The Best Rooftop Tent Camping and Campsites in Hawaii

Camping in Hawaii SUV 4X4 Rooftop Tent Remote
Camping in Hawaii SUV 4X4 Rooftop Tent

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How to Plan Your Camping Trip to Hawaii

Camping in Hawaii SUV 4X4 Rooftop Tent Remote

Planning to find the best camping and campsites in Hawaii is pretty easy once you figure out a few things.

Staying at a hotel in Hawaii is pretty expensive these days. Not to mention that you will be with hundreds, if not thousands of other people. If you are like us and you want to be closer to nature and save money, here is what we did to plan our trip.

First, almost everyone needs a rental car when they go to Hawaii. 

There is so much to see and explore around the islands and having your own vehicle is the best way to do it.  We figured that we could get a rental vehicle and a tent all in one. 

Outdoorsy RV Rentals

We have been renting our RV through a online platform called Outdoorsy. There are other platforms as well, like RVshare and RVezy.  We chose to go with Outdoorsy for our Hawaii rental since we found the perfect rig on their website.  We searched online a few weeks before we left and ensured that our reservations were confirmed.  Working with the people at Huakai campers was an awesome experience.  The vehicle comes fully equipped for camping with items like; bedding and pillows for the rooftop tent, a cooler, a table, a BBQ grill with propane tanks, silverware, drinking glasses, pots and pans, soap, plastic garbage bags and so much more.  They really thought of everything.  We did bring our own inflatable lanternsOnce we had our 4×4 vehicle with rooftop tent confirmed, then we started looking for a campsite. 

Outdoorsy SUV 4X4 Rooftop Tent Rental


The Electric Church Hipcamp Campsite

There are numerous campgrounds and campsites around Hawaii. Some are with the Hawaii state campgrounds however Melissa and I wanted to be more off the beaten track. 

After a little research, we chose to go with Hipcamp for all of our Hawaii camping, campgrounds, and lodging destinations. 

Provisioning for Camping in Hawaii

After landing in Hilo, Hawaii, we picked up our Nissan Xterra 4X4 SUV with the rooftop tent and first went to Walmart in Hilo to provision for our week of Hawaii camping. 

We have a 4X4 SUV at home that we use quite often for our camping in the desert, pine forests, beaches, and much more, so we are used to sleeping in the back and provisioning for our trips.  

Since we like to save money so we can travel more often, Walmart is always our go-to destination to provision. 

Not only did we pick up food, ice, snacks, and alcohol for our Hawaii camping trip, but we also purchased a flat black fleece throw and some black windshield sunscreens to ensure the interior of our SUV was completely darkened.  The black fleece is so great because it absorbs the light and when you look into the vehicle, you can barely see anything.  I’m sorry to say, but there are a lot of break-ins to vehicles in Hawaii and we did not want to be a statistic since basically everything we owned would be inside the SUV.  We also made sure that when we rented the Xterra, all of the windows were tinted. 

Hipcamp Camping in Hawaii

Our First Hawaii Camping Destination

Camping in Hawaii SUV 4X4 Rooftop Tent Setup

We chose Sea Spray Garden to camp at on the Big Island of Hawaii on our first night because they had so much fruit that they allowed us to pick while we were camped there.  After parking near the campfire ring that the owner set up for us, we set up our rooftop tent and then went on a fruit-picking pilgrimage. We were able to harvest bananas, limes, lemons, and other fruit. They also had passionfruit vines but it wasn’t in the season to pick any passion fruit. We saved a lot of money by being able to pick this fruit fresh.

There were three adorable puppies that we played with and the mother and father dogs followed us around everywhere on the property. We felt so at home here.

We went down and introduced ourselves to the owners that lived in the main multi-million dollar house and they invited us to coffee in the morning and told us that we could use the pool at any time.  

Melissa and I went down to the beach and had drinks on the cliff at sunset and then went back to our ready-made campsite and made hamburgers over the open flame of the campfire. What an amazing first night of camping in Hawaii. 

Our Second Hawaii Camping Destination

The next morning we woke up early and went and had coffee with the owners, enjoyed a great conversation, and just chilled out.  

I also went for a quick swim in the pool. It was bliss.

Our campsite was super easy to pack up and within 20 minutes we were ready to go.  

Since we are up so early and check-in at our next site wasn’t until noon or two, we decided to drive up to Volcanoes National Park and check it out for a while.  

We eventually made it to our second Hipcamp destination which is named The Electric Church.  I could tell you why it is named that, but that would ruin the fun. If you camp at this destination, definitely ask the owner why it is called The Electric Church. It’s a cool story. 

Once Melissa and I got settled into the small Hipcamp rental home, we plugged in all of our electronics and charged them for our next day of Hawaii adventure.  

Since this is a pretty remote location and there is no television, I planned ahead and brought an iPad with lots of Netflix and Prime video movies already download it. We also brought a small Bluetooth speaker so we could hear the movies with better sound. 

When night finally came, all of the insects in the surrounding rainforest came to life with their loud but soothing noises. Melissa and I were in awe of how cool it is to be able to sleep in a jungle safely. 

We stayed at The Electric Church for two nights since we did not want to constantly be going from campsite to campsite, so this was one of our two-day stops.  

Hawaii Camping Views

Hawaii Campsite #3

Hawaii turtles

After exploring the Hilo side of the island pretty well, we decided to head for the Southern shore and check that out for a day.

Our next Hawaii campsite is called Hawaii Islands Best Campsite. We planned this location to restock our fruits once again. Melissa and I eat fruit on a daily basis ends we also love lemons and go through them constantly. 

The farm was really chill and mellow.  We stocked up on lots of mangoes, macadamia nuts, avocados, and citrus. There was only one other set of campers on the property and they were so far away that we couldn’t even hear them. We felt like we had the entire place to ourselves. The owners rent out rooms in the main house as well and all renters get to use the interior of the house as well as the lanais and the pool area. A great bargain.  Check out the video at the bottom of this blog post.

The next morning we woke up slowly, had some coffee, packed up, and were on the road once again.  

We slowly headed up the coast and drove through Kona and went and visited some of our relative’s new property just north of Kona.  Since we have spent a week in Kona before, we bypassed most of the touristy areas with the exception of going to the Koloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park.

After visiting there briefly, we drove up the coast to the North Shore and went to the Waipio Valley Overlook.  Beautiful place and amazing Hawaiian history in this area.

Two Days at Our Next Amazing Hawaiian Campsite

Since there is barely any cell phone reception on the North Shore in this area, we set up a time to meet with the owner so he could drive us to this remote Hawaiian camping destination. His nephew met us at the gates above the property and we followed him on his quad down to the Cliffside campsite. 

Once again, we were the only campers in this area. We knew this would be a remote place, so when we booked the campsite on Hipcamp, we also reserved firewood along with our campsite. The owner and his nephew went off into the bush and got us more wood then we would need for two days. 

The Hipcamp campsite is called Central Station and also had running water and an outhouse, but the outhouse was completely full and makes me want to gag just thinking about it again.  Hopefully, they cleaned it out by now. Other than that, it is an amazing place.  

The North Shore gets a lot of rain, so be prepared. When we arrived at the gate at the top of the hill, it was raining but by the time we got down to the Cliffside campsite, it was nice and dry.  

On the first day, we just hiked around the area and got acclimated. It was very remote and beautiful.  

The second day was nice and sunny so we decided to go snorkeling in the bay. It is a challenge to get down to the water. You have to be adventurous and climb down a ladder of about 40 feet. There is no room for error because if you slip and or fall, you will land on a very sharp volcanic rock. Not fun to think about. 

Since the seas were very mellow that day, we were able to get in and out of the water somewhat easily. If there are any waves bigger than 3 feet, you would not be able to get in or else safely.  

Not a lot to see while snorkeling. It is just a bunch of volcanic rock and we were expecting more fish and or coral but it was fun to get wet nonetheless. 

It rained that night and pretty much the entire third day we were there. As I said, it is Hawaii and you are on the North Shore and it usually rains quite often. By the time we left, we felt like we had done everything we wanted to at this Hawaii camping destination. 

Driving out wasn’t too bad. Some people complain that you need to have four-wheel drive. We had to put it in 4-wheel drive just twice and that was just to be on the safe side. Pretty mellow. 

We drove to Akaka Falls and decided not to go in since the price for parking and seeing the Falls was ridiculous. I am not going to pay 20+ dollars to see a waterfall when there are so many others to see for free.

We did however find a somewhat unknown jewel of Hawaii.  We found a scenic byway named the Old Mamalahoa Highway and it was one of the more beautiful drives I’ve been on. At one pull over area there is an amazing waterfall that you need to hike to, to the left and to the right is a river that comes through a lava tube type tunnel and looks really cool.  If you are into Instagram moments, this is the place for you.  

Our flight was scheduled for the next day, so we wanted to be near the airport but the prices of all the hotels were ridiculous. So we chose our last destination via Hipcamp as well.

Camping in Hawaii SUV 4X4 Rooftop Tent Remote

Our Last Hipcamp Hawaiian Lodging

Palm Trees On the Hawaiian Beach

The Hipcamp Mai Tai House is a cute little one-bedroom house about 20 minutes away from the airport and is a perfect place to have dinner, watch television, take a shower, and enjoy your last night in Hawaii with all the niceties of a home. 

We cleaned the Nissan Xterra and left some goodies for the owners, including the black blanket and windshield shades. We recommend cleaning the vehicle daily and also ensuring that the tent is clean and put away during a sunny afternoon. You never know when it’s going to rain, so we try to have everything clean and put away when it is dry.  

Since we rent our RV through Outdoorsy, we know what it’s like to return a vehicle better than you received it.  It is just good karma and after a week of beautiful Hawaiian camping and bliss, we were grateful to have such an amazing vehicle to use.

Early the next day, we drove to the Hilo airport, unpacked our luggage, and left our Outdoorsy SUV rooftop tent rental in the parking lot for the owner to retrieve, per their request.  Super easy. 

If you liked this blog post, check out our Best Camping and Hiking in the Big Sur Area! 


Hawaii Camping Resources

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