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The 12 Best Hikes in Hawaii

Napali Sunset

Sunset on the Kalalau Trail along the Napali coast. Jeff P

OluKai is partnering with Hawaiian Airlines to offer one grand prize winner (and a companion!) their very own 4-day, 3-night Ultimate Island Adventure in Hawaii.

To enter to win, visit OluKaiAdventure.com 

(but hurry—entry is open from April 15, 2017 to May 15, 2017, and the winner will be selected by May 20, 2017).

With volcanic craters, jungle ridges, bamboo forests, waterfalls, and rugged coastline to explore, the Hawaiian Islands are home to some of the best hiking in the United States. With so many options, it can be hard to chose, so we put together a list of 12 amazing treks across the four major islands: Maui, Kauai, Oahu, and the Big Island. They range from easy coastal walks to adventurous waterfall hikes and everything in between, so take a look and you’ll find that there’s something for every type of hiker in Hawaii.

The ‘Eleu Trainer is a lightweight and durable shoe that’s also water resistant if you find yourself exploring a waterfall.  Photo courtesy of OluKai

Before you get started on one of these island adventures, make sure you’ve got a decent pair of shoes to protect your feet. Something like the ‘Eleu Trainer (for men or women) is a good choice because it’s lightweight, durable, and the sticky rubber sole will keep you sure-footed, no matter what the surface. If you want a little more support, try the Kohala boot, designed for rugged hiking (like the route up Mauna Kea, for example). The best part about the Kohala boot is that it doesn’t look like a typical hiking boot, meaning it can take you from the summit of Mauna Kea to the bar back in Hilo for your celebratory drink.

MAUI

  1. Pipiwai Trail, Haleakala National Park

Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: about 4 miles round trip**

Waimoku Falls

Waimoku Falls seen from the Pipiwai Trail.  Mark Doliner

One of Hawaii’s best hikes, the Pipiwai Trail winds through quiet bamboo forests to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. The variety of scenery along this trail is what makes it truly unforgettable. You’ll start near the park’s visitor center before trekking up along the ravine, with views of forests stretching across to the other side. Look for the 200-foot Makahiki Falls come into view on your right. You’ll pass by an incredible banyan tree and several smaller waterfalls along Pipiwai Creek before walking into bamboo forest that takes you to Waimoku Falls at the end.

  1. Na’ili’ili Haele Waterfalls, northeast shore of Maui on the Road to Hana

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous** Distance: 3.5 miles round trip (if you go all the way to the end)**

As the name suggests, the five waterfalls are the highlight of this adventurous hike along the Road to Hana. Most hikers stop after the first couple waterfalls, while those looking for more of challenge can venture all the way to the fourth or fifth falls (each waterfall gets progressively taller as you go). To get to the first waterfall, head down the slippery trail through the bamboo forest before crossing a ditch and then the stream. The second waterfall features a lovely swimming pool and lies not much further upstream, while the third waterfall comes behind a short, but steep, uphill scramble. The real adventure starts in pursuit of the fourth waterfall, which requires scaling a slippery rock wall via a rickety rope ladder. The fifth waterfall proves even more challenging, with another rope ladder, several stream crossings, and then eventually on a 100-yard upstream swim.

Note: Flash floods can occur here, so make sure the forecast is clear of rain before heading out.

  1. Waihe’e Ridge Trail, West Maui Forest Reserve

Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 4 miles round trip**

Maui View

View of the dormant Haleakala volcano from Waihe’e Ridge Trail.  Cassi Gurell

For one of the most scenic hikes on the island, add the moderately difficult Waihe’e Ridge Trail to your list. With plenty of switchbacks, a welcome mix of steep inclines and flat stretches, and views of Makamakaole Falls along the way, this ridge hike offers plenty of variety. If you start your hike early, there’s a good chance you’ll experience sweeping vistas of Waihe’e Valley once you reach the end at Lani-ili hill. Otherwise, you may be standing amongst the clouds.

  1. Nakalele Blowhole Trail, near Lahaina

Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 1.6 miles round trip**

The famous blowhole at Nakalele Point near Lahaina offers an exciting glimpse at the power of the ocean. This hole in the rock is connect to a partially submerged cave, and when waves crash onto the shore the water sprays straight up through the blowhole. This short walk takes you along the volcanic rock coastline to get you up close to the blowhole, so get your camera ready. There are two parking areas to access the trail: those traveling with children may prefer to start their walk from the one that gets you closest to the blowhole.

KAUAI

  1. Kalalau Trail, Napali Coast State Wilderness Park

Difficulty: Strenuous** Distance: 22 miles round trip!**

Kalalau Trail

Hiking the Kalalau Trail is difficult, but the views are amazing.  Dan Dwyer

The Kalalau Trail winds along the rugged Napali Coast, providing the only land access to this dramatic coastline of cliffs and ridges. This challenging trail weaves up and down five valleys from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach, with views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and lush tropical jungle on the other. It’s not recommended to complete the full out-and-back in a single day, so most hikers choose to camp at either Kalalau or Hanakoa with a valid overnight permit ($20 per day).

  1. Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail, Napali Coast State Wilderness Park

Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 8 miles round trip**

Hanakapi’ai Falls offers another option for exploring the striking beauty of Napali Coast State Wilderness Park. Starting at Ke’e Beach, the first two miles hug the coastline (on the same trail as the Kalalau trail). Then, head two miles inland to the real gem of this hike: the 300-foot tall Hanakapi’ai Falls. Take a dip in the pristine pool below the falls before hiking back out the way you came.

  1. Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, south shore of Kauai

Difficulty: Easy** Distance: 3.5-4 miles round trip**

This easier hike—with less than 500 feet of elevation gain—offers incredible ocean views from the ancient, undeveloped coastline near Poipu. The highlights of this trail are the opportunity for native plant and wildlife viewing as well as the cultural heritage sites to see along the way.

OAHU

  1. Manoa Falls Trail, Round Top Forest Reserve

Difficulty: Easy** Distance: 1.5 miles round trip**

Accessible for all skill levels, this short hike passes through lush jungle (you may recognize the scenery from movies like Lost and Jurassic Park) to the base of the 100-foot Manoa Falls. As most jungle hikes go, the trail is often muddy and slick, so hiking boots are recommended. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to swim in the pool beneath the falls. There is a $5 entrance fee to the park.

  1. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, eastern shore of Oahu near Honolulu

Difficulty: Easy** Distance: 3.3 miles round trip**

Makapuu Lighthouse

Take a hike down to the Makapu'u Lighthouse for a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.  Alicia0928

Another relatively easy trail for visitors to Oahu, the paved Makapu’u Point Trail meanders up along this coastal bluff eventually leading to the lighthouse. You’ll get fantastic views of the tiny offshore islands out in the Pacific Ocean, Oahu’s dramatic coastline, and the inside of Koko Crater to the north. From November until about February, it’s not uncommon to spot whales swimming in the water below this popular trail.

  1. Olomana Trail, Maunawili Playground near Kailua

Difficulty: Strenuous** Distance: 4.5 miles round trip**

This challenging hike features three peaks and is well-worth the nearly 2,200 feet of elevation gain for incredible views of the Pacific Ocean and the mountains. This is also a great spot for seeing wildflowers on the island. The first peak has steep drop-offs on either side and will take about 1.5 miles to summit. The second peak is the easiest of the hike, while the third and final peak is recommended only for experienced hikers who are comfortable with exposure and some scrambling.

THE BIG ISLAND

  1. Kilauea Iki Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 4 mile loop**

Offering some of the best scenery for a short hike within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this trail follows along the northern rim of the Kilauea Iki Crater before coming back to the trailhead through the crater’s center. The first section of the trail along the rim takes you through rainforest where you’ll have views of the crater below, which should get you excited for what’s to come. After circling back, you’ll descend 150 feet to the crater floor, where you’ll walk straight across the crater’s solidified lava to the trailhead. Make sure you bring water along on this one—the crater has no shade!

  1. Mauna Kea Summit via the Humu’ula Trail, high country of the Big Island

Difficulty: Strenuous** Distance: 11.5 miles round trip**

Mauna Kea Summit

The summit of Mauna Kea is home to several observatories.  Susan Smith

If you’re going to put any Big Island summit on your bucket list, make it this one. Starting at the Visitor Information Station, this challenging trail climbs 9,200 feet to the 13,800-foot summit of Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the Pacific Rim. If you measured from the ocean floor to the summit, it would actually be the highest mountain on earth. Experienced hikers should set aside a full eight hours to make it to the summit and back, and come prepared with layers to account for changing weather, sun exposure, and dry dust. This isolated trail will have you feeling like you’re hiking on another planet, and will be well worth the effort once you summit Hawaii’s tallest peak.