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Hiking Hawaii

Explore eight Hawaiian hikes with stunning views

To really see Hawaiʻi in all its natural splendor, you need to leave your hotel room, lace up your shoes and hit one of the dozens of hiking trails scattered across the state. Some traverse rugged coastlines, others crisscross along ridgelines  —  and many of them offer spectacular views of the Islands.

The reasons to get outside and explore the islands are many,  from Hawaii’s unique cuisine to its sandy beaches, stunning sights and adventures on land and sea. There’s a diversity of trails, too, from the leisurely stroll to the top of Makapuʻu on the southeastern coast of Oʻahu to the challenging 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the fabled Nāpali Coast on Kauaʻi. There’s a hike for everyone, from first-timers to veteran trekkers, with lots to see along the way.

Here are seven hikes of varying terrain in Hawaiʻi with stunning views that anyone  —  even the non-hiker  —  can do.

Hawaii hikes, Puu O Hulu Hike, Oahu
View from the Puu O Hulu Hike, Oahu. By Bram/AdobeStock

Oʻahu

ʻEhukai Pillbox Hike

Length: About 2 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate
Fee: None
Location: 59-178 Kamehameha Highway, Hale’iwa

This 2-mile roundtrip hike, a favorite among residents, climbs the side of the northern Koʻolau Mountains to World War II bunkers with sweeping views of the North Shore and its world-class surf breaks. It’s a great alternative to the more popular (and crowded) Kaʻiwa Ridge Trail, or Lanikai Pillbox Trail, overlooking Lanikai Beach in Kailua.

The trailhead starts in the parking lot of Sunset Beach Elementary School, with parking at the nearby neighborhood park or along the street. The first half of the trail is a steady  —  and sometimes difficult, especially if it’s muddy  —  ascent along tree roots, stumps and man-made stairs dug into the dirt trail. When you reach the top of this hill, hang a left and walk through ironwood trees until you reach the first of two bunkers. (Head to the second one; it has better views.)

From here, you get panoramic views of nearly the entire North Shore coastline, including the famed Banzai Pipeline surf break and Sunset Beach. You also can explore inside the pillboxes, which are covered with artful graffiti.

This trail is on the edge of the 782-acre Pūpūkea-Paumalū Forest Reserve, which contains the northernmost native forest on Oʻahu. If you have time, explore this area to find native koa and ʻōhiʻa trees and uluhe fern. The state runs the 5-mile Kaunala Loop Trail in this area, which is only open on the weekends and state and federal holidays.

Pu‘u O Hulu Trail

Length: 2 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate
Fee: None
Location: Off Kaukama Road in Māʻili

Often called the Māʻili Pillbox Trail or the Pink Pillbox Hike, the 1-mile trek to several pillboxes perched above Oʻahu’s western coast offers breathtaking views in less than an hour.

It starts off Kaukama Road in Māʻili and meanders along a dusty, sometimes narrow trail through long-thorned kiawe and koa haole trees. You’ll see where you’re heading: Several pillboxes at the top, the most popular — and visible — is the bright pink one, painted in October 2015 for breast cancer awareness. Climb to the top of one and you’ll be rewarded with commanding views of the coastline, stretching from Ko ʻOlina to Mākaha Beach Park.

Hawaii hikes, Waihee Ridge Trail, Maui
Waihee Ridge Trail, Maui. From Dan Galic/Alamy

Kuliʻouʻou Ridge Trail

Length: 5 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Fee: None
Location: At the end of Kalaʻau Place, Kuliʻouʻou

There’s a reason why this 5-mile hike in East Honolulu is so popular, especially among residents: It ends with 360-degree views of Windward Oʻahu and the island’s south shore. This trail is one of a handful of state-run trails that ends at a summit atop of the Koʻolau Mountains.

It starts at the end of Kalaʻau Place in the residential neighborhood of Kuliʻouʻou. (You have to find street parking either here or along Kuliʻouʻou Road, so be respectful of the residents who live here.)

There are two hikes here: a very easy and leisurely 2-mile Kuliʻouʻou Valley Trail, which is great for kids, and the longer trek to the summit.

You’ll walk along switchbacks through ironwood trees and groves of Cook pines, which offer a decent amount of shade, before reaching two covered picnic tables — a great place to stop for lunch. This is where the push to the summit starts.

The next part of the trail meanders through native ʻōhia, koa and lama trees, with the final ascent marked by man-made stairs to the top. There are about 300 steps to the summit, some steeper than others.

The spacious summit area sits about 1,700 feet above sea level and you can see Kailua — including the Mokulua Islands offshore — Waimānalo and Hawaiʻi Kai. On clear days, you may even spot Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi and Maui, too.

Maui

Waiheʻe Ridge Trail

Length: 4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate
Fee: None
Location: Kahekili Highway, Wailuku

This hike in the West Maui Forest Reserve is a steady climb through a native rainforest to a 2,500-foot summit with views of Wailuku and central Maui.

It starts with a steep, paved road that shifts into a well-maintained path through Cook pines and a large number of native plants and trees that prefer this wetter mountain habitat.

Unlike other trails, this one has several areas — some with benches — where you can stop and take in the view, from Maui’s north shore beaches to lush Waiheʻe Valley. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of an ʻapapane, a small, crimson Hawaiian honeycreeper endemic to the Islands.

After about 1.5 miles, the climb gets steeper as you make your way into the clouds toward the summit. (You’ll want to hit this trail early, as clouds can form later in the day, obstructing your views.) Here you’ll find panoramic views of Mount ʻEke and the slopes of Kahakuloa.

Hawaii hikes, Waipoo Falls Trail
Waipoo Falls Trail, Kauai. From LoweStock/AdobeStock

Kauaʻi

Waipo‘o Falls Trail

Length: 2 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate
Fee: None
Location: Off Kōkeʻe Road, Kōkeʻe

Most visitors to Kōkeʻe State Park on Kauaʻi stop at the Waimea Canyon Lookout to gaze at the stunning Waimea Canyon, which stretches 14 miles long, 1 mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep. In the distance you’ll see Waipoʻo Falls, a 800-foot waterfall that cascades into the canyon.

Well, there’s a trail that runs above the falls, giving you a different — and equally amazing — view of the majestic canyon.

The trailhead to Waipoʻo Falls starts off Kōkeʻe Road in the 4,345-acre Kōkeʻe State Park. This park boasts 45 miles of hiking trails through all sorts of terrain, from lush native forests to rugged ridgelines to one that ends in a montane wet forest (aka swamp). This one follows a well-worn path through native and non-native trees and along the ridgeline until it opens up to spectacular views of the canyon.

This isn’t the end, however. A short walk — less than half a mile — leads you to the first tier of Waipoʻo Falls and an ʻawapuhi ginger-lined swimming hole.

Kēʻē Beach to Hanakāpīʻai Beach

Length: 4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Fee: $5 for nonresidents to enter Hāʻena State Park, $10 per vehicle, reservations required, gohaena.com (residents are free)
Location: End of Kūhiō Highway at Kēʻē Beach

Many hikers plan for months, sometimes years, to hike the entire 11-mile Kalalau Trail, where they camp for a few days before heading back.

But you can experience the unrivaled beauty of the Nāpali Coast by hiking along the Kalalau Trail to Hanakāpīʻai Beach, about 2 miles in. This hike can easily be done in half a day — or, if you’re looking for a more advanced trek, can be extended another 2 miles into the valley along an unmaintained trail to the roughly 400-foot Hanakāpīʻai Falls.

Within the first half-mile of the hike, which starts at Kēʻē Beach, you’ll see the fabled coastline. It’s a fairly steep start, as you climb more than 600 feet through fern groves and pandanus trees. Hanakāpīʻai Beach, which is often too dangerous for swimming or wading, is 2 miles from the trailhead and a great spot to have lunch before heading back.

This is where you can take a side trip to the falls. Summer is the best time to hike here, as Hanakāpīʻai Stream is usually lower and easier to ford. The trail to the falls is often muddy and slippery and sometimes hard to follow. Check weather conditions before heading to the falls.

Hawaii hikes, Kilauea Iki Volcano
Kilauea Iki Volcano. From MNStudio/AdobeStock

Hawaiʻi Island

Kīlauea Iki

Length: 4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Fee: $30 per vehicle to enter Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
Location: At the Kīlauea Iki parking lot on Crater Rim Drive

This roughly 4-mile hike in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park starts in a forest of native ʻōhiʻa trees and hapuʻu fern and ends with a trek along a desolate crater floor. It’s one of the most diverse and unique trails in the Islands.

The 400-foot descent into Kīlauea Iki crater, the site of a spectacular eruption in 1959, starts with switchbacks through a lush rainforest lined with native trees and ferns. It doesn’t take long before you reach the crater floor, dotted with small ʻōhiʻa trees and kupukupu fern growing from cracks in the lava rock.

Walk along the smooth pāhoehoe rock across the crater, which stretches a mile long and 3,000 feet across, and imagine fountaining lava over a half-mile long was here more than 60 years ago.

ʻAkaka Falls Loop Trail

Length: 0.5 mile roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Fee: $5 for person (residents are free)
Location: 875 Akaka Falls Road, Honomū, ʻAkaka Falls State Park

If your idea of a great view is a waterfall — and you don’t have much time to spend on a hike — ʻAkaka Falls Loop Trail, about 20 miles north of Hilo, is the perfect option.

This hike is short — less than a mile — and follows a paved path to see two waterfalls, including the dramatic 442-foot ʻAkaka Falls.

You’ll walk through a lush rainforest filled with wild orchids, bamboo trees and ferns. It’s a pleasant stroll with a huge payoff at the end.

Hawaii Hikes, Alaska Falls State Park
Alaska Falls State Park. By TAMME/AdobeStock

Easier Hikes

If you’re looking for less demanding hikes, try one of Hawaiʻi’s numerous scenic trails rated “easy.” All mileage is roundtrip.

Oʻahu

  • Judd Trail, near Honolulu, 1 mile, waterfall
  • Waimea Valley Trail, near Haleʻiwa, 1.9 miles, waterfall
  • Moleka and ʻUalakaʻa Trails, near Honolulu, 2.3 miles, wildflowers

Maui

  • Pipiwai Trail, near Hāna, 3.8 miles, waterfall
  • Seven Sacred Pools Trail (‘Ohe’o Gulch), near Hāna, 0.6 miles, waterfall
  • Kapalua Coastal Trail, near Lahaina, 2.5 miles, scenic views

Kauaʻi

  • Kauapea “Secret” Beach, near Kīlauea, 0.6 miles, scenic views
  • Kīlauea Lighthouse, near Kīlauea, 0.4 miles, lighthouse

The Big Island

  • Place of Refuge (Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau Trail, near Hōnaunau, 1.5 miles, wildflowers
  • PuʻupuaʻI Overlook via Devastation Trail, in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, 1 mile, native birds

–Written by Catherine Toth Fox
–Top photo is of Hanakapiai beach, Kauai. From chrisdonaldsonphotography/Alamy

—This article appears in the spring 2022 edition of AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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