Hawaii’s Best Trails for Every Hiker
Find a trail that works for your own sense of adventure and endurance level
Ask any traveler why Hawaii is a great destination, and they’ll probably cite the warm Pacific beaches, decked-out resort luaus, and perfectly balmy weather. But the Aloha State is also home to plenty of world-class hiking. This charming string of islands boasts hundreds of miles of trails, crisscrossing misty tropical forests, coastal bluffs with endless ocean views, moonlike craters, and even an active volcano. Whether you’re a seasoned trekker, a casual hiker, or a total newbie to nature, Hawaii is the perfect place to explore the outdoors with your own two feet.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, Oahu. This paved trail on the eastern bluffs of Oahu may be short, but it packs in plenty of stellar scenery along the way. With unobstructed vistas of the glittering Pacific and fragrant native plants lining the trail, you’ll hardly notice the gentle uphill climb that leads to a viewpoint for—you guessed it—a historic lighthouse. There are also opportunities for whale watching in the winter months (bring binoculars!) and tide pool exploration via a short spur trail. For an especially memorable experience, head to the 647-foot summit at dawn. You’ll appreciate the cooler weather, and on a clear morning, islands as far away as Maui and Moloka’i are illuminated by the rising sun. Distance: 2 miles roundtrip.
Kapalua Coastal Trail, Maui. Check out three of Maui’s loveliest beaches and wander through the perfectly-groomed grounds of the Ritz-Carlton resort on this mellow coastal walk. Park your car at Kapalua Beach and stroll through postcard-worthy Hawaiian imagery: beaches dotted with families, jagged rock formations over turquoise waves, and hidden inlets. (Keep your eyes peeled for the occasional sea turtle coming up for air.) Another optional half-mile of trail between Namalu and Onealoa bays gets you to the island’s most northwestern corner, a worthwhile side trip for the lookout point’s expansive views of Lana’i and beyond. If you prefer to feel the sand beneath your feet, walk along Kapalua Beach and meet up with the easy-to-find path when you’re done. Distance: 3.5 miles roundtrip.
ʻIao Needle Loop, Maui. There’s a reason Mark Twain dubbed Central Maui’s lush ‘Iao Valley the “Yosemite of the Pacific.” Tropical vegetation covers the area (now a state monument) in a blanket of brilliant green, punctuated by impressive stone features peeking through the mist—the largest of which is the ‘Iao Needle. You can see the towering, 1,200-foot-tall pinnacle on a short, paved loop that takes you across a bridge and up a winding set of steps to an overlook. After you’ve had your fill of photo ops, you can head back the way you came or take a detour at a fork in the trail that leads to Kinihapai Stream, a nice place to perch on a boulder and take in the tropical scene. Distance: 0.6-mile loop
Kalalau Trail, Kauai. The 17-mile stretch of Kauai known as the Na Pali Coast has no shortage of drama. It’s a dreamy sequence of beaches and valleys folded into ripples of mountainside that climb straight into the clouds. See it for yourself with half a day on the Kalalau Trail, starting from Ke’e Beach. You’ll warm up with a quick 400-foot gain in elevation, but you’ll soon be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the magnificent coral reef below. Hang out on idyllic Hanakapiai Beach before turning around, or add about 4 miles (and a more challenging stretch of trail) to your journey by continuing to Hanakapiai Falls, a 300-foot stunner that’s worth the extra work. Be prepared for slippery rocks, mud, and a few steep drop-offs along the way. Distance: 4 miles roundtrip (8 miles with Hanakapiai Falls extension).
Kilauea Iki & Thurston Lava Tube, Big Island. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is one of the most active volcanic areas in the world, and the park’s best trail highlights two natural features that were carved by the flow of lava. Start by descending through forest onto the vast Kilauea Iki crater, where you’ll wander past the vents and slabs created by a massive eruption in 1959 (follow the ahu, or stacked rocks, to navigate the path). After an uphill climb, you’ll walk through the otherworldly Thurston Lava Tube, a cave formed 500 years ago by an underground lava channel. When you’re done with your hike, stick around and spend your evening hours at the Halemaumau Overlook for prime viewing of the active crater’s fiery glow. Distance: 4-mile loop.
Lanipo Trail, Oahu. Honolulu hikers looking for a challenge should consider the Lanipo Trail, a hilly route with unmatched views of east Oahu. This rollercoaster of a hike will take you up (and down) three different peaks along the Mau’umae Ridge—but the vistas of Oahu’s windward coast, the twin peaks of Konahuanui, and the oft-hidden Ka’au Crater will make you forget about your leg-busting workout. Like most ridge line trails, this one is very much exposed to the elements. Bring a brimmed hat, sunscreen and plenty of water. Wear long pants, too—you’ll be grateful for the protection when walking through overgrown sections of trail. Distance: 7 miles roundtrip.
Sliding Sands Trail, Maui. Taking in the jaw-dropping view from 10,000 feet at Haleakala National Park is bucket list-worthy on its own. Add a hike into the strange landscape of the volcano’s massive crater, and you’ve got an experience of a lifetime. For a half-day adventure, descend for 2.5 miles on the mostly empty trail before arriving at the colorful Ka Lu’u o ka ‘O’o cinder cone. Take a walk around the edge before stopping for a snack and heading back up. It’s important to note that the Sliding Sands Trail is extremely steep. For your ascent, you should budget twice the amount of time it took you to walk down. Other options include a full-day hike further into the crater, or a multi-day trek with a night at one of the two cabins on the crater floor. Pro tip: Plan your arrival to (or departure from) the visitor center to coincide with sunrise or sunset for a particularly memorable moment. Distance: 5.5 miles or more.
Jennifer Kotlewski is an L.A.-based travel writer who’s visited over 29 different countries. She writes about different travel topics and destinations for kimkim.com.