From cascading waterfalls found within lush rainforests and pristine beaches in a variety of colors to incredible rock formations and magnificent mountains, the Hawaiian Islands are home to countless incredible natural attractions. With nearly 11,000 acres of natural beauty to uncover, we could write about a thousand fantastic natural attractions found across the Hawaiian Islands, but these are 15 of the best. In fact, these natural wonders might even rival the seven wonders of the world.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. 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 one of most-well known observatories in the world.
2. Waimea Canyon
Located in western Kauai, Waimea Canyon is often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," and though the expansive canyon is not as big — or as old — as its Arizona cousin, you will surely never experience anything quite like this geological wonder in Hawaii. Nearly 14 miles long, one mile wide, and more than 3,600 feet deep, the stunning Waimea Canyon is full of striking cliffs, incredible colors, and cascading waterfalls; it is perhaps Hawaii’s most unspoiled natural beauty.
3. Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach
Located almost in the heart of Hana town, on the eastern coast of Maui, is one of the few red sand beaches in the world. The breathtaking Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach is one of the most incredible wonders you’ll see in your lifetime, and an absolute must-visit, as long as you are accustomed to navigating cliff edges with less-than-perfect footing.
4. 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 resulting in its current barren state.
5. Hanauma Bay
Over the years, this incredible snorkeling spot has transformed from a volcanic crater to the state’s first Marine Life Conservation District. Located on Oahu’s southeastern shore, this marine life conservation district was formed from a tuff ring and is perhaps the island’s most popular snorkeling destination for tourists and locals alike. An estimated 400 species of fish now live in the gentle waters. Did we mention that Hanauma Bay was voted the best beach in America for 2016 by Doctor Beach.
6. Kilauea Caldera
Within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is Kilauea Caldera, the fiery home of one of Hawaii’s most revered gods: Pele. Kilauea is both Hawaii’s youngest shield volcano on land, as well as the most active. The volcano is also experiencing one of the most long-lived eruptions known to man — the eruption began in 1983 on the eastern rift zone, and continues to this day.
7. Kauai's 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.
8. Molokai Sea Cliffs
The island of Molokai was formed from two distinct shield volcanoes: the east and west Molokai volcanoes. The East Molokai Volcano suffered from a catastrophic collapse approximately 1.5 million years ago, forming the impressive sea cliffs you’ll find today. Towering at more than 3,500 feet on Molokai's northern shore are these impressive sea cliffs inaccessible via land, making this one of the most remote natural wonders in the world.
9. Mount Haleakala
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.
10. Molokini Crater
A small, uninhabited islet between the islands of Maui and Kaho’olawe, Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater. The islet has an approximate area of just 23 acres and is a world-class snorkeling and scuba diving destination.
11. 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 short paved trail leading through a jungle of banana plants, towering bamboo groves, and lush orchids.
12. Papohaku Beach
This Molokai beach is almost certainly the closest you will ever get to the deserted tropical island you’ve been dreaming of. Whether you want to get away from the world and relax or catch some world-class waves, Papohaku seems to go on for miles. Did we mention it's also one of the longest and widest beaches in Hawaii?
13. Diamond Head
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.
14. Sweetheart Rock
Puu Pehe — often referred to as Sweetheart Rock — is not only a magnificent natural landmark but a geological formation steeped in Hawaiian legend. The story goes that there were two lovers, a Hawaiian maiden named Pehe from Lahaina and a warrior from Lanai named Makakehua. He was extremely taken with her beauty, and he hid her in a sea cave at the base of Manele’s cliffs. One day, while gathering supplies, he noticed a storm coming and started back to Pehe, who had drowned by the massive waves. Makakehua was devastated and wailed out to his ancestors to help him climb the steep rock island where he eventually buried her and jumped into the pounding surf below.
15. Papakolea Green Sand Beach
The southernmost point in the United States is memorable not just for its location, but for the natural wonders you will find there. On the southernmost tip of Hawaii Island is Papakolea, a green sand beach so unique that you will only find one other spot with this iconic sand on the planet. The stunning beach is only accessible via four-wheel drive or a 3-mile hike, but trust us, the experience is entirely worth it.
Well, there you have it: fifteen incredible spots that easily rival the world’s greatest wonders. How many have you visited? Want to check out some of Hawaii’s greatest man-made wonders instead?