Are you ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure through the scenic routes of Hawaii? Get ready to hop in your car and explore the stunning landscapes, breathtaking beaches, and captivating viewpoints that this tropical paradise has to offer. From the dramatic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast to the winding roads of the Road to Hana, each twist and turn will reveal a new, awe-inspiring sight. So grab your camera, roll down the windows, and let the warm Hawaiian breeze guide you on an unforgettable road trip experience.
Exploring the Big Island
Driving along the Hamakua Coast
One of the most breathtaking experiences you can have on the Big Island of Hawaii is driving along the Hamakua Coast. As you embark on this scenic route, you will be treated to stunning views of lush green valleys, dramatic cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. The coastal road winds its way through charming small towns, such as Honomu and Laupahoehoe, where you can stop and explore the local shops and eateries. Be sure to make a detour to the Waipio Valley lookout, where you can marvel at the panoramic views of the valley below.
Discovering Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
No trip to the Big Island is complete without a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. As you drive through the park, you will have the opportunity to witness the incredible power of nature up close, with bubbling lava flows and steaming vents. Take a hike along one of the park’s many trails, such as the popular Kilauea Iki Trail, which takes you through a lush rainforest and across a volcanic crater.
Heading up to Waimea
Continuing your journey on the Big Island, make your way up to the picturesque town of Waimea. Known for its lush pasturelands and rolling hills, Waimea offers a charming blend of Hawaiian countryside and paniolo (cowboy) culture. Take a drive along the scenic Kohala Mountain Road for breathtaking views of the coastline and the chance to spot grazing cattle. Be sure to stop by the Parker Ranch, one of the oldest and largest cattle ranches in the United States, to learn about the history of ranching on the island.
Exploring Kona’s beautiful beaches
No trip to the Big Island would be complete without some relaxation on the beach, and the Kona Coast has plenty to offer. With its crystal-clear waters and pristine white sand, Kona is a paradise for beach lovers. Head to popular spots like Magic Sands Beach or Kahalu’u Beach Park, where you can swim, snorkel, or simply soak up the sun. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding or rent a kayak to explore the coastline.
Maui’s Breathtaking Coastal Drive
Starting the Road to Hana
Maui’s Road to Hana is renowned for its stunning beauty and challenging twists and turns. As you embark on this iconic drive, get ready to be amazed by lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and breathtaking coastal views. The road is lined with numerous scenic stops, such as the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Keanae Peninsula, where you can take in the natural beauty of the island. Keep an eye out for the famous Rainbow Eucalyptus trees along the way, with their vibrant, colorful bark.
Exploring the Seven Sacred Pools
Located within the Haleakala National Park, the Seven Sacred Pools (also known as Ohe’o Gulch) are a must-see on your journey along the Road to Hana. These natural pools and waterfalls are fed by freshwater streams and offer a refreshing respite from the tropical heat. Take a dip in the cool waters or simply sit back and enjoy the serene beauty of the surroundings. Make sure to check the current conditions before visiting, as swimming may not be allowed during high water levels.
Continuing along the West Maui Loop
Once you’ve completed the Road to Hana, continue your exploration of Maui’s scenic coastal routes by taking the West Maui Loop. This drive offers breathtaking views of the rugged coastline and the neighboring islands of Molokai and Lanai. Along the way, you can stop at picturesque beaches like Ka’anapali and Kapalua, known for their crystal-clear waters and pristine white sand. Don’t forget to take a detour to the Nakalele Blowhole, where you can witness the power of the ocean as water shoots through a natural rock formation.
Visiting Haleakala National Park
A visit to Maui wouldn’t be complete without witnessing the majestic beauty of Haleakala National Park. As you drive up to the summit of Haleakala, you’ll ascend above the clouds and be treated to panoramic views of the island. If you’re an early riser, consider waking up before dawn to catch the unforgettable sunrise from the summit. Once you’re done admiring the views, explore the park’s trails and take a hike through the surreal landscapes of the volcanic crater.
Oahu’s Stunning North Shore
Driving to Haleiwa
As you make your way to Oahu’s North Shore, be prepared to be transported to a surfer’s paradise. The drive to Haleiwa is a scenic one, with views of the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean on one side and lush, green mountains on the other. Once you arrive in Haleiwa, you’ll be greeted by a laid-back, bohemian town known for its charming boutiques, art galleries, and surf shops. Take a stroll along the streets, indulge in some delicious shave ice, and soak up the relaxed atmosphere.
Exploring Waimea Valley
Located on Oahu’s North Shore, Waimea Valley is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. This lush, tropical garden is home to a diverse range of plant species and is a haven for nature lovers. Take a leisurely walk along the paved paths that wind through the valley, following the sounds of a gentle stream. Be sure to visit the Waimea Falls, where you can take a refreshing dip in the natural pool below. Don’t forget your swimsuit!
Enjoying Sunset Beach
If you’re a fan of surfing, then Sunset Beach is a must-visit on Oahu’s North Shore. This iconic beach is known for its powerful and challenging waves, attracting professional surfers from around the world. Even if you’re not a surfer, you can still enjoy the beauty of this expansive beach and watch the action from the shore. Take a walk along the beach and marvel at the stunning sunset views, which give the beach its name.
Visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center
Immerse yourself in the rich and diverse cultures of Polynesia at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Located on Oahu’s North Shore, this cultural institution offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the history, traditions, and customs of the Polynesian islands. Explore the various villages representing different Polynesian cultures, watch traditional performances, and try your hand at activities like coconut husking or hula dancing. End your visit with the lavish Polynesian Luau, where you can indulge in a feast of local cuisine while being entertained by traditional music and dance.
Kauai’s Scenic Wonder
Driving to the Napali Coast
One of the most awe-inspiring drives in Hawaii can be experienced on the island of Kauai, as you make your way to the Napali Coast. The road along the northwestern coast offers breathtaking views of steep cliffs, lush valleys, and the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean. The winding roads and narrow bridges add to the excitement of the journey, as you navigate through the dramatic landscapes. Be sure to stop at viewpoints like Waimea Canyon Lookout and Pu’u O Kila Lookout for panoramic vistas of the Napali Coast.
Exploring Waimea Canyon
Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a must-see destination on your visit to Kauai. This vast canyon spans over ten miles and reaches depths of up to 3,600 feet, with colorful layers of red and green rock formations. Drive up to the Waimea Canyon Lookout for panoramic views of the canyon and the surrounding valleys. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also explore the numerous hiking trails that wind through the canyon and offer even more breathtaking viewpoints.
Visiting Hanalei Bay
Nestled on Kauai’s North Shore, Hanalei Bay is a picture-perfect destination that shouldn’t be missed. This crescent-shaped bay is surrounded by lush mountains and offers a stunning backdrop for swimming, snorkeling, or simply relaxing on the beach. Take a stroll along the charming Hanalei Pier and enjoy panoramic views of the bay. If you’re visiting during the winter months, you may even have the chance to witness professional surfers tackling the massive waves that roll into the bay.
Discovering Wailua Falls
Situated in the heart of Kauai, Wailua Falls is a majestic waterfall that cascades down over 80 feet into a pool below. As you drive to this iconic landmark, you’ll be rewarded with views of the lush Wailua River Valley and the cascading waters that make this waterfall a sight to behold. Take a moment to stop at the lookout and capture some incredible photos of this natural wonder. For a closer look, you can also hike down to the base of the falls, but be prepared for a steep and challenging trail.
The Road to Hilo on the Big Island
Starting the journey from Kailua-Kona
Begin your journey from the sunny side of the Big Island in Kailua-Kona and make your way to the lush and tropical town of Hilo. As you drive along the coast, you’ll be treated to sweeping ocean views on one side and soaring cliffs on the other. Take your time to soak in the natural beauty of the island and make stops along the way at scenic viewpoints and hidden beaches. Keep an eye out for the famous Green Sea Turtles that can often be spotted basking on the shores.
Passing through Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
As you continue your drive towards Hilo, make sure to make a stop at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. This unique and picturesque beach gets its distinct color from the volcanic activity on the island. The contrast between the black sand, turquoise waters, and swaying palm trees is truly a sight to behold. Take a moment to stroll along the beach and enjoy the tranquility of this special place. Keep in mind that the beach is also home to Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, so be respectful of their habitat and observe from a distance.
Stopping at Akaka Falls State Park
One of the highlights of the drive from Kailua-Kona to Hilo is a visit to Akaka Falls State Park. This lush rainforest park is home to two stunning waterfalls, with the towering Akaka Falls standing at 442 feet. Take a leisurely walk along the paved trail that winds through the park and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. The path will lead you to a viewpoint where you can witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the falls. Be sure to have your camera ready to capture this unforgettable moment.
Exploring Hilo’s charming downtown
As you arrive in Hilo, take some time to explore the town’s charming downtown area. With its historic buildings and local shops, Hilo offers a glimpse into the island’s rich culture and heritage. Visit the Hilo Farmers Market, where you can sample fresh tropical fruits, local delicacies, and handmade crafts. Take a stroll along the bayfront and enjoy the views of Hilo Bay. If you’re interested in learning about the island’s history, make a stop at the Lyman Museum and Mission House, which offers exhibits on Hawaiian history, culture, and natural history.
Exploring Molokai’s East End
Beginning the drive from Kaunakakai
Start your adventure on Molokai’s East End by setting off from the island’s main town of Kaunakakai. As you drive eastward along the coast, you’ll be treated to views of turquoise waters, palm-lined beaches, and rugged cliffs. Take a moment to stop at Kalaupapa Lookout, where you can admire the sweeping vistas of the Kalaupapa Peninsula and its historic leprosy settlement. Remember to be respectful of the privacy of the residents who still live in the area.
Passing by Halawa Valley
As you continue your drive along Molokai’s East End, don’t miss the opportunity to pass by Halawa Valley. This lush and verdant valley is considered one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii. The road will take you through the valley, offering glimpses of cascading waterfalls, taro fields, and ancient Hawaiian temples. Take a guided tour or hike to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty and cultural significance of this special place.
Marveling at Papohaku Beach
Known as one of Hawaii’s longest white sand beaches, Papohaku Beach is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. As you make your way to Molokai’s West End, take a moment to stop at this stunning beach and soak in the breathtaking views. With its seemingly endless stretch of sand, crystal-clear waters, and swaying palm trees, Papohaku Beach offers a serene and peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Visiting the Kalaupapa National Historical Park
For a glimpse into Molokai’s rich history, make a visit to the Kalaupapa National Historical Park. This unique site is home to the former leprosy settlement, where thousands of individuals were once quarantined due to the disease. Take a guided tour to learn about the history of the settlement, the challenges faced by its residents, and the inspiring stories of resilience and community. The park also offers stunning views of the dramatic cliffs and the surrounding ocean, making it a truly unforgettable experience.
The Road Through Lana’i’s Interior
Driving from Lanai City
To explore the hidden gems of Lana’i, begin your journey from the charming town of Lanai City. As you venture into the island’s interior, get ready for a scenic drive through lush forests, rolling hills, and fragrant pine trees. The road will lead you past expansive ranchlands and offer panoramic views of the coast. Take your time to embrace the tranquility and natural beauty of the island as you make your way to your next destination.
Enjoying hidden gems like Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach)
One of the hidden gems waiting to be discovered on Lana’i’s interior is Kaiolohia, also known as Shipwreck Beach. This secluded beach is named after the remains of a World War II Liberty Ship that ran aground off the coast. As you make your way to the beach, enjoy the scenic drive through towering ironwood trees and rolling sand dunes. Once you arrive, take a stroll along the shoreline and marvel at the rusted remains of the ship. This untouched beach offers a tranquil and serene environment, perfect for relaxation and reflection.
Exploring the Garden of the Gods
Located in the heart of Lana’i’s interior, the Garden of the Gods is a surreal and otherworldly landscape that must be seen to be believed. This barren and rocky terrain, surrounded by vibrant red and orange hues, feels like stepping onto another planet. As you explore the area, you’ll find unique rock formations and boulders, with names like “Sweetheart Rock” and “Garden Rock.” Enjoy a picnic amidst this otherworldly backdrop and take in the natural beauty that surrounds you.
Visiting Manele Bay and Hulopoe Beach
As you make your way towards Lana’i’s coast, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Manele Bay and Hulopoe Beach. Located on the island’s southern coast, these two stunning destinations offer crystal-clear waters, pristine white sand, and some of the best snorkeling opportunities in Hawaii. Strap on your mask and snorkel and explore the vibrant coral reefs, home to a variety of marine life including colorful fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins. Relax on the beach and enjoy the warm Hawaiian sun before continuing your journey through the island.
Niihau and Kahoolawe: Remote Beauty
The forbidden island of Niihau
Off the coast of Kauai lies the mysterious and rarely visited island of Niihau, often referred to as the “Forbidden Island.” With limited access and strict regulations, Niihau remains largely untouched by modern civilization. Its rugged beauty and pristine beaches captivate the imagination of those fortunate enough to visit. Although tourism is not permitted on Niihau, the island can be admired from afar during boat tours or helicopter rides, allowing you to catch a glimpse of its magnificence.
Kahoolawe’s journey to restoration
Kahoolawe, another small island located off the coast of Maui, has a unique and storied past. Historically used as a target for military practice, the island now serves as a symbol of resilience and restoration. Efforts are currently underway to restore Kahoolawe’s natural and cultural heritage, with volunteer opportunities to help with reforestation and ecological restoration. Although access to the island is limited, you can learn about its history and ongoing restoration efforts through educational programs and community initiatives.
Ecotourism and limited access
Both Niihau and Kahoolawe highlight the importance of responsible tourism and stewardship of the islands. These remote destinations offer a glimpse into Hawaii’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. While access to Niihau and Kahoolawe may be limited, their significance and unique characteristics make them important components of Hawaii’s diverse landscape. As visitors, it is our responsibility to respect the restrictions in place and support the ongoing efforts to preserve and protect these precious islands.
Exploring the Scenic Roads of Lanai
Driving along the Kanepuu Highway
To truly appreciate the beauty of Lanai, take a drive along the Kanepuu Highway. This scenic road winds its way through lush, green landscapes, offering stunning views of Lanai’s rugged coastline and the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, you’ll pass by ancient rock formations and native plants, showcasing the island’s unique natural beauty. Keep an eye out for Lanai’s famous Munro Trail, which intersects with the Kanepuu Highway and provides access to breathtaking panoramic views.
Discovering Hulopoe Bay and Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock)
Located on Lanai’s southern coast, Hulopoe Bay is a paradise for beach lovers. This idyllic crescent-shaped beach boasts turquoise waters, golden sand, and gently swaying palm trees. Take a dip in the crystal-clear waters, laze on the beach, or explore the vibrant underwater world through snorkeling. Don’t forget to visit Puu Pehe, also known as Sweetheart Rock, which is perched dramatically above the bay. This iconic landmark offers breathtaking views and is steeped in Hawaiian legend and folklore.
Visiting Shipwreck Beach
For a taste of Lanai’s wild and rugged side, make a visit to Shipwreck Beach. As you drive along the coast, you’ll be captivated by the stunning cliffs, crashing waves, and miles of untouched shoreline. The beach gets its name from the scattered remains of a World War II Liberty Ship that ran aground years ago. Take a stroll along the sandy shores, explore the tide pools, and marvel at the dramatic rock formations that make this beach a true natural wonder.
Enjoying panoramic views on Munro Trail
For panoramic views of Lanai’s diverse landscapes, venture along the famous Munro Trail. This scenic drive takes you through the heart of the island’s highlands, showcasing breathtaking vistas of Lanai’s lush valleys, towering peaks, and rolling hills. As you ascend to higher elevations, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the neighboring islands and the Pacific Ocean. Pack a picnic and take advantage of the many lookout points along the trail, where you can soak in the panoramic beauty that surrounds you.
Lesser-known Gems of Hawaii
Off the beaten path in Molokai
Molokai offers its visitors a quieter and more secluded experience compared to its neighboring islands. For those who prefer to explore off the beaten path, Molokai’s east end is the perfect destination. Take a drive along the coast and discover hidden beaches, rugged sea cliffs, and peaceful coastal communities. A visit to Halawa Valley, with its lush waterfalls and ancient temples, allows you to connect with the island’s rich Hawaiian heritage. With fewer crowds and a slower pace of life, Molokai offers a true escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The scenic drive to Polihale State Park on Kauai
While the Napali Coast may steal the spotlight, Kauai has another hidden gem waiting to be explored: Polihale State Park. Located on the island’s western shore, this secluded beach offers miles of untouched coastline, towering sand dunes, and breathtaking sunset views. The drive to Polihale is an adventure in itself, as it takes you through the rugged landscapes of Kauai’s west side. As you make your way to the park, be prepared for a sandy road and stunning views of the jagged Na Pali cliffs in the distance.
Road tripping on Lanai’s scenic back roads
While the small size of Lanai may make it seem like all the island’s destinations are within reach, the true magic lies in its scenic back roads. As you venture beyond the main urban areas, you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views, hidden beaches, and untouched landscapes. Take a drive along the rugged coastline, where you can witness crashing waves, dramatic sea cliffs, and vibrant sunsets. By exploring these lesser-known routes, you’ll uncover the hidden beauty that makes Lanai so special.
The hidden beauty of Hawaii’s smaller islands
Beyond the well-known tourist destinations, Hawaii’s smaller islands offer hidden beauty and unique experiences. From the rugged landscapes of Niihau to the ongoing restoration efforts on Kahoolawe, each island has its own story to tell. Whether it’s exploring the untouched beaches of Molokai, discovering the serene landscapes of Lanai, or venturing off the beaten path on the Big Island, these smaller islands provide a glimpse into Hawaii’s diverse natural wonders. By embracing the spirit of adventure and venturing beyond the familiar, you’ll uncover the hidden gems that await in these remote and often overlooked destinations.