WHETHER YOU’RE EMBARKING ON A JOURNEY TO MAUI, KAUAI, MOLOKAI—OR ANOTHER ONE OF HAWAII’S RUGGEDLY BEAUTIFUL ISLANDS—THERE’S A GREAT HIKE TO SUIT EVERY SENSE OF ADVENTURE AND ABILITY LEVEL. CHECK OUT OUR SIX FAVORITE TRAILS.
By: Angie Orth, Editor-in-Chief at AngieAway.com
America’s 50th state is known for many things—hula dancing, surfing and the spirit of “aloha”—but it’s also renowned for some pretty amazing coastal and mountain scenery. What’s the best way to experience all those incomparable vistas? By hiking through them, of course. We’ve narrowed the list of Hawaii’s innumerable hiking paths to a hit list of just six exceptional trails. Once you land on the island of your choice, grab your pack, some SPF and embark on an adventure that gets better with every step.
The Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s pristine, uninhabited Na Pali Coast is a 22-mile/35 km round-trip journey traversing high cliffs, remote beaches, steep inclines and lush valleys. To complete the entire hike, you’ll need to plan for an overnight campout.
Don’t feel like taking such an extended trip? Day hikes along the first section of the Kalalau Trail afford spectacular views of the Na Pali Coast.
The full-length trail is ideal for an advanced hiker looking for a true test of his or her skill: its footpaths can be fairly narrow in spots and strong currents and the mouth of the Hanakāpīʻai and Kalalau Rivers mean you should never try to cool off by swimming. The Sierra Club rates this adventure a 9/10 on the difficulty scale, as conditions can range from wet, slick and muddy to dry and crumbly. Because of these challenges, the Kalalau Trail earns its reputation as one of Hawaii’s toughest—but most rewarding—hikes.
Beginning at Ke’e Beach, the Hanakāpīʻai Trail offers a rocky river, a beach and a magnificent waterfall in an ancient valley. The first two miles/3 km of the trail wind up and down a narrow path overlooking the crashing Pacific and lead to the rocky Hanakāpīʻai Beach. Here, the trail diverges: hikers can go on toward Kalalau Valley or turn into the island toward the picturesque Hanakāpīʻai Falls. Take note: this is just about the only spot on the trail for a swim—a very cold swim!—as the shore breaks on the beaches are usually too dangerous for a dip. The hike to the falls is an 8-mile/13 km roundtrip and usually takes about 5-6 hours.
Sunrise at Maui’s dormant volcano is a must-see and while you’re there, why not climb right in? Here, there are 27 miles/43 km of wilderness trails featuring such varied terrain as rainforests and moonscapes. Try the 4-mile/6 km Sliding Sands trail or the intense 11-mile path from Sliding Sands to the Halemau’u Trailhead. Starting at the rim located 9,800 feet/ 3 km above sea level, the trail winds its way down into the crater, reaching the valley floor at about 6,600 feet/2 km. At 11 miles/17 km (around 9 hours each way) the hike is best taken over two days. Note: The weather here changes rapidly and experts say you could be exposed to intense sunlight, heavy rain and chilling temperatures all in the same day. So pack accordingly!
There are five beautiful valleys on Molokai, but only Halawa is accessible on foot. A 250-foot/75 meter waterfall, a lagoon and a beach with great surf are all within reach on this relatively easy hike. The Solotario family owns the land and are the only guides allowed into the valley, so meet them at the County Park Pavilion in the morning to start the tour. You’ll learn all about the history of the Halawa Valley, Hawaiian culture and the flora and fauna along the trail.
On a clear day, the Munro Trail, located along Lanai’s caldera rim, might just afford a view of four other islands from the peak at Lanaihale: Molokai, Maui, The Big Island and Oahu. Only attempt this trail if it’s been dry, as the strenuous, 11-mile/17 km round-trip ascent can be challenging and, quite literally, breathtaking. It should take about 7 hours, but don’t forget to stop and rest!
The Big Island
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
No trip to the Big Island would be complete without a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can hike across an active volcano and see “Pele’s fireworks” for yourself. With 150 miles/240 km of trails in the park, there are options for every fitness level. For a real challenge, check out the 4-mile/6 km Kilauea Iki Trail (and don’t forget your winter gear, as its gets cold). For an easier hike, try the Thurston Lava Tube/Nahuku trail.
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