Towering volcanoes and dramatic mountains spill down through tropical rainforests to a coastline blessed with postcard-perfect beaches on the eight islands of Hawaii. While you could spend your vacation on this island state of the U.S. sipping exotic cocktails beachside, you might also want to consider setting off on foot along one of a host of jaw-dropping hiking trails. From short walks to strenuous climbs, here’s five for you to choose from.
Kalalau Trail, Kauai
Billed as the most incredible hike in America, the Kalalau Trail is a 22-mile-long round-trip that weaves through breathtaking valleys in the Nā Pali Coast State Park. You’ll be gazing up at regal mountain peaks, magnificent ridges, and peering down on the dazzling blue water of the Pacific Ocean. Switchbacks, narrow paths, falling rocks, and rainstorms make this a trail suitable for advanced hikers, but the rewards are worth the effort. The trail starts at Ha’ena State Park, passes Hanakapi’ai Beach, and finishes at the only land entry point to the gorgeous Kalalau Beach. Bring a tent and spend a night or two sleeping beneath a starlit sky.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, Oahu
Anyone looking for a day trip from Honolulu should head to the easternmost point of Oahu, where the old Makapu’u Lighthouse stands on a rocky headland. It's only a 1.5-mile round-trip walk from the trailhead, although strong winds could slow you down. Spot Koko Head in the near distance to the south, gaze along the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, and admire the perfect blue waters of Makapu’u Beach. This moderately easy walk can be combined with the Kaiwi Shoreline Trail, which meanders south to Alan Davis Beach and a seat-shaped lava rock called Pele’s Chair.
Mauna Kea Summit Hike, Big Island
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and, at 13,800 feet, the tallest point of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s a grueling 6-mile trek from the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy to the summit. You’ll pass Lake Waiau, a curious sight amid the barren desert-like countryside, and then break the cloud line to reach the dizzying and often snowy peak. When drinking in the views, especially at sunset, it’ll be easy to realize why Hawaiians consider the volcano a sacred destination. The presence of several observatories might have you believing that you’ve discovered a space station.
PepeOpae Trail, Molokai
You need a 4WD vehicle to reach the PepeOpae Trailhead but you won’t be disappointed once you set foot inside the mystical cloud forest of Kamakou Preserve. This 3-mile-long trail follows a boardwalk and is suitable to most fitness levels. With sprawling valleys, moss-covered trees, and sunbeams breaking through the canopy, at times you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a scene from Lord of the Rings or Return of the Jedi. There are no Hobbits or Ewoks to bother you here though: just views of Molokai’s mountains, deep chasms, and lovely waterfalls. Pelekunu Valley Overlook is a popular stop.
Sliding Sands (Keonehe’ehe’e) Trail, Maui
Gear up for an adventure in the heart of Haleakala National Park. This 18-mile-long trail leads you around the crater of the enormous Haleakala volcano; for reference, it’s about the same size as Manhattan. From close to the summit of the volcano, the trail travels to the crater floor and reveals a landscape that seems impossible on a tropical island. You’ll encounter the various red hues of the eroded crater, wildflowers, and curious cinder cones. Plan ahead and reserve a spot for an overnight stay at one of the three National Park Service cabins situated inside the crater.