1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Whether you have lived on Hawaii’s Big Island for your entire life, or this is your first time visiting, you absolutely must explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A trip to Hawaii Volcanoes isn’t complete without a visit to the Kilauea Caldera, a trip down the Thurston Lava Tube, a walk through the lava fields, a drive down the Chain of Craters Road, and, of course, as much hiking as you can handle.
2. Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea measures in at 13,796 feet above sea level, the highest point in the state of Hawaii. In fact, when measured from its oceanic base deep in the vast Pacific, the mountain measures in at more than 33,000 feet tall – that’s higher than Mount Everest. The summit is also home to state-of-the-art observatories, with more than a dozen telescopes funded by 11 countries.
3. Akaka Falls
Cascading 442 feet into a lush, tropical jungle is perhaps Hawaii’s greatest waterfall. Located on the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast is Akaka Falls, a place of pure paradise flowing from the Kolekole Stream. To view the falls, visitors take a half-hour paved trail leading through a jungle of banana plants, towering bamboo groves and lush orchids.
1. Road to Hana
Maui’s Road to Hana is perhaps the most popular scenic drive on the island – and possibly all of Hawaii. This infamous 64.4-mile highway that stretches from Kahului to Hana is popular not for the destination – Hana Town – but for the incredible journey it takes to get there.
2. Haleakala National Park
Just 27 square miles short of equaling the entire size of Oahu, Mount Haleakala is a gentle giant – a dormant volcano that has inspired those who make the journey to its summit for centuries. Translating to “House of the Sun,” Haleakala rises more than 10,000 feet above sea level, comprises 75 percent of Maui Island, and is home to desert-like conditions, rainforests, and everything in between.
3. Ka'anapali Beach
Once the vacation retreat of choice for Hawaiian royalty, today Kaanapali is one of the island’s most popular expanses of white sands, surrounded by luxury hotels and resorts.
1. Kailua Beach Park
With powder-soft, white sand, magnificent turquoise, clear water, and swaying palm trees, Kailua Beach is a photographer’s paradise – if you can catch the beach during a low-traffic period, that is. You should also check out Kailua's neighbor, Lanikai Beach.
2. Pearl Harbor
The December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor triggered the United State’s entry into World War II. You may not have known that Hawaii was put under martial law until the end of the war. Today, Pearl Harbor houses a variety of historical sites, and is home to more than 160 commands. If you only see one thing while visiting Pearl Harbor, it has to be the famous USS Arizona Memorial.
3. Diamond Head State Monument
Perhaps one of the most iconic images associated with Hawaii is the towering silhouette of Diamond Head on the southernmost tip of Oahu. Dubbed Diamond Head by sailors who were entranced by the volcano’s glittering peak, the mountain’s summit is littered with calcite crystals – but the name stuck. Once used for military training, the government-owned property has since been opened to the public, and is now the most iconic hike on the island for tourists.
1. Waimea Canyon
Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is certainly a thing of immense beauty. At ten miles long, a mile wide and approximately 3,600 feet deep, it is home to plants and trees of all shapes and sizes – giving it a more dynamic landscape than its more famous canyon cousin. For anyone planning to visit this natural wonder, we urge you to consider exploring the neighboring Koke’e State Park for some less interrupted views of the canyon.
2. Na Pali Coast
This piece of rugged Kauai coastline is said to be one of the most unspoiled natural beauties in all of Hawaii: thousand foot cliffs are eroded to create vaulted valleys and hidden beaches. The erosion is the culprit behind one of the coastline’s other main features. You see, the only way to gain access is by a long, arduous hike, by boat, or via helicopter tour. And that’s not for lack of trying – roads were once attempted, but as one of the most rapidly changing shorelines in the world, it was a futile attempt.
Located on Kauai’s north shore is the magnificent Hanalei, made famous for its appearance in the award-winning musical, South Pacific. Overflowing with local history and charm, Hanalei is home to stellar views of Kauai’s taro fields, various art galleries and historic sites, as well as fresh air and the beautiful Hanalei Bay.
1. Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Located on the tiny island of Molokai, with the ocean on one side and giant 1,600-foot cliffs on the other, are the Kalawao and Kalaupapa Leper Colonies – described by Robert Louis Stevenson as a “prison fortified by nature.” Kalaupapa is now a U.S. National Park, and home to a dwindling population, those of whom are outnumbered exponentially by those in the cemetery – where an estimated 2,000 graves lie unmarked, in addition to those with headstones.
2. Papohaku Beach
You will be surprised to find very few people on this stunning beach, which is the longest white sand beach throughout the Hawaiian Islands. It is one of two beach parks that allow camping on Molokai, and the swimming can be extremely dangerous unless the ocean is completely flat and calm.
3. Molokai's Sea Cliffs
The sea cliffs, which reach heights of 2,000 feet, are the highest in the world. The cliffs surround the former leper colony of Kalaupapa, which can only be reached via mule or airplane.
1. Munro Trail
Located just north of Lanai City, past the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, The Lodge at Koele, this 12.8-mile, one lane dirt road offers panoramic views of the island. At the trail's scenic lookout, and on a clear day, you can see the neighboring islands of Maui, Mookai, Kaho’olawe, Oahu, and the Big Island. The road will also take you to the top of Lanaihale, the island’s highest peak, measuring in at 3,370 feet.
2. Garden of the Gods
Also known as Keahiakawelo, this otherworldly rock garden at the end of Polihua Road is located 45 minutes from Lanai City. According to lore, this barren landscape is the result of a contest between two priests from Lanai and Molokai. Each was supposed to keep a fire burning on their island longer than the other, and the winner’s island would be rewarded with great abundance. Apparently Kawelo, the Lanai priest, used every bit of vegetation found in Keahiakawelo.
3. The Cathedrals
For a thrilling underwater adventure, consider diving at the Cathedrals, Lanai’s most popular diving spot. Experienced scuba divers will fall in love with the Cathedrals, underwater pinnacle formations formed by underwater lava tubes and illuminated by shimmering rays of light.
Are your top three activities any different? What would you add or remove from this list? Don’t forget to check out our
ultimate Hawaiian bucket list for more inspiration.