Wonders await on Hawaii's challenging hikes

A view of Waimea Canyon on Kauai from a hiking trail.
A view of Waimea Canyon on Kauai from a hiking trail. Photo Credit: Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority

It's easy to look seaward (ma kai in local terms) when you're in Hawaii; the beautiful white sand beaches, waterfalls cascading from oceanside cliffs, world-class surf and other features are more than enough to capture any tourist's attention. But many of Hawaii's natural gems lie ma uka, toward the mountains or upland.

There are numerous parks and trails in Hawaii offering a variety of natural features and the opportunity to see wildlife that fit any fitness and experience level. Some of Hawaii's more challenging hikes can be the most rewarding, revealing off-the-beaten path wonders inaccessible to crowds.


Waahila Ridge Trail: This 2.4-mile hike begins at the Waahila Ridge State Recreation Area and runs along the ridge of Manoa and Palolo valleys, leading hikers through dense forest including ironwood and guava trees that opens up to vista views of Waikiki and the Ko'olau Range. The trail offers a tranquil escape from bustling Honolulu, and is a good place to find native Hawaiian plants, such as koa and ohia lehua, and native birds like the amakihi and apapane.

Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail: This 3.9-mile trail also leading up into the mountains above Honolulu involves some steep hiking and rope climbing at the end, with a total elevation gain of 1,700 feet. The five-hour roundtrip hike climbs the ridge to Koolau summit, and, on a clear day, features views of the north and south sides of the island.


Pihea Trail: This trail starting in Kokee State Park winds through brush and rainforest toward picturesque views of Wainiha and Hanalei Valleys. The 3.8-mile hike can take four to five hours and can be slippery and muddy, but is a great path for observing Kauai's native birds and taking in the Alakai Wilderness.

Kukui Trail: This 2.5-mile trail takes hikers down 2,000 feet through the west side of Waimea Canyon. Walk through a forest of Kukui and other trees, while taking in views of distant waterfalls, before descending to a river at the canyon floor. The trail ends at the Wiliwili Camp site, where permitted overnight stays are allowed.


Piilani Trail: This 3-mile roundtrip trail starting in Waianapanapa State Park takes hikers over barren lava, past Ohala heiau (temple), and features views of the Slopes of Haleakala and Hana coastline. The hike takes about two hours, but you can also extend the trip with some leisure time on the beach of Hana Bay.


Ala Kahakai Trail: This 15.4-mile coastal loop hike can be accessed from Hapuna State Recreation Area and several other entry points. The trail follows the coastline, traversing ancient fishermen's trails and Hawaiian Kingdom roads connected through generations of use. In addition to providing access to pristine Hawaiian shoreline, it also passes through both public and private lands, accessing several beaches and resorts, and the Malama Trail to the Puako petroglyph field. The trail hugs the coastline, and some parts are eroded, so caution is advised in certain areas.  

Muliwai Trail: This trail for experienced hikers leads from Waipio Valley to secluded Waimanu Valley on the northeast shore. Both of the valleys previously supported large scale taro production by native Hawaiians. The trail itself is approximately 7.7 miles long (15.3 miles roundtrip) and climbs more than 1,200 feet in the first mile. However, most hikers begin from Waipio Lookout, making the total roundtrip 19 miles. After the first mile, the trail winds through 12 smaller gulches before descending into Waimanu Valley. Hikers can find distraction from the challenging terrain in spectacular views, waterfalls of all sizes and cool swimming ponds. Camping in Waimanu Valley is by permit only.

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