There are a lot of nice state parks throughout the Big Island. There are two that bear mentioning, due to their unique natural features created by lava (Lava Tree State Park) and water (Akaka Falls State Park). They are on opposite sides of Hilo, one about 30 minutes north and the other about 45 minutes south, but they are well worth the excursion if you are out enjoying a leisurely day trip around Hilo.
Lava Tree State Park
Highway 132, South of Hilo
Near Pahoa, Puna Region
As with most of the region around Hilo, this is a very dense forest with a lot of thick brush and large trees. Lava Tree State Park is a preserved area that shows you what happens to the trees after lava runs through a forest. The lava coats the trees, and when the tree dies from within, the hollow "lava tree" is formed. This area had a lot of very fragile ground and huge gashes in the ground where the lava erupted. This volcanic activity took place in 1790. If you get out and walk around, be sure to stay on the path, and don't venture into the unmarked breaks in the earth. There are warning signs throughout the park to be careful walking due to the deep crevices in the ground.
There are limited restroom facilities here, but they were frankly too scuzzy for me to consider using. There really isn’t a lot to do or see here, allow yourself about 40-45 minutes to fully explore the area here.
To get to Lava Tree Park you will need to take Hwy. 11 south of Hilo (or heading towards Hilo if you are coming from Kona). Turn right on Hwy. 130 and proceed on to Hwy. 132.
Akaka Falls State Parks
10 miles North of Hilo
The bamboo forest is thick and wet, almost like a continual mist upon you. (Take bug repellent!) There wasn't much wildlife and only a few birds but the plants and flowers were beautiful. I saw my first Bird of Paradise flower in the wild here! I also saw bamboo stalks that had to have been at least three or even four inches thick.
For those who are unable to walk long distances or over steep grades, take the shorter path (to the left) towards the Akaka Falls. The hike is about 15 minutes each way and provides for a good view of the tallest of the falls in this park. That will lead you to the taller of the waterfalls here in Akaka Falls State Park. You can't get very close to it, but the view point gives you a wonderful photo op of the spectacular 400+ foot waterfall. The other path is a bit longer and more rugged a hike. It leads to the Kuhuna Falls via the circle route. The full loop path is about one-half mile.
This was a very well maintained state park, which had very nice restrooms, drinking water fountains and a picnic area. For us this was an hour stop on our road trip to Hilo. The detour was well worth the trip!