USA: HAWAII: Kauai, Maui, Big Island

The islands of Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui offer some of the best hiking experiences in the world. The amazing natural beauty of the state of Hawaii has attracted me five times, and I will gladly return. Click here for some images of Hawaii.

Waves crash at sunset on Kalalau Beach, Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii, USA.Kauai

The 11-mile Kalalau Trail is one of my favorite backpacking trips in the world. The trail crosses five valleys and ends at Kalalau Beach, blocked by sheer cliffs (or Pali, in Hawaiian). Thankfully, State permits limit the number of overnight hikers to this wonderful area. You can also find greater solitude in the off season (non-summer).

The Na Pali Coast is so spectacular that noisy flight-seeing helicopters fly over frequently, sometimes every 15 minutes, which can be annoying for hikers. I flew over Kauai in a helicopter once and humbly admit that the views are astounding, including full circular rainbows! However, the views will have more personal meaning when you invest “sweat equity” by hiking or kayaking. (Zodiac boats are no longer allowed to drop off or pick up hikers on Kalalau Beach — you must earn this experience by backpacking.)

Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is mostly a State Forest Reserve, open to hiking as well as hunting for invasive feral pigs.

Taro root, a traditional staple brought to Hawaii by the original Polynesian immigrants in the 700’s AD, is a popular crop grown in Hanalei Valley, in northeast Kauai.

Sea cliffs rise spectacularly up to four thousand feet above Kalalau Beach on the Na Pali Coast, Kauai, state of Hawaii, USA. Copyright Tom Dempsey /

MauiA rare silversword plant blooms in Haleakala National Park, Maui, State of Hawaii, USA.

Backpacking in Haleakala National Park on Maui is one of my favorite experiences. Haleakala visitors can also day hike, ride horseback, bicycle, and drive through the fantastic scenery and rare ecosystems of this 10,023-foot dormant volcano. Bicyclists can coast down 10,000 vertical feet on the 40-mile road from the summit of Mount Haleakala. Commercial operators offer supported bicycle descents.

As you hike or ride horseback across Haleakala Crater, the dry moonscape turns into a lush green cloud forest in just 6 miles. The crater forms a bowl 7.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, and its floor averages 6700 feet in elevation. With a National Park camping permit, you can sleep overnight in the crater in your own tent. Or you can reserve one of the three cabins. Morning mists drift through the cinder cones in Haleakala Crater and often evaporate by mid-afternoon.

See the official bird of the state of Hawaii, the Nene (or Hawaiian Goose, Branta sandvicensis) grazing in and around Haleakala Crater, especially near campsites. The Nene is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and is related to the Canada Goose.

Related to sunflowers, silverswords grow for up to twenty years before a blooming with a huge flower stalk between May and November. After just a single gigantic bloom, the plant dies. In Haleakala Crater, the fascinating native silversword plants are endangered by feral goats. Silverswords grow only on Maui and the Big Island.

“The Big Island” of Hawaii

Humans first populated the Big Island of the Hawaiian Islands chain. Using large catamaran-like canoes with coconut-fiber sails, Polynesians became some of the finest sailors in history. In the 700s AD, Polynesians bravely canoed here all the way from the Marquesas Islands and later from Tahiti. Early residents left rock pictographs, used simple tools and irrigation, lived in relative harmony with nature, fought wars with each other, and passed down a proud culture through stories and songs to future generations. British Captain James Cook would not discover the Hawaiian Islands, which he called the Sandwich Islands, until a thousand years later, in 1778.

The Big Island is geologically the youngest island in the 25-million-year-old Hawaiian chain — in fact it is still being created! Lava flows have blocked the Chain of Craters Road, and molten lava pours regularly into the Pacific Ocean. You can actually watch the Big Island grow. In 1987, UNESCO listed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a World Heritage Area.

Recommended books for Hawaiian Islands travel

Search for latest “Hawaii travel books” on (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).

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