The campsites at Kīholo State Park Reserve are perhaps the most coveted campsites on the entire Big Island. With only eight spots available Friday through Monday, if you want to camp at Kiholo, you’ll need to be ready to book the spots online one month in advance immediately at 12:00 a.m. Pacific Island time. Wait until 12:05 a.m., and the spots are typically gone. Because locals often only book Friday through Sunday, you might be able to find last minute Sunday spots if you are lucky.
What makes this campsite such a popular destination for locals and visitors alike? The Kīholo Reserve has quite a bit to keep one busy. When the oceans are calm, snorkeling is fantastic, and it is common to see pods of dolphins “resting” within the bay. In the winter, expect to see whales breaching throughout the day. In addition, there are numerous attractions within walking distance worth visiting, both up and down the coast. The queen’s bath is a brackish water cave that can be a thrill to explore if you have a headlamp and are prepared for frigid waters. Further up the coast about a mile, accessible either by foot or on boat, you can visit what some call “turtle bay.” This is a well-protected bay with freshwater springs feeding it. Turtles can be found here in troves. Some visitors have counted over 30 turtles swimming in the lagoon before eventually losing count.
The campsites are also spacious and shaded, which is important given how hot the Kona coast can get, especially given the black lava rock surroundings. All campsites come with a fire pit and picnic tables, and the campsites are ideal for hanging hammocks. The campsites are roomy, but you can expect to hear your neighbors, as there are no sound barriers unless you are in campsite 8, which has the greatest distance between it and campsite 7. Because the access road closes nightly, you don't have to worry about car noise, vehicle lights, or late night visitors. However, you should be aware that Kīholo is known for its scorpions, poisonous centipedes, and kiawe thorns, so checking your shoes, watching your footing, and closing up your tent is important.
Hui Aloha Kiholo is a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving this special spot, and the group is vigilant about checking permits for campsites and cars, in addition to closing the access gate nightly. This ensures that there will be no extra campers crowding the beach. The group took over management in 2007 in conjunction with Hawai'i State Parks, as the bay was overrun with permanent squatters and turtles were being killed for food. Since the two entities have taken over management of the bay, the campground is well maintained and clean, and turtle populations are once again thriving.