Hawaii offers some of the most breathtaking and magnificent hiking and backpacking known to man. Many tourists explore the more popular islands of Oahu and Maui, which is great news for those looking to get off the heavily beaten path. You can easily catch a quick and cheap “puddle jumper” flight from Oahu or Maui to one of Hawaii’s less inhabited islands and start trekking.
Hawaii is actually made up of eight main islands: Oahu, Maui, Hawai’i (the Big Island), Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Niihau and Kahoolawe. The island of Niihau is privately owned and used for raising livestock, while Kahoolawe is off-limits to the public. Kahoolawe was used as a practice target for the U.S. military and is still in the process of being cleared of live artillery. It’s probably best that visiting this island is prohibited! The Big Island, Kauai, Molokai and Lanai are all less populated meccas for hiking, offering a vast array of ecosystems. Here are some of our favorite hiking and backpacking adventures.
Kalalau Trail, Kauai
This astoundingly beautiful coastline and rainforest hike takes you along the Na Pali Coast to the remote Kalalau Beach. The 22-mile round-trip hike is best done in two or more days and is rated as one of “America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes” by Backpacker Magazine. The loose rock pathway along a jagged 300-foot cliffside can rattle even those who aren’t afraid of heights. If you plan on taking on this adventure, you will be rewarded with some of the most amazing scenery the world has to offer. If your breath isn’t momentarily taken away by nature’s magnificence, then you must be dead. Quick ventures off the main trail can lead you to Hanakapi’ai Falls and Hanakoa Falls. When tides are low, sea caves are accessible by foot (use extreme caution!) The plentiful and ever-changing views on this trail, and brilliant beaches are what movies are made of.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
This national park offers 150 miles of out-of-this-world trails. Rainforests, lava tubes, craters and coastline are an explorer’s playground. Some even describe it as being on the moon. If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of Kilauea’s lava flow. The volcano has been erupting since 1983. Hikes in this park can range from easy to difficult. If you do venture onto the lava fields, be sure to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. A’a lava is incredibly jagged and sharp, as opposed to pahoehoe lava which is very smooth. An accidental fall on a’a lava could lead to an extensive bandage job.
Mauna Loa, Hawai’i
This mountain is located in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park but deserves a description of its own. Since Mauna Loa sits 112 feet lower than its neighbor Mauna Kea, and has significantly less foot traffic. At 13,677 feet, this mountain can make a formidable opponent. It is recommended that Mauna Loa be summited in multiple days because of the altitude and weight you must carry in water and gear. And good luck finding any shade on this mountain! Because of the altitude, temperatures can drop below freezing, and snow isn’t unheard of. Packing for this adventure can be a challenge in itself. Round trips to the summit range from 13 miles to 43 miles. Cabins are accessible for camping; and catching the sunset or sunrise at the summit will make even the most hardened of people crumble under its beauty.
Kalaupapa National Historic Park, Moloka’i
This national park used to be the place of exile for people suffering from leprosy, from 1866 to 1969. It is, oddly, one of the most astonishing places on earth. Craters, lava tubes, rainforests, remote beaches and Hawaiian monk seals are all part of the majesty of this park. In order to visit the park, a guide service must be used. This does not mean droves of people though. In fact, you’re likely to see more mules than people. And if your feet are too tired to hike, you can always ride a mule to your destination.
Koloiki Ridge Trail, Lanai
The view at the end of this trail may be one of the best in the world. After a 2.5-mile moderate hike, you stand at the top of the spectacular Naio Gulch and look out to see the islands of Moloka?i and Maui. The well-marked trail usually treats hikers with glimpses of axis deer and mouflon sheep during their hike. The out and back hike leaves you at one of the few hotels on the island—a perfect place to rest your feet and sip a cool drink.
Do you have any other favorite “off the beaten path” hikes in Hawaii? If so, please leave your comment here!