The 41 Greatest Public Shores In The U.S.

Beaches, lakefronts, and shorelines that are beautiful, pristine — and open to all.

by Julia Holmes, Tyghe Trimble and Anna Traver
Originally Published: 
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The 2023 Outside Issue: Fatherly Dives In

Chances are when you go to the beach, you’re playing on someone else’s property. American shorelines are largely a private affair. Of the estimated 95,471 miles of U.S. shoreline, less than one-half of 1% have been set aside under the protection of Congress. The 63 National Park sites, by comparison, make up some 3.6% of all American soil. What’s so great about public shores? They’re open to all, of course — that goes without saying. But they’re also better protected, more wild, more pristine, and you can find a better travel deal than that spare “beachside” motel that sets you back $300 a night.

Fortunately, if you dig a little, you can find plenty of public places by the water in America. They’re just not necessarily where the caravans of families are headed. You’ll find them on remote lakes, wild rivers, inside National Parks, or all around Hawaii (where beaches are all public by law). Each comes with its own distinct flavor and rules, but they’ve got a few elements in common — inviting waterways that are open to all, plants and animals that thrive within, and scenery that will make you feel both at home and miles from day-to-day life. Now, get packing!

America’s 10 National Seashores Show What A Beach Can Be

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

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In the 10 National Seashores that Congress has set aside, you will find beaches in their most pure state. These sandy shores are far-flung, sparsely populated, and largely free of development. To navigate the National Seashores, you need to be ready to rough it — to varying degrees. Sure, you can stay in San Francisco, Martha’s Vineyard, or even Manhattan by night and find yourself in a National Seashore within two hours’ time. But that’s missing the point. The swift weather, slow persistent eroding forces upon the beaches, the hourly struggle of plants and animals, the never-ceasing wind — these alien places are worth spending time in. To witness such wild beaches is, as Thoreau said of Cape Cod, “a most advantageous point from which to contemplate this world.” Pack your camp gear, lay the sunscreen on, bust out the bins, and prepare for a truly wild beach experience with these 10 American gems.

Assateague (Maryland)

If car camping on dunes with wild horses sounds like your cup of tea, Maryland’s Assateague National Seashore is your spot. The small protected area of dunes and the large open beaches feel wild and open because of the limited number of campers allowed and, of course, the wild horses that roam freely. Do make sure you lock up your food — the horses are known to thieve.

Canaveral (Florida)

Home to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, this National Seashore often contends with space launches. But when the rockets are on ice, this nearly 60,000 acres of seashore is a wilderness — host to hundreds of birds and thousands of plant species. Grab a backcountry permit and be sure to pack in and out since there are no official campgrounds here.

Cape Cod (Massachusetts)

Henry David Thoreau seemed to be happiest on the shores of Cape Cod (“a most advantageous point from which to contemplate this world,” he called them) and the 4 million or so people who visit the resort towns each year would agree. To get a sense of the shore as Thoreau saw it in the middle of the 19th century, however, head to the 40 miles of protected seashore, free of the pomp and vanities you’ll find at the nearby Martha’s Vineyard. Still, this is Cape Cod, so you get a more standard beach vacation thanks to nearby access to ice cream, pubs, and the occasional tanning tourist.

Cape Hatteras (North Carolina)

Part of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of the most popular National Seashores in terms of people coming to see the lighthouses, heading out into the waters to kitesurf or sport fish, or to visit the many restaurants and historical landmarks (the Wright Brothers Memorial is but an hour north). It’s an area that has drawn people to its rich shores long before the Constitutional Convention — and as a protected tourist destination, will continue to do so for ages.

Cape Lookout (North Carolina)

The second Outer Banks National Seashore is located on the southern end — on a barrier island that is a bit more wild than its northern twin. This is where you visit to do horse watching, fishing, birding, lighthouse climbing, and general exploring. Without easy access to the culinary spoils of the OBX, be sure to pack your own food and water.

Cumberland Island (Georgia)

This barrier island off the coast of Georgia is steeped in history, including 16th-century Spanish missions, an 18th-century fort, large plantations from the mid-19th century, and the first African Baptist Church in the U.S. As the island is only accessible by boat, you’ll need to pack everything in and bring it out and make reservations in advance. There are multiple camping sites here with fire rings, bathrooms, grills, and drinking water. If you’re going this way, shoot for the Stafford Beach campground, which requires a 3.5-mile hike (with all your stuff; backpacking required), but makes it worth it thanks to the (basically private) beach access.

Fire Island (New York)

A remote beach you can get to from Penn Station? It’s true. A Long Island Railroad and a ferry ride bring you to the remote dunes of Watch Hill, the entry point to Fire Island National Seashore. A little over 1 mile from quiet luxury summer getaways and at the opposite end of the island from the party people in the south, this National Seashore is a miraculous getaway from the most populous city in New York. You’ll want to make a backcountry reservation well in advance for a nominal fee, but then you will have 7 miles of beach to share with little more than a dozen people in tents.

Gulf Islands (Mississippi, Florida)

This massive National Seashore stretches across the Mississippi/Florida border along seven barrier islands bragging 160 miles of wild coastline among them. Populated only with historic forts, birds, and beachgoers, the Gulf Islands are a sea kayak paradise, where you can paddle from one white sandy beach to the next.

Point Reyes (California)

Less than 40 miles north of San Francisco, Point Reyes is a seaside hiking paradise with more than 100 miles of trails that skirt cliffs, descend into grasslands, amble around ponds and bays, and never meander far from the Pacific. When you’re finished with the hikes, if you can get a backcountry permit, you may camp in the park. But why do that when just outside the park are a slew of charming inns around Marin County — seemingly unchanged since the ’60s when Point Reyes first came into existence.

Padre Island (Texas)

Come for the sea turtle hatchlings, stay for the unparalleled Gulf Coast camping. Camping is first come, first served with five campgrounds available to cars (one only AWD). There are more than 60 miles of beaches on Padre Island, and 380 different species of birds within the park, but it’s the sea turtles most people come for. The hatchling releases typically occur from mid-June through August early in the morning, taking the little ones some 20-45 minutes to make their way across the beach and into the water.

These 3 National Lakeshores Are True Hidden Gems

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (WI)

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Like National Seashores, National Lakeshores have been set aside by Congress to remain federally protected areas. To date, there are only three national lakeshores: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. All are worth visiting.

Apostle Islands

The 21 islands that make up the Apostle Islands are spread across 12 miles of its mainland coast of Lake Superior. The beautiful cliffs and beaches are home to more than 240 species of birds, as well as other wildlife. The islands also host nine different lighthouses across six of their islands. The water is perfect for paddling, sailing, or a relaxing boat ride through the calm waves. You can even get an up-close look at old shipwrecks by scuba diving in the clear water. If you are wanting a break from the water, explore the more than 50 miles of hiking trails or camp on one of the 19 available islands.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Michigan is home to the five Great Lakes, but also several hidden gems scattered throughout the state. The Sleeping Bear Dunes is located near the popular Traverse City, by Glen Arbor and Maple City. It was named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America. Climb the famous sand dunes to see the breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. There are lots of shops and restaurants for visitors, as well as festivals, music, and art. A must-see within this national lakeshore are the Manitou Islands, great for hiking and camping. Explore the different shipwrecks along the Manitou Passage.

Pictured Rocks

Another famous landmark in Michigan is Pictured Rocks, located in the state’s Upper Peninsula. It is between Munising and Grand Marais, along Lake Superior. The unique rock formations within the cliffs showcase a variety of different colors and minerals, and stretch across 15 miles of the 42 miles of the lakeshore. Aside from the cliffs, there are waterfalls and sand dunes to explore. Pictured Rocks became the first national lakeshore in 1966 and has attracted thousands of visitors each year. To explore the sandstone cliffs, boat tours are a great option to learn the history of the rocks and even see the different naturally-formed caves.

The 7 Best National Parks For Their Shoreline

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

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America’s 63 National Parks get a lot of pen for their incredible peaks (Tetons, Yosemite, Zion), valleys and gorges (Grand Canyon, Death Valley), and their wildlife (Yellowstone, Denali, Glacier). But what about their shores? Every last National Park has waterways, lakes, or coastlines that maybe don’t draw quite as many crowds as vistas and bison — but they should. These seven locations prove that going to a National Park for a beach vacation is the best reason.


For more than 104 years, Acadia National Park has drawn tourists in the Northeast to see the Puffin-filled rocky shores of Maine. The crashing waves at Thunder Hole, jagged cliffs of Monument Cove, and 8- to 12-foot daily tides show off an inhospitable shore that is awe-inspiring and beautiful. It also makes the many beautiful hidden swimming beaches like Sand Beach or Echo Lake Beach all the more inviting.

Channel Islands

The California coast is one of the world’s most incredible shorelines. Full stop. But when you get to the Los Angeles area and its 13 million residents, it loses a bit of the wild, natural energy that makes the coast so magnificent. That is, unless you keep going west, out to the Channel Islands, a series of five pristine islands trapped in time, home to 60 plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. It’s the best California has to offer. Oh, and you can only get there by boat or plane, so be sure to plan ahead.

Crater Lake

A volcanic crater lake that is the deepest in the U.S. and covered in snow for most of the year might not be your idea of enticing, but trust us, it is. Due to the temperatures, swimming in this pristine lake in central Oregon is only for Polar Bears, but hiking, biking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing around the rim is an experience like any other. Be sure to bring your pole for a bucket-list fishing experience.

Dry Tortugas

Go to the tip of Florida and head west, over open water (accessible only by boat or seaplane), and you’ll find the island gem of American National Parks. Dry Tortugas National Park is known for its see-through blue water, coral reefs, and oh so many sea turtles. Getting there is a trek, but worth the effort.


Wetlands get a bad rap. Not only are they among the most important types of land for flood prevention, carbon retention, and water purifying, but they’re also brimming with life. The Everglades, a huge subtropical wetland system, offers a density of birds (more than 360 species have been recorded there), mammals (more than 40 mammals live there), and more than 50 distinct reptile species (yes, alligators included). While your best bet is to rent a boat and take a pair of binoculars, hiking, biking, and fishing are all perfect activities for this pristine piece of Florida.

Indiana Dunes

On the south shore of Lake Michigan just 90 minutes from Chicago, Indiana Dunes was at first designated a National Lakeshore and in 2019 officially made a National Park. The whole 23-square-mile park sits on one of the biggest dunes off Lake Michigan and is brimming with activities. Hiking, horseback riding, biking, birding, swimming, fishing, camping, and in winter months, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are major draws for the Midwestern city dwellers.


On the northern tip of Minnesota, a 218,055-acre plot surrounded by lakes, Voyageurs is known for its fishing, the northern lights, and its countless islands (there are more than 500). This is a place to see every possible kind of waterway — from lakes to streams, wetlands, and island shores — as much as it is a borderlands to get away from it all. All of it except, you know, the moose, wolves, deer, bald eagles, perch, pike, and walleyes.

3 Ways To See Alaska, America’s Reservoir

Photo by Jon Felis

Alaska is a humbling place. The land is big, wild, and frankly rather deadly. Nothing can make you feel smaller than standing on top of a glacier or peak to see that there are glaciers and peaks, similar in kind to the one you’re standing on, for as far the eye can see (even geologists stopped counting at 27,000 glaciers and the USGS notes that it’s a fool’s errand to try).

But the vastest resource of Alaska, despite the visual feast of the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range and Aleutian Range or the Grizzly Bears and Wolves, and Caribou, is its waterways. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Alaska contains more than 40% of the surface water in America including more than 12,000 rivers, 3 million lakes greater than 5 acres, and so many creeks and ponds that they don’t bother to count. Its coastline runs for an astounding 6,640 miles — some 7% of the entirety of the United States coast.

Of course, like much of Alaska, so much of these waterways are daunting — unreachable but to the most intrepid explorer. Even relatively tame and civilized cruises or camping or stays at luxury lodges require some fortitude — to get through the inclement weather, to take care near the grizzlies, to get out and into the wild. It’s worth it. Alaska should be on everyone’s bucket list and the waterways are the way to truly explore it. Here are three places to start:

Canoe On The Stikine River

The fastest-flowing navigable waterway in North America, the Stikine River flows from British Columbia toward Wrangell, an island in Alaska that acts as a launching point for many rugged adventurers. It’s one of the most spectacular canoe trips on the planet. Glaciers are everywhere, along with glacial lakes that are worth a portage to.

You can book a trip through Nahanni River Adventures.

Kayak Around The Seward Peninsula

Who wants to see some bald eagles? How about such a density of them that you would think you’re in a much more horrifying version of Hitchcock’s The Birds? The masses of bald eagles in the area naturally mean epic fishing. So using Seward as your launch pad (the town is 127 miles from Anchorage), you can crawl the coast or hop island to island checking out the birds and the fish, or get a sea view of the 30 glaciers in the nearby Harding Icefield.

Book one of numerous guided and unguided kayak tours from out of Seward.

Cruise To The Faraway Central Coast

You really can see Russia from Nome, Alaska. But also, the Iditarod (it’s home to the finish line), roaming Musk Ox, hot springs, and the Bendeleben Mountains, which act as the divide for drainage for the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. So why go to Nome? For all the above reasons, but also because so few can make it there. Cruise lines like this tour from Holland America are one of the only ways to see such rare coastlines — and you can also book an epic tour of coastal Alaska from Wrangell to Juneau, Seward to Nome.

You can book a cruise from Holland America Line.

Getting Away From It All In The Adirondacks

Saranac Lake, NY

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The Adirondacks, in northeastern New York, contain some of the most dramatic and determinedly rugged landscapes in the United States. It’s truly vast, big enough to fit the Everglades, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon with room to spare. It’s home to more than 3,000 lakes, old-growth forests, dozens of high peaks, and some 30,000 miles of river and stream. Adirondack Park, created in the late 19th century, encompasses nearly the entire region with a unique conservation model that mixes public and private use. Roughly half the land is privately owned, mostly for agriculture and forestry — but the heart of the region is the Forest Preserve, created by Congress in 1885: 2.6 million acres that “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be sold, nor shall they be leased or taken by any person or corporation, public or private.”

The Saint Regis Canoe Area of the Adirondacks is the largest wilderness canoe area in the northeastern United States. Nothing motorized is permitted here — so you can paddle in woodsy quiet over its chain of 58 lakes and ponds, backcountry camping along the way, and do it all for free.

14 National Wild And Scenic Rivers To Ford, Float, And Fish


River, OR

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The continental United States is a jigsaw of expansive watersheds that convey every drop of flowing water from its highlands source out, eventually, to sea. Those networks of creeks, streams, and rivers give us our drinking water, fill irrigation channels, create routes for inland shipping (some 550 million tons each year), and provide inestimable opportunities for peace, fun, and adventure on the water. The 3.5 million or so miles of river and stream that crisscross the country are the lifeblood of the nation.

But that’s a lot of pressure on a finite resource, and only a tiny fraction of our rivers and streams — about one-half of 1 percent — is federally protected under 1968’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The bill, written largely in reaction to the impacts of the heroic phase of river engineering and dam construction — beginning in 1935, with the Hoover Dam, and going full steam into the 1960s — sought to preserve wild and free-flowing rivers, and the complex ecosystems they support.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Maine

The only Wild & Scenic River in the state, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway was first protected by the Maine state legislature, in 1966, and then added to the National System in 1970. Not a singular waterway, but a wild chain of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, the Allagash offers a range of paddles (up to Class II rapids), and abundant hiking, fishing, and camping opportunities (by permit). Above all, the Allagash is stupendously rugged and remote — it’s accessible only by a few gravel roads. In the words of the official guide, “internet connectivity and cell phone coverage is nonexistent.”

Allegheny River, Pennsylvania

The Allegheny flows for roughly 325 miles from its source on the Pennsylvania/New York border, bubbling up as a shallow stream that gains speed and volume as it flows west to Pittsburgh, where it merges with the Monongahela to form the mighty Ohio. Because it forms the northern boundary of the 514,000-acre Allegheny National Forest, the river always feels a little on the wild side, even when you’re paddling past long-settled towns (like Oil City, home to the first petroleum boom) and occasional industry. Below the Kinzua Dam, which created the 24-mile-long Allegheny Reservoir (by flooding roughly a third of the Seneca Nation’s tribal lands, some 10,000 acres) begins the Wild and Scenic Allegheny, with long smooth-pebble beaches, a few gentle rapids, and a string of islands that are open to camping, first come, first served. The perfect place for a first (or 50th) family canoe-camping adventure.

American River, California

The North Fork of the American River begins in the Tahoe National Forest and flows on through whitewater channels and redwood forest, over waterfalls and past the site of an abandoned dam, now the extreme sports nexus of the Auburn Dam Recreational Area, a haven for everything from mountain biking and horseback riding to whitewater rafting. Among the most famous rapids is Tunnel Chute — a wild cutoff that miners hand-blasted in the 19th century (they were trying to drain a gold-filled horseshoe bend in the river, and succeeded!) that's now a popular rafting destination. With iconic Western vistas, abundant wildlife, serious hikes, and cool, clear pools in which to leap, this portion of the American River is thankfully preserved for generations to come.

Buffalo National River, Arkansas

The Buffalo survived years of plans to dam or alter portions of the river, before being preserved as a National River by Congress in 1972 — the first in the country. The Buffalo flows from the high Ozarks, across two great plateaus and through national and state parks, ultimately merging with the White River in Missouri. Popular (and sometimes crowded) put-ins along the river are the launching pad for everything from mile-long inner tube drifting trips to days-long expeditions by canoe and kayak. Either way, you’re floating through some of the most iconic landscapes on the continent — high bluffs, hidden hollows, waterfall coves, and sweeping riverbank beaches that make traveling the Buffalo perfect for families. You can camp just about anywhere in the backcountry (with some important exceptions). Take note: Next year’s full solar eclipse will be visible from the Buffalo River.

Cache la Poudre, Colorado

Colorado’s lone protected river in the National System, the Cache la Poudre is protected from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park and downstream for 76 miles along its south fork. In 1820, French trappers, caught by a massive blizzard, buried their gunpowder along the banks of the river to preserve it — hence the river’s name (“powder cache”). The river is a destination for fly fishing — wild trout are abundant — and for whitewater rafting through the Poudre Canyon.

Delaware River, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey

You might know the Delaware as a watershed that provides drinking water to millions. But it’s also a well-protected wild river that runs from the Catskills in New York along the border of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey until it flows out in the Delaware Bay and to the Atlantic Ocean. For recreation, the Delaware Water Gap can’t be beat — the perfect point to put in a kayak or canoe and to float down the river, past the Appalachian Trail which crosses it on a bridge and into some of the most untouched places in the mid-Atlantic.

Missisquoi & Trout Rivers, Vermont

Some 46 miles of the Missisquoi and its tributary the Trout were designated as the only Wild and Scenic in Vermont, in 2014. Long a fishing ground of the Abenaki, portions of the river system flow through both Vermont and Quebec. Famous for deep crystal-clear swimming holes, the Missisquoi also features Big Falls, the largest natural waterfall in the state, crashing down into a high-walled gorge that empties into a large pool, ringed with beaches. Find rare species and rocks, from the spiny softshell turtles, blue schists, and serpentinites, plus the largest concentration of historic covered bridges in the U.S.

New River, West Virginia

The New River is an adventurers’ playground. It has some of the best whitewater on the East Coast, especially in the Upper Gauley with Class V water that draws pros and thrill-seekers alike during the seasonal flows. Same for the rock climbing, unparalleled in the east. There’s Bridge Day, basically a BASE jumping convention that takes place over the river every year. Did we mention mountain biking, trail running, and, for us slower-paced folks, bucket-list birding and fly fishing? The New River is the center point of these activities, accessible in the New Gorge National Park, one of the most recently added National Parks.

Missouri River, Montana, Nebraska, And South Dakota

The Missouri River flows for more than 2,500 miles, from the Rocky Mountains, in Montana, to its confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Louis, making it the longest river in the country. Together, the Missouri and Mississippi form the fourth largest river system in the world; both have been profoundly altered by dams and other engineering to facilitate commercial and industrial use, especially in the lower sections. This makes it all the more remarkable that portions of this majestic river, passing through some of the most dramatic landscapes on the continent, have been preserved as wild and scenic: 149 miles downstream from Fort Benton, Montana, were designated in 1976. Float, fish, camp, hike, and find solitude.

Rogue River, Oregon

One of the “Original Eight” rivers designated for preservation, the Rogue River flows 215 miles from the ancient caldera of Crater Lake, through national parks, former gold rush towns, and some of the wildest portions of the Pacific Northwest, ultimately flowing out to the Pacific near Gold Beach. During the 19th-century Gold Rush, miners found so much gold glimmering in the beach near the mouth of the Rogue River, they named the town Gold Beach. Like much of the coast, it went through subsequent heydays in salmon fishing and canning and timber, before becoming a mecca for whitewater rafting and fly fishing.

Rio Grande, Texas

For 1,250 miles, the Rio Grande forms the border between the United States and Mexico — almost 200 of those miles are wild and scenic as they wrap around the southern boundary of Big Bend National Park, in West Texas. While you can plan an epic float around the entirety of the “big bend,” most visitors go for shorter paddles through some of the river’s dramatic high-walled canyons, striated with the rich reds, yellows, and grays of the Chihuahuan Desert, an essential habitat to thousands of bird, animal and plant species, including the golden eagle, jaguar, and the Mexican wolf. It’s home to a quarter of the world’s cactus species. Most popular: day or overnight trips through Santa Elena, the deepest of the canyons, with 1,500-foot walls, or Boquillas Canyon, for a mellow two- to three-day float.

Salmon River (Middle Fork), Idaho

One of the original eight rivers in the National System, nearly every mile of the Middle Fork is designated and protected. It flows, in its entirety, through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the ruggedness of which essentially saved the Middle Fork from development — it’s among the only free-flowing sections of the Salmon River system. From high alpine forest to desert, and dropping down through high-walled canyons, the river supports abundant wildlife, including elk, cougar, and bighorn sheep. A world-class rafting destination, the Middle Fork draws thousands of adventurous families each summer, with wilderness camping along the riverbank. Permits are available by lottery each year, and river use is tightly regulated to preserve its pristine state.

Smith River, California

The Smith River, in the Northwestern corner of California, was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1981, and has since been expanded into the Smith River National Recreation Area, encompassing more than 300 wild and scenic miles. The free-flowing jade-green waters of the Smith flow unimpeded — the only major river in the state that has been dammed — all the way to the Pacific through Redwood National and State Parks, steep canyons, and rugged, deeply forested terrain. Sought out for its whitewater sections, the Smith mellows out for long stretches — you can snorkel and swim in the deep, clear pools of emerald-green water, float, and fish.

Wekiva River, Florida

One of two designated rivers in the state — and the only waterway protected in its entirety — the crystal-clear Wekiva flows for 16 miles, just north of Orlando. The Wekiva and its natural springs and tributaries are among the last untouched stretches in Central Florida, surrounded by roughly 110 square miles of protected wilderness — hardwood swamps, wetlands, orchids, and fern — that’s home to abundant wildlife, including black bears, sandhill cranes, and alligators. Hike for miles or drift along dreamily for the day.

Say Aloha To These 3 Hawaiian Beaches

Mākena State Park, Maui

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In Hawaii, you can’t own the beach, no matter how much money you have — it’s part of the public trust and open to all, a communal tradition deeply rooted in both Hawaiian culture and legal precedent. In 1995, the courts recognized native and public rights to access the beach, up to the vegetation line. Which, unfortunately, didn’t stop various outside money from trying to effectively block the public from beaches by exploiting the law and goosing vegetation down to the waterline. In 2006, the Hawaiian Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the “beach” reached “the highest wash of the waves” and condemned the use of artificial vegetation.

That Hawaii has some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet is beyond argument. That native Hawaiians and others have fought successfully to keep the world’s most desirable beaches in public hands is a miracle and a gift to everyone who lives and goes there.

Mākena State Park, Maui

In an archipelago of otherworldly beauty, the 165 acres of Mākena State Park stand out. A large white-sand beach arcs for a mile and a half on one side of Puʻu Ola — the cinder cone of a dormant volcano — and the smaller and generally more crowded Puʻu Olai Beach extends on the other. There are no concessions here, so visitors need to come prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, and portable shade. Generally calm enough for swimming and snorkeling, the surf break here — as with nearly all beaches in Hawaii — can become treacherous, depending on the conditions. Afternoon clouds roll in and hang between Haleakala and Kaho’olawe peaks, offering a near-magical respite from the sun and heat.

Lanikai Beach (Kaʻōhao Beach), Oahu

Consistently ranked among the most beautiful places in the world, the beach is adjacent to a residential area of Kailua, so visitors reach the half-mile stretch of soft, white sand via public-access paths. Swim, chill, watch outriggers launch from the beach, or kayak out to Nā Mokulua, a pair of small islands roughly a mile offshore. The islands are part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary and largely off-limits, but the paddle out is its own immersion in wilderness, in the company of sea turtles, rays, and other creatures.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii

A stretch of coastline that’s both rich in natural beauty and a culturally sacred and historic place. In ancient times, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau was a “place of refuge” for those sentenced to death for breaking one of the kapu (or “taboos”) that were strictly enforced. The condemned would be fully absolved if they were able to navigate the treacherous reef and currents and swim to the safety of this shore. Centuries-old structures on the Royal Grounds still stand — once a stronghold and safe haven for families during times of war. First and foremost, the park offers excellent opportunities to learn about Hawaiian culture, history, and craft; local experts demonstrate weaving, carving, and traditional fishing techniques.

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