SF Gate: 15 easy Hawaii hiking trails for all ages from rainforests to coastlines and botanical gardens

15 easy Hawaii hiking trails for all ages from rainforests to coastlines and botanical gardens


Christine Hitt, SFGATE



The trail to view Akaka Falls is short and paved but has a 100-foot elevation gain.

The trail to view Akaka Falls is short and paved but has a 100-foot elevation gain.

Hiking in Hawaii doesn’t have to mean scrambling over boulders or trudging through slippery mud up to the top of a mountain peak. There are plenty of easy, mostly flat hikes and walking paths in the Islands that offer stunning views of coastlines, rainforest immersion, waterfalls and even an active volcano.

Although easy is a relative term, these places were chosen based on how well they are maintained, whether it has a paved path and how much of an elevation gain there is. They’re also all very beautiful and worth the time for all ages and many abilities to explore. 

Hawaii Island (aka the Big Island)

1. Akaka Falls Loop Trail

At nearly a half-mile long, the short loop trail is a paved path that passes two waterfalls: the 100-foot Kahuna Falls and the 442-foot Akaka Falls which plummets into a stream-eroded gorge. The easy trail has gorgeous views of the waterfalls and the surrounding lush rainforest that’s filled with tropical flowers and plants. Though paved, it is not wheelchair accessible due to numerous stairs and 100-foot elevation gain.

2. Lapakahi State Historical Park

A great family hike for history buffs, Lapakahi Village Interpretive Trail takes visitors on a stone-lined, 1.1-mile loop path through the coastal remains of a historic Hawaiian fishing village. Pick up a brochureat the start of the trail and use it to identify the different sites along the path, including a historic house, a stone konane (an ancient game resembling checkers), a heiau (temple) and a rock shelter. Similar to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, also on the Big Island, the trail teaches Hawaiian history and culture.

3. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Once past the steep boardwalk (with its 100-foot elevation change and 500 feet in length) that is the entryway, the grounds of this botanical garden are some of the most picturesque in Hawaii. Situated in a valley, it has over a mile of trails meandering through the rainforest and past waterfalls and streams. My favorite spots are the Palm Jungle, Onomea waterfalls and the coastal view. Walking sticks are allowed, but no wheelchairs are permitted.

In a short 1.2-mile hike, Kipukapuaulu offers the opportunity to see endemic and endangered Hawaiian species.

In a short 1.2-mile hike, Kipukapuaulu offers the opportunity to see endemic and endangered Hawaiian species.

Delory Morales

4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

There are more than a few day’s worth of hikes available at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and some of the easiest ones are my favorites, including Thurston Lava Tube, the boardwalk through Sulphur Banks and the approximately 2-mile roundtrip trail on the old, cracked road to see the 115-foot deep Keanakakoi Crater that was covered by lava decades ago. The end of the Keanakakoi Crater trail is also where many people gather to view red flowing lava inside Halemaumau Crater.

5. Kipukapuaulu

Also at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kipukapuauluis a short, 1.2-mile hike in a kipuka (an oasis of vegetation in the middle of a lava bed). Unlike its barren surroundings, covered by lava 500 years ago, the kipuka gives hikers a look at an untouched forest that’s been largely isolated.


Kauai

6. Limahuli, McBryde and Allerton Gardens

Three of the five National Tropical Botanical Gardens in the U.S. are located on the island of Kauai, including Limahuli Garden and Preserve, McBryde Garden and Allerton Garden. (The fourth is on Maui and the fifth is in Florida.) They all offer pathways to explore, surrounded by towering trees, green palms and ferns. Allerton in particular evokes "The Secret Garden" with its garden rooms and art on display. 

7. Wai Koa Loop Trail

A wide and mostly flat trail, the Wai Koa Loop Trail takes visitors to an idyllic stone dam where they can picnic, swim and explore. Previously accessible through the Anaina Hou Community Park, it’s now best accessed through the Kauai North Shore Dog Park. Look for the stone dam sign and follow the approximately 4-mile path to the popular swimming hole.

The islet of Puupehe, shaped large and curved like a giant rock, sits right off the island Lanai.

The islet of Puupehe, shaped large and curved like a giant rock, sits right off the island Lanai.

Cavan Images/Getty Images/Cavan Images RF

Lanai

8. Puupehe (aka Sweetheart Rock)

Near the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, this roughly 15-minute hike ascends a hill to an overlook, where visitors can get a closer look at the 80-foot-tall puu, or rock, that sits right offshore. Though a beautiful spot that’s often romanticized, it’s actually the location of a tragic Hawaiian legend— where a young woman named Pehe died.


Maui

9. Garden of Eden Arboretum

Off Hana Highway on Maui’s famous Road to Hana, the Garden of Eden arboretum offers 2.5 miles of nature trails through a lush landscape. There’s an anthurium garden, enchanted forest and a towering 100-year-old mango tree. Visitors also get to view Keopuka Rock off the coast, as seen in the opening sequence of "Jurassic Park."

A short trail at Iao Valley State Monument takes visitors to see Kukaemoku (aka Iao Needle).

A short trail at Iao Valley State Monument takes visitors to see Kukaemoku (aka Iao Needle).

Reinhard Dirscherl/Getty Images

10. Iao Needle Lookout Trail 

At the Iao Valley State Monument, visitors can take the easy .6-mile paved walking trail to see Kukaemoku (aka Iao Needle), a natural land feature that rises 1,200 feet. The location is also the site of a brutal battle between the armies of Maui and Hawaii Island. The State Monument will be closed starting August 2022 until January 2023 as part of a slope stabilization project. 

11. Kapalua Coastal Trail

A 1.76-mile trail, this coastal path is the easiest trail in the resort area of Kapalua, spanning from Kapalua Bay to D.T. Fleming Beach. Since it is in a resort setting, you’ll find parking at the various beaches, and people frequently walking or running the trail as part of their daily routine. It’s partially paved, but not the entire way, passing beaches, bays, tidepools and a geological formation called Dragon’s Teeth.



12. Ohai Trail

A delightful hike on an oceanfront cliff, the 1.2-mile Ohai Trail is often passed up by drivers on the way to Kapalua (around mile marker 40), probably thinking it doesn’t look like much. But if you take the time to walk around the entire loop, you’ll find beautiful scenery of rolling green hills that makes it feel like you’ve entered a magical land with plenty of photo ops. The trail is hot and unshaded so bring a hat and water.

Some hikes feature scenic waterfalls and swimming holes.

Some hikes feature scenic waterfalls and swimming holes.

13. Lyon Arboretum

An alternative to Waihii Nui Falls (also known as Manoa Falls Trail), Lyon Arboretum sits right next to it. Part of the University of Hawaii, the arboretumis open Monday through Friday and requires reservations. Highlights include the Native Hawaiian garden, Inspiration Point and Aihualama Falls. There are a few garden paths that are ADA accessible, mostly surrounding the visitor center.

14. Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail

It’s the most difficult hike on this list due to its 500-foot elevation gain, but the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail has a wide, paved path all the way to the top which makes it accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. Though uphill, the short 2-mile roundtrip trail takes visitors to an overlook with stunning views of Oahu’s south shore and offshore islets. It’s also known as a popular spot to see the sunrise, especially on New Year’s Day.


15. Waimea Valley

Perfect for all family members, Waimea Valley’s botanical garden has 52 themed areas where guests can see tropical plants, such as the Hibiscus Hybrid garden and “Aunty Coco’s” lei garden. There are also sections specific to Central and South America, Fiji, Guam and other locales. The main attraction, however, is the waterfall at the back of the valley where visitors can don a required life vest and actually swim in its pool. The garden’s paths are mostly paved, so it is wheelchair accessible. There’s also a shuttle to the waterfall available. 

Written By Christine HittChristine Hitt is the Hawaii contributing editor for SFGATE. She is part-Native Hawaiian from the island of Oahu, and a Kamehameha Schools and University of Hawaii graduate. She's the former editor-in-chief of Hawaii and Mana magazines.