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Best Hikes of the Hawaiian Islands

Hawaii’s majestic mountains and forests hold verdant treasures that can only be seen by foot. There are a rich diversity of trails, from shaded valleys leading to waterfalls to ridges overlooking coastline and valleys with views of neighbor islands. As you gain elevation, you’ll see more of Hawaii’s endangered and native trees and shrubs and hear the calls of the forest birds.

O‘ahu’s Best Hikes

Lyon Arboretum on O'ahu. Photo © Kevin Whitton.
Lyon Arboretum on O’ahu. Photo © Kevin Whitton.
  • Diamond Head Summit Trail: This hike inside a volcanic cinder cone offers a unique perspective of O‘ahu’s geology and its military past. The summit offers sweeping views of the south shore.
  • Lyon Arboretum Trails: Shaded, damp, and devoid of crowds, the vast network of trails at Lyon Arboretum introduces hikers to hundreds of different tropical plants and trees. The fragrant and bright blossoms of ginger and heliconia are everywhere, palms and canopy trees reign, and vines and epiphytes grow in the trees. A small waterfall is the prize in the back of the valley.
  • Kuli‘ou‘ou Trails: These valley and ridge trails reach a summit just above 2,000 feet and offer stunning views of Waimanalo and the windward coast, panning all the way to Diamond Head across Maunalua Bay.
  • Maunawili Falls: A popular, short hike just outside of Kailua in the shadow of Olomana, the trail follows Maunawili Stream to cascading Maunawili Falls where there’s a deep swimming pool. There are also great views of the Ko‘olau Mountains and Kane‘ohe Bay.
  • Ka‘ena Point: This hot and dry hike to the western tip of O‘ahu takes you along a rocky and rutted dirt road skirting a rugged volcanic coastline with surf pummeling the cliffs. Whether you come from the North Shore or Yokohama Bay side, this natural preserve, home to nesting seabirds, native plants, and Hawaiian monk seals, will wow you.

Kaua‘i’s Best Hikes

View of the ocean from the Kalalau Trail on Kaua‘i.
View from the Kalalau Trail on Kaua‘i. Photo © Andrea Izzotti/123rf
  • Kalalau Trail: Kaua‘i’s Kalalau Trail is a strenuous 11-mile hike one way, with unmatched views of the Na Pali Coast through switchbacks, mud, hills, and stream crossings. You’ll pass Hanakapi‘ai Beach and end on the secluded Kalalau Beach.
  • Hanakapi‘ai Beach and Hanakapi‘ai Falls: Beginning at Ke‘e Beach, this section of the Kalalau Trail, which is roughly four hours round-trip, features beautiful views of the Na Pali Coast and ends with a dip in the cool freshwater pool at Hanakapi‘ai Falls.
  • Kuilau Trail: Taking about two or three hours to complete, this moderately strenuous trail offers wonderful rewards, including including an amazing view of Mount Wai‘ale‘ale and sweeping vistas from Kapa‘a to Lihu‘e.
  • Iliau Nature Loop and Kukui Trail: The family-friendly Iliau Nature Loop in Waimea Canyon State Park wanders through native forest for about 20 minutes of walking time. From here you can connect to the Kukui Trail, which will take you down to the Waimea River in the canyon (roughly four hours round-trip).
  • Pihea Trail and Alaka‘i Swamp Trail: These trails take you through otherworldly terrain: dwarf forests, vine-covered trees, and the world’s highest swamp. Amazing sweeping views to the north shore can be seen at the Kilohana Overlook.

Maui’s Best Hikes

A tall narrow waterfall cascades down through the bamboo forest in Maui.
Makahiku Falls view along the Pipiwai Trail on Maui. Photo © Maria Luisa Lopez Estivill/123rf.
  • Keonehe‘ehe‘e TO Halemau‘u: Otherwise known as the Sliding Sands to Switchback Loop, this 12.2-mile sojourn crosses the floor of Haleakala Crater, weaving past cinder cones bursting with color. Keep an eye out for nene and glistening silversword plants. For a real thrill, hike by the light of the full moon.
  • Polipoli Spring Recreation Area: Tucked in one of the least-visited corners of Maui, Polipoli looks more like Northern California than a Pacific island. A network of trails weaves through towering redwoods. The silence is broken only by passing pheasants.
  • Pipiwai Trail: If expansive banyan trees, dark bamboo forests, and numerous waterfalls aren’t enough of a thrill, this four-mile trail reaches a dramatic terminus at the base of 400-foot Waimoku Falls. This hike, Maui’s best, should be on every itinerary for a day in Hana.

Moloka‘i’s Best Hikes

  • Halawa Valley: Halawa Valley is one of the oldest settlements in the Hawaiian Islands, so sacred it can only be explored with a guide. More than just a hike to a waterfall, a guided trek in Halawa Valley is an educational and powerful journey to the heart of Hawaiian culture.

The Big Island’s Best Hikes

Plants push up through the barren landscape of the Kileaua Iki Crater.
Along the floor of the Kilauea Iki Crater. Photo © Maria Luisa Lopez Estivill/123rf.
  • Mauna Loa Observatory Trail: Brace altitude and weather on the most extreme hike on the Big Island: the summit of Mauna Loa. This hike has two access points; it’s a closer hike if you begin from near the Mauna Loa observatory on the Saddle Road.
  • Crater Rim Trail: Hike from the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum along the crater rim toward the visitor center for unparalleled views of the vast Kilauea Caldera. Pass through desert-like conditions as well as lush native tropical forest.
  • Kilauea Iki Trail: The Kilauea Iki Trail takes you from the top of the Kilauea crater, with lush tropical rainforests, to the bottom of the crater floor, which is devoid of vegetation and filled with volcanic steam. It is a moderate four-hour loop.

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