Mauna Kea - Hawaii
Easy to Strenuous depending on your fitness level. Mauna Kea is the tallest island mountain in the world and technically the tallest mountain in the world base to summit, beating Everest by 3,500’ ( the base is the ocean floor.) At 13,800’ you are rewarded with one of the ultimate panoramas. Due to the location and the elevation, Mauna Kea is the home to many world class telescopes including the USC Keck 1 and Keck 2 telescopes which are constantly identifying new astral bodies.
If you want ultimate bragging rights on this bad boy and are felling strong, take the ~ 5 mile trail from the visitors center. This trail gains 4,700’ along a lava rock trail to the summit. With each step you are taken to another world and the rewards are great. If that seems a bit masochistic and a casual stroll is more your style, you are in luck. This view is not only for the avid hiker but for anyone who happens to have a 4x4 vehicle. It is recommended that everyone headed to the summit spends at least 30 minutes at the Mauna Kea visitor center to prevent altitude sickness, WHICH IS REAL.
While there is a very inviting trail, the true summit of Mauna Kea is not open to the public since she is the physical embodiment and the home of Na Akua (divine deities) and Na’Aumakua (divine ancestors) as well as the meeting place of Papa (Earth Mother) and Wakea (Sky Father) who are progenitors of the Hawaiian people. It is also both a burial ground and the embodiment of ancestors that include Na Alii and Kahuna (high ranking chiefs and priests.) The mound on her summit is sacred and without permission it is a great disrespect to the Hawaii people to visit the true summit. Fortunately, there is a great direct view from the Keck 1 parking lot and only a few feet in elevation below the true summit.
Thurston Lava Tubes – Hawaii Volcanos National Park
We decided to take the short and key word easy 1/3rd mile hike through the Thurston Lava Tube before doing our big hike for the day. The Thurston Lava Tube is found in Volcanos National Park just outside Hilo, Hawaii this hike takes you on a loop through an exposed lava tube near the summit of the Kilauea volcano. The Thurston Lave Tube hike proves a trail does not need to be an ass kicker to be rewarding. The trail starts by descending though a jungle landscape. After a 200 meters you see the prehistoric entrance to the Lava Tube. The trail continues a quarter mile under the volcano and should be enjoyed by all. This is a great warm up hike if you plan to check out one of the dozens of trails around the Kilauea’s active summit. Don’t forget to hit it up next time you are on the Big Island.
Puʻu ʻŌʻō Lava Flow Hike - Hawaii Volcanos National Park
Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world and along her Southern flanks lava is entering the pacific at a steady rate. The Big Island of Hawaii is actually growing due to lava flow. One of the most exciting hikes in Volcanos National Park is the Lava Flow Hike. This flat 8 mile out and back hike starts at the end of Chain of Craters Road where you continue until you dead end at the active lava flow into the pacific ocean. While this hike may be long it is not particularly challenging along a well graded class 1 trail and a must do for everyone, be warned wear layers and be prepared for rain any time of the year. As you near the lava flow one can smell the sulfur dioxide released by the lava and people with lung issues are advised to take extreme caution. If you are feeling adventurous, where the trail ends you may follow the roped off section to the lava cliffs along the Pacific Ocean. Here you will witness red hot lava pour into the Pacific, a memory you will soon never forget.
Awa’awapui Trail – Kauai Koke’e State Park
6.5 miles moderate. In my humble opinion this is ONE OF THE BEST HIIKES ON THE ISLAND. The trailhead starts at mile 17 in Koke’e State Park. The Awa’awapui trail descends 1500’ to end at a lookout 2,000’ above the Na’pali Coast. This view at the end is National Geographic worthy and something must experience for yourselves. This is a well established class 1 trail but good footwear and trekking poles are advised. Mile 17 is a short distance from the swamps which is listed as the wettest place on earth. This region gets an average of 37 feet of rain per year and at any given time it can rain. Actually any hike on Kauai, just expect rain. This trail is steep and slippery with no exposure until the very end. The Awa’awapui Trail ends at a viewing area of the Napali Coast accompanied by many warning signs about the hazards ahead. If you choose to continue, the “trail” follows along a 1 foot wide ridgeline straddling a 2,000 foot drop to the valley floor below. If it is wet, I would advise against continuing to the terminus but for the adventurous spirit it is hard to say no. The most challenging part of this hike is the hike out. After your epic vistas its 1500’ back to the car but as they say no pain, no gain.
Waipo’o Falls - Koke’e State Park
Easy to Moderate. Wiapo’o Falls at 800’ is Kauai’s tallest waterfall. The Waipo’o Fall trail is 2 miles from the Waimea Canyon Lookout or 1 mile from the end of a 4x4 trail. After a short while along this well marked trail you will end up on a ridgeline looking into the Waimea Canyon. Follow the ridgeline a short way and descend into a natural swimming hole protected from the rushing waters of the fall down stream. If you are a little more daring and would like to look over the falls head a little further down the trail to end on a rock just above the cascade. Be prepared for an audience, every 15 minutes a helicopter tour will be looking down on you but be assured you have the better story.
Napali Coast, Kalalau Trai to Hanakapi’ai Falls
Can I say Na’Pali Coast… This hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach starts at Ke’e Beach and is the trailhead of the infamous Na’pali Coast hike to the Kalalau Valley. You may read that the hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach is “easy” but we beg to disagree. The Northern Coast of Kauai can be hot and humid in the summer and this trail starts up, up, up. The Kalalau Trail is 11 miles long and travels through 4 remote valleys along the coastline. Each section requires you to hike at least 1,000’ up to descend back down to the valleys below and the 2 mile hike to Hanakap’ai Beach is no exception but after ½ mile you are rewarded with your first vista of the coastline which acts as fodder to keep on keep’in on. The view of the Na’Pali Coast rivals anything witnessed, Big Sur look out. At the 2 mile mark you will cross a stream to descend on the first beach valley of the trail, Hanakapi’ai Beach. This gem comes complete with a shallow cave, perfect sand and a small lagoon but don’t be fooled there is a strong rip current and no lifeguard on duty so swimming is not advised swim. From here you can continue up coast to the Kalalau Valley or head up river 2 miles to visit Hanakapi’ai Falls. The falls trail is class 1 and easy to follow but has many footing hazards. Between mild exposure, lava rocks, mud and advantageous roots from the surrounding jungle trekking poles and great shoes are not necessary but advised. As you trek up valley the weather changes from hot and muggy to cool and damp. The elevation gain is only 1700’’ and honestly the trek in is easier than the first 2 miles along the trail. Expect at least 3 creek crossings but there may be more and be advised that flash floods in this region are common. If it begins to rain hard head to high ground and do not attempt to cross the river. At 1.75 miles from the beach your are rewarded with your first view of the falls. Continue along the river trail and be rewarded with a cool dip in the pool under Hanakapi’ai Falls.