Hiking in Hawaii 101 

Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Hiking in Hawaii 101 

I am an avid hiker. My husband and I have been known to plan our vacations around hikes that we want to do, whether it’s somewhere in Hawaii, on the mainland, or even abroad.

There is no greater feeling than reaching the end of a hike with a beautiful lookout point. And hiking itself is great exercise and lots of fun. But I have noticed a stark difference between hiking in Hawaii and hiking on the mainland.

For starters, hikes in Hawaii can be a bit more dangerous than other hikes. While some hikes are state-maintained, others trail are not sanctioned or even illegal, like the famous Stairway to Heaven (which I haven’t done and don’t recommend!). Visitors who get themselves into trouble sometimes have to be rescued. Sometimes they didn’t know what they were getting into, or they simply didn’t understand their limits.

If you are interested in hiking in Hawaii, I thought that I would help you get started. I created this Hiking 101 Guide, something that you can refer to that will help you decide what kind of hike you want to try.

How to prepare for a hike in Hawaii

I think that it’s important to know what you are getting into when you go hiking. I like to know how long the trail is and how much time I should allow for it.

Because it’ so hot in Hawaii and because of changing conditions like rain and wind, sometimes people underestimate how hard hikes can be. Many popular hikes, like Diamond Head , the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, and Waimea Falls are ideal for visitors and first-time hikers because they are pretty short. Others, like Koko Head, are more difficult and challenging.

But how do you know which ones are right for you? I have been writing detailed guides to these hikes, which I urge you to refer to! I try to give as many details about the hikes as I can in my post. Is there shade? Are there bathrooms? Are there bugs? Is it slippery? Is it paved or difficult to walk on? Are there stream crossings? I will let you know in these guides.

Know your skill level and look for a hike that is at your skill level.

In addition, the conditions of the trails in Hawaii can change depending on the weather and rain. That’s why I always check Hawaii’s official hiking website which gives current conditions the day that I plan to hike.

I cannot emphasize enough of the importance of research before you leave for your hike. If you want more information about a hike, the travel experts at Hawaii Aloha Travel are a great place to start! We can help you determine which hikes are best for you based on your skill and desires.

What to wear on a hike in Hawaii

In Hawaii, it’s usually warm, so you don’t need to worry about wearing jackets or layers. I do like to wear leggings because they protect my legs from the sun and from getting scraped up on stray branches or when I fall.

All you need to wear is a tank top or t-shirt (the t-shirt will give you more protection from the sun), shorts or leggings, and hiking boots. Sneakers can be okay on paved trails, but if you are going to do the more challenging hikes, I highly recommend investing in a pair of hiking boots.

Avoid wearing jeans, flip flops, or shoes without traction. Make sure the fabric that you are wearing is breathable.

What to bring on a hike in Hawaii

Once you have done your research, it’s time to prepare for your hike! The equipment that you will need will vary depending on the weather, the length of the hike, and the difficulty of the hike. I always recommend putting everything in a backpack because that makes it a lot easier to carry your belongings while hiking. You want your hands free.

In the backpack, I always bring water, sunscreen, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, a snack (protein bar or trail mix), napkins, lip balm with SPF, my cell phone (100% charged,) and a camera.

There are many other items to consider bringing. Depending on the length of the hike, you might also want to bring:

Bug spray (essential for hikes in forests)
Printed map. You don’t want to rely on the Internet because you might lose service. If you can’t print a map, screenshot the map of the trail, as well as directions back to your hotel. Service is spotty on the trails, but at least you will have the photos you saved.
First aid kit.
Ziplock bag for trash. Never leave any trash on the trails.
Rain jacket
Pocket knife

Tips for hiking in Hawaii

When you are planning your hike, there are a lot of important factors to consider.

Read posted warning signs and follow the directions they offer.

Never hike alone, no matter what trail it is or how short it is. It is also a good idea to tell someone who is not hiking with you where you are planning to go. If you do that, remember to tell them when you finish so that they don’t worry!

If the weather is bad, do not go. I know that you want to fit everything into your visit in Hawaii. I know that you will be bummed if it’s raining hard on the day you set aside to hike Koko Head. But it’s simply not worth it. Mudslides, heavy rain, and flash floods can cause dangerous conditions. Check out one of these rainy day activities instead.

Never go off of the marked trail. Shortcuts can be tempting, and I love exploring, but it’s essential that you stay on the marked trails. There are a few reasons for this. First, if you go off the trail, it could be dangerous. There could be loose ground that you could fall off of. Also walking off of the trail could damage some of the trails and the wildlife.

Keep track of the time. Know when the sun is going to set. If a trail is taking you longer than you expected and it’s starting to get late, it’s better to turn around than to be out hiking in the dark.

Use common sense. If something looks dangerous or if you have a bad feeling about it, turn around. If you feel like you have veered off the trail, turn around. No hike is worth risking your life.

Dangers to consider when hiking in Hawaii

Now, I don’t tell you these dangers to scare you away from hiking in Hawaii. I do it almost every weekend! But, it’s important to understand your environment and to be aware of the dangers unique to Hawaii before you go out on the trails. You may never have hiked anywhere like this before.

One of the reasons why this blog is so important is because of all of the knowledge we pass on to you. I want you to come to Hawaii fully prepared so that you can safely enjoy everything these beautiful islands have to offer.

Understand the terrain and environment in Hawaii. Although Hawaii doesn’t have snakes or bears, we do have wild pigs. They might not seem dangerous, but it’s essential to stay away from them. And where there are wild pigs, there might also be hunters. Wearing brightly colored clothing will help hunters see you from a distance.

Many hikes in Hawaii also have ropes to help you out. Relying on ropes can be dangerous because you never know if they are weathered. Test out the ropes before you use them.

Many hikes also have stream crossings. Just be careful when you cross the streams. If it starts to rain suddenly, there could be flash flooding, which can be very dangerous if you are trying to cross a stream.

Leptospirosis is a bacteria that can live in freshwater and in the mud. It is found in Hawaii. Swimming or wading in freshwater streams can give you leptospirosis. So, don’t go swimming in freshwater waterfalls, even if you see other people doing it. If you have a cut on your foot or leg, you might want to avoid hikes that have stream crossings.

Making the most of your Hike in Hawaii

If you want to make the most of your hike in Hawaii, I recommend taking time to slow down and enjoy it! Stop along the way to sit down and have a drink of water and a snack. Don’t be so focused on your destination that you forget to enjoy the journey.

And when you get to the top of that mountain, take the time to enjoy the view from the top! There is no need to rush back down!

What hikes are you looking forward to doing in Hawaii?