You don’t have to live in Hawaii to have a reason to learn about the best hikes in Hawaii.
Although many lists of the “best” places to hike are subjective, Hawaii arguably bucks the trend because it’s nearly objectively one of the best places to hike in the USA.
The Hawaiian islands are absolutely stunning, and the diversity in the flora, fauna, topography, scenery, and terrain makes for unforgettable and never-dull Hawaiian hikes.
For this reason, Hawaii is a destination on the travel bucket list for most hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. But, if you’re not a local, the choices of what hikes to do in Hawaii can quickly become overwhelming.
What is the best Hawaiian island for hiking? What are the best hikes in Hawaii?
Although there are so many choices for the top hikes in Hawaii, and in this case, picking the “best” becomes not only somewhat subjective but also an exercise in the “We-just-can’t-pick-all-of-them” conundrum.
With that said, keep reading for our picks for some of the best hikes in Hawaii and the best Hawaiian island for hiking.
We’re going to cover:
- What Is the Best Hawaiian Island for Hiking?
- 9 Best Hikes In Hawaii + 10 Honorable Mentions
Let’s get started!
What Is the Best Hawaiian Island for Hiking?
One of the most common searches prospective travelers to Hawaii investigate is, “What is the best island for hiking Hawaii?”
Though phased somewhat strangely, this essentially means which island in Hawaii is best for hiking.
With six major islands, Hawaii has a ton of tremendous hiking packed into quite a small relative area.
There are hikes along volcanos, along the sweeping views of the ocean, among dense forests, and along coastal ridges.
But, if you’re not going to be able to hike every island in Hawaii, what Hawaiian island has the best hiking trails?
To answer this question, we think it’s best to look at the following distinct questions:
- What Hawaiian island has the best hiking for beginners?
- What Hawaiian island has the best hiking trails for avid hikers?
Although you can find excellent hiking trails for all levels of hikers on most of the Hawaiian islands, the best Hawaiian destinations for hiking vary a little depending on your experience and fitness level.
We think the best Hawaiian island for hiking for beginners is Oahu, while the best Hawaiian island for hiking trails for advanced hikers is Kauai.
The Oahu hiking trails form a rich network across the entire island, covering the two volcanic mountain ranges that sandwich either side of the island.
The hiking trails on Oahu range widely in difficulty and distance, giving plenty of choices for great hiking trails for beginners to avid hikers alike.
With that said, there are tons of hikes that are only 1-3 miles long, which is why it’s the best Hawaiian island for easy hiking.
The terrain and scenery for hiking trails on Oahu also span the gamut from volcanic vistas to majestic waterfalls and from coastal ridges to jungle strolls.
This is not to say that Hawaiian islands like Kauai, Hawai’i, Maui, and Lanai don’t have some of the best hiking trails in Hawaii as well, so we will cover some of those, too.
Because Oahu is by far the most populated Hawaiian island, it’s common to think that it would be far too crowded to have peaceful hiking, but most of the hiking trails on Oahu are a quiet oasis away from any traffic, crowded beaches and tourists.
Kauai is the top recommended Hawaiian island for hiking for advanced hikers, but it also has trails for beginners, as there are trails for every level, distance, and interest.
Kauai has challenging and varied hikes, with picture-perfect scenery like dense jungles, jaw-dropping waterfalls, and breathtaking coastal views of the deep Pacific.
Kauai is also the Hawaiian island home to the world-renowned Kalalau Trail, an unparalleled hiking journey, albeit a bit treacherous.
9 Best Hikes In Hawaii + 10 Honorable Mentions
Here are just some of our picks for the best hiking trails in Hawaii:
#1: Kaena Point
One of the best places to hike on Oahu is at Kaena Point State Park, a striking area on the northwest tip of the island full of gorgeous vistas, heart-shaped rocks, vibrant tide pools, a can’t-miss nature reserve for albatrosses and Hawaiian monk seals, and stunning cliff faces.
As per ancient Hawaiian folklore, Kaena Point is the place where souls leave the world and “jump off.”
It’s definitely a hidden gem for hiking in Hawaii.
#2: Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
If you’re looking for one of the best easy hikes in Hawaii, you should head to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. The flat, 1.5-mile trail snakes through a gorgeous botanical garden that houses more than 2,000 plant species.
If you’re up for a little more hiking, there’s a 2.5-mile roundtrip donkey trail that heads to Onomea Bay and Turtle Cove.
Even though it’s a little longer, it’s one of the best hiking trails in Hawaii for kids, featuring boardwalks and wide, well-marked trails with plenty to look at along the way.
#3: Lanikai Pillboxes
If you’re a history buff, you’ll love the Lanikai Pillboxes, one of the best short hikes in Hawaii.
The one-mile trail takes you up to three old U.S. Marine pillboxes on Oahu while also gifting you with picturesque views of Kailua Bay and Windward Oahu.
The World War II pillboxes were used to house soldiers as they kept watch for enemy ships so that they could relay the information to Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station.
It’s a hair-raising moment to think about the rich history of the area.
#4: Ho’opi’i Falls Trail
The Ho’opi’i Falls Trail is one of Kauai’s most accessible and worthwhile day hikes.
Though it can get pretty muddy during the rainy season, the trail is a sensory wonderland.
You’ll enjoy a dense canopy of overhanging trees, a vibrant sea of fern fronds, natural pools, and mini falls to jump in, should you want to.
It is one of the best hiking trails in Hawaii for beginners as it’s only two miles long, and the trailhead is close to amenities.
The terrain isn’t particularly rugged, and there’s very little elevation gain. A fun bonus is that the falls were featured in the 1993 Jurassic Park movie.
#5: Hanakapiai Falls Trail
The Hanakapiai Falls Trail is one of the top hiking trails on Kauai. It branches off the infamous Kalalau Trail into the jungle towards impressive 300ft waterfalls.
This is one of the most difficult hikes in Hawaii to fit into a single day unless you’re an experienced hiker.
At 8 miles, it’s a pretty demanding day hike for beginners but doable for those with well-worn hiking legs.
The path has a few tricky spots, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the crystal blue Pacific Ocean, bright red rocks underneath your hiking boots, and a lush green jungle surrounding you.
Oh, and of course, there is the majestic waterfall that you can dip into to refresh yourself after your hard work.
The Hawaiian hiking trail is well-marked and easy to follow, despite feeling like you’re the only people in a private island paradise.
The only thing to be aware of is that parking is limited, and the trailhead area can get a bit busy, so you might have to walk a ways from your car.
#6: Thurston Lava Tube
One of the best kid-friendly hikes in Hawaii is located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
In just a short, 20-minute walk, you’ll be enveloped by a thick forest that leads to the impressive 500-foot Thurston Lava Tube, which used to carry molten lava.
It now looks like it belongs in an enchanted forest.
#7: Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
One of the best easy hikes in Hawaii for kids or people who need an accessible option is the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail. It’s a paved 2-mile walking path on Oahu with sweeping panoramic views of the coast and sometimes even a whale tail!
#8: Kalalau Trail
The world-famous Kalalau Trail is arguably the best hiking trail in Hawaii for avid hikers with a bit of a daredevil streak.
Located on the island of Kauai, the main Kalalau Trail is an out-and-back 24-mile route that gives hikers the splendor of the stunning Na Pali coastline.
Given the length and difficulty, the Kalalau Trail is best enjoyed as a multi-day hike, especially if you want to take advantage of the many side trails along the way that whisk you off to some of the island’s best waterfalls and aquamarine pools.
It cannot be overstated that the Kalalau Trail is probably one of the most difficult hikes in Hawaii, so it is really best reserved for experienced trekkers.
There are some significant and steep ascents and descents, rugged footing, jagged cliffs with sheer drop-offs, and river crossings, some of which are prone to flash floods.
We would be remiss not to mention that hikers have lost their lives on this stunning but demanding trail.
You actually need to obtain a 20-dollar permit to hike it due to the inherent difficulty.
That’s not to say it’s not worth it, however. It’s truly one of the very best hikes in Hawaii.
#9: Honopu Ridge Trail
Let’s face it: not every hiker is up to the risk and demanding nature of the Kalalau Trail, one of the most difficult hiking trails in Hawaii.
However, Honopu Ridge Trail is a more moderate alternative if you still want to see the stunning Na Pali coastline.
It’s only 5 miles round trip, though there’s significant elevation loss and subsequent gain on the out-and-back course.
The beginning is often somewhat overgrown, so you might feel like you’re doing some bushwhacking.
With that said, the views of the brilliant blue coastline and the emerald-green jungle make it totally worth it.
10 Honorable Mentions: Other Top Hikes In Hawaii
- Mauna Kea- the highest mountain in Hawaii
- Ka’au Crater Hike
- Olomana Trail
- The Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
- The Manoa Falls Trail
- The Diamond Head Trail
- Trails on Maui like the Waihee Ridge Trail, Twin Falls, Waihou Spring Trail, and the trails at Haleakala National Park.
Ultimately, when it comes to hiking in Hawaii, you can’t go wrong. Just make sure you have enough storage on your phone for your pictures!
After Hawaii, maybe you’d like to check out some of the longest trails in the world. If so, take a look at our guide here.