Hiking in Hawaii: A Guide

Samuel Clennett
28.02.20
5 minute read

If you want your holiday to include a good dose of adrenaline, Hawaii might be the place for you. Of course you can surf. But you’ll also be able to explore the island on foot, taking in the stunning cliff top views, tackling volcanic craters, and getting immersed in the tropical forests.

There’s a great range of hiking trails in Hawaii, accessible for all abilities. This guide will kickstart your research so you can plan your perfect break.

Don’t forget to also consider how you’ll manage your money while in Hawaii. A free Wise multi-currency account is a great option. You’ll get a linked multi-currency Mastercard for global spending and ATM withdrawals. And because Wise currency conversion comes with a low fee and uses the mid-market rate, it can be up to 10x cheaper than using a regular bank.

Hiking in Hawaii

Some visitors will plan their entire trip to Hawaii around hiking and camping. Others just want to know about hiking near Honolulu to enjoy a day trip. The broad range of routes, covering different terrains, means there’s something for everyone.

Multi-day hikes in Hawaii are possible either travelling with a guide, or self guided if you have the right equipment and skills. In some cases you’ll need a permit if you’re planning on camping - so check all the rules for your destination before you travel.

Best Hiking trails in Hawaii

Picking the top hiking trails in Hawaii is tough. There are many routes available, so you’ll want to do your own research to find the ones which suit your plans and preferences. Here are a few to consider.

  1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park¹

Run by the US National Parks Service, this Big Island destination covers many different hiking opportunities through unique scenery. The Park website offers great resources for planning either day hikes², or more challenging backcountry hiking³. You’ll need a permit for backcountry trips, so check all the details online before you decide your route.

  1. Kokee State Park

On Kauai, you’ll find several major hiking routes in Kokee State Park⁴. This is a great destination for trekking through lush jungle, spotting native birds, and getting ocean views. There’s also a museum in the park, and a festival in October which honours Queen Emma of Hawaii.

  1. Diamond Head

This steep ascent on Oahu gives rewarding views, and can actually be tackled in only an hour or so. It’s a popular route, and areas are narrow, so you may find you need to wait while other hikers pass by. Visit during the week, or off peak season, to avoid the crowds⁵.

  1. Kalalau Trail

On Kaui, this trail is 11 miles long, and offers the only land access to this part of the coastline. The trail is managed by the Hawaii State Park authorities, and you’ll need a permit if you want to camp along the way, or if you plan to walk the more remote areas. Get all the information you need, online⁶.

  1. Halawa Valley

Halawa Valley on Molokai is a pristine valley which you can explore with local guides⁷. The trip includes an insight into local culture, as well as a chance to see some fabulous native nature and stunning scenery. It’s a short but challenging walk, with the opportunity for swimming at the end. You have to explore with a guide as the route passes through private property.

  1. Haleakala Crater

In places this is tough terrain, including cinder desert which is much like walking on a beach. However, with trails varying from very short to long and challenging, you’ll still find something which appeals. You can hike, camp and look for native wildlife in this National Park - but you’ll need to follow the rules which are designed to protect both you and the landscape⁸.

  1. Manoa Falls

The trail at Manoa Falls isn’t particularly long, but you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of a spectacular waterfall. The trail is easily accessible, and popular with both tours and self guided visitors. Check the opening details online before your visit, as the trail may close at times⁹.

  1. Iao Valley State Monument

Take a short, paved walk to see the Iao Needle, a natural rock feature which rises 1,200 feet from the valley¹⁰. You can also learn about the area by visiting the local botanical gardens.

Guided tours

There’s no shortage of guided tour options if you want to explore the best hiking trails in Hawaii. Different operators offer their own specialty tours, and may only cover certain geographical areas, so you’ll need to research options which might suit your trip.

There are helpful umbrella sites which cover different tour operators working in a specific location¹¹. These are a good place to get inspiration and start your research. To give an idea of costs, on the Big Island a day long Volcano Discovery tour will cost $225 for adults¹².

Things to watch out for when hiking in Hawaii

Some of the terrain you’ll cover when hiking in Hawaii is hazardous. There are volcanoes and jungle, and steep ascents, which require a good level of physical fitness. However, there are also easier trails which are accessible to anyone with a moderate level of fitness. Here are a few tips to make sure you stay safe when tackling any of the hiking trails in Hawaii¹³.

  • Don’t head out alone if you can avoid it. If you must hike on your own, make sure you notify a friend of your route
  • Take the right equipment with you - water, sunscreen and insect repellent are required, with more specialist supplies for longer hikes, covering high altitudes or walking overnight
  • Don’t drink from ponds or streams when you hike, and don’t swim with open wounds or cuts
  • Stay on marked paths when hiking
  • Some routes require a permit, especially if you’re planning on hiking for multiple days, or want to camp. Check the rules

Hawaii hiking trails are something special. You can go from striking lava flows to lush forest, climb dizzying cliffs, or wander on black sand beaches. Putting in a little time for preparation will mean you get more from your visit. Plan your routes in advance, and don’t forget to arrange your Transferwise account and multi-currency Mastercard, to keep your costs down while you explore.

Sources:

  1. Volcanoes in Hawaii
  2. Day Hikes Hawaii
  3. Backcountry Hiking Hawaii
  4. Koke'e State Park
  5. Diamond Head Trail
  6. Kalalau Trail
  7. Halawa Valley
  8. Haleakalā Hiking
  9. Manoe Falls Hiking
  10. ʻĪao Valley
  11. Forest Trails Hawaii
  12. Hawaii Volcanoes
  13. Hiking in Hawaii

All sources accurate as of 19 February 2020


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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