Top 10 Places to Visit in Hawaii
If you are planning a trip to Hawaii, here is a list of the Top 10 places to visit. Whether you are visiting the Big Island or even planning a visit to Pearl Harbor, take a moment to review and rank our list of the Top 10 places to visit in Hawaii. Are we missing one? Add it to this Top 10 list.
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Rainbow Falls, Wailuku
If you're looking for a waterfall close to downtown Hilo, take a short drive to Wailuku River State Park, where you’ll discover the easily accessible Rainbow Falls. Here you’ll find the Wailuku River rushing over an 80 ft drop into the large pool below. Rainbow Falls derives its name from the fact that, on misty mornings, one can see beautiful rainbows spanning the waterfall.
The gorge is blanketed by lush, Hawaiian tropical rain forests and the turquoise pool is bordered by wild ginger. The falls can be accessed by a hike down a slippery path made of stone that ends at the lookout point. The best time to visit Rainbow Falls is in the morning hours when the sun rises over the area's mango trees. After witnessing the beauty of the falls, another Big Island attraction is the natural cave situated behind Rainbow Falls.
From Rainbow Falls, Hawaii visitors can also hike upstream to Boiling Pots. With a recent rainfall, the river convulses through a series of terraced pools or "pots" giving the spot its name. Under the river lies a layer of old lava and as the water rushes through it bubbles to the surface creating the appearance of pots of boiling water. Although swimming is discouraged, take a moment and enjoy the natural beauty found in Wailuku River State Park.
Some would say Kauai's famous coastline is the most beautiful coastline in the world. Featuring emerald green pinnacles towering along the shoreline for 17-miles, the only land access to this enchanted area is via the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile trail that crosses five different valleys and ends at secluded Kalalau Beach.
As you hike the awe-inspiring coastline, you can experience cascading waterfalls among the green velvet covering the towering cliffs. The coast overlooks the vast ocean and offers a one-of-a-kind camping experience. Get your camping permit at the State Parks office in Lihue and then enjoy a night in the outdoors at the beach of Hanakapiai. The next morning, it's an exhilarating hike to Kalalau.
To experience the Napali Coast without the hike, you can try a boat or kayaking trip, or explore inaccessible parts of Napali from the skies with an air tour.
Located on the lengendary north shore, Waimea Bay was an influential surf spot during the dawn of big wave surfing. Made famous in pop culture in 1964 in the film “Ride the Wild Surf”, this famous stretch of sand has been mentioned in songs by Jimmy Buffett and The Beach Boys. Big wave season hits Hawaii from November through February attracting the best men and women surfers in the world.
In the summer months, Waimea Bay is a playground of fun for sunbathing, picnicking and S.C.U.B.A. diving. You can also find rock climbers practicing their skills on the cliff and in the dry cave on the beach.
Garden of the Gods, Lanai
Keahiakawelo, also known as Garden of the Gods, is a volcanic rock formation at the end of rocky Polihua Road. Located roughly 45-minutes from Lanai City on the northwest side of the island, its mysterious lunar topography is populated with boulders and rock towers.
The terrain was caused by hundreds of years of erosion by winds that have blow away the topsoil and left these bizarre rocky formations. Walking in the garden will give you a sense of what it would be like to step foot on Mars. There is no vegetation, but the rock formations are stunning. It’s a great place to explore with the whole family or even take a leisurely stroll with the one you love.
This otherworldly terrain is particularly striking in the early morning and late evening light because of the way the light strikes the dynamic and colorful minerals in the rocks. The setting sun casts a warm orange glow on the rocks illuminating them in brilliant reds and purples. And on a clear day, visitors can see the islands of Molokai and Oahu from these high elevations.
The most famous volcanic crater in the world is Diamond Head or Leahi (brow of the tuna) in Hawaiian, located on the Southeast Coast of Oahu at the end of Waikiki overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This state monument is Oahu's largest tuff cone, forming over 100,000 years ago. Tuff cones are by magma-water eruptions and have steep sides with a crater floor above sea level. Nineteenth century British sailors nicknamed the crater Diamond Head when they mistook the calcite crystals for diamonds.
It’s only a short drive or bus ride to get to Diamond Head Crater from Waikiki. A well-graded trail with two sets of stairs totaling 175 steps, as well as underground tunnels lead you up the 760-feet summit to a World War II bunker with a bird's eye view of Honolulu. The stunning views that greet you at the top of Diamond Head are well worth the effort.
If you plan your hike on a Saturday, be sure to stop by the local farmers market showcasing locally grown food and produce -- across the street from the monument entrance on Montserrat Avenue.
Located in central Maui, just west of Wailuku, this peaceful 4,000-acre park is home to one of Maui's most recognizable landmarks, the Iao Needle. This iconic green-mantled rock, a vegetation-covered lava remnant rising 1200 feet from the valley floor, overlooks Iao stream and is an ideal attraction for easy hiking and sightseeing. One can take a short hike to a ridge-top overlook that offers a fantastic view of the valley and Kahului Harbor. The needle is sometimes covered in clouds, so an early start is your best bet for a good view.
Iao Valley is a peaceful lush area with easy hikes, exotic tropical plants, and clear, natural pools. Iao means "cloud supreme", the bank of clouds that often sits over the valley. These clouds bring the frequent rains that feed the streams in the valley. Families can take a rainforest walk and even explore the interactive exhibits at the Hawaii Nature Center, located inside the park.
Maunakea, Hawaii's Big Island
Yes, it does snow in Hawaii. During winter months you may see the snow-capped peaks atop Maunakea, the tallest sea mountain in the world. The summit of Maunakea, rising 13,796 feet above sea level, has been a celestial observatory since ancient times and is considered to be one of the best astronomical sites in the world. For this reason, it is home to thirteen telescopes representing eleven countries, watching the heavens and making discoveries beyond our imaginations.
The summit of Maunakea is quite possibly the most dramatic and stimulating scenery to be found anywhere, either on or off planet earth. Guided sunset and stargazing tours offer transportation, warm parkas, dinner, access to the mountain summit, detailed narratives about the history and cultural significance of Maunakea as well as night viewing. For those who want to venture up on their own, a four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for the steep, unpaved road.
Often described as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific", Waimea Canyon offers panoramic views of scarlet crested buttes, rugged crags and deep valley gorges. Roughly million years ago, while Kauai was still erupting almost continuously, a portion of the island collapsed. This collapse formed a depression, which then filled with lava flows. In the time since, rainwater has eroded Waimea Canyon along the edge weathering the exposed basalt lava from its original black to bright red.
The main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, leads you to a lower lookout point and the main Waimea Canyon Overlook, offering views of Kauai's dramatic interior. The road continues into the mountains and ends at Kokee State Park. There are numerous trails to explore for beginners and seasoned hikers.
One memorable image of the canyon that will remain with you, beyond the incredible scale of it all, is the rainbow of colors that dance along the canyon peaks. From the last two lookouts there are spectacular views into Kalalau Valley, one of the most beautiful sights on the island.
Haleakala National park, Maui
Haleakala volcano is among one of Hawaii’s favorite natural wonders, by day and night. On a clear day once can view five other islands from Haleakala’s summit, 10,023 ft. above sea level. Haleakala means "house of the sun" in Hawaiian, and legend has it that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last even longer.
The long, winding road to the summit of Haleakala takes some time to drive up, but is well worth the effort. There are numerous hiking trails that offer solitude and scenic vistas. Haleakala’s summit, an arid, volcanic cone-dotted crater—is its biggest attraction, drawing hundreds of visitors each morning for the amazing sunrises that gave the summit its Hawaiian name.
But there's much more to see at Haleakala National Park than the summit. The park also encompasses lush Kipahulu Valley from summit to sea and the popular Pools of Oheo — all of it about 10 miles southeast of Hana on the winding Hana Highway.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This one-of-a-kind national park features two of the most active volcanoes in the world — Kilauea and Maunaloa — and some of the islands' most dramatic landscape views. When conditions are right, visitors can observe the Waikupanaha vent, where glowing-hot lava flows from Kilauea into the ocean.
Founded in 1916, the park encompasses 333,000 acres from the summit of Maunaloa to the sea. More than 150 miles of hiking trails take visitors through vastly changing landscapes — volcanic craters, scalded deserts, and rainforests — and offer magnificent views of two active volcanoes: Maunaloa, which last erupted in 1984 and Kilauea which has been erupting since January 3rd, 1983.
For a shorter visit, take Crater Rim Drive through deserts and rain forests to Halemaumau crater at Kilauea's summit. Along the way, stop and walk through Nahuku (Thurston Lava Tube) and don't miss the magnificent view from Kilauea Overlook.
If you have a day to spend, Chain of Craters Road offers 3,700-foot drive to where lava has overtaken the road. Hike over the lava fields toward the cliffs where you can sometimes watch molten lava flow into the sea. For a real treat, visit at dawn or dusk, when the views are most dramatic.