I hear you: I like to earn my beach time with some hard work. Luckily, Hawaii's volcanic landscape and dramatic coastline provides plenty of quality hiking—everything from multi-day backpacking trips to short, scenic day-use trails. From Kauai to the Big Island, here's my Hawaiian hiking wishlist.
Located on Kauai's famous Na Pali Coast, the Kalalau Trail runs for 11 miles along sea-carved cliffs and waterfall-lined valleys. It can be demanding, especially in the heat of the day—the trail occasionally drops all the way down to beach level before climbing up again. There are a couple of designated camping areas, one at the end of the trail, for an out and back, and one partway for those who'd like to break up the trip
Sure, it's jammed with tour groups, and sure, it's in the middle of Honolulu, Hawaii's biggest city. But the trip up Hawaii's signature crater is worth your hour or two. The trail, a little under a mile one way, gains 560 feet in elevation on its way up from the crater floor. The views are huge, and since you're likely to be passing through Oahu's major airport on your way to the islands, this is great spot to warm up your legs. Go early in the morning to beat the heat and the crowds.
Haleakala National Park
Maui's lone national park is divided into two sections: the Summit District, a volcanic moonscape of rusty cinder desert, and the Kipahulu District, a lush coastal area. The Summit District is where you want to go for serious hiking. There's a 35-mile network of trails up here, including three public-use cabins and some designated backcountry campsites. Blue Hawaii this is not: the summit is up above 10,000 feet and the wind can drop temperatures below freezing, so come prepared for cold and altitude.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
"In the unlikely event of a lava outbreak along the trail, move uphill and upwind of eruptive activity." You won't see a sign like that on the AT. Hawaii's second national park, on the Big Island, is home to two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. It's also home to 150 miles of trail, ranging from well-maintained day hikes to rugged multi-day wilderness trails. If you want to go right into the belly of the beast, several trails branch off the Kilauea crater rim trail and drop down into the active caldera.