There’s no way around it: One of the best ways to experience the unique sounds and scents of the islands is by immersing yourself in a natural hiking trail. Luckily, Hawaii is full of them, and they range from simple to strenuous and life-changing. Whether you’re part of a family looking for paved trails that are safe for strollers and provide plenty of learning experiences, or a seasoned adventure-seeker on the hunt for the next tick off your bucket list, Hawaii can provide the perfect hike.
Manoa Falls, Oahu
To get away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu city and feel immersed in the lush rainforests of the tropics, you only need to drive 15 minutes inland. There are plenty of hiking trails and natural waterfalls to explore in Manoa Valley, but the one at Manoa Falls is definitely the most accessible. Just about 2 miles out-and-back, this hike can get a little slippery at the top (hence the 100-foot waterfall), which only adds to the Jurassic Park vibe. There’s also a pretty large parking lot and a general store at the trailhead in case you forget your bug spray.
Makapuʻu Lighthouse Trail, Oahu
The trail at Makapuʻu is completely paved and located on Oahu’s windy east side along the island’s glimmering turquoise coastline. It only takes about 30 minutes to reach the top if you don’t stop to take pictures (but, trust us, you will) and at just over 2 miles total will have you refreshed and ready to continue sightseeing for the rest of the day. At the top, enjoy nearly panoramic views of the Pacific ocean, take a peek down at the 100-year-old lighthouse below, and even catch a glimpse of pods of Humpback whales during the winter months.
Diamond Head, Oahu
Diamond Head, also known as Lē‘ahi, has all the features of a perfect Hawaiian hike, which is probably why it is the most popular one in the state. Located on the outskirts of busy Waikiki and just under one mile each way, visitors who tackle Diamond Head get full bragging rights for hiking on the ridge of an actual volcanic crater (don’t worry, it's been dormant for about 150,000 years). There are several steep stops right at the top and hardly any shade, so this journey is best taken early in the morning and with the proper sun protection. Those who reach the summit will have some incredible photo ops with a stunning view of the ocean and Waikiki below.
Kaʻena Point, Oahu
What sets the trail to Kaʻena Point apart from the others? Other than the fact that it takes hikers to the westernmost tip of the island, Kaʻena Point actually has two different trailheads—one from the rocky westside at Yokohama and another from the sandy north shore at Mokulēʻia. Both trails are about 2.5 miles one-way in length, but keep in mind that you’ll likely want to take some time to explore the protected seabird sanctuary at the point. Be sure to stay on the designated trail so as not to disturb albatross and sheawater nests, and leave your pups at home if you venture inside the sanctuary.
Waihe'e Ridge Trail, Maui
Just west of Kahului near the famed Iao Valley, Waihe'e Ridge Trail features a 1,500-foot elevation gain, some of the most dramatic coastal and mountain vistas on the island, and a pretty killer leg workout. This 4-mile trek takes some hikers off guard since it starts out relatively easy but quickly switches to the steep and slippery incline that helped earn it its difficult reputation. Give yourself more time than you think and keep an eye out for Makamaka`ole Falls in the background.
Pīpīwai Trail, Maui
Inside the forested Kipahulu section of Haleakalā National Park, Pīpīwai Trail on the east side of Maui is an unforgettable supplement to the Road to Hana road trip. It’s about 4 miles round-trip and rated moderate, mostly due to the steeper grade in the first half-mile, but is incredibly well maintained and almost completely shaded. The majestic 400-foot Waimoku Falls await hikers at the end, but smaller falls, a historic banyan tree, and a massive bamboo forest can also be found on the way.
Kapalua Coastal Trail, Maui
Although it is less of a hike and more of a coastal walk, Kapalua Coastal Trail is exactly what the doctor ordered for visitors looking for a leisurely way to spend a morning in west Maui. It is almost completely flat and runs along the ocean for the entire 1.75 miles (each way), and there are sections of lava rocks, sand, gravel, and wooden walkways. Start in north Lahaina at Kapalua Beach and make your way across Oneloa bay past the Ritz-Carlton and into D.T. Fleming Beach; Both Kapalua and D.T. Fleming have been named the country’s best in the past, so pairing this hike with a beach day is definitely a good idea.
Sliding Sands, Maui
Sliding Sands (also known as Keonehe‘ehe‘e Trail) is an 11-mile hike with a 2,700-foot elevation gain that is reserved for experienced hikers only inside Haleakalā National Park. Considering the length, many visitors choose to hike just a portion of the trail to get a feel for the unique area, an otherworldly crater floor known for its breathtaking colors. The trailhead is near the Haleakalā Visitor Center, so we suggest stopping in before setting out to get a better feel for what you’re in for. If you’re a less experienced hiker or don’t want to deal with the elevation, look into hiking to the first overlook about half a mile in.
Akaka Falls Loop, Big Island
The loop trail to Akaka Falls is a short, paved option on the east side of the Big Island north of Hilo. This easy half-mile hike features not one but two flowing waterfalls, 440-foot Akaka Falls and 100-foot Kahuna Falls, as well as wild orchid flowers, bamboo groves, and native Hawaiian tropical plants. There are scenic overlooks for both waterfalls to provide the best views possible.
Kīlauea Iki, Big Island
It may look like a volcanic wasteland to the untrained eye, but this iconic moderate-to-difficult trail inside Volcanoes National Park is steeped in natural history. Although most hikers focus on the most volcano-esque part of the trail, there are also sections of forest, rich with red native Ohia trees, that lead to the Kīlauea Iki crater. There are multiple access points to the hike, though most choose to start from Kīlauea Iki Overlook making it a 4-mile loop, and park staff have marked the trail’s path across the crater floor with stacked rocks.
Waipiʻo Valley, Big Island
This valley on the northeast side of Hawaii Island in the beautiful Hamakua District was once the playground for Hawaiian royalty. The most popular hike here starts at Waipiʻo Overlook and ventures down the valley to the black sand beach and back, about 6.5 strenuous and steep miles total. However, you can also take the extremely difficult day hike via Muliwai Trail on the other side of the valley to get an amazing view of Hi’ilawe Falls.
Kalalau Trail, Kauai
Famous for being one of the most strenuous (and dangerous) hikes in Hawaii, the Kalalau Trail is certainly not for the faint of heart. The entire 11-mile one-way trail leads hikers through five valleys from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach along the Nā Pali Coast. The good news is that you don’t have to hike the whole thing to get a feel for this trail’s unparalleled beauty. Plenty of hikers turn around at Hanakāpī‘ai Beach after 2 miles or even to Hanakāpī‘ai Falls 2 miles farther.
Canyon Trail, Kauai
A splattering mixture of green, red, yellow, and brown shades wrapped around a 3,000 feet deep gorge in western Kauai, Waimea Canyon is one of Hawaii’s true natural wonders. At about 4 miles in length, this moderate trail inside Waimea Canyon State Park starts along Halemanu Road and takes hikers to the top of Waipoo Falls overlooking the entire canyon. Depending on pace, it will take anywhere from two to three hours to complete, making it a perfect little day hike with excellent views.
Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kauai
A favorite of local families thanks to its well maintained (albeit often muddy) path and gentle slopes, Kuilau Ridge Trail is 2.25 miles (each way) and an easy to moderate hike located near the entrance of Keahua Arboretum. From the get-go, hikers gain glimpses of the Makaleha mountain range, as well as the highest point on Kauai at Kawaikini summit and the rainy Mount Waialeale to the west. During the portions of the hike where the ridge blocks your view, you’ll still be surrounded by a variety of lush native plants that help give this trail its jungle feel.
Halawa Valley, Molokai
Halawa Valley is one of Hawaii’s most historic areas, and seeing as it is located on one of the state’s most isolated islands—Molokai—it is the epitome of serenity wrapped in a lush rainforest setting. Early Polynesians are believed to have settled in this valley as far back as 650 A.D., and it is still the site of ancient, sacred heiaus and a 250-foot waterfall. The only catch? The site is located on private property, so the only way to access it is through a hired guide company, like this one that provides a dedicated expert in the terrain, local flora, and cultural significance of the historic valley.