6 minutes reading time United States
The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most isolated groups of islands on Earth. Even though you might only think of them as tropical beach vacation spots, the islands have a lot to offer people who want to be active. Here are the best things to do in Hawaii!
1. The Beautiful Drive to Hana
One of the most well-known scenic drives in the U.S. is the Hana Highway. It winds along the cliffs of East Maui’s north shore and connects the island’s most remote villages to “civilization.” The scenic highway was part of a trail that went around Maui in the 1600s. When the road was paved for cars, tourists started going to this part of “The Valley Isle” that they couldn’t get to before… Why?
The 70-mile (44-mile) trip is beautiful because it goes slowly. There are 54 one-lane bridges and almost as many waterfalls. Along the way, you can hike through a forest of giant bamboo trees to get to Waimoku Falls, visit the Red Sand Beach in Hana or the Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach, get a close look at waterfalls along the road, and swim in natural pools hidden in the lush interior.
2. Seeing the sunset on Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii. It is 13,800 feet (4,207m) tall, which would make it the tallest mountain in the world if heights were measured from the bottom of the ocean. The top of Mauna Kea is a sacred place for native Hawaiians. The air there is so clean and free of light pollution that it is the perfect place for the world’s largest collection of powerful telescopes
If you’re on the Big Island, drive up to the friendly visitors center or all the way to the summit if you have a 4WD and watch the sun slowly sink below the clouds for the sunset of a lifetime. Later, when the stars come out, get a telescope and look at the millions of planets and stars, both close and far, that can almost always be seen from Mauna Kea.
3. Snorkeling and scuba diving are fun things to do
There are lots of places to snorkel and dive off the shores and reefs of Hawaii’s islands, from the tropical fish of Maui’s Molokini Crater in the morning to the giant manta rays of the Big Island at night. Molokai is the only South Pacific island that has a coral reef, so snorkeling in Hawaii is not as good as it is on other islands.
However, visitors should always have a mask and snorkel on hand when exploring Hawaii’s coastline. And where in Hawaii is the best place to snorkel? I say it’s off the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island, which is a debatable point.
4. Hiking up to Diamond Head’s peak
Diamond Head is the most famous landmark in Hawaii, and it looks out over Waikiki Beach. Hawaiians call Diamond Head Le’ahi. It got its name from early Western explorers who thought the calcite crystals on it were diamonds. Later, as part of Oahu’s coastal defense system, U.S. forces built artillery firing stations on the slopes and top of the crater.
You have to hike to the top of Diamond Head, but you won’t be the only one. From the top, you can see all of Waikiki Beach without any obstructions. This is one of the best things about visiting the island, and it makes you wonder what Hawaii looked like before it was built up. On sunny days, it’s best to hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when you’ll be out in the open.
5. Hiking Kauai’s Na Pali Coast
The eroded peaks of northwest Kauai are beautiful almost any way you look at them. The Na Pali coast of Kauai, which means “many cliffs” in Hawaiian, is the most famous part of an island that is already very beautiful. You can take a scenic helicopter ride over the cliffs or even go on a boat tour that zips up and down the coast, but hiking is the best way to experience the magic of the cliffs.
The Kalalau Trail is the most well-known hike. It is a difficult 22-mile round trip that offers great views of the ocean and short day trips (access permits now required to enter Haena State Park and the starting point for the Kalalau Trail). But the “best seat in the house” is at the end of the Awa’awapuhi Trail, where you can sit on a single stone ledge and look up at the famous cliffs like you’re in an amphitheater.
6. Learning About History in Kalaupapa
The Kalaupapa Peninsula on Molokai is squeezed between the tallest sea cliffs in the world and the Pacific Ocean. It is a place of dramatic natural beauty, and it is also the site of a tragic event in modern Hawaiian history. Between 1866 and 1969, people with leprosy were forced to stay on the peninsula in order to stop the disease from spreading. When a cure was found, the patients could go home, but some stayed in the only place they had ever lived.
Only about a dozen people live in Kalaupapa National Historical Park these days, but this isn’t just any park. To get into the former leper colony, visitors must get a special permit. They can get there by taking a great hike, riding a mule, or taking a small prop plane. What will we eat? Visit important sites in the village of Kalaupapa to learn about its amazing history, then go to Kalawao on the rough windward side of the peninsula to see stunning views of Molokai’s Pali Coast.
7. In the Haleakala Crater, it’s like we’re going to Mars
Just like Waimea Canyon on Kauai, the Haleakala Crater on Maui is something you have to see for yourself because it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the tropical setting. The volcano that made East Maui is the crown jewel of Haleakala National Park. It is so big that it is about the size of Manhattan. Haleakala is known as “the world’s largest dormant volcano.” It stands at a height of 10,023 ft (3,055 m) and is a big reason why the weather on the island is so strange. Its summit is easy to reach and draws early risers, space scientists, and fierce winds. Its crater, on the other hand, is a hiking paradise.
The best way to see Haleakala is to hike the Sliding Sands Trail, either all or part of the way. The hard hike takes you down to the floor of the crater and gives you a unique look at Haleakala’s beautiful red colors, strange plants, and strange cinder cones.
8. Loving the Grand Canyon of the Pacific
The beauty of Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai can’t be put into words. It’s hard to believe that a place called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” exists on Earth, let alone on a small tropical island. The red canyon was formed by the collapse of the island’s shield volcano and years of rain and erosion over thousands of years.
It is more than 10 miles long and in some places goes down more than 3,500 feet (over 1,000m). With dozens of amazing views from the scenic Waimea Canyon Drive and a lot of hiking trails (the Canyon Trail is my favorite).