With countless amazing hiking trails across the beautiful Hawaiian Islands, it can be difficult to choose the best paths. Add in an overload of information about the most popular trails in Hawaii – we’re talking Diamond Head, Thurston Lava Tube, the Lanikai Pillboxes and Kalalau Trail – it can be difficult to find more off the beaten path hikes. Luckily for you, we’ve rounded up some of Hawaii’s less populated hikes. From coastal paths and rainforests to ridgelines, craters, and waterfalls, these 12 hikes have one thing in common: they are all utterly underrated.
1. Pu'u O Hulu Kai
Similar to the wildly popular Lanikai Pillbox trai, Pu’u o Hulu is located on the opposite side of the island – but still just as gorgeous, and far less crowded. Experienced climbers love to scale the rockfaces, while novices can easily climb the steep – yet short – switchbacks to the bunkers at the top.
2. Waihou Spring Trail Loop
This trail, located in Upcountry Maui at the end of Piiholo Road, leads hikers through a Cypress, Eucalyptus, native Hawaiian Koa and Halapepe forest. The upper trail is perfect for families, while the lower trail is reserved for more experienced hikers.
3. Uluwehi Falls
Known to locals and visitors as Secret Falls, this is a popular day adventure on Kauai’s east side. The trailhead is located up the Wailua River, so you will need to either book a guided tour or rent kayaks or canoes. Once you reach the trail, it is a muddy – and often slippery – 45-minute hike to the falls, but it is worth every second. And the journey is half the fun, right?
4. Pu’u Pia
Nestled at the back of Manoa Valley is this shady two-mile hike that traverses through a forest of koa and paperbark trees, complete with uninterrupted views of Waikiki, the Wa’ahila Ridge and the Koolau summit. Just be careful – the rain tends to turn the usually well-maintained trail into a muddy mess.
5. Redwood Trail
Located approximately 7,000 feet above sea level in Polipoli State Park, this forest is populated by redwood trees that were brought to Hawaii in the 1920s to reestablish the watershed. The popular Redwood Trail is 1.7 miles, and guides hikers through a forest of baby Redwood trees, and is the access point for many other trails.
6. Nualolo Trail
Located within Kauai’s Koke’e State Park is the Nualolo Trail, a largely ignored trail that offers some of the most awe-inspiring scenery on the island. If you’re looking for a full-day trek, consider making Nualolo Trial the first hike of three – the Nualolo Cliff Trail and the Awa’awapuhi Trail.
7. Koloa Gulch
If you’re looking for a secluded waterfall hike, don’t miss Koloa Gulch – an eight mile hike on Oahu’s windward coast that requires obtaining a free permit from the Hawaii Reserves. The trail forces hikers to cross the Koloa Strem approximately 20 times before reaching a set of short, twin waterfalls. Stop and snap a few pictures before you climb around the corner to reach the ultimate prize – a lush 100-foot waterfall with an impossibly phenomenal freshwater pool.
8. Iao Valley State Park
Rising 1,200 feet into the air is the Iao Needle, a well-known Maui landmark. The park offers numerous hiking trails at various intensities. Take a break from Maui’s stunning beaches to go inland and enjoy the lush, tropical greenery that is Iao Valley State Park.
There are several hiking trails to choose from based on your experience level. Rumor has it that there's a secret trail not mentioned in any guidebooks that offers incredible, sweeping views of the valley.
9. Polulu Valley’s Awini Trail
Often bypassed for other lookout points on the Big Island is Polulu Valley, perhaps due to the fact that you must drive to the end of the Highway 270 to reach this picturesque location.
If you do make the drive out here, don’t settle for the views from the lookout – definitely take the time to hike the Awini Trail that leads down to the stunning black sand beach. The half-hour hike is steep at times, but the views – and the destination – are well worth it.
10. Mau’umae Ridge
Also known simply as Lanipo, this seven-mile ridgeline trail will reward hikers with panoramic views of the Ka’au crater and Oahu’s windward coast. While the majority of the trail is unshaded, and requires traversing rolling hills, you’ll be fine as long as you bring a cool hiking hat, plenty of water – and a camera to capture the phenomenal views!
11. Waihee Ridge Trail
Located in northwest Maui, this secluded trail has quite a bit of elevation gain – but the stellar mountain and ocean views are definitely worth the hard work. When the clouds are cooperating, many actually believe it is one of the best hikes on the island.
12. Napau Trail
While there are several hiking trails to choose from within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, there is little more underrated that the seven-mile Napau Trail. The hike does require a permit, but just a little over a mile in, you will be rewarded with a tree-draped cinder cone – Pu’u Huluhulu – the site of Kilauea’s second largest flank eruption in recorded history.
Are you ready for an adventure? What is your favorite underrated hiking trail in Hawaii?