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The 5 Top Hawaii Hiking Adventures: Hawaii’s Most Outrageous Trails
Hawaiian adventure hiking is a treat that most tourists simply don’t experience – they come to the beach to relax, enjoy a higher level of amenities, and only do short walks (e.g., getting out of their car or strolling along the beach ). There’s another “side” to Hawaii though – and that’s adventure sports in these beautiful natural environments. One of the oldest axioms about taking risks insists that you have to go beyond your “comfort level” for real adventure to happen! As such, some of the top 5 hikes listed here are pretty difficult and might push even the most avid backpackers out of their comfort zone – but they will be able to demonstrate incredible places in Hawaii that few see.
Because the islands are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they have a unique history, and they’re huge – the terrain is exotic, inspiring, and unique even to seasoned world hikers. Hiking conditions can be strange and treacherous – from the actively eroding Windward Cliff trails in the Tahitian-like green jungle to the active lava conditions on the Big Island, where you can get close to the “River of Lava.” So….choosing from thousands of hikes, which five are the best in terms of inspiration, sheer outrageousness, beauty and adventure? The opinion of one author with 30 years of experience hiking expeditions in Hawaii is shown below.
Number 5: Alakai Swamp Trail. Waimea Canyon in western Kauai is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” As you drive along the dramatic highway that runs along one side of it, it does look very similar to the Grand Canyon—with sculpted, reddish canyon walls and scattered waterfalls. It’s much smaller in size, but the similarities are real. The upper part of the canyon adds to the peculiarity of the canyon. There is a large plateau in the canyon that does not flow down the canyon. This is a 4-5 million year old collapsed crater with unusual vegetation and topography in an isolated high swamp due to “drainage problems”. As you hike among incredible, unique flora and scenery, you can see the Wairaela Mountains, often referred to by climatologists as the rainiest land on earth (on its windward side). The beauty, unique life forms and unusual features of the Arakai swamp region make it a world-class destination. Length: 8.0 miles Difficulty: Mild to moderate Elevation: Approx. 50 meters
No. 4: Haleakala Crater to the Pacific Ocean. Maui’s most famous hike begins at the eerie and very inspiring mountaintop crater called Haleakala Crater. It’s full of cinder cones, and ancient lava flows. Many visitors do enjoy the inspiring sunrises here – but few consider hiking all the way to the sea! This is a backcountry hike with elevation changes of over 10,000 feet. The good news is that it’s all downhill, but it’s best not attempted by those with bad knees. Trails that zigzag up and down the mountainside offer hikers indescribable views of places like Koolau Gap, all while enjoying vistas of the Pacific coastline. Some experts rank this as one of the top 5 hikes in the US. The vistas, remoteness, elevation changes and varied tropical landscapes are worth it! Length: 22 miles (one way) Difficulty: Very Difficult Elevation Change: +10,000 feet (but it’s all downhill)
No. 3: Mauna Loa, the Big Island of Hawaii is more than twice the size of the rest of Hawaii combined. It has 2 mountains with elevations over 13,600 feet.Both – Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea – are vast and varied – with verdant rainforest on the windward side and desert on the leeward side. You can drive to the incredible array of observatories at the summit of Mauna Kea, but only a strenuous hike will get you to the summit of Mauna Loa (geologists classify Mauna Loa as still very “active”) . There are actually 3 trails to get to the top of Mauna Loa – so I think if you take the shortest route, it’s still difficult!because of high altitude, Even this shorter route is a tough 12 miles. However, there is a hut at the summit of the crater with beds, blankets and often even water (must check with NPS ranger). Length: 12 miles Difficulty: Extreme Elevation Change: 1000 meters
No. 2: Kalalau Trail The Na Pali Coast is often referred to as the most beautiful of the most beautiful islands in the world! The world-famous Kalalau Trail starts and ends on the Na Pali Coast. It starts at the end of Kauai’s North Shore Road and continues 17 miles to Kalalau Valley. The trail follows the Na Pali cliffs at various heights – sometimes right at sea level and sometimes as high as 1,000 feet above sea level. For the first 20 minutes, the vista is as good as anywhere in the world. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Valley at the End was inhabited by thousands of Polynesians. There are old fruit trees, vegetable fields, wild goats, wild boars, and even coffee trees everywhere. Length: 22 miles Difficulty: Hard Elevation Change: 300 meters
No. 1: Big Island Active Lava Hike Hiking near fiery lava can be dangerous, but it can also be one of the most adventurous experiences of a person’s life. As of 2011, active, hot lava can seep from several changing locations on the Big Island. Within Kilauea Crater, 30 miles from Hilo, is a smaller caldera called Halemaumau Crater. It has been boiling for several years, but the national park only allows you to see it from a distance (about 1 km), so you can’t actually see the lava. During the day, you’ll see billowing smoke, and at night, you’ll see the fiery glow of the lava lake, often hundreds of feet below the rim. Over the past 100 years, there have been more active and more accessible lava flows at various locations on the eastern half of the island, some of which you can walk to. If there’s an accessible stream of activity when you go, you can reach it – get as close as you can (watch out for burning your eyelashes). Other times, during the 6-mile wilderness hike, there are active streams or craters – and over the years, many visitors end up getting lost. Length: 100 yards to 12 miles Difficulty: Mild to extreme Elevation: 0-200 meters
Logistics: where to camp and get supplies Each of these adventure locations is not easy or straightforward for first-time visitors. There are certainly plenty of options, and it’s hard not to believe that it can only make a fortune for a first- or second-time visitor. However, for the Alakai Swamp at YWCA’s Camp Sloggett Kauai, you can rent a room, a bed, or camp at Kokee State Park. Slogat Camp is just steps away from some of the most stunning day hikes on the planet. Lihue is best for most supplies, although the town of Waimea at the bottom of the canyon does have a few small shops. To hike from the highest peak (Haleakala) to the ocean in Maui, you’ll need to pack the entire distance. You can grab a taxi, shuttle or hitchhike with a friend – or hitchhiking with a backpack to the trailhead is popular on the island. For the Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s North Shore, there is another lodge a mile before the start of the YMCA-operated trail (on the beach side of the Haina Beach Hwy, 5 miles after Hanalei). It’s just basic beds or campsites, but it’s right on an incredible beach! For two excursions on the Big Island, there is actually an inexpensive Hawaiian Volcano hotel in the center of there. I recommend that you base camp on the Big Island in Volcano Village (less than a mile from the only national park entrance), because here you can organize two of the five most outrageous hikes in Hawaii! National park staff and some places can advise you on conditions and permits. Then, if I were you, I’d fly to Kauai and do two more…because it’s the only other island that has two of these five great hikes.
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