Three islands in the South Pacific create the National Park of American Samoa. This is one of the most unique American national parks, and I can tell you from experience it’s a place you’re going to want to experience.
It is the only land in the National Park System that exists beneath the equator. The magnificence of the islands is made up of volcanic rocks and tropical views. This is where the rain forests flourish in rich soils, and the mountains stand tall from the seafloor. This is a must-see National Park, so put it on your bucket list.
Since this is different from other National Parks around America, there are some things you need to know before embarking on a new adventure.
When you hear American National Parks, you think of campsites, grilling, RV’s, trailers, etc. There is no camping on the islands of the American Samoan National Park. So, please, leave your tents, RV’s and other gear at home. This is a different terrain, and it is for your own safety. But there are many accommodations for you to enjoy your stay.
Since this is a different type of park, we want to walk you through a few tips and tricks to get yourself safely through the islands and the villagers you’re around.
You want to be sure to do the right thing not to be impolite or disrespect the Samoan people. So, here is a how-to guide on how to go camping in the American Samoa National Park.
The History of the American Samoa National Park
The American Samoa National Park is made up of three islands. They were first inhabited by Polynesians and have been for the last 3,000 years. While battling with Germany over the entire Samoan region in the late 1800s, The United States came into the picture.
As the two countries came to a stalemate when a tsunami destroyed the boats of both parties, the region was eventually split up with the United States seizing the eastern islands in 1899. For the new American territory, Pago Pago Harbor became the central location of an important naval station.
These islands were in the impeccable position to keep Japan calm during World War II. In the ’70s, Apollo missions utilized the region. It was used to retrieve the returning astronaut crews during their homecoming. They were found in the waters off the coast of Pago Pago.
In 1988, the National Park Services saw the necessity to place the island’s land and water assets under protection. Because of their historical use, and the home of many Samoan villagers, America created American Samoa National Park. Of course, there was an issue, and couldn’t move forward to protect the land and its people. The government couldn’t purchase the land. The American Samoan law entails that all property owners have to be at least half of Samoan blooded.
In 1993, finally, they were able to move forward. Because of a 50-year lease signed between the Park Services and Samoan village councils, the land became one of the most exceptional National Parks for America. This allowed the conservation of tropical rain forests, coral reefs, and beaches on the three of the islands.
The Layout of the Samoan Islands
This park consists of three islands, Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta’u. There are two other islands, Aunu and Olosega, but they are not certified “park land.”
When you arrive at the welcome center and retrieve your map, you will not see those islands part of the national park. You can still explore them, but it is at your own risk.
Out of the three islands, Ofu is the least traveled. When looking online, you will see pictures of people mostly snorkeling due to its flawless waters, but not much of the island of Ofu. The big island, Tutuila, is the most explored. Due to its vast amount of hiking trails, beaches, villagers, and lodging, it is almost the most stayed at.
Why Should You Visit the American Samoa National Park?
This is not an RV, friendly vacation. Due to the collection of three islands making up the majority of the park, it is not feasible and not permissible. Leave your RV at home on the mainland and take a flight to Honolulu to check this trip off your bucket list.
Here, you will enjoy the beautiful easy-going island life and tropical environment. You’ll start embracing the Samoan people while discovering this fantastic terrain of volcanic rock and the vast marine species. Be sure to keep your camera out to document these incredible islands. This is paradise.
The visitor center has exhibits and information on the park’s coral reefs and rain forests. You want to visit before going off on any adventures. Be sure to get as much information as you can about the activities around. You can also set up any lodging if need be at the welcome center.
Apart from the free pantalets available, there are park rangers on hand for any information. Be sure to pick their brains on any information on inland trails, due to their rough terrain. They are the most difficult. There are also special events. They always have a welcome ceremony by Samoan natives for the new travelers. This is an excellent introduction to the local culture and sees their customs.
This is probably one of the irreplaceable and gorgeous adventures to take part in. If you skip snorkeling, then you are missing out on one of the treasures of the islands.
These sites are located in American Samoa, starting at the big island of Tutuila. You can dive from the shore, and Ofu Island offers the best waters for snorkeling. Remember, getting to another island can be a big ordeal.
3 hiking trails conjoin all three islands together. Depending on the trail, they are rated in difficulty. Visitors who are interested in hiking will experience trails that go into the Mountains, along beaches, and through archaeological sites.
Some hikes end at gun battery points, where the islands were once protected from Japan during World War II.
Ofu island is home to white-sand beaches. Visitors can relax against the warm sand, enjoy the waves, and the palm trees reaching for the sky—this is your own paradise island.
When are the Best Times to Visit American Samoa National Park?
Since this park is located in the South Pacific, the temperature is perfect for year-round visiting. So, pick your season and escape to one of the most amazing National Parks in America. T
he park is always open, but of course, there have been emergency closings due to tsunamis or any other weather advisories. Be sure to stay alert to closures.
Where to Stay in American Samoa National Park?
Remember, there are no RV’s on the islands, so if you’re not accustomed to camping, you will have to adapt to lodging or hotels.
There is also a “homestay program” that will allow you to stay with Samoan people in their villages. This is where visitors can learn about Samoan people’s culture and island customs.
How to Get Around and To the Islands of American Samoa National Park?
If you want the traditional way of how people get around the island, well then get onto a jet ski and explore. But if you aren’t familiar with that mode of transportation, you can take a short plane ride.
Traveling to Tutuila it would be a 30-minute flight. Also, local anglers can help transport you to the islands. But because you’re island hopping, traveling requires planning. As a result, you will have one of the unique vacations of exploring a rare tropical paradise.
What to See During Your Visit to American Samoa National Park
To get the most out of your visit to Samoa National Park, you need to explore land and sea. During the drive to the welcome center, it is a scenic route that you can stop and see all of the fantastic sights of the volcanic rocks, cliffs, and views of the ocean.
During the migration season, you will be able to watch for humpback whales breaching through the channels between the islands.
With all the hiking trails available, you can find yourself 1,610 feet on Mount Alava. You can find this while hiking from the trailhead at Fagaa Pass, which is west of Pago Pago.
This is a 7.4-mile hike and will take around three hours to reach the summit. It could take up to two hours to come down.
When visiting the island of Ta’u, there is a trail from Saua that will take you around the southern rocky terrain coastline. This will take you to the base of Lata Mountain, which is 3,000 feet tall.
Some of the hikes can take you into the rain forest on unmaintained trails inland. These trails could be challenging due to their rough terrain. You want to ask a ranger before taking this trail to get the best advice and the best way to tackle it.
Lodging on the Islands of American Samoa National Park
Housing is obtainable on all islands except Olosega. Sadly, camping is prohibited within the park. For the best experience, stay with the fantastic Samoan people.
They are eager to share their lifestyle and culture with you. This type of lodging will allow you to indulge yourself in their culture firsthand. All the while, you will be assisting them with their economy.
Homestay programs can be arranged for Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta’u. This is a rare experience that not many people get to do. Take part in the program.
Tips for the Visitors When Visiting the American Samoa National Park
The Samoan people are usually very modest and religious. As a visitor, you will be informed to learn about their customs and behave with appropriate etiquette.
Ladies, you want to be sure to cover your bathing suits with a shirt and shorts when swimming and to snorkel. Men, cover your chest with a shirt.
Be sure to ask permission from the villagers before taking a photo of them, using their beaches, or engaging in activities. It is not hard to be granted permission, but if you fail to ask, it is considered impolite.
Refrain from eating or drinking while walking around their villages. During the evening, villagers perceive this time for prayer called Sa. You need to wait patiently and quietly before entering their town until they are finished.
Be aware that there is no search and rescue on the island as well as medical centers. They are miles away. When taking part in dangerous activities, be sure to be careful, and take precautions. If you feel like the hike or any action is too much, do not do it. Take the safe route.
You want to take caution and wear proper sun protection and appropriate clothing. Be sure to hike or snorkel with another person to ensure safety. You want to pay attention to changing ties and sharp coral, and be sure to bring plenty of drinking water on all adventures.
The American Samoa National Park is an adventure you will never forget. Between the most impressive sights, marine life, and beautiful culture of the Samoan people, you will have the time of your life.
This is a very different adventure then what most people are used to. Be sure to respect the Samoan people’s islands. It is there home. You are just a visitor. They are very open to sharing their culture with you, but they will only respect you if you appreciate them.
If you are an RV, camping type, well, then this trip is going to be very different than what you are used to. There are no camping areas; you will need to adapt to hotels, lodges, and living among the Samoan people.
Be sure to explore each island and take as many pictures as you can of your adventures. This is a once in a lifetime experience, and you want to get everything you can out of it. Be safe, and be sure to enjoy a piece of paradise while you’re there.
Check Out These Other National Park Camping Guides by Beyond The Tent:
- Camping in Channel Islands National Park
- Camping in Redwood National Park
- Camping in American Samoa National Park
- About the Author
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Hey there, I’m Ryan, the face behind Beyond The Tent.
With decades of camping experiences, my journey into the wilderness began on the rustic trails of a farm in southern Minnesota, where my childhood was filled with explorations and camping by a picturesque river.
My family’s adventures across the United States, from the majestic Colorado mountains to the serene national parks and the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota have given me a broad perspective. With each journey, whether in state parks or private encampments, and through the homely comfort of our camping trailers, we’ve amassed a trove of stories, experiences, and invaluable camping wisdom.