The Best Hikes in the Hawaiian Islands

Some people are divers, some people are cyclists, still others are kayakers. My husband and me? We’re definitely hikers! It’s our favorite way to be outdoors, explore gorgeous landscapes, and generally be together outdoors. Our favorite place to hike? Hawai’i! 

We have visited seven of the eight main islands, and hiked on the six where you’re allowed to hike. While we can’t say we’ve hiked every trail, we have hiked quite a few! Here’s our list of the best of the best, in our opinions, to inspire your next hike in Hawaii!

Island of Hawaii

The Island of Hawai’i has one of the most varied climates of any one place in the world. You can go from the jungle to the desert to snow-covered peaks year-round. It also has some of the most varied and unique hikes! Here are a couple of my favorites. I can’t wait to get back to this island soon to explore more! 

Papakolea (Green Sand Beach)

How often do you get to see sand in shades of green? Not often! This is a relatively flat hike, as it follows the coastline, but it is rocky, so wear appropriate shoes! Why is it green? Because of the olivine, or peridot, in the surrounding area. Even the dirt leading to Papakolea starts to become green the closer you get! The trail meanders quite a lot due to the trucks that drive out there, but as long as you stay within sight of the shoreline, you’ll be fine. 

It’s about 6 miles round-trip, and should take about 2.5-3 hours to complete. 

Keep reading: The Ultimate Island of Hawai’i Bucket List

Ka’awaloa Trail (Captain Cook Trail)

This steep trail is not for the faint of heart, but it’s for anyone who loves a bit of history with a good view. You’ll have views of Kealakekua Bay all the way down, and you can snorkel there if you plan to hike with your mask and snorkel! An obelisk monument marks the spot where Captain Cook was killed, so be sure to stop by there as well. 

The trail is 4 miles round-trip, and should take about 3 hours to complete.

Kealakekua Bay is perfect for snorkeling after a hike!
You can’t miss the monument when you arrive at the bottom!
More hikes here: The Best Hikes on the Island of Hawai’i

Kaua’i

Kaua’i is one of the most beautiful places in the world; perhaps the most beautiful. In my personal opinion, the best way to see much of that beauty is on a hike! There are countless trails on this island, but Kalalau is the most famous—you actually need a reservation to hike even just a part of it! I hope you’ll plan to do some hiking while on Kaua’i. If not, you’ll certainly be missing out.

Nounou East Trail (Sleeping Giant Trail)

I love this trail for the gorgeous views of the Garden Isle. This was a great first hike after a long flight to help us stretch our legs and stay awake in the afternoon. There are many false trails, so be on the lookout for the right path, and there is a bit of a grade, but generally, this is a fairly easy hike. You’ll be rewarded with views of the island all along the way, and 360-degree panoramas from the top!

This hike is 4.5 miles round-trip and should take about 2.5 hours to complete. 

Green mountains and blue skies.
Views of Kaua’i are always stunning.
Read on: The Best Hikes on Kaua’i

Kalalau Trail

This is one of Hawaii’s most famous trails, and one of the most dangerous. You have to acquire a Ha’ena State Park pass and an overnight camping permit to hike all 22 miles round-trip, but you can hike the first four miles in and four miles back with only the state park pass. This trail follows the famed Na’Pali Coast, which is one of the most magestic sites to behold in the world, and hiking even a portion of it gives a unique perspecive on this beautiful place.

Most people take the first 5 miles round-trip, which should take about 3 hours.

This is a view of the Na’Pali Coast you can’t get anywhere else.
Welcome to the jungle!
More here: How to Book Passes for the Kalalau Trail

Lana’i

The Pineapple Isle is one of the less-visited Hawaiian islands, but it’s also one of the most adventurous. With only 30 miles of pavement, you’ll want a 4-wheel drive so you can do the off-roading that will show you the island’s uniqueness and beauty. Lana’i is an interesting mix of luxury and rough riding. Once you’ve been, it’s an island experience you won’t forget.

Pu’upehe Trail (Sweetheart Rock)

This trail is short and sweet, but it’s well worth doing. You can get to it easily even without 4-wheel drive, and the coastline here is one of the most iconic and epic landscapes on the island, and, arguably, in the state! The color of the cliffs and the water, plus views out to sea will remind you why Hawaii is such a special place in the world.

While you’ll find loose rock and a bit of a climb to the top, the trail is only 1 mile round-trip, and can be done in 30 minutes or less!

We saw a bride hiking this trail in her wedding dress–photographer and groom in tow!
The West Maui mountains can be seen in the distance, and the views out to sea will instantly put you at peace.
Essential info: How to Plan a Trip to Lana’i

Koloiki Trail

Ask a local where is the best hike on the island, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: Koloiki. This ridge trail is mostly an easy walk with a big, rewarding view at the end involving the islands of Mau’i, Molokai, and Mauna Lei Gorge. The trail is mostly shaded, so even if you don’t get an early start, you won’t be too uncomfortable even in the heat of the day.

Bring water and maybe a snack for this 5-mile hike round-trip, which should take about 2-2.5 hours.

My Love is so cute how he shows me the way sometimes!
The most beautiful, green valley is larger and more stunning than photos allow.
Keep reading: The Ultimate Guide to Hiking on Lana’i

Mau’i

Mau’i is one of the most popular desinations in the entire world, so it’s not easy to find a hike all to yourself! But there are a few little tricks to help you feel as if the trails are yours alone.

Pipiwai Trail

For most, the Road to Hana is just a scenic day trip, something to be completed before suppertime and no longer. But the secret to having the Pipiwai Trail and its mythical-looking bamboo forest to yourself is to stay in or near Hana, and hike it in the morning, before the day trippers have time to drive all the way there. We saw only four other people during the entire hike, which wouldn’t be the case if we’d tried to fit it into our Road to Hana experience as a day trip.

At 5 miles round-trip, you’ll want to spend about 2.5 hours exploring its beauty, and you’ll be rewarded with a waterfall scene at the end!

One of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken was here in the bamboo forest.
An impressive waterfall awaits at the end.
Read on: The 10 Best Reasons to Stay in Hana on Your Trip to Mau’i

Waianapanapa Trail

This was the shock of the trip for us. The dramatic, black rock coastal trail was barely on our radar. I didn’t realize on our first trip here that this was such a popular state park. In fact, these days you need a special pass to visit! Luckily for us, most people stop at the black sand beach, have a picnic, and don’t go much farther. We chose to explore the trail heading to the east along the coast, and we were truly moved by the crashing waves, volcanic rock, and bright greenery somehow popping through the stark black shoreline.

We followed the trail until we started to believe all the warning signs, about 3 miles round-trip, and it took about an hour or so.

The crashing waves put on quite a show for us!
We thought this less-traveled hike was quite romantic!
More here: The Very Best Hikes on Mau’i

Molokai

Never heard of Molokai? You’re not alone! Heard of it, but think it’s a leper colony? You’re only half right on that. Molokai is the Hawaiian island between the more popular islands of O’ahu and Mau’i, but its a gorgeous and special island in its own right. You’ll see that clearly when you take the time to explore its remotest corners.

Halawa Valley

Halawa Valley–and its impressive waterfall–are on private, native Hawaiian family property. The family still lives, hunts, and farms there, in fact. They graciously offer guided tours and cultural hikes, however, and you can go! You’ll have to book in advance, and you’ll want to bring your own lunch or snacks, but the hike is relatively easy, and the experience is well worth the time and effort.

The hike is 5 miles round-trip, and because of the cultural elements, picnic time, and swimming at the waterfall, you’ll want to plan to spend about 4.5 hours for this unique hike.

This is not the “Disney” version of Hawaii!
The waterfall and pool at the end are worth the effort to get there!
Essential info: The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Halawa Valley

O’ahu

When people think of O’ahu, they think of Waikiki Beach, surfing, Honolulu, and Pearl Harbor. But the most iconic sight in all of Hawaii is also one of the most popular hikes: Le’ahi, or Diamond Head. It’s an easy one, but there are definitely others worth your time on the island known locally as “The Gathering Place.”

Koko Head Crater

This is quite a popular one, but I have to think quite a few hikers don’t really know what they’re in for when they choose this one! It’s over 1,000 railroad tie “stairs” to the top, but when you make it, you forget all about how much your patootie hurts by the time you get there (though you’ll certainly be reminded the next day!). The view of Hanauma Bay and beyond is one of the most breath-taking, so be sure to bring your camera, too.

Thought it’s only about 2 miles round-trip, you’ll need about an hour and 45 minutes–or a little more–to hike this trail all the way up and back down!

Morning over Hanauma Bay
If sweet Cookie the Wonder Pup can make it, so can you!
Read on: The Best Things to do on Waikiki and Beyond

Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail

This one takes a bit of planning, but if you’re interested in a semi-private hike on the most populous island in the state, this is the one for you. It’s in a gated community, and passes to get in for the hike are first-come, first-served. You’ll make your way up the Wiliwilinui Ridge, through pine forests, of all things, and when you get to the top, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. You may get rained on, and you may have to wait a few moments until the clouds pass, since you’ll be among and even above them, but it’ll be worth your while.

You’ll go 5.2 miles in just over three hours, resting time at the top included.

Watch the clouds pass and take a moment to be proud of how far you went!
Don’t be disappointed on your return trip–this is the view on your way down.
More here: The Ultimate Guide to Hiking on O’ahu

Want more about Hawaii and how to plan your trip to a hiker’s paradise? Take a look at my dedicated Hawaiian Islands Page!

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Published by quickwhittravel

Welcome to the blog! We do things a little differently around here: no ads, no negativity, and no checked luggage, y'all. My name is Whitney, and Quick Whit Travel Blog is your one-stop shop for all the best travel tips, packing advice, and destination information. Click around or message me on social media @quickwhittravel for more!

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