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Fine Art Images of Hawaii by Thomas Upton

Big Island Landscape Photography
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  • Thomas Upton

Kalopa State Park - The Big Island's Muir Woods?

If you’ve seen all the amazing waterfalls, beaches, and volcanoes on the Big Island and crave a walk in the forest, then Kalopa State Park is for you! Kalopa is a well-hidden but spectacular forested park with well-marked trails near Honoka’a on the Big Island. I call it "Hawaii’s Muir Woods". What makes it so special? It's a blend of grand trees, ferns, lush undergrowth, and brilliant green moss. Lots of green! But more than anything it is the feeling of peace you get as you wander along the trails with the only sound being wind in the tall trees. Just go slow and let the forest drive worries from your mind. It’s an amazing and serene place to get lost in (literally!) and I know of no other quite like it on the Big Island.

Amazing dense tropical foliage in Kalopa State Park on the Big Island
Lush foliage along the "Jeep" trail

Finding the park can be a bit of a challenge without GPS routing. It sits about 5 miles inland on a winding road and is rarely busy. You're not likely to encounter a lot of fellow hikers on the network of trails.

Kalopa is a marvelous photo destination, but I find it to be challenging to capture the beauty surrounding me when I'm there. The forest is dense and it looks busy and two-dimensional in a lot of my photos. It can be a challenge to isolate nice vignettes that make for well-composed shots. The forest is dark, and at 2000+ feet, it is sometimes in the clouds as well. The light can be very flat as a result (another thing in common with Muir Woods). All that said, you will be enchanted as you walk the trails, whether you take photos or not. I find that I get a sense of the place after hiking a while, and begin to better see simple scenes within all the wildness of the forest. It’s the Zen of Kalopa.

There are two parts to the park. A small loop trail near the center of the park is well-marked with plant species. It is described in a brochure available at the park

(the blue one):

Picture of Kalopa Park trail guide
Picture of Kalopa Park Nature Trail guide


There is a much larger area a short walk away that contains a network of trails and is surrounded by a perimeter trail (“the horseback trail”) that’s about 2.5 miles long with about 500 ft elevation gain from the parking lot. There’s a great brochure for this area too with a trail map on the front (the yellow one). Note: The brochures are old, but an excellent intro to the park plant life. They are well worth reading before you set out.

I strongly recommend having a GPS-enabled map (e.g. from Alltrails). The trails are well-marked, but it is very easy to get directionally disoriented while walking. Aside from the overall elevation range of about 500 feet, there are some deep gulches and riverbeds, some with treacherous slopes. Trails meander around and through all this. Makes it interesting!

The photos in this post are mostly from a recent walk where we took the east half of the perimeter trail and returned on the jeep trail that runs down the middle of the park. The perimeter trail climbs steadily from the starting to the northeast corner of the park. You will see tree-sized ferns giving the forest a Jurassic Park feel:

Giant ferns, as big as trees, in Kalopa State Park
Giant ferns along the Horseback Trail

as well as numerous different types of trees. The park was created in 1962 by a group of dedicated locals who wanted to preserve this forest as they saw the surrounding land being converted to sugarcane. Some of the original trails were cut and many trees were planted at that time (and after) and are now mature. There are many endemic Hawaiian plants in the park. I could not identify most of them (even with the brochures), but you will see massive trees like this:

Giant trees in Kalopa State Park appear woven together as one and create a huge canopy