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A Hawaiian Islands Hiking Overview

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Person on a Hawaii ridge looking out over the ocean

Hawaii is more than just beaches and Mai Tais. It's also a hiker's paradise, with each of the six accessible islands offering it's own unique flavor of trails. And while some islands offer more in terms of quantity of trails or diversity of landscape, each island's natural beauty is sure to offer something special to everyone. In this post, I'll cover each of these six islands, my impressions, and what my favorite trails are

Maui ("The Valley Isle")

Haleakala Crater and the sliding sands trail

Highest Peak: Haleakalā, 10,023 feet (3,055 meters)

Land Size: 727 sq miles (1,884 sq km)

SS Favorite Trails: Sliding Sands Trail, Waihe'e Ridge Trail, Pipiwai Trail

When people travel to Hawaii for the first time, Maui always seem to be first on the list. . Its unique blend of diverse landscapes, from pristine beaches to lush rainforests and volcanic wonders, attracts travelers from all over the world. And it's numerous beach towns and resorts help support this high volume of visitors.

At the heart of Maui is Haleakalā, a massive dormant volcano that rises above the clouds. The summit offers a surreal lunar-like landscape and is a prime spot for stargazing. Maui is also famous for other wonders like the lush Iao Valley and the Hana Highway, a scenic drive with countless waterfalls, rainforests, and coastal vistas.

While the quantity of hiking trails on Maui is more limited, it still boasts a diverse array of hiking opportunities, suitable for both beginners and experienced hikers. Haleakalā National Park offers stunning trails that lead you through the crater and along the rim, showcasing a dramatic change in ecosystems. For waterfall enthusiasts, there are numerous short hikes along Hana Highway that take you to some gorgeous flows. or you can opt for the longer Pipiwai Trail which takes you through bamboo forests to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. There's also unique beach trails, such as the Red Sand Beach and Black Sand Beach. There's sure to be a trail for you on this lovley island.

Hawaii ("The Big Island")

Waip'io Valley on the big island, beautiful green ridges and a black sand beach

Highest Peak: Mauna Kea, 13,803 feet (4,207 meters)

Land Size: 4,028 sq miles (10,423 sq km)

SS Favorite Trails: Mauna Kea, Pololu Valley, Kilauea Iki

The island of Hawaii, more commonly known as the Big Island, is, as the name suggests the largest Hawaiian island, nearly six times as large as Maui, the second largest island. It is a land of contrasts, featuring active volcanoes, lush rainforests, and vast lava fields. It's the largest and youngest of the Hawaiian islands and continues to grow due to ongoing volcanic activity.

The island's most iconic feature is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home to the active Kilauea volcano. If you time it right, visitors can witness eruptions and explore lava tubes, making it a unique destination for geology enthusiasts. The island also offers diverse landscapes, including the arid Kona coast, lush Hamakua Coast, and the central often snow-capped 13,000+ foot (4,000+ meter) summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Hiking on the Big Island ranges from trekking across the stark lava fields of Kilauea to exploring lush rainforests and waterfalls in the north. For the peak baggers, Mauna Kea Summit Trail takes you to the top of Mauna Kea, technically the tallest mountain in the world (if measured from the ocean floor) providing panoramic views above the clouds. For a more tropical experience, the Pololu Valley Trail offers breathtaking vistas of the green Kohala coastline coupled with a unique black sand beach.

Kauai ("The Garden Isle")

Na Pali Coast, colorful ridges on a coastline

Highest Peak: Kawaikini, 5243 feet (1,598 meters)

Land Size: 532 sq miles (1,378 sq km)

SS Favorite Trails: Awa'awapuhi Trial, Kuilau Trail, Hanakapi'ai Falls

A favorite filming spot for the Jurassic Park Movies, Kauai is a haven for nature lovers seeking lush landscapes, dramatic cliffs, and pristine beaches. It's one of the less developed islands and while still popular, offers a slightly more tranquil experience.

Kauai is famous for its breathtaking Na Pali Coast, characterized by colorful, towering sea cliffs and deep valleys. Waimea Canyon, often called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," is another highlight, featuring vibrant red rock formations and lush greenery. The island's interior is dominated by dense forest and river valleys and is home the wettest spot on Earth, Mount Waialeale, which contributes to Kauai's lush green reputation.

This wet and diverse landscape leads to a variety of hiking trails, with the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast being one of the most iconic. For more ridgeline vibes, there are trails within Waimea Canyon that offer expansive and panoramic views, as well as smaller foothills and shoreline trails to take in the island from a different perspective. You are sure to leave this island in awe if you set foot on one of its trails.

Oahu ("The Gathering Place")

Oahu, green mountain ridges with a beach view

Highest Peak: Mount Ka'ala, 4,025 feet (1,227 meters)

Land Size: 596 sq miles (1,544 sq km)

SS Favorite Trails: Three Peaks, Koko Crater Rim Trail, Kuli'ou'ou Loop Trail

My home island for 5 years, Oahu is the most populous of the Hawaiian islands and the political and economic center. It's famous for its bustling capital, Honolulu, the historic Pearl Harbor, the big waves of the North Shore, and it's iconic Waikiki Beach.

Despite its urban areas, Oahu boasts natural beauty, including two stunning mountain ranges (Waiʻanae and Ko'olau), volcanic craters, and numerous waterfalls and river valleys. These many landscapes provide a nice reprieve from the bustling crowds and often terrible traffic.

Oahu offers the greatest range of hiking options, both in quantity and variety. Craters like Diamond Head and Koko Head give you a volcanic feel, while trails like Manoa Falls and Waimano Falls remind you that you are in a tropical rainforests. And for those looking for a bit of thrill, tackle one of Oahu's many raw ridge hikes, some of which have narrow traverses with hundred to thousand foot dropoffs on each side. So despite what you hear, Oahu is yet another hiking paradise.

Lanai ("The Pineapple Isle")

Lanai drone photo of man on ridge

Highest Peak: Mount Lānaʻihale, 3,366 feet (1,026 meters)

Land Size: 140 sq miles (362 sq km)

SS Favorite Trails: Pu'u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock), Koloiki Ridge Trail

Lanai is the smallest publicly accessible inhabited island in Hawaii. It's known for its tranquility, high-end luxury resorts, and being 98% owned by Oracle Co-founder Larry Ellison.

Lanai features pristine beaches, rugged cliffs, and the Garden of the Gods, a unique lunar-like landscape formed by erosion. While the island doesn't have any large volcanic craters or lush rainforests, it offers a more relaxed and secluded atmosphere compared to its larger counterparts.

Hiking on Lanai is a quieter experience, with fewer tourists and also fewer trails. There are classic hiking trails like the Munro Trail takes you to the island's highest point, Lanaihale, offering panoramic views of the island and neighboring islands. There are also more tame, shoreline trails such as Pu'u Pehe, which provides a scenic coastal hike to a beautiful cliff. Just make sure you rent the Jeep as getting to many of these trails involves some unpaved and rough roads.

Molokai ("The Friendly Isle")

Molokai, Kalaupapa Trail and sea cliffs

Highest Peak: Kamakou Peak, 4,961 feet (1,512 meters)

Land Size: 260 sq mi (673 sq km)

SS Favorite Trails: Kalaupapa Trail, Halawa Falls Trail

Molokai, and its small population of 8,000 residents is known for its rural charm and preservation of Hawaiian traditions. It's the least developed of the Hawaiian islands, offering an authentic and unspoiled experience.

Molokai's rugged coastline features sea cliffs that are among the tallest in the world. The island is home to the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, an area that can only accessed by a steep mule trail or small plane and showcases natural beauty and complicated history. Kamakou, the island's highest peak, is part of a rainforest preserve, showcasing Molokai's pristine natural beauty.

While much of the natural landscape in Molokai is inaccessible, the areas that are offer a truly unique hiking experience. Trails like the Kalaupapa Pali Trail lead to the historic settlement of Kalaupapa and the Halawa Valley Trail takes you to a lush valley with towering waterfalls. Hiking on Molokai provides a sense of isolation and a deep connection to the island's history and culture.

SS Final Thoughts

I'm still convinced that Hawaii is the most beautiful place on earth and hiking the different islands is one of the best ways to experience this beauty. I feel fortunate to have been able to spend five years journeying to each of these different islands and become acquainted with their unique landscapes, trails, and personalities. And while I hope this post helps shed light on just how different each of these islands is, the only way to truly appreciate it, is to experience it for yourself.



DISCLAIMER: This website is for entertainment purposes only. The web designer and contributors are not liable for any injuries, accidents, or damages resulting from the use of information provided. Trail data, including trail statistics such as mileage and difficulty ratings, are provided as estimates based on the best available data at the time of publication and may not be 100% accurate. Conditions on trails can change; users should verify information with local authorities or  other reliable sources before embarking on any hiking or outdoor adventure. Hiking is a high-risk activity; individuals should know their limits, take precautions, and prioritize safety. By using this site, you acknowledge and accept these risks; the web designer and contributors are not legally responsible for any consequences.

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