Best Road Trips to Take in Hawaii
Before you laugh at the concept of going on a road trip on an island, hear us out. A road trip in Hawaii is all about taking your time to appreciate the scenery around you if it’s getting out of the car to discover a rainy waterfall path, discovering a hidden banana bread vendor, or catching a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean from a gorgeous lookout. You will not be frustrated by the unrivaled charm of these island road journeys.
1. Road to Hana, Maui
The renowned Road to Hana, the granddaddy of all Hawaiian road journeys, is deceptively long. The route follows the rocky, untamed Hana Highway in some of the most magnificent terrain Hawaii has to offer, with 620 renowned turns and 54 bridges. Although it is only 52 miles long, the twists, turns, and peaks will take three to five hours to accomplish each trip.
Begin at the peaceful surfer village of Paia, which is a one-of-a-kind destination in and of itself. Breakfast can be had at one of the numerous fashionable eateries in town, such as Paia Bay Coffee Bpmar, or snacks can be found at the Kuau health food store. If you run out of munchies, keep a lookout for local banana bread stands along the road; several of the best can be located at the Twin Falls and Halfway to Hana stands.
The Road to Hana is known for its waterfalls, which are many. Make a point of stopping at Twin Falls, Upper Waikani Falls, Hanawi Falls, and Wailua Falls, which are all right off the highway. But this trip isn’t just about waterfalls. Pull over to the Keanae Peninsula for some spectacular views of the volcanic Maui coastline, the Garden of Eden botanical gardens, Wainapanapa State Park to witness the black sand beaches, and Kaeleku Cave’s lava tube. Finish your tour at Hamoa Beach, or trek the Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park’s Kpahulu District. Allow enough time to return before dark, or stay overnight in Hana town to cut the travel in half.
2. Windward Oahu to North Shore Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu is a great highlight for many visitors, yet most choose to save time by traveling up through the island’s core. Rather, get out of town and travel 60 miles through windward Oahu on the Kalanianaole and Kamehameha Highways.
Begin your search for Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. It’s a popular snorkeling spot on the island, but you don’t have to get in the water to enjoy the scenery. The Halona Blowhole overlook, about 2 miles up the road, offers views of Cockroach Cove, popularly known as “From Here to Eternity Beach.” Spend some time at the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, a 400-acre garden in a tropical rainforest at the base of the Koolau mountain range, if you’re in the mood for nature. Swing by the Byodo-In Temple in Kaneohe to ring the peace bell and pay your respects before heading to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie to learn about the Polynesian Islands’ history.
Pause at Kualoa Ranch for a horseback trail ride or a movie tour, or pull over to admire Chinaman’s Hat (Mokolii Island), right across the road, farther up Kamehameha Highway. Lunch can be had at one of Kahuku’s shrimp trucks, such as Romy’s, Fumi’s, or Giovanni’s. Alternatively, Ted’s Bakery, which is closer to Haleiwa Town, offers a plate lunch and a slice of pie. Turtle Bay Resort, Waimea Valley, and Haleiwa’s main strip lined with local restaurants and shops are some additional wonderful options after you reach the north side of the island.
3. Upcountry Maui
Upcountry Maui is a 20-mile trip that takes you away from the beautiful Maui beach and up into the rural districts on the slopes of Haleakala.
Begin at Makawao, a Paniolo cowboy town with a mix of rustic and modern aesthetics in its stores, cafés, and art galleries. Travel south on Highway 37, stopping in Kula to explore a local organic Ocean Vodka Distillery, identify Hawaiian plants and flowers at the Kula Botanical Gardens, and take a tour of Alii Kula Lavender’s lavender gardens, or milk a goat at the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm.
End the day at Maui Wine in Ulupalakua, where you drink pineapple wine grown 2,000 feet above sea level, or simply enjoy the picturesque vineyards.
4. Hamakua Coast, Hawaii Island
Driving is a popular pastime on Hawaii Island. You’ll surely need a set of wheels to travel from point A to point B, as it’s the state’s largest island—bigger than all the other islands combined. The 50-mile trek down the Hamakua Coast in northeastern Hawaii Island will take your breath away with its unique combination of terrains ranging from harsh and rocky to lush and humid.
Start with Rainbow Falls in Hilo for an easy-to-reach view of the 80-foot waterfall noted for its forceful spray, which creates rainbows when the sun shines just right. Drive up Hawaii Belt Road (Highway 19), stopping at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden, Akaka Falls State Park, and Laupahoehoe Point along the way, with the spectacular Mauna Kea volcano to your left. Finish your journey in Waipio Valley, a magnificent curved valley where a young King Kamehema I called home as a youngster. Off Kukuihaele Road, the Waipio Valley Overlook offers panoramic views of the 5-mile-deep ravine and 2,000-foot-tall cliffs, making it one of the greatest places to see the valley.
5. North Shore Kauai
Reap the benefits of all 16 miles of this North Shore Kauai road trip, which, despite its small length, packs a punch with lots of highlights. This part of Kauai is recognized for its lush vegetation and rainy weather, which is impressive considering Kauai is the state’s wettest island.
Begin your journey at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge & Lighthouse, where you can see unique Hawaiian seabirds and spinner dolphins off the coast while admiring the 100-year-old lighthouse. One can stop at one of the little beaches or stroll down to the coastal tidepools at Queen’s Bath on your journey past Princeville’s lush golf fields to legendary Hanalei Town via Route 56 (Kuhio Highway). Before going on to Hena State Park, stop in Hanalei to relax on the beach near Hanalei Pier, shop, or have lunch. Keep a watch out for the elusive Nene geese, the state bird, as you pass across Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge on your trip to Hanalei.
Finish your journey at the N Pali Coast State Park gate, where you can trek a section of the magnificent Kalalau Trail or snorkel at Kee Beach. If you’re returning in the evening, stop by Bar Acuda in Hanalei for some island-inspired tapas.