Hikes on Maui include treks along coastal seashore, verdant rain forest, and alpine desert. Orchids, hibiscus, ginger, heliconia, and anthuriums grow wild on many trails, and exotic fruits like mountain apple, lilikoi (passion fruit), and strawberry guava provide refreshing snacks for hikers. Much of what you see in lower-altitude forests is alien, brought to Hawaii at one time or another by someone hoping to improve on nature. Plants like strawberry guava may be tasty, but they grow over native plants and have become problematic weeds.

The best hikes get you out of the imported landscaping and into the truly exotic wilderness. Hawaii possesses some of the world’s rarest plants, insects, and birds. Pocket field guides are available at most grocery or drug stores and can really illuminate your walk. If you watch the right branches quietly, you can spot the same honeycreepers or happy-face spiders scientists have spent their lives studying.

Best Spots

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala Crater. Undoubtedly the best hiking on the island is at Haleakala Crater. If you're in shape, do a day hike descending from the summit along Keoneheehee Trail (aka Sliding Sands Trail) to the crater floor. You might also consider spending several days here amid the cinder cones, lava flows, and all that loud silence. Entering the crater is like landing on a different planet. In the early 1960s, NASA actually brought moon-suited astronauts here to practice what it would be like to "walk on the moon." Tent camping and cabins are available with permits. On the 30 miles of trails you can traverse black sand and wild lava formations, follow the trail of blooming ahinahina (silverswords), and take in tremendous views of big sky and burned-red cliffs.

The best time to go into the crater is in the summer months, when the conditions are generally more predictable. Be sure to bring layered clothing—and plenty of warm clothes if you're staying overnight. It may be scorching hot during the day, but it gets mighty chilly after dark. Bring your own drinking water, as potable water is available only at the two visitor centers. Overnight visitors must get a permit at park headquarters before entering the crater. Moderate to difficult. Haleakala Crater Rd., Makawao, Hawaii, 96768. 808/572–4400; www.nps.gov/hale. $25 park entrance fee per vehicle (good for 3 days).

Oheo Gulch

A branch of Haleakala National Park, Oheo Gulch is famous for its pools (the area is sometimes called the Seven Sacred Pools). Truth is, there are more than seven pools and there's nothing sacred about them. A former owner of the Travaasa Hotel Hana started calling the area Seven Sacred Pools to attract the masses to sleepy old Hana. His plan worked and the name stuck, much to the chagrin of many Mauians.

The best time to visit the pools is in the morning, before the crowds and tour buses arrive. Start your day with a vigorous hike. Oheo has some fantastic trails to choose from, including our favorite, the Pipiwai Trail. When you’re done, nothing could be better than going to the pools, lounging on the rocks, and cooling off in the freshwater reserves. (Keep in mind, however, that the park periodically closes the pools to swimming when the potential for flash flooding exists.)

You can find Oheo Gulch on Route 31, 10 miles past Hana town. To visit, you must pay the $25-per-car National Park fee, which is valid for three days and can be used at Haleakala's summit as well. For information about scheduled orientations and cultural demonstrations, be sure to visit Haleakala National Park’s Kipahulu Visitor Center, 10 miles past Hana. Note that there is no drinking water here.

Kahakai Trail. This quarter-mile hike (more like a walk) stretches between Kuloa Point and the Kipahulu campground. It provides rugged shoreline views, and there are places where you can stop to gaze at the surging waves below. Easy. Trailhead: Kuloa Point, Hana, Hawaii, 96713. www.nps.gov/hale. $25 park entrance fee per vehicle (good for three days).

Kuloa Point Trail. A half-mile walk, this trail takes you from the Kipahulu Visitor Center down to the pools of Oheo at Kuloa Point. On the trail you pass native trees and precontact Hawaiian sites. Don't forget to bring your swimsuit and a towel if you're planning a dip in the pools—but exercise extreme caution, as no lifeguards are on duty. Stick to the pools; don't even think about swimming in the ocean. The park periodically closes the pools when the potential for flash flooding exists. Easy. Trailhead: Kipahulu Visitor Center, Hana Hwy., Hana, Hawaii, 96713. www.nps.gov/hale. $25 park entrance fee per vehicle (good for 3 days).

Pipiwai Trail. This 2-mile trek upstream leads to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls, pounding down in all its power and glory. Following signs from the parking lot, head across the road and uphill into the forest. The trail borders a sensational gorge and passes onto a boardwalk through a mystifying forest of giant bamboo. This stomp through muddy and rocky terrain takes around three hours to fully enjoy. Although this trail is never truly crowded, it's best done early in the morning before the tours arrive. Be sure to bring mosquito repellent. Moderate. Hana Hwy., Hana, Hawaii, 96713. www.nps.gov/hale. $25 park entrance fee per vehicle (good for 3 days).

Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area

A hiking area with great trails for all levels—and something totally unexpected on a tropical island—is the Kula Forest Reserve at Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area in Upcountry Maui. During the Great Depression the government began a program to reforest the mountain, and soon cedar, pine, cypress, and even redwood took hold. The area, at an elevation of 6,200 feet, feels more like Vermont than Hawaii. It’s cold and foggy, and often wet, but there’s something about the enormity of the trees, quiet mist, and mysterious caves that makes you feel you’ve discovered an unspoken secret. Hikers should wear brightly colored clothing, as hunters may be in the area.

To reach the forest, take Route 37 all the way out to the far end of Kula, then turn left at Route 377. After about a half mile, turn right at Waipoli Road. You’ll encounter switchbacks; after that the road is bad but passable. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are strongly recommended, although standard cars have been known to make it. Use your best judgment.

Boundary Trail. This 4-mile trail begins just past the Kula Forest Reserve boundary cattle guard on Polipoli Road and descends into the lower boundary southward, all the way to the ranger's cabin at the junction of the Redwood and Plum trails. Combine them and you've got a hearty 5-mile day hike. The trail crosses many scenic gulches, with an overhead of tall eucalyptus, pine, cedar, and plum trees. Peep through the trees for wide views of Kula and Central Maui. Wear bright clothing, stay on the trail, and be aware you may encounter hunters who are hunting off the trail. Moderate. Polipoli Spring is often closed following heavy storms due to fallen trees and other damage. Check the Hawaii State Parks website prior to making the drive up there. Trailhead: Polipoli Campground, Polipoli Rd., Kula, Hawaii, 96790. www.hawaiistateparks.org.

Redwood Trail. This colorful 1.7-mile hike winds through redwoods and conifers past the short Tie Trail down to the old ranger's cabin. Although the views are limited, groves of trees and flowering bushes abound. At the end of the trail is an old cabin site and three-way junction with the Plum Trail and the Boundary Trail. Wear bright clothing, stay on the trail, and be aware you may encounter hunters who are hunting off the trail. Moderate. Polipoli Spring is often closed following heavy storms due to fallen trees and other damage. Check the Hawaii State Parks website prior to making the drive up there. Trailhead: Near Polipoli Campground, Polipoli Rd., Kula, Hawaii, 96790. www.dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/hiking/maui/redwood-trail.

Upper Waiakoa Trail. Start this scenic albeit rugged trail at the Polipoli Access Road (look for trailhead signs) and proceed up Haleakala through mixed pine and past caves and thick shrubs. The path crosses the land of Kaonoulu to the land of Waiakoa, where it reaches its highest point (7,800 feet). Here you'll find yourself in barren raw terrain with fantastic views. At this point, you can either turn around, or continue on to the 3-mile Waiakoa Loop for a 14-mile journey. Other than a cave shelter, there's no water or other facilities on these trails, so come prepared. Wear bright clothing, stay on the trail, and be aware you may encounter hunters who are hunting off the trail. Difficult. Polipoli Spring is often closed following heavy storms due to fallen trees and other damage. Check the Hawaii State Parks website prior to making the drive up there. Trailhead: Polipoli Access Rd., Kula, Hawaii, 96790. www.dlnr.hawaii.gov/recreation/nah/maui-trail-and-access-maps.

Iao Valley State Monument

In Hawaiian, Iao means "supreme cloud." When you enter this mystical valley in the middle of an unexpected rain forest near Wailuku in West Maui, you’ll know why. At 750 feet above sea level, the 10-mile valley clings to the clouds as if it’s trying to cover its naked beauty. One of Maui’s great wonders, the valley is the site of a famous battle to unite the Hawaiian Islands. Out of the clouds, the Iao Needle, a tall chunk of volcanic rock, stands as a monument to the long-ago lookout for Maui warriors. Today, there’s nothing warlike about it: the valley is a peaceful land of lush tropical plants, clear pools and a running stream, and easy enjoyable strolls.

To get to Iao Valley State Monument, head to the western end of Route 32. The road dead-ends into the parking lot ($5 per car). The park is open daily 7 am–6 pm. Facilities are available, but there is no drinking water.

Iao Needle Lookout Trail & Ethnobotanical Loop. Anyone (including grandparents) can handle this short walk from the parking lot at Iao Valley State Monument. On your choice of two paved walkways, you can cross the Iao Stream and explore the junglelike area. Ascend the stairs up to the Iao Needle for spectacular views of Central Maui. Be sure to stop at the lovely Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, which commemorate the cultural contributions of various immigrant groups. Easy. Trailhead: Iao Valley State Monument parking lot, Rte. 32, Wailuku, Hawaii, 96793. www.dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/maui/iao-valley-state-monument. $5 parking per car.

The South Shore and West Maui

In addition to the trails listed below, the Kapalua Resort offers free access to 100 miles of self-guided hikes. Trail information and maps are available at the Kapalua Adventure Center.

Makaluapuna Point (Dragon's Teeth). The fascinating series of lava formations at Makaluapuna Point in Kapalua is nicknamed Dragon's Teeth. The forceful winds that sweep over the point caused the lava to harden upward into jagged points resembling giant teeth. To get there, park in the small paved lot to the right at the end of Office Road, and follow the path at the edge of the Bay Golf Course (watch for errant golf balls, and be respectful of the golfers). Along the way, there's a labyrinth where you can experience a meditative walk. Wear sturdy shoes and bring water, as there are no facilities here. Office Rd., Kapalua, Hawaii, 96761. .

Hoapili Trail (King's Trail). A challenging hike through eye-popping scenery in southwestern Maui is this 5½-mile coastal trail beyond the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. Named after a bygone king, it follows the shoreline, threading through the remains of ancient villages. King Hoapili created an islandwide road, and this wide path of stacked lava rocks is a marvel to look at and walk on. (It's not the easiest surface for the ankles and feet, so wear sturdy shoes.) This is brutal territory with little shade and no facilities, and extra water is a must. To get here, follow Makena Road to La Perouse Bay. The trail can be a challenge to find—walk south along the ocean through the kiawe trees, where you'll encounter numerous wild goats (don't worry—they're gentle), and past a scenic little bay. The trail begins just around the corner to the left. Difficult. Trailhead: La Perouse Bay, Makena Rd., Makena, Hawaii, 96753.

Kapalua Resort. The resort offers free access to miles of hiking trails as a self-guided experience. Trail information and maps are available at the Kapalua Village Center. The Village Walking Trails offer a network of exercise opportunities on former golf cart paths, including the 3.6-mile Lake Loop, which features sweeping views and a secluded lake populated with quacking ducks. The Coastal Trail provides views of the ocean and wildlife as it crosses the golden sand dunes of Oneloa Bay and past Ironwood Beach and the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, to its terminus at D.T. Fleming Beach Park. Sightings of green sea turtles, dolphins, and humpback whales (in season) are likely, along with nesting seabirds called uaua kani. Guided 1½ mile hikes on the coastal trail that include tide pool exploration are available for $99 through the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. 2000 Village Rd., corner of Office Rd., Kapalua, Hawaii, 96761. 808/665–4386; 808/665-7292; www.kapalua.com.

Waihee Ridge. This 4¾-mile hike in West Maui offers a generous reward at the top: breathtaking panoramic views of the windward coast and the ridges that rise inland, as well as Mt. Lanilili, Puu Kukui, Eke Crater, and the remote village of Kahakuloa. Enjoy a comfortable lunch at the picnic table. In rainy conditions the trail can quickly turn into a muddy slippery affair. To get here from Highway 340, turn left across the highway from Mendes Ranch and drive three-quarters of a mile up a partially paved road to the signed trailhead. Moderate. Trailhead: Opposite Mendes Ranch, Hwy. 340, Wailuku, Hawaii, 96793.

Going with a Guide

Guided hikes can help you see more than you might on your own. If the company is driving you to the site, be sure to ask about drive times; they can be fairly lengthy for some hikes.

Friends of Haleakala National Park. This nonprofit offers overnight trips into the volcanic crater. The purpose of your trip, the service work itself, isn't too much—mostly native planting, removing invasive plants, and light cabin maintenance. But participants are asked to check the website to learn more about the trip and certify readiness for service work. A knowledgeable guide accompanies each trip, taking you to places you'd otherwise miss and teaching you about the native flora and fauna. Hawaii. 808/876–1673; www.fhnp.org.

Hike Maui. Started in 1983, the area's oldest hiking company remains extremely well regarded for waterfall, rain-forest, and crater hikes led by enthusiastic, highly trained guides who weave botany, geology, ethnobotany, culture, and history into the outdoor experience. Prices run $95–$259 for excursions lasting 3–11 hours (discounts for booking online). Hike Maui supplies day packs, rain gear, mosquito repellent, first-aid supplies, bottled water, snacks, lunch for the longer trips, and transportation to and from the site. Hotel transfers are available for most hikes (extra fee may apply). Kahului, Hawaii, 96733. 808/879–5270; 866/324–6284; www.hikemaui.com.

Kipahulu 'Ohana. Native Hawaiian guides from this nonprofit organization lead cultural interpretive hikes and taro patch tours at Kipahulu near Hana through a cooperative agreement with Haleakala National Park. The two-hour hike ($49) takes you to scenic overlooks and past remnants from the sugar-cane industry, culminating at an ancient taro farm that has been restored to active production. A three-hour hike ($79) includes a side trip to 400-foot Waimoku Falls. You can park at Kipahulu Visitor Center ($20 per car) and meet your guide at the Hale Kuai, the traditional thatched house near the center. Hana, Hawaii, 96713. 808/248–8558; www.kipahulu.org.

Sierra Club. One great avenue into the island's untrammeled wilderness is Maui's chapter of the Sierra Club. Join one of the club's hikes into pristine forests, along ancient coastal paths, to historic sites, and to Haleakala Crater. Some outings require volunteer service, but most are just for fun. Bring your own food and water, rain gear, sunscreen, sturdy shoes, and a suggested donation of $5 for hikers over age 14 ($3 for Sierra Club members). This is a true bargain. www.mauisierraclub.org.