Hiking in Hawaii: Traverse the Trails on Your Island VacationBy Kathleen Gossman
The easygoing Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is popular with less experienced hikers. (Photo: Alamy)
Most visitors think about Hawaii in terms of sun and sand. If you prefer to spend your island time doing something other than lying supine on a beach, pack your hiking clothes, slather on the sunscreen and check out these options for some of the best hikes in Hawaii.
Before you hit the trail, always check for any local restrictions or closures, and be sure to pack appropriate hiking gear.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, Oahu
At the southeastern tip of Oahu, the more easygoing Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail can be a great choice for the less experienced hiker. The two-mile paved path passes a historic lighthouse that guides ships through the testy waters surrounding Oahu and Molokai Island. When you reach the highest point, you’re gifted with breathtaking views of water crashing against the rocks below and seabirds hunting for fish and other delicacies. If it’s whale-watching season (December through May), take a peek through one of the on-site telescopes to perhaps catch a glimpse of a humpback whale.
Olomana Trail, Oahu
Short and challenging best sum up Olomana Trail in Oahu. The three-mile hike winds along a narrow, rocky ridge before reaching the first mountain peak (there are three in total). Take a rest and ponder the panoramic view: on one side is translucent ocean, on the other a cascade of green-topped mountains. Check weather conditions before you go; this trail can be slippery and muddy. Tip: You’ll find the trailhead on the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
If you’re headed to Hawaii Island (aka “The Big Island”), you’ll want to make time for hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a goldmine for hikers, spanning more than 300,000 acres of tropical rainforest, volcanoes and the Kaʻū Desert, which is chock-full of dried lava and gravel. The most remarkable sights in the park are found along Crater Rim Drive, lined with scenic stops.
A showstopper among them is Thurston Lava Tube (check that the trail is currently open to visitors before you go). A short trek through a verdant fern forest brings you to this prehistoric lava cave, named for the local newspaper publisher who stumbled upon it during the early 20th century. As you move through the moody, cavernous space, imagine the boiling rivers of red lava that have gushed along its walls.
If you’re curious about the process that forms these features, you can hike up to the Keanakāko’i Crater area (nearly a mile from the nearest parking area) for up-close views of massive craters and fissures, still steaming sulfurous gases from a 1974 eruption.
Keonehe’ehe’e Trail, Maui
Second in size only to Hawaii Island, Maui is a land of gushing waterfalls and epic beaches. During your time here you’ll probably catch a glimpse of Haleakalā, a dormant volcano that soars 10,000 feet above sea level. For a closer view, you’ll need to head to Haleakalā National Park on the eastern side of the island.
At the volcano’s summit there are 30 miles of hiking trails. Keonehe’ehe’e Trail (aka “Sliding Sands Trail”) is a path of soft, colorful cinder that descends through a landscape of shifting clouds and indigenous plants, like the rare silversword (whose Hawaiian name, ʻāhinahina, means “very gray”). Its soft, silvery hair may look inviting, but the slightest touch of your hand may prove fatal to a hearty plant, which relies on its downy cover to reflect sunlight and conserve moisture.