The 15 Best Hikes You Shouldn't Miss in Hawaii
Kilauea Iki Trail | © Heath Cajandig / Flickr
Each island in Hawaii uniquely features everything from easy loops, to multi-day backpacking excursions suited for all types of adventurers. Hikers intimately experience the natural beauty of the islands through its rushing waterfalls, verdant tropical forests, and desolate volcanic craters. Here are the 15 best hikes in Hawaii you shouldn’t miss.
Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge Trail
Starting at the back of Kuli‘ou‘ou Valley and rising nearly 1,800 ft, hikers reach the top of the Ko‘olau Mountain Range after just 4.4 miles. This trek has one of the most stunning panoramic views of all ridge trails on the island, for the least amount of effort. Once at the top, hikers can see the south shore on one side, and the east side of O‘ahu on the other.
Ka’au Crater is the lesser known of the three tuff cones in Honolulu—Diamond Head and Koko Crater are the other two. This five-mile loop trail heads over three waterfalls then up to the mountain ridge. Looking back, the lush crater is framed by Honolulu in the background. Diamond Head, Kane’ohe, Maunawili, Lanikai, and Kailua are also visible from the top of the trail.
Tackling the Haʻikū Stairs, also referred to as the Stairway to Heaven, requires climbing a slippery metal ladder-like stairway with sheer drop-offs on either side—definitely not for those afraid of heights. Due to dangerous trail conditions and damage, the Haiku Stairs are not open to the public. But locals and experienced hikers still make the legendary trek and face fines upwards of $1,000 and jail time for the most epic views
Olomana Three Peaks Trail
The popular and often crowded Olomana Trail located in Kailua is defined by its three iconic peaks. The first two peaks require a strenuous slippery trek with ropes and steep drop-offs on both sides but offers stunning 360-degree views. The third peak should only be attempted by experienced sure-footed mountaineers.
The out and back 18-mile trail traverses the stunning Na Pali Coastline past pristine rivers, mesmerizing sea cliffs, and archaeological sites, ending at the isolated Kalalau Beach. The rugged coastline and valleys featured in the Jurassic Park films are only accessible by air or on foot. All multi-day backpackers need to obtain a permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources before exploring the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.
For one of the most impressive views of Hawaii, hikers take the Awa‘awapuhi Trail overlooking the untouched Awa‘awapuhi Valley on the right, and the remote Nualolo Valley on the left—both are over 2,000 ft straight below. No matter which direction, the 6.7-mile hike offers breathtaking panoramas of the rugged Na Pali Coast and Koke‘e State Park.
High above the sea cliffs of the Na Pali Coast is the unique ecosystem of Alakai Swamp. The boardwalk allows visitors to venture into the depths of the often foggy bog—a treat for botanists, bird watchers, and hikers alike. The trail ends after 3.5 miles at a small platform called the Kilohana lookout, which offers impressive views of the Wainiha and Hanalei Valleys if the clouds cooperate.
Keonehe'ehe'e - Sliding Sands Trail
Located inside Haleakala National Park, Sliding Sands Trail is the best summit hike in the area. It is a strenuous all day trek or can be broken up into sections by staying at one of the cabins within the crater. Either option rewards hikers with unparalleled views of geologic features and the crater floor which seems like another planet altogether. Although it looks like a desolate environment, the Aeolian desert climate is home to endemic Hawaiian silverswords, Bidens, and nene geese—Hawaii’s state bird.
Na'ili'ili Haele Trail
This easy walk also known as Bamboo Forest, passes through green groves of bamboo to reach a string of waterfalls and multiple swimming pools. The hike is a great little place to take a break from driving the road to Hana, though it is an infamous rescue spot because of the slippery river bed.
Although this difficult trail can be done in one day, many hikers take on the Kaupō Gap Trail only after hiking and camping throughout Haleakala National Park. The trail intersects with Lau’ulu Trail, Halema’uma’u Trail, and Paliku Campground then descends over 6,100 ft through a gap in the crater rim to the oceanside town of Kaupō. Hikers walk through virgin Hawaiian forests with constant views of the south shore, Pacific Ocean, and the Big Island.
Pepe'opae Bog Trail
The adventure begins from the start with this one. A 4WD vehicle is needed to traverse the eroded dirt road which takes visitors into the depths of the Moloka’i Forest Reserve. Hikers stay on the two-mile boardwalk, or chance being sucked into the mud. The eerie walk through the bog passes colorful tree snails, branching lichen, and over 200 native plants and animals found nowhere else—nearly all the plants found here are indigenous to Moloka’i. Hikers are rewarded with a stunning view of the north coast and Pelekunu Valley thousands of feet below.
Surrounded on one side by sheer cliffs and bounded on the other by rough ocean waters, the Kalaupapa peninsula is extremely isolated. Thus it was chosen as a quarantine for those thought to have contracted leprosy. The community can only be reached through the strenuous Kalaupapa Trail, or by air. After 26 switchbacks and breathtaking views of the sea cliffs, hikers reach the secluded colony, which is now open to the public through permits of sponsorship from Damien Tours. The tour provides an in-depth look into the history of the area and Father Damien—a sainted catholic priest who cared for the quarantined patients—before making the tiring trek back to the top.
This 12.8-mile trek takes hikers and cyclists on a rustic path to the highest peak on the island—one of the only places where it’s possible on a clear day to see six of the Hawaiian islands at the same time. Bright redʻōhiʻa lehua blossoms dot the landscape before the forest opens up for a clear view of Lanaʻi’s many gulches.
There is no phone service, internet, electricity, or potable water in this remote valley—it’s quite possible you won’t even pass another group of hikers. This multi-day backpacking trek into Waimanu Valley on the Hamakua Coast is a steep 15.7-mile trek. Almost no one makes the effort to come here, so hikers have the black sand beach, swimming holes, and multi-tiered waterfalls all to themselves.
Kīlauea Iki Trail
Beginning up on the rim, hikers make their way down the slope and across the crater of the still active volcano. The lush rainforest on the crater rim is a stark contrast to the barren lava lake, which is beginning to sprout new life after it violently erupted in 1959. Steam vents and cinder cones are still visible from the literally earth-changing event.