Best Outdoor Adventures in Hawaii

In a place surrounded by the ocean, water sports like surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving abound. Hawaii has it all—and more. But that's just the sea. Interior mountains and valleys offer a never-ending stream of other outdoor adventures. Here are our picks for the best water and land adventures around the state.


Dive and snorkel at Shark's Cove.Some of the best things in life require a wait. That's the case with Shark's Cove—you have to wait for summer until it's safe to enter the water and swim with an amazing array of marine life thanks to the large boulders and coral heads dotting the sea floor and forming small caves and ledges. This is both a spectacular shore dive and snorkeling destination in one—perfect for the diver-snorkeler couple.

Bike the Aiea Loop Trail.This 4.5-mile, single-track, loop trail offers some of the most fun mountain biking in central Oahu. Although it's listed as an intermediate trail, some sections are a bit more difficult, with steep drop-offs. We recommend it for the weekend warrior who has a bit more experience. Caution: Do not attempt in wet weather.

Golf at the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club. Carved out of the middle of a tropical rain forest, this peaceful setting offers an antidote to the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. Bring your "A" game and a full bag, because club selection is key here. You'll want to hit each and every fairway.

Learn to surf at Waikiki Beach.You've heard the age-old saying that goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Well, when in Hawaii, surf. The sport that was once reserved for alii, or royalty, knows no class barrier these days. And there is no better place to learn than Waikiki, with its long and gentle rolling swells.

Hike to Kaena Point.For a raw and rugged look at Oahu's coastline, head to hot, dry Kaena Point. Head out early in the morning as Kaena Point is situated at the northwestern tip of the island (about 45 minutes from Waikiki). The 5-mile round-trip hike—rather, walk—ends at the westernmost tip of the island.


Explore Molokini Crater. Snorkeling here is like swimming in a tropical-fish aquarium. Molokini is a crescent-shaped crater that barely peeks its ridged spine above the ocean's surface, and the reef fish love it. If you're not comfortable leaping off the side of a boat into the open ocean, you may not go for this. Go early before the winds pick up.

Golf at Kapalua Resort. The Plantation Course at Kapalua is the site of the PGA Tour's first event each January, in which only champions from the previous PGA season can play. You can take them on—sort of—by playing in their footsteps. The wind will challenge the best of golfers here.

Hike in Haleakala Crater. How about hiking on black sand on the top of a mountain? There aren't many places you can do that. Thirty miles of trails await here—everything from day hikes to multiday pack trips. At 10,000 feet and summit temperatures ranging from 40 to 60 degrees, you might forget you're in Hawaii.

Snorkel at Kekaa. We like Kekaa Point for its big marine life: a turtle the size of a small car, eagle rays with 3-foot wingspans, and all kinds of Hawaii's colorful endemic fish. But keep an eye out above, too, because this is a popular cliff-diving spot.

Big Island

Bike Kulani Trails.Stands of 80-foot eucalyptus. Giant tree ferns. The sweet song of honeycreepers overhead. Add single-track of rock and root—no dirt here—and we're talking a technically difficult ride. Did we mention this is a rain forest? That explains the perennial slick coat of slime on every possible surface. Advanced cyclists only.

Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay. Yes, the snorkeling here is tops for Big Island but, to be real, the draw here is the Hawaiian spinner dolphins that rest in the bay during the daytime. While it's enticing to swim with wild dolphins, doing so can disrupt their sleep patterns and make them susceptible to predators—aka sharks—so stick to an early morning or late afternoon schedule and give the dolphins their space between 9 and 3.

Watch the lava flow at Volcanoes National Park.It isn't too often that you can witness the creation of land in action. That's just what happens at Volcanoes National Park. The most dramatic example occurs where lava enters the sea. But recent activity has Madame Pele’s fiery wrath threatening roads and homes. While Mother Nature rarely gives her itinerary in advance, if you're lucky, a hike, helicopter flight, or boat ride may pay off with spectacular views of nature's wonder. Sunrise and sunset make for the best viewing opportunities.

Go horseback riding in Waipio Valley.The Valley of the Kings owes its relative isolation and off-the-grid status to the 2,000-foot cliffs book-ending the valley. Really, the only way to explore this sacred place is on two legs—or four. We're partial to the horseback rides that wend deep into the rain forest to a series of waterfalls and pools—the setting for a perfect romantic getaway.


Tour the Napali Coast by boat.Every one of the Hawaiian Islands possesses something spectacularly unique to it, and this stretch of folding cliffs is it for Kauai. To see it, though, you'll want to hop aboard a boat. You may opt for the leisurely ride aboard a catamaran or the more adventurous inflatable raft. You can even stop for snorkeling or a walk through an ancient fishing village. Whatever you do, don't forget your camera.

Kayak the Wailua River.The largest river in all Hawaii, the Wailua River's source is the center of the island—a place known as Mt. Waialeale—the wettest spot on Earth. And yet it's no Mighty Mississippi. There are no rapids to run. And that makes it a great waterway for learning to kayak. Guided tours will take you to a remote waterfall. Bring the whole family on this one.

Hike the Kalalau Trail.The Sierra Club allegedly rates this famous cliff-side trail a difficulty level of 9 out of 10. But don't let that stop you. You don't have to hike the entire 11 miles. A mile hike will reward you with scenic ocean views—where in winter you might see breaching whales—sights of soaring seabirds and tropical plant life dotting the trail sides. Wear sturdy shoes, pack your camera, and be prepared to ooh and aah.

Enjoy a helicopter ride.If you drive from Kee Beach to Polihale, you may think you've seen all of Kauai, but we're here to tell you there's more scenic beauty awaiting you. Lots more. Save up for this one. It's not cheap, but a helicopter ride over the Garden Island will make you think you're watching a movie with 3-D glasses.

Published 01/10/2017

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