The Best Hikes in Hawaii Through Rain Forests, Volcanoes, and Secret Beaches
As travelers begin to book trips after a much-too-long travel hiatus, Hawaii is fast emerging as the perfect summer 2021 destination. Just a five- or six-hour flight from the West Coast — with no passport requirements — Hawaii is an idyllic tropical vacation that comes with all the simplicity of domestic travel. Hawaii is, quite frankly, the perfect comeback trip after a challenging year. The easy-to-follow entry requirements allow travelers to bypass the mandatory 10-day quarantine in Hawaii as long as they present a negative PCR test from an approved travel partner.
Whether you’re tempted by one of the luxurious, lesser-known islands like Lana’i, the up-and-coming North Shore of Oahu, or the ever-romantic Maui escape, now is the perfect time to book your trip.
While Hawaii is known as the land of beaches, you’ll also want to plan your itinerary around the state’s exceptional hiking trails. Hiking in Hawaii provides a glimpse into the natural wilds of the islands, from trails that criss-cross stunning valleys and traverse ridgelines to those that drop into still-steaming crater floors and lava tubes. And it doesn’t matter if you’re looking to escape the heat or want to soak up the sun — there are hikes that meander through lush rainforests and cut through arid, Mars-like landscapes (some offer both).
Once you’ve booked your trip, refer to this curated list of the best hikes in Hawaii for all skill levels. All you need to do is slather on some sunscreen, pack a bag with water and snacks, and get motivated — we promise, these hikes are well worth the effort.
Pu'u Pia Trail, Oahu
The Pu'u Pia Trail starts from the Manoa neighborhood of Honolulu, making it an easy and accessible option for a last-minute jaunt. The nearly two-mile, out-and-back trail provides plenty of shade on hot days and beautiful flowers and lush growth throughout. From the top, expect views over Honolulu and out to the sea.
Sliding Sands Trail, Maui
To experience a completely different side of Maui, head to Haleakalā National Park and take on the 11-mile out-and-back Sliding Sands Trail. The moderate-to-difficult hike starts with a descent, but make sure you’re aware of the climb required to get back out. While the trail’s Mars-like landscape doesn’t offer much shade, you’ll be rewarded with once-in-a-lifetime views into the volcano.
Kaumana Caves Trail, Hawaii
For an easy adventure near Hilo, head to Kaumana Caves State Park, where you’ll find the extremely short — half-mile round-trip — Kaumana Caves trail. The mini excursion takes travelers into a lava tube that was created by Mauna Loa in 1881. Just make sure to bring sturdy shoes and a flashlight, as the trail leads visitors down a metal ladder and into a dark lava tube.
Kalalau Trail, Kauai
The Kalalau Trail may be long, clocking in at 11 miles one way, but it’s the only way to access this part of Kauai’s rugged coast by land, making it well worth the effort. Along the way, you’ll traverse five valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach, which, depending on the day, you might have all to yourself. It’s worth noting that this route is for experienced hikers, so check trail and weather conditions before heading out. For those interested in overnight stays, a permit is required.
Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail, Oahu
This easy two-mile round-trip trail is located within Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline and provides hikers with amazing views of the island’s southeastern coast, including Koko Head and Koko Crater. Along the way, you’ll spot the historic Makapu'u Lighthouse and might be able to see the neighboring islands of Lanai and Molokai, if the weather is clear.
Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kauai
This easy-to-moderate trail can be found on the eastern side of Kauai, and it provides that Hawaiian jungle-like feel on the course of its 3.6-mile out-and-back journey. Along the way, you’ll see a waterfall and views toward Waialeale.
Waihe'e Ridge Trail, Maui
The Waihe’e Ridge Trail in the West Maui Forest Reserve starts out steep, leading hikers up the spine of Waihe’e Valley. But once you reach the top, the stunning views (especially on a clear day) make the 3.9-mile out-and-back excursion worth the effort.
Kīlauea Iki Trail, Hawaii
If the idea of hiking across a solid lave lake piques your interest, head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the Kīlauea Iki Trail takes off. The three-mile loop starts on the crater’s rim, then drops through the rain forest toward the steaming crater floor. At the bottom, you’ll pass the smoking vent on the floor of the crater before heading back up to the rim.
Pipiwai Trail and Waimoku Falls, Maui
If driving the Road to Hana is on your Maui to-do list, start early so you have time to integrate this 3.4-mile round-trip hike into your itinerary. Along this moderate trek, you’ll pass through a dense bamboo forest and spot several waterfalls before reaching the stunning Waimoku Falls.
Maunawili Trail, Oahu
If you’re looking for a challenge, take on the Maunawili Trail from Waimānalo near Kailua. The 8.8-mile point-to-point trail is difficult — and long, for those who decide to do the full thing — but you can easily turn around at any point. Along the way, you’ll be treated to stream crossings, views over lush valleys, and plenty of flowers.