Backpacking in Hawaii: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in Hawaii: Female hiker roaming a hill in Hawaii

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Backpacking in Hawaii offers a truly extraordinary and diverse experience for outdoor enthusiasts. This archipelago of volcanic islands boasts breathtaking landscapes, from lush rainforests and cascading waterfalls to rugged coastlines and dramatic cliffs.

Popular destinations like the Kalalau Trail on the island of Kauai, with its stunning Napali Coast, and the Kilauea Iki Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can hike across a solidified lava lake, are must-visits for any backpacker.

In this guide, we’ll provide you with essential tips and the TOP 5 multi-day trails to conquer in Hawaii. Whether you’re a seasoned thru-hiker or a newcomer to backpacking, these islands promise an adventure like no other, where you’ll be immersed in stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.

Intrigued? Let’s get started on your Hawaiian backpacking adventure.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Hawaii

  • What to expect: The weather can vary, but generally, anticipate warm temperatures and occasional rain showers when you travel. Hawaii’s trails can be challenging, with steep mountains, but they reward hikers with breathtaking views and wildlife encounters. You’ll have the opportunity to explore volcanic crater hikes, coastal trails, and remote valleys.
  • Essential gear: Make sure to bring a strong tent that can withstand the wind, a good 3-season sleeping bag, a water filter to make sure you have clean drinking water, a first aid kit for emergencies, a navigation system like a map or GPS, and a towel that dries quickly and is easy to carry.
  • Wildlife: One of the main concerns is the presence of sharks in the surrounding ocean waters. While shark attacks are rare, it’s important to be cautious and follow local guidelines for swimming and water activities. Another potential danger is the Portuguese Man-of-War, a jellyfish-like creature with venomous tentacles that can cause painful stings. Additionally, certain areas of Hawaii have venomous spiders, such as the cane spider and the black widow.
  • Wild camping in Hawaii is fairly restricted and often prohibited. Camping is only allowed in designated state parks and campgrounds, as well as on private property with the owner’s permission. Backcountry camping requires permits on most islands. However, permits can be obtained to camp along certain trails, such as Kalalau Trail on Kauai. Stealth camping or camping in non-designated areas risks citations and fines if caught.
  • Best times to go are April to June and September to October. During these periods, the weather is often pleasant, with warm temperatures and lower chances of rainfall. The peak tourist season in Hawaii typically falls between December and March, so if you prefer fewer crowds, it may be best to avoid those months.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Hawaii

Discover Hawaii’s most breathtaking backpacking trails:

1. Holua to Palikū

Majestic mountains stand tall beneath billowing white clouds at dawn's first light

Length: 20.2 mi / 32.5 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 4386 ft / 1337 m
Location: Haleakalā National ParkMaui
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 7700 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Embark on a challenging yet rewarding 20.2-mile out-and-back adventure near Kula, Maui. This well-maintained, year-round trail offers stunning views and opportunities for solitude. Consider spending an extra night at Palikū, starting at Halemau’u, and returning via the sliding sands trail. Be prepared for varying weather and limited cell service as you create unforgettable memories in Maui’s natural wonders.

2. Mauna Loa Trail

Mauna Loa's immense slopes stretch endlessly into the distance, its subtle forms emerging from and remerging into drifting clouds along the pacific horizon

Joe Parks from Berkeley, CA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Length: 36.1 mi / 58 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 7139 ft / 2176 m
Location: Hawai’i Volcanoes National ParkHawaii
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 15 000 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Embark on a strenuous 36.1-mile out-and-back trail near Hawaii National Park, ideal for experienced adventurers seeking solitude from April to September. Pay the entrance fee and navigate vehicle restrictions on Mauna Loa Road. Trek through challenging terrain and lava fields to reach Mauna Loa’s peak and cabin, or start at the Observatory for a shorter route. Prepare for a slower pace, temperature variations, and marvel at the stunning diversity of lava rock formations on this epic, multi-day hike.

3. Waimea Canyon River Trail

Verdant green hills roll across the landscape under a bright blue sky, their varied shapes and textures revealed in stunning detail under the warm sunlight

Length: 11.2 mi / 18 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 3976 ft / 1212 m
Location: Waimea Canyon State ParkKauai
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 5450 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Embark on a challenging 11.2-mile out-and-back trail near Kekaha, Kaua’i, ideal for backpacking, birding, and camping. This popular year-round trail offers solitude and stunning Waimea Canyon views. Arrive early for limited parking and enjoy the steep first 2 miles, followed by a flat section along the river. Best panoramic views are 1.5 miles down on the red dirt ridge before the shaded forest. Stop at the first river crossing for the best views or continue to campsites. Bring ample water, waterproof footwear, and consider obtaining a camping permit in advance.

4. Na Pali Coast (Kalalau) Trail

A mountain stands stoically by the glimmering sea, its forested slopes of emerald and ebony contrasting beautifully with the deep blue waters sparkling in the coastal sunlight

Length: 19.8 mi / 31.9 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 6512 ft / 1985 m
Location: Ha’ena State ParkKauai
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 8300 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Embark on the challenging 19.8-mile Kalalau Trail near Hanalei, Kaua’i, suitable for experienced adventurers. Marvel at stunning Pacific Ocean and lush jungle mountain views along the Na Pali coastline. Start at Ke’e beach parking lot in Ha’ena State Park, with options for day hikes to Hanakapiai Falls or longer treks requiring camping permits. Exercise caution during heavy rains and high surf. Despite the challenges, this trail offers an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime backpacking experience.

5. Sliding Sands (Keonehe‘ehe‘e)

A serpentine dirt road winds its way through a verdant valley beneath towering brown grassy hills, the contrasting colors and textures illuminated gracefully in the warm daylight

Length: 11 mi / 17.7 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 2066 ft / 630 m
Location: Haleakalā National ParkMaui
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 4900 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Tackle the challenging 11-mile Sliding Sands Halemau’u trail near Kula, Maui, a popular year-round route for experienced backpackers, campers, and hikers. This semi-loop trail starts with a spectacular descent into the Haleakala crater, featuring silverswords and otherworldly landscapes, then merges with the Halemau’u trail, transitioning to grasslands and wildflowers before a rugged climb back to the overlook. Camping is available at the Holua cabin. Take your time and be mindful of the elevation challenges.

Annual Weather Averages

Hawaii generally has a tropical climate with warm temperatures throughout the year:

  • Temperature: Generally warm with average temperatures ranging from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 29 degrees Celsius).
  • Seasons:
    • Wet Season (Winter): November to March.
    • Dry Season (Summer): April to October.
  • Rainfall:
    • Coastal areas tend to be drier.
    • Mountainous areas may experience more rainfall.

Based on what we’ve learned, it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast for the exact time and place you intend to visit. Also, be ready for unexpected weather changes, especially in higher areas where it can be cooler and less predictable.

Before you grab your backpack and head outdoors, take a look at the weather statistics for Hawaii (Honolulu):

High °F797980818385868687858380
Low °F686869717374747576757370
Rainy Days766442333567
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.


Can I have a campfire while camping in Hawaii? 

Having a campfire while camping in Hawaii is regulated. On most islands, campfires are generally prohibited except in designated fire pits in campgrounds. Permits may be required for campfires depending on location. Certain areas prohibit ground fires year-round. Portable cooking stoves are allowed.

What are some safety tips for backpackers in Hawaii?

When backpacking in Hawaii, be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions by packing proper rain gear and layers. Bring plenty of sun protection including a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen since the sun can be intense. Stay on marked trails as vegetation can be dense. Watch for loose rocks and cliffs when hiking along coastal areas. Check for flash flood warnings if hiking in valleys or streams. Bring more water than you think you’ll need since sources may be scarce. Know basic first aid for treating cuts, scrapes or jellyfish stings from snorkeling. Research any permits required for backcountry camping. Let someone know your itinerary. Exercise caution near shorelines due to large waves and currents.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while hiking in Hawaii?

When you go hiking in Hawaii, you might come across animals like wild pigs, goats, cats, and rodents. It’s important to keep a safe distance from them and not try to get close or feed them. If you see a Hawaiian monk seal or a sea turtle on the beach, make sure to stay at least 150 feet away and don’t disturb them. If you happen to see a snake, just stand still and let it pass without bothering it. Be careful not to touch plants and rocks where centipedes might be hiding. Also, be cautious around cliffs where birds might be nesting. If you encounter a mammal that seems aggressive, make yourself look big and slowly move away. And if you find any injured animals, be sure to report it to wildlife authorities.

What are some tips for fishing in Hawaii?

When backpacking in Hawaii, fishing can provide a good source of food. Be sure to get the proper permits and know size and catch limits. Pack lightweight, collapsible rods and compact tackle. Small spinners and lures work well for trout in mountain streams and lakes. In coastal areas, pack saltwater gear to surf fish or try your luck from rocky outcroppings. Bring polarized sunglasses to spot fish in the water. Use barbless hooks for easier catch and release. Store cleaned fish in doubled zip-lock bags. Follow leave no trace principles and dispose of entrails properly.

Which Hawaiian island has best hikes for backpackers?

With its active volcanoes, waterfalls, tropical paradise landscapes, and aloha spirit, the island of Hawaii is a backpacker’s dream. Trek through lava fields and see flowing lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for a unique outdoor experience. Marvel at scenic nature scenes like Akaka Falls and Waipio Valley. Summit Mauna Kea under starry skies. Hike through lush palm tree forests to secluded beaches. Watch the sunset over towering sea cliffs. Enjoy the postcard views of rolling hills, crashing surf, and outdoor adventures. The diversity of trails on the Big Island allow you to experience Hawaii’s stunning volcanic nature, cascading waterfalls, and spirit of aloha while hiking. It’s an outdoorsy paradise for hikers seeking sunset vistas and volcano treks.

Can you hammock camp in Hawaii?

Hammock camping is generally feasible in Hawaii as long as certain precautions are taken. Good locations to hang a hammock include official campgrounds, permitted backcountry sites, and legal dispersed camping areas, such as palm tree groves. Be mindful of not damaging vegetation or trespassing on private property. Choose durable tree straps to prevent harming trees like palm trees. Stay away from steep mountain cliffs for safety. Mosquito nets are useful especially in rainforests. Consider an underquilt since nights can be cold at high elevations. Stay visible to avoid startling nearby wildlife. Be prepared to set up a tent as backup since trees suitable for hanging are not guaranteed.

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We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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