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9 Self-Care Gift Basket Ideas

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From forest bathing to outdoor meditation, we’re all coming to understand the importance of getting outside and unplugging from the business of our daily lives. It’s a sensation for a reason: there’s a unique serenity to be found in nature. Here are 9 self-care gift basket ideas to help your loved ones tap into the outdoor wellness world (or just go ahead and treat yourself—you deserve it).

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Moon USA National Parks

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From misty mountains to lush forests to colorful canyons, there’s boundless beauty to be found in America’s wilderness. Give the gift of inspiration with Moon’s guide to all 59 national parks!

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Rite in the Rain Bound Notebook

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While you’re out there…Journaling is one of the best forms of self-care, and what better place for creative expression than the great outdoors? This journal is filled with all-weather, wood-based paper that repels water, oil, mud, and just about everything else, leaving you free to soak up the wilderness.

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Jade Harmony Yoga Mat

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This highly-rated yoga mat is perfect for the yogi that likes to take their practice outdoors. It comes in 15 different colors and is sustainably made in the USA with renewable resources and no synthetic plastics—and the best part? Through their partnership with Trees for the Future, the company plants a tree for every mat sold.

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Sloth Yoga Travel Mug

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This insulated, stainless steel mug keeps coffee or herbal tea hot (or cold!) for hours—and will definitely add some zen cuteness to anyone’s day.

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Beyond Yoga x Parks Project Woodland Candle

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This soothing candle’s scent of freshly chopped wood, mountain stone, cedarwood, and wildflowers will transport anyone straight into the calm of nature. It’s the perfect addition to a meditation practice, and proceeds go towards conservation projects in our national parks!

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The Clarity Cleanse

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The Clarity Cleanse is the powerful book written by Gwyneth Paltrow’s very own health and spiritual advisor. It makes an excellent gift for anyone starting their journey to self-love and self-compassion.

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Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Sunrise Simulation

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Help your loved one start their days on a more peaceful note with this colored sunrise simulation alarm clock. They’ll wake up gradually, with natural light and sounds filling their bedroom. Ahh.

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Classic Mini Waterproof Ugg Boots

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Treat their feet! These classic Ugg boots are updated for outdoor wear, with waterproof construction, a non-slip traction sole that’ll keep them balanced even on wet ice, and a sheepskin lining that feels like walking on a cloud.

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Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen

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Taking care of your inner self also means taking care of your outer self—and protecting your skin while outside is top priority! Not only is Babo’s zinc sunscreen good for you, it’s also good for the planet: the sulfate-, paraben-, basically-everything-free formula is totally ocean-safe.

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Self Care Gift Basket Ideas Pinterest graphic

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Let’s Make Every Kid in a Park a Guarantee for Fourth Graders

For the past three years, fourth graders have benefitted from Every Kid in a Park, a program that provides free passes to the national parks and all federal recreation lands. “There’s a whole generation of kids who don’t get into the woods,” says Jon Jarvis, former Director of the National Park Service during the Obama administration and current Executive Director of the Berkeley Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity. “They live in urban areas, their parents have no experience in the woods, or they can’t afford to visit the parks.”

But the Every Kid in a Park program is not guaranteed for future fourth graders. The Department of the Interior must renew it each year, making it subject to political whims. Luckily, Congress could pass the Every Kid Outdoors Act, which would give it more permanence.

Here’s how the program works: Every Kid in a Park provides a free park pass to fourth graders. But it’s not just a giveaway—kids have to earn the pass. In classrooms, it’s often in tandem with environmental education and history already in curriculums. Once earned, their pass admits the fourth graders and their families free to the national parks and all federal recreation lands during that school year. For classes that need financial assistance to get to the parks, the National Park Foundation provides the dollars to cover transportation. Even if a classroom doesn’t participate, any fourth grader can go online to earn his or her pass.

kids walking on a log in the forest

Thanks to this program, many young kids are hiking their first trails, learning to spy wildlife, and soaking up natural and human history. Some children from urban areas have smelled cedar trees for the first time in their lives. One fourth grader from Hawaii got so jazzed that he started a nonprofit to support the national parks. Every Kid in a Park gives them these experiences.

[pullquote align=right]“A lot of good science is out there about the benefits of getting kids involved early on in hiking, biking, and kayaking outdoors. Those become lifetime sports,” Jarvis points out.[/pullquote]Every Kid in a Park broadens other children’s programs, too. It extended Michelle Obama’s efforts to get young people moving to be healthy. It also added more educational contact for popular Junior Ranger Programs on federal recreation lands. “The Junior Ranger programs capture kids after they get to the park,” explains Jarvis. “This program gives kids, their families, and their classrooms incentive to get to the park.” And that’s an important distinction. Kids and their parents adore the Junior Ranger Programs, but many kids don’t even get the chance to earn a Junior Ranger badge because they can’t get to the parks.

Originally, the dream for Every Kid in a Park considered all grades. But that was unwieldy, Jarvis notes, so the program limits participation to fourth graders. Yet, if Every Kid in a Park continues for a dozen years, it achieves the same goal—all kids will participate for one year. “In 12 years, we would get every kid across the country,” says Jarvis.

Capturing America’s youngsters is only one of the reasons the program needs to continue. Every Kid in a Park seeks to plant the seed for a lifetime of outdoor activity. Sadly, team sports often create avid later-in-life spectators but not physically active adults. “A lot of good science is out there about the benefits of getting kids involved early on in hiking, biking, and kayaking outdoors. Those become lifetime sports,” Jarvis points out.

Besides the personal benefits of health, exercise, mental well-being, and connections with nature, Jarvis adds something else that Every Kid in a Park produces—pride. Many fourth graders take pride in being the one to gain the family’s admittance into the parks. Some, like one rural Idaho student, have taken on the task of choosing the park and planning the family summer trip there. What better way to build self-esteem than to be the key to a family outing?

After a shaky start to Every Kid in a Park’s renewal this year, the program has been reinstated for this year’s fourth graders. But it’s time to make it more permanent, so future third graders can look forward to their upcoming year to get their park pass.

What can you do? Drop a note to your congressional delegation to pass the Every Kid Outdoors Act. Exposing the next generation to national parks is one of the best ways to support our public lands.

To contact your congressional delegation, go here.

10 National Parks Gifts for the Holidays

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From the redwoods of Sequoia to the mists of Acadia, from the frozen landscape of Denali to the volcanic beauty of Hawaii, the US National Parks System is truly America’s best idea. Here are 10 gifts that bring out the nature-lover in all of us.

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1. Travel Guide to the National Parks

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With gorgeous, full-color photos and travel keepsakes, Moon USA National Parks is the quintessential gift for the parks enthusiast in your life. Moon’s comprehensive guide covers all 59 national parks and includes the top outdoor adventures in each park, plus suggestions for combining multiple parks into one epic adventure.

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2. National Parks Scented Candles

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Missing the sage-filled air of the Grand Canyon, or the scent of the evergreens in the Great Smoky Mountains? These Pendleton travel candles will bring back your favorite national park memories.

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3. National Parks Journal

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Leather-bound and filled with gorgeous maps and blank pages to record your explorations, an Orvis’ National Parks Atlas is the perfect companion on an outdoor adventure (and they can be personalized).

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4. National Parks Posters

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Preserve the memory of your favorite national park with these beautiful minimalist posters from MMcKinney Designs (she has posters for 33 of the 59 parks!), or scratch off each park you visit on this poster from Uncommon Goods, creating a custom keepsake to hang on your wall.

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5. Hiking Shoes

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Get outdoors in style with Brooks’ Cascadia trail shoes, available for men and women. With styles inspired by four of the most beautiful national parks and designed with rocky trails in mind, 5% of each pair sold is donated to the National Parks Foundation. Happy trails indeed!

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6. Classic Pocket Knife

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Be prepared for anything on your camping trips (and look fabulous doing it) with this classic, heirloom pocket knife by Opinel.

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7. Native Seeds

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One of the most important reasons to protect our parks is their plant life. Native Seeds harvests and sells heirloom American plants to support indigenous peoples and their communities and to spread these beautiful Southwestern plants. Bring a little bit of the Southwest to your backyard!

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8. Camera Strap

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Do you have a budding nature photographer in your life? Help inspire them with a handmade leather camera strap, embossed with delicate leaves and flowers.

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9. National Parks Photo Book

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Explore the parks from your living room with photographer Ansel Adams, whose photos were instrumental to the expansion of our National Parks System. Choose from Ansel Adams in the National Parks and Ansel Adams in Yosemite Valley (or get both!).

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10. National Parks Pass

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Give the gift of access to any park in the system, from Yosemite to Yellowstone, for an entire year with the America the Beautiful Annual Parks Pass.

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National Parks Gift Ideas

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One-Day Capitol Reef Itinerary

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The longer you stay in Capitol Reef, exploring its details, the better it gets. If you only have one day to spend in the park, start with this one-day Capitol Reef itinerary.

Morning

Wake up with a walk among the pioneer-era orchards at the cliff-lined village of Fruita and take in the visitors center. Hike the 2.5-mile round-trip Fremont River Trail, which starts at the Fruita Campground and climbs from the oasis-like valley up to a viewpoint that takes in the orchards, Boulder Mountain, and the reef’s arched back.

Afternoon

Back in Fruita, unpack your picnic lunch at the shady picnic area of the Gifford Farmhouse, a renovated pioneer home in the verdant Fremont River valley. For a longer after-lunch hike, the Capitol Gorge cuts a chasm through the Capitol Reef lined with petroglyphs, pioneer graffiti, and towering rock walls.

Evening

There are no dining options in the park, so you’ll need to drive 11 miles west to nearby Torrey for dinner, where the Cafe Diablo is famed for its excellent southwestern cuisine.

Extending Your Stay in Capitol Reef

The longer you stay in Capitol Reef, exploring its details, the better it gets. Serious hikers and backcountry motorists should take 2-3 days for a full exploration of the park.

Book a room in Torrey, settle in, and hit a few of the park’s longer trails, such as the Old Wagon Trail Loop and the Chimney Rock Trail. Both are about four miles round-trip.

Take the 70-mile scenic drive along Notom-Bullfrog Road, along which you’ll see the eastern side of Waterpocket Fold. Don’t forget to attend a ranger-guided event, especially if they’re offering stargazing or moonlight walks.

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One Day Itinerary Capitol Reef National Park


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Southwest Road Trip.

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Discover Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes

Argentina’s Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes is best reached through nearby La Villa, a lakeside town neighboring Villa La Angostura. Los Arrayanes is larger than the town of La Villa, but they’re so close that it feels more like a sprawling city park.

[pullquote align=”right”]Local folklore says Walt Disney’s cartoon feature Bambi modeled its forest after the arrayán woodland at the tip of Península Quetrihué…[/pullquote]Local folklore says Walt Disney’s cartoon feature Bambi modeled its forest after the arrayán woodland at the tip of Península Quetrihué, a former ranch that became the national park in 1971. With their bright white flowers, the eye-catching red-barked forests of Luma apiculata do bear a resemblance, but a Disney archivist has pointed out that Bambi was in production before Walt’s 1941 trip to Argentina, and that he never visited the area.

The park occupies Quetrihué’s entire 1,753 hectares, which stretch south into Lago Nahuel Huapi. Its namesake forest covers only about 20 hectares, but the rest of the peninsula bristles with trees like the maitén and the southern beeches coihue and ñire, as well as colorful shrubs like the notro and chilco, and dense bamboo thickets of colihue. The floral standout is the arrayán, whose individual specimens reach up to 25 meters and 650 years of age.

Enjoy a walk through the trees in Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes.
Enjoy a walk through the trees in Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes. Photo © miragik/123rf.

The park is ideal for hiking and mountain biking: The undulating 12-kilometer trail to or from the peninsula’s tip is a perfect half-day excursion (on a bicycle or doing one way by boat and the other on foot) or a full day by hiking in both directions. Argentine rangers often exaggerate the time needed on certain trails, but the three hours they suggest is about right for this walk in the woods, which passes a pair of lakes. Only at the park portal, near La Villa, are there any steep segments; a slide has forced partial relocation of the route here.

Before starting any hike in the park and within the previous 48 hours to the date of the hike, a free form must be filled in to keep a record at the national park’s Registro de Trekking and to show upon park rangers’ request. The form is provided at APN’s offices (Blvd. Nahuel Huapi 2193, tel. 0294/4494152, 9am- 3pm Mon.-Fri.), online on the park’s webpage, and at the Club Andino (20 de Febrero 30, tel. 0294/4527966). Access for hikers is permitted only up to 1pm, and up to 2pm for bikers. Bikes can be rented at La Villa.

At the portal, rangers collect a US$11 admission charge (US$4 for Argentine residents). Those who only plan to do the short walk to the panoramic Mirador Bahía Mansa and the Mirador Brazo Norte need not pay the fee. Near the dock at the peninsula’s southern tip, a café with a cozy fireplace serves sandwiches, coffee, and hot chocolate.

From the Bahía Mansa dock near park headquarters, non-hikers can reach the arrayán forest in about 45 minutes on the Catamarán Futaleufú, run by El Cruce’s Greenleaf Turismo (Av. Siete Lagos 118, 1st Fl., tel. 0294/4494404), which runs 1-3 services daily; the cost is US$20 one-way, US$38 round-trip, plus a small boarding tax and the park admission fee.

From the Bahía Brava dock across the isthmus, the newer Catamarán Patagonia Argentina (tel. 0294/4494463) runs a similar service (US$23 one-way, US$38 round-trip, plus a small boarding tax and the park’s admission fee), also 1-3 times daily.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Patagonia.

Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca’s Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua spreads for about 20 miles of open-ocean beach shoreline and islet-studded jungly lagoons midway between Pinotepa Nacional and Puerto Escondido. Tens of thousands of birds typical of a host of Mexican species fish the waters and nest in the mangroves of the two main lagoons, Laguna Pastoría on the east side and Laguna Chacahua on the west.

[pullquote align=right]From the Zapotalito landing, the fishing cooperative, Sociedad Cooperativa Turística Escondida, enjoys a near-monopoly for transporting visitors on the lagoons.[/pullquote]The fish and wildlife of the lagoons, overfished and overhunted by local people during the 1970s and 1980s, have largely recovered. Commercial fishing is now strictly licensed. Crocodiles were hunted out during the 1970s, but the government is restoring them with a hatchery on Laguna Chacahua.

Oaxaca's Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua spreads for about 20 miles of open-ocean beach shoreline and islet-studded jungly lagoons midway between Pinotepa Nacional and Puerto Escondido.
Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua. Photo © Elisa Locci/123rf.

For most visitors, mainly Mexican families on Sunday outings, access is by boat, except for one unpaved road (passable in the dry season; marginally so in the wet). The boats go from east-side Zapotalito village, where the local fishing cooperative offers full- and half-day excursions to the beaches: Playa Hermosa on the east side and Playa Chacahua on the west.

Exploring Lagunas de Chacahua

Zapotalito, on the eastern shore of Laguna Pastoría, is the busiest quick access point to the Lagunas de Chacahua. Get there from the Zapotalito turnoff at Kilometer 82, 82 kilometers (51 mi) from Pinotepa and 65 kilometers (41 mi) from Puerto Escondido. (Taxis and local buses run from Río Grande all the way to Zapotalito on the lagoon, while second-class buses from Puerto Escondido and Pinotepa Nacional will drop you on the highway.)

From the Zapotalito landing, the fishing cooperative, Sociedad Cooperativa Turística Escondida, enjoys a near-monopoly for transporting visitors on the lagoons. The boat workers used to make their living by fishing; now they mostly ferry tourists. Having specialized in hauling in fish, most are neither wildlife sensitive nor wildlife knowledgeable. Canopied powerboats, seating about 10, make long, full-day round-trips across the lagoon to lovely Playa Chacahua and village ($110/boat for 10 people, $70/boat for 5). It’s best to arrive before 11am. Cheaper half-day excursions (about $30) take visitors to nearby Playa Cerro Hermosa at the mouth of Laguna Pastoría for a couple of hours’ beach play and snorkeling (bring your own snorkeling gear).

(Note: There are two Chacahua villages, on opposite—east and west—sides of Laguna Chacahua. To distinguish them, they are referenced here as east-Chacahua and west-Chacahua, respectively.)

The Cocodrilario Chacahua is a crocodile hatchery at west-Chacahua village, on the west shore of Chacahua lagoon. It’s also home to a small community of costeño families, a run-down hotel, a few stores, and some lagoonside palapa restaurants. Past the rickety crocodile caretaker’s quarters are a few enclosures housing about 100 crocodiles segregated according to size, from hatchlings to six-foot-long toothy green adults. They’re worth seeing while you’re at west-Chacahua; ask your boat driver to stop there for 10 minutes or so.

Boat Excursion to Chacahua

The more expensive, but quick, full-day private excursion to Playa Chacahua, about 23 kilometers (14 mi) away, unfortunately necessitates a fast trip across the lagoon. It’s difficult to get the boat operators to slow down. They roar across broad Laguna Pastoría, scattering flocks of birds ahead of them. They wind among the islands, with names such as Escorpión (Scorpion), Venados (Deer), and Pinuelas (Little Pines), sometimes slowing to view multitudes of nesting pelicans, herons, and cormorants. They pick up speed again in the narrow jungle channel between the lagoons, roaring past idyllic, somnolent El Corral village, and break into open water again on Laguna Chacahua.

East-Chacahua Village and Playa Chacahua

The excursion climaxes at the east-lagoon half of Chacahua village across Laguna Chacahua. The main attraction here is Playa Chacahua, lovely because of its isolation. The unlittered golden-white sand, washed by gently rolling waves, seems perfect for a host of beach diversions. You can snorkel off the rocks nearby, fish in the breakers, and surf the intermediate breaks that angle in on the west side. During big swells, when the sand bars on the bottom are in the right position, the surf here can be spectacular, with long right-breaking waves. Once only a few, now several palapas crowd the beach, offering food, drinks, and lodging.

The original and still most popular lodging here is the Restaurant and Hotel Siete Mares (Seven Seas, tel. 954/114-0062, $25 d). The 13 cabañas occupy Chacahua’s choicest location. Half of them face the beach, while the other half face the lagoon. For more privacy and tranquility, choose the latter. Rooms come with a fan and private shower and toilet. The Siete Mares’s added bonus is friendly owner Doña Meche’s restaurant (8am-9pm daily, $3-8), which keeps satisfied customers returning year after year.

Furthermore, Doña Meche’s daughter Juana also rents cabañas. You’ll find them about 100 yards from the beach, as you walk north along the lagoon-front. Juana is proud of her 17 semi-deluxe Cabañas Delfines (tel. 954/132-8054, $23 d with fan, shower-bath, and toilet, $35 d with a/c added, camping $5 pp per night). She also welcomes tenters to her campground, including hammock-hung palapa shelters and showers.

If these accommodations are full, you can also take a look at El Piojo cabañas (on the beach, tel. 954/559-5073) and those of Isabel Ortíz (on the beach, tel. 954/588-6656).

Also, some groceries and fruits and vegetable are available at Abarrotes Nayeli (8am-9pm daily), on the lagoonfront, between Juana’s and Reynaldo’s cabañas.


Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Oaxaca.

Sightseeing Southeastern O‘ahu

Nature rules sightseeing on southeastern O‘ahu, with some breathtaking views and a truly stunning garden along with a bit of hiking and a preserved heiau. Expect to do a lot of walking when seeing these sights.

Makapu‘u Point State Wayside

Makapu‘u, which translates to “bulging eye” in Hawaiian, marks the rugged and dry eastern tip of O‘ahu. The rough black rock is dotted with cacti and small flowering shrubs, like the native Hawaiian ‘ilima with its cute yellow and orange blossoms. The Makapu‘u Point State Wayside holds several areas of interest. There are two parking lots at Makapu‘u. Coming from Hawai‘i Kai on Kalanianaole Highway, the first parking lot offers direct access to the trail that rounds Makapu‘u Point and leads to the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse. Roughly a 3-mile round-trip walk, the wide, paved road gains elevation gradually as you circle the point from the south to face the Pacific Ocean.

[pullquote align=”right”]If you consider yourself an avid hiker, from the lookout you can scramble up the back side of the point to the summit, regain the trail near the lighthouse, and follow the paved path back to the lookout for a nice loop.[/pullquote]On a clear day you can see the islands of Moloka‘i and Maui in the far distance. The hike has an added bonus of being one of the premier whale-watching venues while the humpback whales breed and rear their young in Hawaiian waters from November to March. It is also cooler during this period as well, as the shadeless hike can get rather hot in the midday, summer sun. There are informational signs along the trail about humpback whale activity and behavior.

Map of Southeast O‘ahu, Hawaii
Southeast O‘ahu

At the end of the hike are a couple lookout platforms and the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, a 46-foot-tall active lighthouse constructed in 1909. The lighthouse itself is off limits to the public, but you can get close enough to get a nice picture with the blue Pacific as the backdrop. Feel free to scamper around the rocks and explore the summit at 647 feet, but be careful as the area is scattered with sharp rocks, boulders, and cactus.

At the second parking lot, just to the north of the first, is a magnificent lookout area with views of the Waimanalo Coast, the rugged southern end of the Ko‘olau Range, and two nearby offshore islands, Manana Island and Koahikaipu Island State Seabird Sanctuary. The islands are home to nesting wedge-tailed shearwaters, sooty terns, brown noodies, and several other species. It is illegal to set foot on the islands. Manana Island is commonly referred to as Rabbit Island, because a rancher actually tried to raise rabbits here prior to its designation as a seabird sanctuary.

If you consider yourself an avid hiker, from the lookout you can scramble up the back side of the point to the summit, regain the trail near the lighthouse, and follow the paved path back to the lookout for a nice loop.

Makapu‘u marks the rugged and dry eastern tip of O‘ahu.
Makapu‘u marks the rugged and dry eastern tip of O‘ahu. Photo © Carl Clifford, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site (Kailua)

The massive stone platform of the Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site was supposedly built by the legendary menehune and shows remarkable skill with stone, measuring 140 feet wide by 180 feet long by 30 feet high at its tallest edge, although the stepped front wall has partially collapsed under a rockfall. The heiau overlooks Kawainui Marsh, and below the heiau, you can see traditional kalo lo‘i, taro growing in small ponds. Ulupo Heiau was one of three heiau that once overlooked the former fishpond. The other two, located on the west side of the marsh, are Pahukini and Holomakani Heiau. Some restoration has been done to Pahukini Heiau, but both remain largely untouched and inaccessible.

To get to Ulupo Heiau as you approach Kailua on the Pali Highway, turn left at the Castle Medical Center onto Uluoa Street, following it one block to Manu Aloha Street, where you turn right. Turn right again onto Manu O‘o and park in the Windward YMCA parking lot. The heiau is directly behind the YMCA building.

Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden (Kane‘ohe)

Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden (45-680 Luluku Rd., 808/233-7323, 9am-4pm daily, closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) is a botanical gem nestled at the base of the verdant corduroy of the Ko‘olau Range.

With 400 acres of geographically organized gardens—covering the Philippines, Hawaii, Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Polynesia, Melanesia, Malaysia, and Tropical America—and a network of trails interconnecting the plantings, one could spend an entire day in the garden. The Visitor Center is staffed with extremely knowledgeable docents who can help identify birds and interesting plants in flower during your visit. You can also grab a trail map there, too. A paved road links all the plantings and there are separate parking lots for each, so you can pick and choose where you’d like to spend your time. Drive slowly on the road, as the path is a lovely, popular walk for residents and garden guests.

Ho‘omaluhia also boasts its own lake, Lake Waimaluhia. Catch-and-release fishing is permitted on the weekends 10am-2pm. The garden is serene, quiet, lush, and often wet, so be prepared for the passing shower, mud, and mosquitoes. Rustic camping is also permitted from Friday afternoon till Monday morning. Check in at the Visitor Center for a pass. The garden is located in a residential area on Luluku Road, which you can access from both Kamehameha Highway and the Likelike Highway.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Ka‘u Desert Warrior Footprints on the Big Island

About eight miles south of the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park entrance along Highway 11, between mile markers 37 and 38, sits an entry to the Ka‘u Desert Trail. There isn’t a parking lot here; just park your car on the side of the road on the gravel. There are usually one or two other cars there. You don’t have to pay to walk on this trail since the trailhead isn’t through the park entrance. It is just good old free fun.

[pullquote align=right]The 1.6-mile round-trip trek across the small section of desert is fascinating, and the history of the footprints makes the experience more evocative.[/pullquote]It’s a short 20-minute hike from this trailhead to the Ka‘u Desert Footprints (also known as the 1790 Footprints). The 1.6-mile round-trip trek across the small section of desert is fascinating, and the history of the footprints makes the experience more evocative. Because of deterioration, the footprints are faint and difficult to see.

The predominant foliage in Volcanoes National Park is ‘ohi‘a, which contrasts with the bleak desert surroundings.
The predominant foliage in Volcanoes National Park is ‘ohi‘a, which contrasts with the bleak desert surroundings. Photo © Brian Sterling, licensed Creative Commons Attribution & ShareAlike.

The predominant foliage is ‘ohi‘a, which contrasts with the bleak desert surroundings. You pass a wasteland of ‘a‘a and pahoehoe lava flows to arrive at the footprints. A metal fence in a sturdy pavilion surrounds the prints, which look as though they’re cast in cement. Actually they’re formed from pisolites: particles of ash stuck together with moisture, which formed mud that hardened like plaster. The story of these footprints is far more exciting than the prints themselves, which are eroded and not very visible.

In 1790, Kamehameha was waging war with Keoua over control of the Big Island. One of Keoua’s warrior parties of approximately 80 people attempted to cross the desert while Kilauea was erupting. Toxic gases descended upon them, and the warriors and their families were enveloped and suffocated. They literally died in their tracks. (Although romanticism would have it otherwise, the preserved footprints were probably made by a party of people who came well after the eruption or perhaps at some time during a previous eruption.) This unfortunate occurrence was regarded by the Hawaiians as a direct message from the gods proclaiming their support for Kamehameha.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Kilauea’s Crater Rim Drive

The 11-mile road that circles the Kilauea Caldera and passes by nearly all the main sights in the park is Crater Rim Drive. For the past few years a part of the road has been closed due to elevated levels of sulphur dioxide gas. You can still drive on the road, but you can’t always complete the entire circle. However, don’t let this deter you. A large part of the road is still open, and there are so many intriguing nooks and crannies to stop at along Crater Rim Drive that you’ll have to force yourself to be picky if you intend to cover the park in one day.

Steam rises up in great white clouds from the crater of Kilauea volcano.
Crater Rim Drive circles Kilauea Caldera, the heart of the park. Photo © Paul Moore/123rf.

[pullquote align=right]Along this road you will travel from a tropical zone into desert, then through a volcanic zone before returning to lush rainforest.[/pullquote]Along this road you will travel from a tropical zone into desert, then through a volcanic zone before returning to lush rainforest. The change is often immediate and differences dramatic. Since you can’t circle the caldera, the following sights are listed in two sections: those to the right of the visitors center and those to the left of the visitors center. The sights to the left of the visitors center can also be reached by turning left immediately after you pass through the entrance gate of the park.

To the Right of the Visitors Center

Sulphur Banks

You can easily walk to Sulphur Banks from the visitors center along a 10-minute paved trail. Your nose will tell you when you’re close. Alternatively, walk the 0.6-mile trail from the Steam Vents parking lot. A boardwalk fronts a major portion of this site. As you approach these fumaroles, the earth surrounding them turns a deep reddish-brown, covered over in yellowish-green sulphur. It’s an amazing sight, especially in the morning when the entire area seems to look pink. The rising steam is caused by surface water leaking into the cracks, where it becomes heated and rises as vapor. Kilauea releases hundreds of tons of sulphur gases every day. This gaseous activity stunts the growth of vegetation. And when atmospheric conditions create a low ceiling, the gases sometimes cause the eyes and nose to water.

Steam Vents

Within a half mile you’ll come to Steam Vents, which are also fumaroles, but without sulphur. In the parking lot there are some vents covered with grates, and if you walk just two minutes from the parking lot toward the caldera on the gravel trail, you’ll see how the entire field steams. It is like being in a sauna or getting a wonderful free facial. There are no strong fumes to contend with here, just other tourists. If you walk back toward the caldera, you’ll see a gravel trail that follows the caldera around. This is the Crater Rim Trail, and you can walk it from here to many of the sights, including the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum—an easy 20-minute walk (one-way) through the woods from here.

Kilauea Military Camp

If you continue in the same direction on the road, you’ll pass the Kilauea Military Camp. It’s where military families come to vacation. Although it looks like it’s not open to the public, many parts of it actually are open to nonmilitary personnel, including the post office, the Lava Lounge bar, the cafeteria, the bowling alley, and the Kilauea theater, used for community events.

Kilauea Overlook

Some distance beyond the Kilauea Military Camp is Kilauea Overlook, as good a spot as any to get a look into the caldera, and there are picnic tables near the parking lot. Here too is Uwekahuna (Wailing Priest) Bluff, where the kahuna made offerings of appeasement to the goddess Pele. A Hawaiian prayer commemorates their religious rites. Unless you’re stopping for lunch or making your own offering, it’s perhaps better to continue on to the observatory and museum, where you not only have the view outside but get a scientific explanation of what’s happening around you.

Left of the Visitors Center

Kilauea Iki Overlook

The first parking lot you’ll pass on the right is the gateway to Kilauea Iki (Little Kilauea). In 1959, lava spewed 1,900 feet into the air from a half-mile crack in the crater wall (there is an amazing picture showcasing this occurrence on a board in the parking lot). It was the highest fountain ever measured in Hawaii. Within a few weeks, 17 separate lava flow episodes occurred, creating a lake of lava. In the distance is the cinder cone, Pu‘u Pua‘i (Gushing Hill), where the lava flowed from its brownish-red base in 1959. The cone didn’t exist before then. Present day, if you look down from the overlook into the crater floor you’ll see something that resembles a desolate desert landscape that is still steaming in spots. Unbelievably, you can fairly easily walk across this on the Kilauea Iki trail. Surrounding the crater is a rainforest filled with native birds and plants.

Thurston Lava Tube

Just up the road from the overlook is the remarkable Thurston Lava Tube, otherwise called Nahuku, which resembles a Salvadar Dali painting. As you approach, the expected signboard gives you the lowdown on the geology and flora and fauna of the area. The paved trail starts as a steep incline, which quickly enters a fern forest. All about you are fern trees, vibrantly green, with native birds flitting here and there. As you approach the lava tube, it seems almost manmade, like a perfectly formed tunnel leading into a mine. Ferns and moss hang from the entrance, and if you stand just inside the entrance looking out, it’s as if the very air is tinged with green. The tunnel is fairly large and shouldn’t be a problem for those who suffer from mild claustrophobia. The walk through takes about 10 minutes, undulating through the narrow passage. At the other end, the fantasy world of ferns and moss reappears, and the trail leads back, past public restrooms, to the parking lot. The entire tunnel is lit and paved; however, for some extra fun take a flashlight to visit the unlit portion. As you walk up the stairway to exit the tube, you’ll see on your left an open gate that looks into the darkness: This small unlit section is open to the public at their own risk. If you’re good on your feet, take a quick look.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Sightseeing at Kaua‘i’s End of the Road

For nature’s smaller wonders, sightseeing at the End of the Road area on Kaua‘i’s northern shore can’t be beaten. Spend your time exploring beautiful gardens, impressive and mysterious caves, and the legendary birthplace of hula.

Limahuli Botanical Garden

At the Limahuli Botanical Garden (5-8291 Kuhio Hwy., 808/826-1053, 9:30am-4pm Tues.-Sat.) you’ll take a trip back in time to see the native plants that decorated Hawaii before invasive species moved into the islands. Visitors have a choice of self-guided tours ($15 adult, children 12 and under free) and tours with a guide ($30 adult, children 10-12 $15). Guided tours are 2-2.5 hours, and self-guided ones last 1-1.5 hours. Reservations are required for the guided tour only.

At the Limahuli Botanical Garden you’ll take a trip back in time to see the native plants that decorated Hawaii before invasive species moved into the islands.
At the Limahuli Botanical Garden you’ll take a trip back in time to see the native plants that decorated Hawaii before invasive species moved into the islands. Photo © Lara Farhadi, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the gardens lie in front of Mount Makana (makana means “gift”) on 1,016 acres that help both ancient and modern plants flourish. The original 14 acres were donated by Juliet Rice Wichman in 1976, then expanded to 17, and the final 985-acre parcel in the above valley was donated by Wichman’s grandson, Chipper Wichman, in 1994. It’s a good idea to wear good shoes, and umbrellas are provided. The visitors center is where the tours begin, and this is where books, crafts, gifts, and other things are on sale. Taro lo‘i (patches) here are believed to be around 900 years old. The brochure and the tour guide share legends of the valley.

The majority of the preserve lies in the valley and is only available to biologists and botanists for research. To get to the gardens, take a left inland at the HVB warrior sign about a half mile after mile marker 9. The marker points to the gardens, which are in the last valley before Ke‘e Beach. Just past this is the Limahuli Stream, which locals use as a rinse-off spot after swimming. There’s only one good spot to pull off the road here. On your way to the Limahuli Botanical Garden, stop at the Lumahai Overlook for a view of the Lumahai Beach and a great photo op. After the fifth mile marker you’ll notice a small pull off area where a Hawaii Visitors Bureau sign points to the ocean.

Maniniholo Dry Cave

Directly across from Ha‘ena Beach Park is the wide, low, and deep Maniniholo Dry Cave. Take a short stroll inside the cave. There’s no water in here, just a dusty dirt bottom, but it can be fun to take photos, especially from the inside facing out. Sometimes walking around in here you may look at all of the footprints on the ground and wonder how long they go undisturbed. Although the cave seems to stay dry there is no archaeological evidence that it was used for permanent habitation.

Travel map of The End of the Road, Kauai, Hawaii
The End of the Road

Waikapala‘e Wet Cave

The earth opens up here to crystal-clear water after you’ve walked up a short hill to look down into the Waikapala‘e Wet Cave. Also known as the “Blue Room” because of another hidden cave here that’s accessible only through an underwater tunnel that turns a vibrant blue, the cave is a contradiction. It’s beautiful and spacious, but since the trees have grown up and block the light, it exudes a slightly eerie feeling. Visitors will find a tranquil place to spend time, and many people swim in the cold water. It’s said that the Blue Room is no longer blue due to a change in the water table height and other environmental changes, and I’m not recommending searching for it because it is dangerous! To get here, drive about three minutes past Ha‘ena. It’s on the left, just past the big parking lot on your right, and is only identifiable by the obviously worn path up the rocky hill, and the pull-off spot across the street. It’s about a 1.5-minute walk up, where you can peer into the cave from above or take a short but steep and slippery trek down into it.

Waikapala‘e Wet Cave is known as the “Blue Room” because of another hidden cave that’s accessible only through an underwater tunnel that turns a vibrant blue.
Waikapala‘e Wet Cave is known as the “Blue Room” because of another hidden cave that’s accessible only through an underwater tunnel that turns a vibrant blue. Photo © _e.t., licensed Creative Commons Attribution & ShareAlike.

Waikanaloa Wet Cave

The Waikanaloa Wet Cave is clearly seen from the road a little before Ke‘e Beach. The cave is a nice sight and another good photo opportunity. There is no swimming allowed, as the sign indicates. Look at the floor of the pond itself to see some interesting patterns.

Kaulu Paoa Heiau and Kaulu O Laka Heiau

To the right of Ke‘e are Kaulu Paoa Heiau and Kaulu O Laka Heiau, where it’s said that the art of hula was born. Legend says the goddess Laka bestowed hula to the Hawaiians here. Heiau are the religious sites for Hawaiians, do pay them the proper respect. Do not disturb or touch anything. The views up here are wonderful, especially during sunrise or sunset, when the sky changes to all shades of color. For over 1,000 years the area was used as a valued hula school. It’s said that the pupils were asked to swim from here down to Ke‘e Beach for a final induction sort of thing. At Ke‘e Beach look for the trail weaving inland through the jungle up to the heiau.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

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