Mark Twain described the Hawaiian Islands as the “prettiest archipelago ever to lay anchor in the South Pacific.” I agree, but so do millions of other travelers! Still, you can find serenity in a sublime setting if you bend an effort to get off the beaten track. Here are a few of my favorite less-traveled trails.
Maunawili Demonstration Trail, Oahu
Oahu, the gathering place where millions enjoy the healing waters of Waikiki, is perhaps the hardest island to find respite from crowds. On a recent trip, however, I stumbled upon the Maunawili Demonstration Trail, a high and dry path hugging the canyon wall overlooking Kailua town and the shimmering Pacific far below. It is an Eden-like track framed in lush ti plants, huge fanning tree ferns, kukui trees, wild orchids, and an amazing variety of mosses and frilly ferns. The only sound is the music of thousands of birds flitting about in the tree canopy.
Clearings open to the fluted walls of the Ko’olau Mountain range sheathed in shaggy green verdure. The trailhead is at the first scenic lookout after you leave the second tunnel on the Pali Highway, the main artery from Honolulu to Kailua. There have been closures on the highway in need of repairs. Be alert to traffic signs indicating what days it will be open.
The Sleeping Giant, or Nounou Trail, Kauai
I love the famous Kalalau trail that traces the Napali Coast of Kauai, but it is heavily trafficked.
The Sleeping Giant, or Nounou Trail behind Kapaa town is a nice alternative. The 4-miles in and back is mostly frequented by locals. It can be muddy and is a bit of a climb, but worth it to enjoy stunning views of the coastline.
Tropical foliage abundant with blooms frames the path. Take a breather at the rest stop at the top of the hike to meditate on the beauty before you continue for a longer hike.
The trailhead is located in the Wailua House parking lots at the top of Haleilo Road near the water pump station.
Kilauea Iki Trail, Big Island of Hawai’i
Due to earthquakes and lava flows on the flank of Kilauea Volcano on The Big Island of Hawai’i, the Kilauea Iki Trail was closed in 2018.
When I hiked it in 2014, you could go across the crater floor to the Thurston Lava tube on the other side of the caldera.
It has re-opened, but now it is a 4-mile in and out that takes you on switchbacks down the inside of the sleeping caldera.
When you reach the crater floor, steaming fumaroles warn of impending danger. Stay on the track marked by rock cairn or risk melting the soles of your shoes. The trailhead is at the Volcanoes National Park Visitors Center.
Bamboo forest trail in Hana, Maui
Rise early and drive the Hana Highway through sparkling, dew-laden meadows, stopping to take in splendid Wailua Falls along the way to Haleakala National Park in Hana. The Pipiwai Trail is a root and rock-strewn path that traces a death-defying gorge up to the Waimoku Falls, a 400-foot plunge down a sheer rock face.
A portion of the track goes through a towering wind-whipped bamboo forest that felt like being inside a giant wind chime. At the end of the hike take a plunge in the Seven Sacred Pools.
Spend a night in Hana to avoid the crowds arriving on tour buses around 11:00 AM. There are several budget options listed on airbnb in Hana. This will allow you to enjoy the famous Road to Hana and this very popular trail.
Halawa Valley on Moloka’i
The sacred Halawa Valley located on Moloka’i, the least molested of the Hawaiian Islands, was the home of the first Polynesian settlers around 570 A.D. You may hike to Moa’ula Falls with a Hawaiian guide and swim in the bracing pool beneath the falls.
A shroud of mystery hangs over Moloka’i, the home to priests that could pray a person to death. The great lizard Mo’ guards the pool where Hina the Goddess of the Moon resides in a nearby cave.
At the trailhead, you are greeted by a descendant of those who lived in valley where Hawaiians continue to raise taro and pound it to poi—the pasty purple staple of the people of old.
You are given a welcoming honi (forehead to forehead nose rub) and blessing then assigned to a guide for the walk. This 3.4 mile walk in and out is on private property, so you need to make a reservation to enter. There is a fee, but in my opinion it is worth it; you are supporting the Ohana, or Hawaiian family that resides there.
Alltrails.com, whose trail links I have supplied here, is a handy app that gives information on trails around the globe. Subscription $29.99 annually.