Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes (Kilauea and Muaona Loa). If you are fortunate enough to see a volcano actively erupting, you will never forget it.  Kilauea was actively erupting in the Halemaumau crater while we were visiting.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Further, there are a lot of other interesting sites at this park. You can hike through lava tubes, across volcano craters and along sulfur banks. You can also visit the impressive coastline made up of unique volcanic rock structures.  Driving the Chain of Craters road out to the coastline affords you some really great views of the black lava rocks too. 

We recommend spending a half a day to a full day at this park. Here is our quick guide on visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

We hiked throughout this park with out 3 month old daughter. For tips on hiking with an infant, please see our How to Hike with a Baby post.

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in early November

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do in Hawaii Volcanos National Park


If there is a volcano actively erupting , go see it!

This was hands-down the coolest experience we had at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and on the Big Island. It really made for an unforgettable adventure.  Make sure to get to the park early in the morning, at least two hours before sunrise, so you have ample time to hike out to the volcano and view it in the dark. Viewing it in the dark creates a surreal experience witnessing the red/orange glow before the sunrises. 

Kilauea Actively Erupting, pictures do not do it justice

To find out the best viewing spot for the current eruption, call the park between 9 AM and 5 PM Hawaii time and speak with a staff member. Had we not called the park the day before to find out where to go to see the eruption, we would’ve had no idea where to park our car or where to hike in the park.  Also, a volcano can stop or start to erupt at any time so if the volcano is actively eruptIng, try to go as soon as possible to see it. The Kilauea volcano was actively erupting in the Halemaumau crater during our visit. 

Note: Double Check Your Location 

Since we arrived at the park so early in the morning, and were a bit sleep deprived, we weren’t the most oriented.  We accidentally went down the wrong trail for over a mile before realizing that we were not on the right path to view the eruption. We could see the smoke and glow from where we were on the wrong path but realized we couldn’t see it up close from the trail we were on. Thankfully, we hiked quite quickly and were still able to get back to the best viewing spot about an hour before sunrise.  Just be mindful that navigating the park at night is difficult. 

As you will be arriving at the park very early in the morning, in the pitch darkness, be sure to bring your headlamp. These are the headlamps we use and recommend. 

Also, for hiking on Lava Rock, you need a solid pair of hiking boots.  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Thurston Lava Tubes

These lava tubes are super neat to see. There is a lot of cool flora growing around where you enter them. We visited several lava tubes while in Hawaii (one on the road to Hana and another one in Hilo) and this one was the most accessible. It was the easiest/largest to walk through and required no crouching/crawling. The hike into and through these tubes is quite short. You will need less than 30 minutes to complete it. 

Thurston Lava Tubes

To access, park at the Thurston Lava Tubes Parking Lot. If the Thurston Lot is full, park in the Kilauea Iki Overlook Parking Lot (0.5 miles away, can walk on Kilauea Iki Rim Trail to access), On Crater Rim Drive


Hike Part of the Kilauea Iki Trail

This trail goes through the rainforest, around part of the rim Kilauea Iki Crater, before descending down into the crater floor itself.  This trail is 4 miles round trip and you can hike as much or as little of it as you please.  We hiked part of the trail along the rim of the crater.  The rainforest and crater views were pretty from here.  After hiking 4 miles to see the erupting volcano that morning and waking up so early, we weren’t feeling overly ambitious to hike down into a crater to see a dormant volcano.  Had the volcano not been erupting, we would have hiked this whole trail as it is rated as one of the best. 

Kilauea Iki Trail

To access, park at the Kilauea Iki Overlook Parking Lot, On Crater Rim Drive 


Drive Chain of Craters Road and Visit the Holei Arch

This road takes you from the higher elevations of the park down to the coastline. The temperature varied by 15°F between the two locations when we visited. The coastline here is very pretty. It is very impressive to see the large waves crashing against the lava rocks that descend into the ocean. When you see the rocky coast, it is even more impressive to imagine the orignal polynesian explorers landing in the area with their canoes. The Holei Arch is an interesting formation of the lava rocks to see at the coastline as well. Eventually, this rock formation will erode and be washed away.  

Holei Arch

Driving the Chain of Craters road will take you about 35 minutes one-way and it is definitely worth your time. There are several other craters you can stop and look at but none are as impressive as the Kilauea Iki Crater. Also, not much could compare after seeing an actively erupting volcano so keep that in mind if you are lucky enough to see that. 

Chain of Craters Road

Hike the Sulfur Banks

0.7 Miles loop trail, minimal elevation

Here you hike on a paved path through the rainforest before coming to a boardwalk that takes you through a volcanic thermal area and mineral deposits.  You can literally feel the heat and smell the sulfur from these thermal areas.

Sulfur Banks Trail

To access, park at the main visitors center 


Tip: Bring Food to the Park

There is really nowhere to eat in the park so it is very important that you bring food. We packed picnic lunches.


Where to Stay to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

If you plan to spend more than a day or go to the park multiple days, stay in Volcano Village or in Hilo. We chose to stay in Kona, which is about a 2 hour drive from the park. This made most sense for us as it was more centrally located by other things we wanted to do on the Big Island.  See our ***Big Island Guide for all our Big Island tips.  If you are looking for an Airbnb in Kona, we highly recommend the one we stayed at. 

Our Kailua-Kona Airbnb was perfect for us.  We had sunset views every night from the kitchen window and it had everything we needed (including lots of baby items which was a HUGE plus with a three month old). It was very spacious, updated and clean. Also, the host was super kind and helpful! If you are looking into Kona, definitely stay here!

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb

We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:

Oahu, Hawaii Quick Guide

Kauai, Hawaii Quick Guide

Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide

Haleakala National Park Quick Guide

Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide

5 Stops on the Road to Hana

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned

5 Stops on The Road to Hana

Driving the Road to Hana was our favorite and most memorable activity we did on Maui.  With over 620 turns and 59 bridges, driving the windy Road to Hana is really an experience and not just a drive.  Along the way, you will see many picturesque waterfalls, lots of cute roadside fruit stands, gorgeous coastline views and lots of pretty unique rainforest flora.  

Road to Hana Sunrise Views

Build Your Own Experience

The Road to Hana is really a ‘build your own experience’ activity as the stops you choose to take along the way will really create a different experience for each person who drives it.  You can’t possibly stop at everything along the way, especially if you are driving the road back and forth in one day.  Given this conundrum , we narrowed the stops down to our 5 most recommended to help you plan your day. 

Unlike most blogs, we recommend stopping at places along the Road to Hana backwards. By this we mean drive to the furthest away location first and then make your stops on the way back.  This allows you to get an early start on this drive and drive a lot of the Road before most attractions are open. It also sets you up to get to our first stop, the Pipiwai Trail, early in the morning before the crowds arrive. 

Note: The mile markers on the Road to Hana are confusing because they start earlier on the Hana Highway than when the actual Road to Hana starts and then after you reach Hana, the mile markers start going down again.  Be sure to download offline maps so you can navigate the Road to Hana with your GPS.  We typically unplug while on vacation but always use offline maps.  Even if you were not unplugged, it is likely your data will not work on this side of the island so download the offline maps regardless. 

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in late October

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


#1 Pipiwai Trail and Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools in Haleakala National Park

Pipiwai Trail, East Side of Haleakala National Park, 4.0 Miles Round Trip, 650 Feet of Elevation Gain

Mile Marker 42

Pipiwai Trail

This hike on the Pipiwai Trail was our furthest away stop on the Road to Hana and well worth the drive. It is actually located after Hana so make sure to not stop there and continue on to this trail in the Eastern part of Haleakala National Park.  

Unique Rainforest and Bamboo Forest Flora

Hike through a Bamboo Forest

This hike is super neat because you first hike through the rainforest and then through a bamboo forest before coming to the impressive Waimoku waterfall. On this hike, you will also see a huge Banyan Tree.  The contrasting views on this hike are really pretty and well worth the effort.  We would rate this hike as relatively easy as the elevation gain is well spread out.  

Pipiwai Trail

Hike Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools

Oheo Gulch Trail, East side of Haleakala National Park, 0.6 Miles Round Trip, 100 Feet of Elevation Gain  

You can also hike the shorter Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools trail here that is 0.6 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation change.  This hike takes you through the rainforest, along the coast line and to a waterfall.  We completed this hike after the Pipiwai trail and found it to be very easy and scenic. The trailhead is at the same spot as the Pipiwai trailhead. 

Oheo Gulch

Arrive Early

We recommend arriving at this hike early.  When we arrived around 8am, we were one of three cars, but by the time we left after completing the hike, the parking lot was full and cars were parking in an overflow lot. Crowds can often take away from the experience so we are glad we got to the trail earlier than most. 

For more information and details on visiting Haleakala National Park, please see our Haleakala National Park Quick Guide.


Looking for great hiking boots for your rainforest adventure?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


#2 Hana Farms

Mile Marker 31

Hana Farms

This cute farm stand is located right off the Road to Hana and easy to find. The chocolate chip banana bread here is absolutely delicious. There’s also a restaurant where you can sit down and eat a meal here. The restaurant was not open when we visited but the outdoor seating area was a really pretty spot to enjoy some fresh banana bread. 

Hana Farms

#3 Ka’eleku Cave

Mile Marker 23

This is a really neat lava tube right off the side of the road. Lava tubes form when the outside of lava hardens but the lava flowing inside continues to stay warm and fluid. The cave is short, approximately 1/3 mile, and leads to a large banyan tree. This cave felt like a real hidden gem!

Ka’eleku Cave

The floor inside the cave is quite slippery so wear footwear with a good grip. Both of us were wearing sandals and would not recommend that. We also both went through the cave separately too as you have to crouch down quite a bit to get in there and with the floor being quite slippery, it was not safe for us to go through carrying our three-month-old daughter. However, it is very short so both of us were able to do it separately relatively quickly. 

Ka’eleku Cave

Note: This is VERY easy to miss.  It is not marked and you need to know just to look for it. Use our picture above so you know what you are looking for. Drive very slow around mile marker 23.  Had one other car not been parked across from where the entrance to this lava tube was, we would have likely missed it.   There is a pull off where you can park (on the side of the road closer to the coast line) that has two or three spots

Shout out to Heidi from Ordinary Sherpa for telling us about this free hidden roadside adventure!  Check out her podcast, Ordinary Sherpa, for more family adventure inspiration. We also are guests on Episode 026 of this podcast that you can listen to here.


#4 Upper Waikani Falls

Mile Marker 19

These waterfalls are located right off the side of the road across from a one-way bridge and are truly stunning. In our opinion, these are the prettiest set of waterfalls we saw while driving  the Road to Hana (Waimoku Falls in Haleakala at the end is more impressive but these are the best waterfalls on the journey there). To access these falls, you need to park up the road a bit and walk back to them as it is not safe to park directly by the one-way bridge.

Upper Waikani Falls

#5 Twin Falls Hike and Fruitstand 

Mile Marker 2

1.8 Mile Round Trip (without offshoots to each waterfall), 347 feet of Elevation Gain

Twin Falls hike is fun as it takes you to three different waterfalls through the rainforest.  The first two waterfalls you encounter on this hike look very similar and are a very short hike, about 0.2 miles from the parking lot.  The third waterfall is a bit further from the first two  but, in our opinion, the most scenic one so be sure not to stop hiking after the first two waterfalls.  You can also go swimming at this third waterfall.   

Last waterfall on the Twin Falls Hike

We took our time with this hike, hiking down to each waterfall and exploring around them, and it took us about 1.5 hours total.  The hike was relaxing, as it was relatively easy, and you saw a lot in a short period.  The trail, especially down by the waterfalls, was pretty slippery, as it had just rained so make sure to wear good hiking shoes. 

We actually hiked this trail a different day than when we drove the Road to Hana as it was only about 10 minutes from our Airbnb. We are glad we did it this way as we did not feel rushed hiking it at all. The Road to Hana is already a very full day experience.  

Arrive Around 7 AM

Prior to completing this hike, we read a lot of reviews online and the reviews were quite mixed.  A lot of people said they did not like the hike because it was too crowded.  To our delight, we enjoyed this hike a lot more than we expected as we nearly had it to ourselves. When we hiked this trail at about 7 AM, right around when it opened, we saw only about 10 other people total.  We found it to be really peaceful and pretty so arrive early if you don’t want any crowds to dampen your experience. 

First waterfall on the Twin Falls Hike

Bonus: Fruit Stand in the parking lot

The fruit stand in the parking lot at Twin Falls has some delicious banana bread.  Our loaf we got was still warm from coming out of the oven that morning. 

Twin Falls Fruitstand

Twin Falls Hike

Cost: This trail and these waterfalls are on private property so it costs $10/car to park here. This is very reasonable as the trail is very well maintained. 


We liked all these stops on the Road to Hana but if we had to choose two favorites, they were the Twin Falls Hike in Haiku and the Pipiwai Trail Hike in Haleakala National Park.

Other stops on the Road to Hana

Some other stops you may want to consider making on the Road to Hana:

Wailua Falls, Mile Marker 45 (after Hana), waterfall where you can swim, right off the road

Waianapanapa State Park, Mile Marker 32 (before Hana), Black Sand Beach and lava tubes. 

We opted not to stop at this state park because we were visiting 3 other black sand beaches (on the Big Island) and 3 other lava tubes (on Maui and the Big Island combined) on this trip . 

If you do decide to stop at the state park, make sure you check ahead and reserve tickets online if necessary. When we were visiting in November 2021, they were requiring timed entry reservations that had to be made prior to arriving at the park. We did not have any cell phone service in this area so even if you wanted to go to the park, you wouldn’t be able to if you had not made previous reservations (even if they were reservations available which seems, in our opinion, a bit irrationally restrictive).

Garden of Eden Arboretum, Mile Marker 10.5, Botanical Gardens. 


Other Road to Hana Tips

All-Day Event

The Road to Hana takes, at minimum, 2.5 hours to drive one-way.  With all the stops you will likely make to take pictures and with time spent waiting at one way bridges, budget for at least 3, if not more, hours each way.  In addition, you will likely make some longer stops to hike, explore state parks or eat at the roadside stands.  Budget at least a full day to drive this road both ways.  You may want to consider staying overnight in Hana if you really want to take your time driving on the road and be able to stop at all the stops you’d please along the way.  

Windy Road Cautions 

Note, as mentioned above, this road is VERY windy.  Anyone prone to motion sickness, like Natalie, beware.  For tips on preventing this, see our post, How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying. In addition, with the windy nature of this road, drive very cautiously.  Do not pass people and even though you will see some locals drive this road very aggressively, just don’t. Your safety and life is more important than saving a couple minutes.  Enjoy the journey! 

Windy Narrow Road to Hana Drive

Where to Stay

We recommend staying on the North side of the Island, in/around Paia or Haiku, near the start of the Road to Hana.  Most people stay in West Maui but if you are looking to explore more than the beach, this central location is great.  It allows you an early start for the Road to Hana, a good starting point for seeing sunrise at the Summit in Haleakala National Park and an easy drive to make a day trip to the West side or the South shore of the island. You alternatively could stay overnight in Hana itself if you want to spend more time on the Road to Hana. 

The Haiku Airbnb we stayed at was in a really nice quiet location.  It had all the amenities we needed and the host was very responsive and helpful. The landscape at the property was very pretty too. 

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:

Oahu, Hawaii Quick Guide

Kauai, Hawaii Quick Guide

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide

Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide

Haleakala National Park Quick Guide

Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide

We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to drive the Road to Hana.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Big Island Hawaii Quick Guide

Pololu Valley, Big Island Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is a real Hawaiian gem.  We have visited all four major islands now and this one feels the most local to us.  The Northern coastline valley hikes, the blacksand beaches, the lava tubes, the secluded beaches and the rainforest hikes on this island are really unmatched.  The Big Island is also home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we got to see an actively erupting volcano, a once in a lifetime experience.

This adventure was also our first major trip away from the Midwest with our three month old daughter. We loved exploring the island with her! See our How to Hike with a Baby post for all our baby hiking tips and tricks. 

Kona Sunset, Waipio Valley, G loving life on the Big Island

We recommend spending about a week, if not longer, on the Big Island.  Everything is quite spread apart and to see the whole island, even a week, may be quite challenging.  Here is our quick guide about the Big Island, Hawaii.  

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in early November

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes. While we were visiting this park, we were lucky enough to see one of those volcanoes actively eruptIng. It was truly unforgettable and a once in a lifetime experience! In addition to seeing an active volcano, there is a lot of different hiking to do at this park. You can hike through lava tubes, across a volcano crater and along Sulfur Banks (or sulphur if you are British). For all the details on visiting this park, see our Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Cost: $35/car or no charge  with America the Beautiful Pass (pays for itself if you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in one year).  


Pololu Valley Lookout and Hike Pololu/Awini Trail

This area was our favorite hike that we did on the Big Island. It gives you  the most bang for your buck. You see a lot of beautiful scenery without an excessive amount of hiking. This hike starts at the Polo Valley Lookout point. You get some stunning views even just from the lookout point you can drive up to. Even if you are not able to hike, it is worth seeing the lookout point from the beginning of the trail. 

Pololu Valley

Pololu/Awini Trail Hike

From the lookout point, you descend down on the Pololu trail about a half mile on a rocky path into a rainforest valley before coming to the black sand beach. From here, you can continue on up the other side of the valley into the mountainous rainforest on the Awini trail. You really can hike as far as you want on this trail or as little as you want on this trail. In our opinion, the best views are from the valley floor after the initial descent before the beach or from the lookout point at the beginning of the trail. 

Pololu Valley Trail

Arrive Here Early

When we got here at approximately 9 AM, there were only a couple cars in the parking lot but when we left, there were cars parked up the entire street. It was nice to have the valley almost completely to ourselves in the morning.

Cost: Free


Kaunaoa Beach

Kaunaoa Beach

This white sand beach located on the Northwest side of the island was our favorite beach on the island. It had a good amount of shade, something very important to us especially with our three month old daughter. Although we have a stellar sun tent (which we highly recommend), the additional natural shade helps keep her (and us) cooler and more comfortable. It also had soft sand and clear water – great to walk in and wade out to cool down. Further, due to the limited public parking to access this beach and the fact that it is located behind a private residence/ resort, it did not feel overcrowded. There are also very clean bathrooms and a shower area not far from the beach.

We visited this beach twice since we liked it so much. We were able to set up under a tree.  The ocean breeze and shade made for very comfortable afternoons relaxing on the beach.

Kaunaoa Beach

Parking at Kaunaoa Beach

The parking situation at Kaunaoa Beach is a bit tricky. If you want to almost guarantee you are going to get parking, arrive before 9 AM or after 4 PM. There are only 40 spots in the parking lot. You have to get a ticket from the front gate attendant at the Mauna Kea private residence/resort.  The public parking is gated so the attendant at the front always knows if there is a spot available.  The first day we visited this beach, we had no problem getting parking right away but the second time we had to circle around for about 10 minutes before a spot became available and we could drive back to the parking area. Try going around lunchtime (if not going early morning or late afternoon) to get a spot when a lot of people tend to leave. 

Kaunaoa Beach

Cost: Free


Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Punaluu Black Sand Beach

We visited three black sand beaches on the Big Island (also at Waipio Valley and Pololu Valley) and this was our favorite of the three. The sand is much darker than any other black sand beach we have seen (including the one in Santorini Greece—coming soon, Santorini, Greece Quick Guide). The sand here is also much more fine and soft than the others we visited. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at this park. Be sure to bring food with you as there is none available here and nothing in the close surrounding areas.

Tip: If you are visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this beach  is only about 20 minutes Southwest from the main park entrance. We recommend visiting both on the same day to decrease driving (unless you are staying on the East side of the island). 

Cost: Free


Waipio Valley Lookout and Hike

Waipio Valley

This stop is a cool lookout point over a mountainous valley that leads out to a black sand beach on the coastline. Here, you can also hike down into the valley and onto the black sand beach. This hike involves a very steep descent on a paved road (about 1,000 feet of elevation) and then a hike through the rainforest on a flat dirt (more like mud) road before coming out to the black sand beach. This hike was extra special because we saw some wild horses on the beach and crossing through the river in the valley. Definitely not something you see every day! The hike in total is about 3 miles or so roundtrip, depending on how far you go out onto/across the black sand beach. 

Waipio Valley

You can alternatively hire someone to drive you down into the valley but we found the hike to be rewarding and not overly strenuous as it was mainly in the shade. We recommend completing this hike before noon though to avoid full sun as that would have made it feel a lot more difficult. 

Waipio Valley

We completed this hike with our infant daughter so Natalie had approximately 15 extra pounds strapped to her. If she can do this hike with the extra weight, have confidence you can do it too if you are physically active. For all of our tips on hiking with your baby, see our How to Hike with a Baby post.

Cost: Free


Hike to the Secluded Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach

This beach is really neat because it can  only be accessed by hiking out to it.  Consequently, this seclusion keeps the crowds down as people in general like easier beach access. It is about 1 mile to 1.5 miles one-way hike out to the beach and with little to no elevation change. 

For hiking to the beach, you have to drive on a very bumpy and rough road to get to the trailhead. This road is so rough that we ended up parking on it about a half a mile further away from the trailhead because we thought it would be much easier to walk on it then drive on it in our sedan rental car (and we were right). There are several spots along this road that you can park on before getting to the actual trailhead and we would recommend doing that even if you have a 4WD vehicle. You have to drive so slowly that it is quite frustrating and you can almost move faster walking. 

Makalawena Beach

This beach is pristine and well worth the effort to get to it. It is rated as one of the best on the Big Island. It has classic white sandy beaches and clear blue water. We enjoyed setting up our sun tent and playing in the sand with our daughter. We love our sun tent, especially for beaches like this where shade is super limited as it allows us to create our own. 

Cost: Free


Sunset in Kona

Sunset in Kona

The sunset in downtown Kona really is unmatched. We recommend watching it by the waterfront! There are several restaurants you can eat at and watch the sunset but if you plan to get a sunset spot, you  will need to get their hours in advance. There are plenty of areas where you can watch the sunset for free though. Just walk around and you’ll find them.

We could see the sunset from our Airbnb (which was awesome too) but seeing it on the waterfront really is magical.  We have seen a lot of sunsets in cool locations and this definitely is in the top five.

Cost: Free


Rainforest Hike on the Makaula Ooma Trails

Makaula Ooma Trails

If you are looking for a hike that mainly only locals do and where you will not see many other people, this is the hike for you. This rain forest hike was really pretty. It took us through a lot of different rainforest flora and the best part, we only saw three other people the entire hike. This also is located very close to the Airbnb we recommend in Kona. This hike does not take you to a specific lookout point but really makes for a peaceful hike through the rainforest. *** estimated length?

Shout out to our Airbnb host for recommending this to us!

Makaula Ooma Hike

Cost: Free


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Explore Hilo

Hilo is the biggest city on the East side of the island yet it feels very local and not touristy. It felt like ‘Old Hawaii’ to us and much different than the more glamorous and built up Kona side of the island. There are a lot of different things you can see in this city. We just spent a brief afternoon here and recommend seeing the below, particularly the Kaumana Caves. 

Given the untourist nature of this area, don’t expect a lot catering to non-locals. We arrived in Hilo around 2 PM and found most restaurants were actually closed for lunch. If you are looking for a lunch spot, we would recommend arriving sooner than that.

Also, since there is so much driving and so much to see on the Big Island, you could consider flying into Hilo and out of Kona or vice versa to break up your time on the island as there is an airport (less popular so less flights to it) in Hilo as well. This logistically did not work for us but definitely something to consider.

Kaumana Caves

Kaumana Caves

These lava tubes are located a short drive outside the city center. They are super cool and definitely our favorite thing we saw in Hilo. These caves felt much more untouched than the Thurston Lava Tubes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Given this, there is a lot more skill and care that is required to explore them. Make sure you are wearing proper hard-soled shoes and that you have a headlamp with you otherwise you won’t make it very far in these caves. 

As far as hiking boots, we recommend Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots which we have been using for over 7 years.  These are great in the cave and the rainforest. And these are the headlamps we use. 

Kaumana Caves

These caves also do get quite narrow eventually and require quite a bit of crouching down and crawling.  We were limited in how far we could go as we had our three month old daughter with us in the Ergobaby. Regardless, even going a short distance in these caves is worth seeing. 

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

This waterfall gets its name from the rainbow that tends to form within the waterfall midday. When we visited, we did not see a rainbow at this waterfall but think it is worth checking out if you are in Hilo. For your best chance of seeing the rainbow, try to go around noon when the sun is most full. This waterfall is very accessible too. We were able to roll our stroller up to it which is always a huge plus. Sometimes you just need a break from baby carrying! Likewise, it is wheelchair accessible. 

It also feels a bit strange because you literally are right in the city center and all of a sudden bam, there’s a big waterfall.  Don’t expect to be by yourself at this waterfall though. Since it is so accessible and near the city center, a lot of people are usually there. This is a brief stop.

If you are in Hilo, go see Rainbow Falls. However, we would not recommend driving across the entire island just to see this. We recommend doing a big loop to see/hike Waipio Valley, visit Akaka Falls State Park and then visit the stops in Hilo. This itinerary will save you some driving and allow you to see more sites. 

Cost: Free 

Boiling Pots

Boiling Pots

This destination is another natural phenomenon that you drive up to right from the city center. Like Rainbow Falls, this is a brief stop. It is also stroller and wheelchair accessible. If you are in Hilo, definitely make the stop here. However, like Rainbow Falls, do not drive across the whole island just to see this.

Cost: Free

Liliuokalani Park and Gardens

Liliuokalani Park and Gardens

These Japanese gardens located along the oceanfront have a lot of different pretty and unique flora. Our favorite site here was the huge Banyan tree. There are additionally some nice paths to walk on around the gardens and most are stroller/wheelchair accessible. We also enjoyed eating some takeout in the park overlooking the waterfront.  Like Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots, stop here if you are in the area but do not drive across the island to see it. This is not a must do but a good spot to relax. 

Cost: Free


Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls State Park

This state park is located on the Northeast side of the island. It is in between Waipio Valley and Hilo. It is home to one of the biggest waterfalls in Hawaii. It really is quite impressive! There is about a half mile loop path that you can walk on. It is a paved path but does have some stairs. This is another brief stop. Combine this with visiting Waipio Valley.

Cost $5/person, $10 to park (if you park in the lot but the lot was full so we parked on the road for free)


Where to Eat

On the Big Island, things are really spread apart. Many of the places you will visit here will not have a lot or any restaurants around them. Given this, we packed lunches most days or ate at our Airbnb (which had a full kitchen). Definitely be sure to pack a lunch for the beaches and the national park as you will not really have any other food options.

Downtown Kona, where many of the Kona Restaurants are located

The restaurants with the best views and the most variety on their menus are in Kona. However, there are really some hidden gems where you can get a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch while traveling around the island in some of the small towns. We would recommend just stopping where it is convenient for you. 

South Kona Fruitstand

Also, the roadside fruit stands are really great! Our favorite one was south of Kona, South Kona Fruitstand.  Natalie had a pineapple passionfruit smoothie here that was out of this world. We also got some unique pineapple carrot cake here.  Can we fly back to the Big Island just to get these? That’s how good it was! 

South Kona Fruitstand


Tip: Go grocery shopping at Costco

In Hawaii, food is significantly more expensive than the continental US, particularly in the Midwest where we live.  It makes sense given that almost everything needs to be shipped to islands.  However, at Costco, some products are still the same price as they are in the midwest.  We were surprised that we could get large bags of spinach, rotisserie chicken and some other produce for the same price we could at home.  Other things are still more expensive than they would be at home but significantly less expensive than they are at other grocery stores in Hawaii.  

Definitely buy pineapple when you are at Costco as you will not find it for less anywhere else! And with anyone familiar with Costco, the produce is always great quality.  If you have a Costco membership and are going to be staying more than a couple days, it makes complete sense to go shopping here. We did most of our grocery shopping at Costco and then some things that we just really did not need large quantities of, we bought at the local Safeway. 

Costco on the Big Island is located about 10 minutes south of the airport. It was quite close to our accommodations but depending on where you’re staying, it will probably make most sense to stop there after you land if you fly into Kona.


Where to Stay

The Big Island of Hawaii is very BIG.  Unlike the other Hawaiian islands, if you want to see the whole island, you have to do a lot more driving.  In our opinion, there is no perfect central homebase spot to stay because everything is pretty spread apart.  Ideally, you would see this island by hopping around from different accommodations every night or so.  However, packing up and moving every day or so can be stressful and may not actually save you as much time as you think.  

Views from our Airbnb in Kona

We wanted a consistent homebase for our whole time on the Big Island and we chose to stay just outside of Kona.  If we were to visit again, we would stay here or on the more Northern end of the island.  The activities we enjoyed most, other than visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, were located in these areas (Pololu Valley, Waipio Valley, Makalawena Beach and Kaunaoa Beach). If you want to spend more time exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will probably prefer to stay in Hilo or Volcano Village. 

Our Kailua-Kona Airbnb was perfect for us. We had sunset views every night from the kitchen window and it had everything we needed (including lots of baby items which was a HUGE plus with a three month old). It was very spacious, updated and clean.  Also, the host was super kind and helpful! If you are looking into Kona, definitely stay here!

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb

We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to the Big Island.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:

Oahu, Hawaii Quick Guide

Kauai, Hawaii Quick Guide

Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide

Haleakala National Park Quick Guide

5 Stops on the Road to Hana

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Haleakala National Park Quick Guide


Haleakala National Park is a very unique park because it offers a lot of contrasting scenery. There are actually two sides to the park, the west and the east side. On the West side, you can watch the sunrise over the Haleakala summit, the world’s largest dormant volcano and hike through a volcanic crater. On the East side of the park, it is much more green. Here, you can hike through the rainforest and a bamboo forest to several waterfalls. We recommend visiting both sides of the park for the full experience. 

Note: The East and West side of Haleakala National Park cannot be accessed from the same road. They have to be accessed completely separately and you would not be able to visit them both feasibly in one day. To be centrally located to visit both sides of the park, we recommend staying on the north side of the island, somewhere near Haiku or Paia. 

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in late October

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do at Haleakala National Park


West Side of the Haleakala National Park

The West side of the park is where you can partake in the ritual of watching the sunrise at the Haleakala (means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian) Summit.  This is also where you can hike into the crater of the largest dormant volcano in the world.  


Sunrise at the Haleakala Summit

The sunrise at the summit at Haleakala National Park is a surreal experience.  The sun rising over the dormant volcano among the clouds is really a sight everyone should see in-person in their lifetime. The colors that illuminate the sky are out of this world. You feel like you are in the clouds at 10,000 feet. Pictures and videos of this sunrise simply do not do it justice. 

Get Tickets in Advance

To attend sunrise at the Haleakala Summit, you must reserve advance tickets at recreation.gov.  The tickets are available to buy 30 days in advance. These tickets sell out fast so set an alarm for the day and time for when the tickets you want go on sale. Keep in mind, they go on sale at 7 AM Hawaii time so figure out what time that will be in your time zone so you are not SOL.

These tickets are $1 and you need to either also buy entrance to the park (do not have to buy in advance) or an America the Beautiful pass (must buy in advance).  We buy an America the Beautiful pass every year because it pays for itself when you visit more than 2 parks in one year and allows you unlimited access to all the parks for one price.  One year, we visited 12 National Parks with this one pass so we definitely got our money’s worth. 

Arrive at least an hour before Sunrise

Once you have a ticket, you can enter the park between 3 AM and 7 AM on the day of your ticket. You will want to arrive about an hour prior to sunrise to see the whole sunrise.  Make sure to check what time the sunrises when you are visiting as it changes throughout the year.

If you want to have the best view at the summit, plan to arrive earlier than an hour in advance. We arrived about an hour in advance and were able to get our own spot but we did not have the most prime spot on the summit to watch the sunrise. It was a fine spot for us to watch the sunrise but with how the viewing platform was set up, it was hard not to get other people in some of our pictures. However, it is not all about the picture as pictures really do not do the IRL experience justice anyways. 

Dress Warm

The summit at Haleakala is approximately 30° cooler than at the lower elevations where most people are staying. We were well prepared for the 40° weather we encountered that morning but most people we saw there were not. Some people were wearing flip-flops and we can only imagine their feet felt frozen.

Windy Road Leading to Summit

The road you drive on to get to the Haleakala Summit is quite windy (as in curvy).  Nothing in comparison to the Road to Hana but anyone prone to motion sickness, beware. Like the Road to Hana, you must drive this road quite slowly at points. Be sure to budget enough time to drive up this windy road before sunrise. 


Hike the Sliding Sands Trail

This hike contrasts other trails you may hike on Maui as it takes you into the dormant volcano landscape.  Variable colors of this landscape are quite neat to behold. The best views, in our opinion, are actually near the beginning of the trail.

Choose your own length

You can hike all 11 miles of this trail or you can hike just part of it.  We hiked 3 miles of this trail round-trip. We had planned to hike to the bottom of the crater, which is 2.5 miles one-way, but with how we were feeling with the elevation, we opted to only hike 1.5 miles one-way. Like we said, the best views of this crator are from the beginning of the trail anyways. The view at approximately 1 mile into the crater is worth walking at least this far.. For someone who just wants to get a short taste of the trail, we would recommend just hiking the 1st mile in. The extra half mile we completed did not add much from a view standpoint. 

Tip: Hike the Sliding Sands Trail during Sunrise

If you plan to hike this trail on a day other than the day you watch the sunrise at the summit, try to start this hike before sunrise. That way, you can watch the sunrise while hiking on the trail.  You will still be at the high elevation (nearly 10,000 feet still) so you will be able to watch the sunrise over the clouds and will likely have the trail completely to yourself, unlike the Summit.  Just be sure to bring your headlamp so you can watch where you are hiking! The trail is well maintained and fairly smooth but trip hazards are always present. These are the headlamps we use and recommend. 

Also, remember, if you plan to enter the park between 3 AM- 7 AM, you need a sunrise reservation so be sure to get another ticket for sunrise entrance.  These tickets only cost $1 so make an extra reservation even if you are not 100% committed to doing this hike on a different day.  

Beware of the Elevation

At nearly 10,000 feet of elevation, this trail feels a lot harder than it would at a lower elevation. We are both in  good shape and really felt the elevation doing this trail.  We were certainly not acclimated at all to the elevation.  Remember, the climb up will be much more difficult than the descent down. Be mindful of how you are feeling. We ended up hiking 2 miles less than we initially planned because of how we were feeling.


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Lookout Points

Along the road that leads to the summit of Haleakela, there are a lot of different spots that you can pull off onto and soak in the views with minimal effort. Make sure to check these out. The view from the Haleakala Visitors Center is worth checking out as well. 

There is also one other trail on the West side of this park, the Halemauu Trail, you can hike. However, based on everything we have read and pictures we have seen, the Sliding Sands Trail views are more impressive than this trail’s views.  Also, if you are looking for a full day hike, you can hike from the Sliding Sands Trailhead to the Halemauu Trailhead (parking lot at MM 14) which is an 11.2 mile hike.  To do this, you would need either 2 cars or to hitchhike a ride back to the Sliding Sands Trailhead (Haleakela visitors center parking lot) or be overly ambitious and hike 22.4 miles.


East Side of the Park

The East side of Haleakala National Park is located south of the town of Hana and, presumably, would be your last stop while driving the Road to Hana.  At this part of the park, there are two different trails that you can hike–the Pipiwai trail and Oheo Gulch trail.  We recommend hiking both.


Pipiwai Trail 

4.0 Miles Round Trip, 650 Feet of Elevation Gain

Unique Rainforest and Bamboo Forest Flora

This hike is super neat because first, you hike through the rainforest and then, you hike through a bamboo forest before coming to the impressively tall Waimoku waterfall.  On the hike, you will also see a huge Banyan Tree.  The contrasting views are well worth the 4 mile round-trip hike.  We would rate this hike as relatively easy as the elevation gain is well spread out.  

Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools 

0.6 Miles RoundTrip, 100 Feet of Elevation Change 

You can also hike the shorter Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools trail here that is 0.6 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation change.  This trail takes you along the coastline, through the rainforest and past a waterfall.  We completed this hike after the Pipiwai trail and found it to be very easy and scenic. The trailhead is at the same spot as the Pipiwai Trailhead. 

Arrive Early

We recommend arriving to hike on the East side of the park early.  When we arrived around 8 AM, we were one of three cars in the parking lot, but by the time we left after completing the hike, the parking lot was full and cars were parking in an overflow lot. 

Bring Food

There is nowhere to eat at either part of the park so make sure to bring some snacks.  On the East side of the park, take advantage of some of the roadside fruit stands on the way to/from the park.  We highly recommend Hana Farms at MM 31.  

For more information on driving the Road to Hana and Maui, see our 5 Stops on the Road to Hana and Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide post.  


Where to Stay

As noted above, the East and West side of Haleakala National Park cannot be accessed from the same road. They have to be accessed from completely separate routes and you cannot feasibly visit both sides in one day. To be centrally located to visit both sides of the park, we recommend staying on the North side of the island, somewhere near Haiku or Paia 

The Haiku Airbnb we stayed at was in a nice quiet location.  It had all the amenities we needed and the host was very responsive and helpful. The landscape at the property was very pretty too. 

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Haleakala National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see

Oahu, Hawaii Quick Guide

Kauai, Hawaii Quick Guide

Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide

Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide

5 Stops on the Road to Hana

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Maui Quick Guide

Maui is the most popular of the Hawaiian islands and for good reason.  After our visit, we understood why so many people love it and visit there again and again.  From the beautiful beaches to the exotic rainforests to the endless beautiful waterfalls to the world’s largest dormant volcano, the adventures on this island are countless. 

Road to Hana Views on Maui

Highlights of our time on Maui included watching sunrise over the summit at Haleakala National Park, hiking through a bamboo forest, seeing countless awe-inspiring waterfalls, driving the insanely windy Road to Hana, visiting cute roadside fruit stands and relaxing on the perfectly picturesque white sand beaches. 

This was also our first major trip away from the Midwest with our three month old. We loved exploring the island with her! See our How to Hike with a Baby post for all our baby hiking tips and tricks. 

We recommend spending at least 5 days on Maui, if not longer, to see these highlights as well as to spend some time relaxing on the beach. Here is our quick guide on Maui, Hawaii.  

FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in late October

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do on Maui


Drive the Road to Hana

Upper Waikani Falls

This was our favorite and most memorable activity we did on Maui.  With over 620 turns and 59 one-lane bridges, driving the windy Road to Hana is really an experience not just a drive.  Along the way, you will see many picturesque waterfalls, lots of cute roadside fruit stands, gorgeous coastline views and lots of pretty unique rainforest flora.  

Build Your Own Experience

Hana Farms

The Road to Hana is really a ‘build your own experience’ activity as the stops you choose to take along the way will really create a different experience for each person who drives it.  You can’t possibly stop at everything along the way if you are driving the road back and forth in one day.  See 5 Stops on the Road to Hana post to see our recommendations on where to stop on your journey.   Our favorite stops were the Twin Falls Hike in Haiku and the Pipiwai Trail Hike in Haleakala National Park.  

All-Day Event

Pipiwai Trail

The Road to Hana takes, at minimum, 2.5 hours to drive one-way (unless you drive like a local which you will understand if you travel the road).  With all the stops you will make to take pictures and with time spent waiting at one way bridges, budget for at least 3 hours, if not more, each way.  In addition, you will likely make some longer stops to hike, explore state parks or eat at the roadside stands.  Budget at least a full day to drive this road both ways.  You may want to consider staying overnight in Hana if you really want to take your time driving on the road and be able to stop at all the stops you’d please along the way.  

Windy Road Cautions 

Coastline View Road to Hana

Note, as mentioned above, this road is VERY windy.  Anyone prone to motion sickness, like Natalie, beware.  For tips on preventing this, see our post on How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying.  In addition, with the windy nature of this road, drive very cautiously.  Do not pass people and even though you will see some locals drive this road very aggressively, don’t contribute to the chaos. Your safety and life is more important than saving a couple minutes.  Enjoy the journey! 

Cost: Free but bring cash to buy items at fruit stands and for stops along the way (hikes, food trucks, botanical gardens, etc.).


Sunrise at the Summit at Haleakala National Park

Sunrise at the Summit at Haleakala National Park

Sunrise at the summit at Haleakala National Park is really a surreal experience. The sun rising over the dormant volcano among the clouds is really a sight everyone should see in-person in their lifetime. Pictures and videos truly do not do this justice. The colors that illuminate the sky are out of this world. You really feel like you are in the clouds with the summit at 10,000 feet.

For more information and for all the details on watching the sunrise at Haleakala, see our Haleakala National Park Quick Guide.

Explore more of the West Side of Haleakala National Park

Sliding Sands Trail Views Haleakala National Park

Also, while on the West side of Haleakala National Park, be sure to check out the Sliding Sands Trail and some of the other lookout points after you watch the sunrise. See our Haleakala National Park Quick Guide for other tips on what to do there, including seeing the East side of the park. 

Note: The East and West side of Haleakala National Park cannot be accessed from the same road. They have to be accessed completely separately and you will not be able to feasibly visit them both in one day. To be centrally located to visit both sides of the park, we recommend staying on the north side of the island, somewhere near Haiku or Paia. 

Cost: $35/car (valid 7 days throughout the entire park) or free with America the Beautiful Pass (pays for itself if you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in one year), $1 for sunrise tickets – bought ahead of time.


Hike through a Bamboo Forest in Haleakala National Park

Pipiwai Trail

Pipiwai Trail, Haleakala National Park, 4.0 Miles Round Trip, 650 Feet of Elevation Gain

This hike on the Pipiwai Trail was our furthest away stop on the Road to Hana and well worth the drive. It is actually located after Hana so make sure to not stop there and continue onto this trail in the East part of Haleakala National Park.  

Unique Rainforest and Bamboo Forest Flora

Pipiwai Trail

This hike is super neat because you first hike through the rainforest and then through a bamboo forest before coming to the impressively tall Waimoku waterfall. On the hike, you will also see a huge Banyan Tree.  The contrasting views keep your interest throughout and well worth the 4 mile round-trip hike.  We would rate this hike as relatively easy as the elevation gain is well spread out.  

Hike Oheo Gulch  

Oheo Gulch

You can also hike the shorter Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools trail here that is 0.6 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation change.  We completed this hike after the Pipiwai trail and found it to be very easy and scenic. The trailhead is at the same spot as the Pipiwai Trail. 

Arrive Early

We recommend arriving at this trailhead early.  When we arrived around 8am, we were one of three cars, but by the time we left after completing the hike, the parking lot was completely full and cars were parking in an overflow lot. 

Cost: $35/car (valid 7 days throughout entire park) or free with America the Beautiful Pass (pays for itself if you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in one year)


Hike Twin Falls

Twin Falls Hike

1.8 Mile Round Trip (without offshoots to each waterfall), 347 feet of Elevation Gain

Twin Falls is a fun, short hike as it takes you to three different waterfalls through the rainforest.  The first two waterfalls you encounter on this hike look similar and are a very short hike, about 0.2 miles from the parking lot.  The third waterfall is a bit further of a hike from those two but, in our opinion, the most scenic of the three so be sure not to stop hiking after the first two waterfalls.  You can also go swimming at this third waterfall.   

Twin Falls Hike

We took our time with this hike, hiking down to each waterfall and exploring around them, and it took us about 1.5 hours total.  The hike was relaxing, as it was relatively easy, and you saw a lot in a short period.  The trail, especially down by the waterfalls, was very slippery, as it had just rained so make sure to wear good hiking shoes. 

This hike is another stop on the Road to Hana, at the very beginning at MM 2.  We actually hiked this a different day than when we drove the Road to Hana as it was only about 10 minutes from our Airbnb. We are glad we did this as we did not feel rushed hiking it at all then as the Road to Hana is already a very full day experience. 

Arrive Around 7 AM

Prior to completing this hike, we read a lot of reviews online which were quite mixed.  A lot of people said they did not like the hike because it was too crowded.  To our delight, we enjoyed this hike a lot more than we expected as we nearly had it to ourselves. When we hiked this trail at about 7 AM, right around when it opened, we saw only about 10 other people.  We found it to be really peaceful and pretty so arrive early if you don’t want any crowds to dampen your experience. On and off rain the day we hiked also kept the less adventurous away.

Bonus: Fruit Stand in the parking lot

The fruit stand in the parking lot at Twin Falls has some delicious banana bread.  Our loaf we got was still warm from coming out of the oven that morning. 

Twin Falls Hike

Cost: This trail and these waterfalls are on private property so it costs $10/car to park but this is very reasonable as the trail is very well maintained. It may be closed if rainfall has been excessive recently.


Day Trip to West Maui

Kaanapali Beach

West Maui is the most popular area to stay on the island.  This is where many of the classically white sand beaches and big resorts are located.  We spent our day on the West side of Maui exploring Kaanapali Beach.  Along this 3 mile stretch of beach, there is a paved path that stretches its length.  Parent bonus, this path is stroller friendly (because sometimes taking a break from baby carrying/wearing is needed).  There are many shops, restaurants and stands located along this path.  This beach is great for people watching but with that, do not expect any seclusion here.  Do not go here if you don’t want to see other people. 

Kaanapali Beach

How to Access Beach

Although this beach has resorts all along it, all shoreline beaches in Hawaii are open to the public. To access this path and beach for free (while not staying at one of the resorts along Kaanapali Beach), look for the blue Shoreline Access signs.  These signs point you to where you can find parking and where you can take a public paved path back to the beach.  Try to arrive earlier in the day as these free public parking areas fill up fast.

Cost: Free


Day Trip to the South Shore of Maui

Makena Landing

The South Shore of Maui, around Wailea, has many nice white sandy beaches like the West side of Maui but with less hustle and bustle.  The beaches in this area are great for snorkeling and seeing sea turtles.  We recommend exploring the Makena Landing beach/reef as we saw sea turtles here. This area feels more high end and residential than West Maui. Fittingly, the high-end designer Shops of Wailea are located in this area.  

Near Wailea Beach and Polo Beach on the South Shore, like on Kaanapali Beach on the West Shore, there is a 1.5 mile paved path along the South shoreline.  However, this path mainly goes past condos and resorts and not as many shops or restaurants.  It is more peaceful than the path in West Maui and makes for a relaxing afternoon stroll.  Again, to access this path/beaches and parking, look for the blue Shoreline Access signs on the road.  

Cost: Free


Explore Iao Valley State Monument

Iao Valley State Monument

Iao Valley State Monument is a great place to spend a morning exploring the rainforest. This state park is among the rainforest-covered mountains in the heart of Central Maui. The climb up to the summit where you can see the Iao Needle shaped monument (shoots 1,200 feet in the air from the valley floor) was not difficult and was much shorter than we expected. Through this area, there are approximately 0.6 miles worth of trails through the rainforest. There are also some other trails that go further into the rainforest, created by locals going to swim in the river, but these are not maintained by the state park. 

Cost: $5/person and $10 to park

Iao Valley State Monument

Baldwin Beach

Baldwin Beach

This beach was located near our Airbnb and we enjoyed relaxing at it.  It has white sandy beach and clear blue water.  Since the beach is located on the North side of the island, it has some pretty rough waves so it is not the best for swimming but good for relaxing on the beach and watching surfers. 

Cost: Free


Where to Eat on Maui


Tin Roof

This restaurant is really a hidden gem.  It is located in an unassuming strip mall in the heart of Kahului. Although very unassuming, this is a popular place for lunch as the owner was a Top Chef winner.  We had the garlic shrimp and the pork belly and would highly recommend both. Order ahead to get takeout otherwise, expect to wait in a line for a good 30 minutes or so. This restaurant also does not have much seating inside so getting takeout is your best bet anyways.

Tin Roof Maui


Food Trucks

Food Truck views in downtown Kahului

The food truck scene on Maui is really on-point. To us, it seemed like there were different food trucks set-up everywhere we visited. Our favorite food truck spot was located in downtown Kahului, right across the street from Costco. There are many options of what to eat at this food truck spot but we recommend Earth Aloha Eats. We both enjoyed some really good plant based food here. 

For more info on the Maui Food Truck scene, see this blog post (not ours).


Hana Farms

Hana Farms

This farmstand and restaurant is located along the road to Hana at approximately mile marker 31. The chocolate chip banana bread here is absolutely delicious. There is also a restaurant where you can sit down and eat a meal here. The restaurant was not open when we visited but the outdoor seating area was really pretty spot to enjoy some fresh banana bread. 

Hana Farms


Monkeypod

Monkeypod Patio in Wailea

This restaurant has two locations on Maui, one in Wailea on the South shore and one on Kaanapali beach on the West side of Maui. Everything in this restaurant is made from scratch. They are very well known for their Mai Tais (named best on Maui year after year). We really do not think you could go wrong with anything on the menu. We ate at the location in Wailea and had a peaceful lunch on the garden surrounded patio. 

Monkeypod Kitchen


Tip: Go grocery shopping at Costco

In Hawaii, food is significantly more expensive than the continental US, particularly in the Midwest where we live.  It makes sense given that almost everything needs to be shipped to islands.  However, at Costco, some products are still the same price as they are in the midwest.  We were surprised that we could get large bags of spinach, rotisserie chicken and some other produce for the same price we could at home.  Other things are still more expensive than they would be at home but significantly less expensive than they are at other grocery stores in Hawaii.  

Definitely buy pineapple when you are at Costco as you will not find it for less anywhere else! And with anyone familiar with Costco, the produce is always great quality.  If you have a Costco membership and are going to be staying more than a couple days, it makes complete sense to go shopping here. We did most of our grocery shopping at Costco and then some things that we just really did not need large quantities of, we bought at the local Safeway. 

Costco on Maui is located about five minutes from the airport. Most likely, it will make the most sense for you to stop at Costco after you land in Kahului. 


Where to Stay on Maui

We recommend staying on the North side of the Island, in/around Paia or Haiku, near the start of the Road to Hana.  Most people stay in West Maui but if you are looking to explore more than just the beach, this central location is great.  It allows you an early start for the Road to Hana, a good starting point for seeing sunrise at the Summit in Haleakala National Park and an easy drive to make a day trip to the West side or the South shore of the island. 

The Haiku Airbnb we stayed at was in a really nice quiet location.  It had all the amenities we needed and the host was very responsive and helpful. The landscape at the property was very pretty too. 

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Maui.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:

Oahu, Hawaii Quick Guide

Kauai, Hawaii Quick Guide

Haleakala National Park Quick Guide

Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide

5 Stops on the Road to Hana

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Oahu, Hawaii Quick Guide


Waikiki Beach, Oahu

The island of Oahu is home to the bustling capital city, Honolulu, and is the most populated of the Hawaiian Islands.  This island has a wide variety of attractions including the historic Pearl Harbor Memorial and the iconic Waikki beach.  We recommend spending about 2 days before heading to another, less populated and less touristy island.  We went to Kauai and were glad we spent the majority of our time on that island.  Here is our quick guide on Oahu, Hawaii.  

FYI: This post was written based on a trip taken in mid-August


What to do in Oahu


Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Cultural Center

If you only do one thing on Oahu, do this.  The best description of the Polynesian Cultural Center is that it is the Epcot for the Polynesian Islands.  Here you can explore the culture of the different Polynesian islands through traditional music, crafts, dances and food.  We were not expecting to like this place as much as we did, especially considering it was raining when we went.  We spent a full afternoon here and felt that was the appropriate amount of time, though it can easily be a full day event. 

Polynesian Cultural Center


Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor Memorial

Visiting this national memorial is a very humbling experience.  Our favorite part of the experience at Pearl Harbor was being able to meet and connect with a veteran that had survived the Pearl Harbor attack. 

Pearl Harbor Memorial


Dole Plantation

Dole Plantation, Oahu

If you love Pineapples, you will love visiting the Dole Plantation.  We enjoyed sampling many different pineapple flavored things here. There are also several different tours you can take here including a Plantation Garden Tour, Pineapple Garden Maze and The Pineapple Express Train.  We did not have time for any of these tours but we think the Plantation Garden Tour would be worth your time. 

Dole Plantation


What/Where to Eat on Oahu


Duke’s Waikiki

Hula Pie, Duke’s in Waikiki

This small Hawaiian chain restaurant named for the olympian and father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, is located right on Waikiki beach. Here, we enjoyed the most delicious fruit smoothies, seafood and hula pie (decadent dessert). 

Duke’s Waikiki


Where to Stay in Oahu


Near Waikiki Beach

Hyatt Waikiki Beach Views

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach. The rooms here were extravagant and the views of the ocean and island were unbeatable.  A bit of a splurge but we thought it was worth the price for the balcony views. 

Hyatt Waikiki


Tip: We were only in Oahu one full day before we continued onto Kauai (see Kauai, Hawaii Quick Guide).  If you want to spend several days on Oahu, you may want to split your stay between the south and north side of the island. 

For more information on visiting Hawaii, please see:

Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide

Haleakala National Park Quick Guide

Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide

5 Stops on the Road to Hana

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide


We hope this post helps you plan your trip to Oahu, Hawaii.  Anything else you’d add to our guide?  We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Kauai, Hawaii Quick Guide


Kauai is one of our favorite places in the world.  Known as the “Garden Isle ” of the Hawaiin Islands, Kauai lives up to its name with its vast tropical rainforest coverage.  This island abodes some of the best hiking in the world with the NaPali Coastline and Waimea Canyon.  The fresh seafood and weather will not disappoint you here either.  We recommend spending a week here.  Here is our quick guide on Kauai, Hawaii.  

FYI: This post was written based on a trip taken in mid-August


What to do in Kauai


NaPali Coast State Wilderness Park

NaPali Coast Kalalau Trail

This coastline is gorgeous and one of the most beautiful places we have ever hiked. We hiked part of the Kalalau Trail along the NaPali coastline and after about 2.5 miles, we deviated to the Hanakapiai Falls Trail that goes through the NaPali wilderness for about 2.5 miles before leading to Hanakapiai waterfall. In total, this out and back hike was about 9 miles.  We felt this was a good mix of coastline and hiking into the NaPali wilderness. After we finished hiking, we relaxed by the beach at the entrance to the park for about an hour or so. 

Hanakapiai Waterfall

Tip: The Kalalau Trail is 11 miles long in total one-way (22 miles out and back) and is very dangerous to hike at certain points due to overhangs on the coastline. If you want to hike the entire Kalalau trail, consider backpacking to the beach it leads to and camping there overnight before making the return trip.  We do know several people who have hiked it out and back in the same day but they were hiking dawn to dusk. 


Open Ocean Kayak Trip Along the NaPali Coast 

NaPali Coast Open Ocean Kayak Trip (Disposable Waterproof Camera Pictures)

This kayak trip is one of the coolest experiences we have ever had!  On this trip, we journeyed along the beautiful coastline that can only be accessed by water or air.  It was so serene to be in such untouched nature.  Our pictures were taken on a disposable waterproof camera and really do not do justice to the beauty of this area.

The 17 mile open ocean kayak trip we completed took us from Hā’ena Beach Park to Polihale Beach.  The first part of the journey was four or five hours on the water before you landed at Milolii State Park, which can only be accessed by water, for lunch.  The second part of the journey was shorter, maybe 2 hours, and took us to Polihale Beach where we landed our kayaks.  We then were picked up by a van that shuttled us back to the other side of the island (only one main road on the island so you go around the entire island) to get back to where we started.  

This experience was a small group trip–there were about 6 others (3 double kayaks) and 2 guides on our trip.  Our guides were fantastic–very helpful, knowledgeable and funny.  You do not need to be a pro at kayaking to do this but you should be in good physical shape as it is a very long day of kayaking. We’d also recommend motion sickness medications for those prone to sea sickness. Below is a link to the company we used. 

Link to Open Ocean Kayak Trip We Took

Beware: Sea Kayaking can induce some real motion sickness. For our tips on preventing motion sickness, see our How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying post.


Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon

Also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” this place looks similar to the Grand Canyon but with more red and green tones.  We hiked the steep 5 mile out and back Kukui trail and found it challenging but peaceful.  We only saw one other person while hiking.  Also, there are several other flatter trails you can hike around the canyon. 

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon Hike


Luau

A Luau is a fun way to experience Hawaiian culture.  We went to the Smith Family Garden Luau in Wailua.  The property where this Luau was held had expansive beautiful gardens. 

If you are planning to go to numerous islands, we think you could go to a Luau on any of them and get a similar experience. 

Smith’s Garden Luau


Nounou Mountain/Sleeping Giant Trail

3.6 mile out and back trail near Kapaʻa with scenic views along the trail and at the summit. We enjoyed hiking this trail in the morning followed by an afternoon of relaxing by our resort’s pool. 


Massage at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort Spa

We splurged and got a couples massage at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort Spa (resort directly next to our accommodations).  This spa was beautiful and within walking distance of where we were staying.  If you really wanted to splurge, you could make a whole spa day out of this experience.  With the purchase of the massage, you have access to the spa area for as long as you please.  We stayed here for maybe an hour because we had dinner reservations but we could have easily spent a couple hours here relaxing by the spa pool. 

Hyatt Kauai Resort Spa


Where to Eat in Kauai


Kalypso Island Bar and Grill in Haneli 

Delicious food and neat setting overlooking the Hawaiian wilderness.  We sat on the patio and enjoyed some delicious tacos as well as pretty views after our long hike along the NaPali coastline earlier that morning. 

Kalypso Kauai


Beach House Restaurant in Koloa 

Nice restaurant with a beautiful setting and delicious food.  More expensive than what we typically spend but the food and atmosphere seemed very fairly matched to the price. We like this place so much, we ate lunch and dinner here on seperate days. 

The Beach House


Where to Stay in Kauai


Near Poipu Beach

Beach within walking distance from Point at Poipu

We stayed at a timeshare, Point at Poipu, that Natalie’s aunt and uncle gifted us to use on our honeymoon. We thought this was a nice central location on the island.  There are a lot of accomodation options in this area. Lihue would make a good central location on the island as well.  


Tip: Rent a Convertible or Jeep

You will need to rent a car while on Kauai.  We would highly recommend having a convertible or jeep to explore Kauai. It really added to our experience. We booked an economy car but the rental car company only had convertibles when we got there so we got a convertible for the price of an economy car. Score! See How to Save on a Rental Car for more information.


We hope this post helps you plan your trip to Kauai, Hawaii.  Anything else you’d add to our guide?  See

For more information on visiting Hawaii, please see:

Maui, Hawaii Quick Guide

Haleakala National Park Quick Guide

Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide

5 Stops on the Road to Hana

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide

Oahu, Hawaii Quick Guide

We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!