane (carry-on or checked luggage). If you are using a propane stove, you can get that just about anywhere. Our backpacking stove uses isobutane, which is quite a bit harder to find.
I bought my isobutane fuel at Marmac Ace Hardware (1 Laa St, Kahului, HI 96732). I have bought it there 3 trips in a row and they’ve always had it in stock, but I do always mean to call a week ahead just to check their stock.
If you have any questions about what camping supplies you can bring on a plane, make sure to check this TSA webpage or use the AskTSA service.
Maui Camping Rental Gear Options
I’m rather particular about my camping gear, and if you plan on backpacking with kids I don’t think renting is the best option. If you don’t have camping gear or just don’t want to deal with packing it on the plane and want to give it a try, there are several rental options, and it will save you a lot of hassle at the airport.
Maui Vacation Equipment rents a full array of camping gear, priced based on what options you choose. You can also rent coolers, beach chairs, hard frame packs, and can customize what stuff you need and what you don’t. They also have a camping stove bundle which would guarantee you have the fuel you need when you arrive.
Maui Camping Company has three kit options: “minimalist”, “not too shabby”, and “shameless glamper”; they range from $225-325/week.
The one major expense of our trip was the vehicle rental. If you’re camping I suggest splurging a little bit on a large vehicle, don’t try to do it in a compact car if you’re bringing kids. We rented a Jeep from Turo, and it cost us $98/day, plus taxes and fees.
A minivan is a great option too, and while it’s less fun than a Jeep it will give you a lot more space to spread out. I went back and forth between a van and the Jeep and am glad I was a little less practical because I LOVE driving Jeeps.
Another consideration is carseats. If you have more than 2 kids, make sure that your rental vehicle can accommodate the number of carseats you have, or use another option (we used Ride Safer vests).
After the flight and vehicle, your last big expense will be food. But you’ll be eating even if you’re home, and there is no reason this has to be an extraordinary expense.
I did pack all our backpacking meals, because I wanted to be sure we had favorites that everyone would like (current favorites are Peak Refuel Chicken Alfredo Pasta and Chicken Pesto Pasta, and Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy and Pasta Primavera).
I brought out a whole duffel bag filled with camp meals, and it really simplified the time at the backcountry sites and the dinners at Hosmer Grove. We spent the days hiking and having camp meals meant we could eat them quickly wherever we were. It is an added expense but it was worth it for the part of the trip in the summit district.
I did bring a few new ones to try, but mostly concentrated on the staples for the time spent in the crater. I ended up trying a new egg dish in the backcountry and the kids would not eat it, and I couldn’t finish it. So I had to pack it out, and it was heavy!
We also brought some of our favorite snacks, like Heather’s Choice Packaroons and a variety of our favorite energy bars and jerky. But we bought a lot of that sort of stuff at the grocery store too, along with basics for making sandwiches and other quick meals.
We also ate out a few times. Most notably, at Kamala’s Kitchen, the pizza place right across the highway from Camp Olowalu. It was fantastic and we had it 3 times (they have lots of fun flavors but the Margherita is just perfection).
We stocked up on a few of the 2.5-gal water jugs at the grocery store, but we were able to find potable water many places. Hosmer Grove has a potable water spout at every campsite and a sink by the outhouses. Kipahulu has potable water at the Visitor’s Center (about half a mile walk). Camp Olowalu has potable water at many locations.
The backcountry campgrounds in Haleakalā National Park have water located next to the cabins (a short walk from the campground), dependent on season. In the summer it’s possible there is no water available, and that would change your packing enormously due to the quantity you need in the heat and elevation. All water in the backcountry needs to be filtered.
For water filtration I brought a LifeStraw Gravity filter (which I LOVE), and some iodine tablets as backup. The gravity filter was the perfect system for this trip. I always found a place to hang it (the livestock hitching post at Holua cabin was perfect), or I slung the strap over my shoulder or attached it to my pack.
In addition to water, I needed to bring salts. My body needs a lot of salt and especially hiking at elevation in heat (coming from Alaska where I avoid hiking in heat pretty easily). I went through way more of the LMNT packets than I would normally, hiking at elevation has always been hard for me (but the kids seemed almost unaffected by the elevation!).
Camping on Maui Trip Itinerary
We had two weeks on Maui, and it felt like a good amount of time. I could have pushed it longer but the kids were pretty ready to be home so I think 1.5-2 weeks is plenty of time to see everything but not get burnt out.
Yard Stay in Wailuku
- $70/night, check in after 6pm, leave before 7am
The first night our flight arrived at 9:30pm. This meant that by the time we got our luggage and found our Turo rental, it was 10:30pm. I did not want to drive hours to the National Park to set up our tent that night, and needed to be able to buy food and fuel in the morning.
This meant staying somewhere around Kahului. I couldn’t find anywhere under $200, so I decided to book an AirB&B listing for a yard. You park your car in the fenced yard and have access to a port-a-potty. It cost $70 but was worth it to just know we were going somewhere safe with a bathroom on our first night.
There are showers, laundry, wifi, and pool access. We didn’t use any of those things, but this might make for a good stop if you’re in need of those amenities during a camping trip but don’t want to pay hotel prices.
We had a truly awful first night’s sleep in the Jeep. We had the option to set up a tent, but tents needed to be taken down by 6am (and checkout was at 7am) and I didn’t think it was worth it. At 2am though I was regretting that (and not getting a minivan) as kids kept waking up saying how uncomfortable they were!
That said, I would do this again. It was simple, and made it easy to get a really early start that next morning. We headed to Krispy Kreme, then got food and fuel, and headed up to Haleakalā.
- $5/night, max stay 3 nights
- 6 sites
Located in a eucalyptus forest at 7,000 feet elevation, Hosmer Grove is a great place to start your exploration of the summit district of Haleakalā. As stated above, you’ll be a lot closer to places to watch sunset/sunrise. You also can make sure everyone has acclimated to the elevation a little before making your way up to 10,000 feet.
A sunrise reservation (you can only drive past the entrance gate during the wee hours of the morning with a valid reservation) is automatically included the first morning of your trip, so you don’t need to bother with making that reservation separately.
Hosmer Grove also has a wonderful nature trail that winds its way through eucalyptus and other non-native trees (planted in an effort to stabilize the slope after years of ranching), which then leads you into the native shrubland. You’ll see and hear some amazing birds on this beautiful trail.
We walked the trail 5 times while we were there (the kids couldn’t get enough of it!). There’s a bench at the top that is a nice spot to watch sunset; it’s not as great of a view as driving up a bit higher into the park but was perfect the night before going up for sunrise as we wanted to get to bed early.
Camping here you’ll want to be prepared for cold and wet. It regularly gets to around freezing in the “winter” here, and clouds move in fast and bring moisture with them. You’ll probably be in the clouds at least part of the time you’re camped here, which is really fun.
This campground has potable water, grills, pit toilets, a covered area for cooking, and picnic tables at each site. The endangered Nēnē goose also frequents this campground!
- $8/trip (regardless of how many nights), max stay 3 nights
- 5 sites
Hōlua is located inside the crater, at 7,000 feet elevation. My favorite site is #1, it has some shade and is surrounded by lava rocks. It’s also close to the bathroom but not too close!
There are 5 sites total, #5 is the group site and has a nice grassy lawn area which is great for kids to burn off some energy.
One of the unexpectedly hardest parts of the backpacking trips was that the kids needed to run around after staying on a tiny narrow trail (funny because I was always exhausted and just wanted to sit and they had energy to burn after the hikes!), and the campground didn’t really provide much opportunity for that as it is a very fragile ecosystem and they can’t just run off anywhere. So we made use of the grassy area by #5 and a large flat slab of rock by #1.
We spent 2 nights camping in the crater so that our middle day we could hike off and explore and the kids didn’t need to wear packs. That middle day we took a 5 mile hike to see Pele’s Paint Pot and Kawilinau. This hike takes you past so many different colors of sand and lava rock, interesting formations and textures, and tons of Silverswords.
- Tent Camping: $10/night
- Car Camping: $30/night/adult, $10/night/child
- Single Tentalow (2p): $150/night
- Family Tentalow (4p): $200/night
- Cabins: $1,650/night for use of all 6 cabins (each sleeps 6p)
Camp Olowalu is an amazing place that offers tent camping and “glamping” in the form of Tentalows. We spent our first two nights here in a tent site, the next two nights in a Family Tentalow, and then the last night at the end of our trip in a Single Tentalow.
All areas have access to shared restrooms and showers (Tentalows have their own showers inside the unit). And the grounds are just beautiful!
The tent sites are located closest to the water in a dirt area surrounded by lush vegetation (some of it very spiky!). It was dry the two days we camped there, but in the following days it got very wet and water pooled around the dirt areas (some sites more than others).
There were lots of showers and bathrooms (designated bathrooms for certain camping areas), and the bathrooms were really nice and had sinks with running water).
Car camping is off the main parking lot for tent camping, and each car gets a small area to park and a grill, access to showers and bathrooms. It looked like a really fun area if you have a camper van, or even for sleeping in your minivan (maybe not for sleeping in your Jeep with kids!).
This would be a good option for that first night if you’re arriving late, the reason we didn’t do this is because I didn’t want to do the beach first, but it would have been cheaper than the Yard Stay!
Staying in the Tentalows was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. They were SO FUN. Definitely a splurge compared with what we spent on the other nights, but amazing to have canvas over our heads, places to dry and organize our gear, and a private sink and shower.
Camp Olowalu’s site has lots of nice pictures of their Tentalows without occupants, but if you want to see what it will look like to stay there with kids after a backpacking trip… here you go!
The shower is in the back of the Tentalow in an uncovered part. It felt amazing to take a private outdoor shower, and be able to have all our dry gear spread out on the beds so it was easy to change (unlike cramming 4 people into one of the regularly sized showers where there just doesn’t seem to be room to separate all the wet gear from dry gear and not make a mess of everything!).
Bathrooms for Tentalows are shared, but very close by. I preferred the size of the Family Tentalows for us, but there are many more Single Tentalows and they are cheaper.
There were 4 single beds in the Family Tentalow, and 4 chairs on the large front porch that overlooked a grassy common area.
There were 2 single beds in the Single Tentalows, but they actually worked just fine when pushed together to sleep the 4 of us comfortably. You can request extra cots but they’re $25/night and we like to snuggle.
The Single Tentalows have a smaller front porch, and 2 chairs. It was a little crowded for the 4 of us up there, especially when it was pouring rain. There are covered pavilions around the grounds for additional shelter.
The Single Tentalows are located closer together than the Family Tentalows, but I never heard our neighbors here even though every Tentalow was occupied.
There is a small beach at Camp Olowalu. The water is very shallow and stays shallow until it gets out to the reef. It’s a great spot to see turtles and go snorkeling. Camp Olowalu doesn’t rent snorkeling gear but they do rent kayaks and paddleboards, and have tours available.
- $8/reservation (max 3 nights)
- 20 sites
Kipahulu is located on the east side of the island (south of Hana), where it is very wet. This part of the island is very remote, with limited services for hours and only one gas station (located in Hana). There is no ocean access from this area, but you can walk out to the rocky cliffs and watch the waves crashing beneath you.
The sites along the water are beautiful and located under trees, but are very exposed to the wind. Our site (#12) was also really wind-exposed, the sites further from the ocean were much more protected.
You should plan for rain and bring full rain gear (jackets, pants, waterproof boots). Even with all the right things, you may still end up soaked at the end of your stay if you’re out hiking.
The campground is located close to the Pipiwai Trail and ‘Ohe’o Gulch. All areas of the Kipahulu district are closed to swimming and have been for years, and if I’d realized that I would have made this a shorter part of the trip; instead of booking 3 nights out here I think 2 nights is plenty.
Other Campground Options
Pride of Maui does a beautiful job laying out these campground options on a map and giving details about each.
- Palikū (Wilderness site in Haleakala)
- Wai’anapanapa State Park
- Papalau Wayside Park
- Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area (cabin through Maui State Parks, $100/night)
- Camp Keanae
Entrance fees to enter the Haleakala National Park are $30 for a 3-day pass. If you might go to other US National Parks or are spending more than 3 days, just buy the Annual Parks pass for $80.
If you make a reservation at a National Park campground and don’t show up, you will be charged a fee. Make sure you fill out an arrival card and drop it in the box at Hosmer Grove or Kipahulu.
What would I do differently next trip?
I think the trip worked out really well, but one thing that was probably not wise is having our last 3 nights be in the wettest part of the island (Kipahulu). A huge storm front rolled in with flash flooding and road closures, and we ended up leaving Kipahulu a day early to try to dry out our gear before packing for the plane (and because the lightning storms were pretty terrifying). Even with the extra day in a Tentalow at the end I ended up packing a lot of wet gear up in dry bags and trash bags.
I had booked the trip in this order because I wanted to give us a beach break after the backpacking trip, and make sure that we could really relax and have showers. I should have known that Kipahulu is pretty much always wet, and with the amount of hiking we’d planned to do there we’d be having issues with wet gear.
Planning the last night in a Tentalow or at the Yard stay in Wailuku with access to laundry would have helped. I’ll also pack even more dry bags next time!
What went well?
Most of the trip was really great, and we had enough days in each place that we never felt rushed and really got to know each place. We packed our tent up a lot of times but always had at least 2 nights in each location.
I’m glad I brought all of our backpacking meals, and kept it simple for cooking. We used a small cooler and stopped for groceries every 4-5 days.
If you’ve ever thought you’d like to take a trip to Maui but are put off by the prices, know that there is another way! And it will make for a really memorable and reasonably priced vacation.
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Camping on Maui with Kids
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