Hiking and Backpacking in Hawaii: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Hawaii: Female hiker roaming a hill in Hawaii

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Hawaii offers stunning scenery, from lush rainforests to volcanic landscapes, along with beautiful beaches and turquoise waters for all outdoor enthusiasts.

The islands have extensive trail systems that wind through valleys, along coastlines, and up volcanic mountainsides.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at hiking and backpacking in Hawaii from a lightweight standpoint, providing practical tips to help you prepare for your upcoming outdoor adventure.

We’ll share the best 5 trails in Hawaii in two parts. The first is for day hikes under 15 miles, great for exploring in one day. The second is for multi-day trips, where you can restock supplies easily.

Key Tips for Hiking and 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: When backpacking, 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 time to go:  Generally, the months of April to June and September to October are considered ideal for a visit. 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 Day Hikes (Under 15 Miles)

We picked out some of the best day hiking trails in Hawaii where having lightweight gear will be really useful:

  1. Hanakāpīʻai Falls TrailKauai (7.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Moanalua/Kamananui Valley TrailOahu (9.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Waihe’e Ridge TrailMaui (4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Pu’u Wa’awa’a Cinder Cone TrailHawaii (6.5 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Sliding Sands (Keonehe‘ehe‘e)Maui (11 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Discover our picks of Hawaii’s beautiful trails:

  1. Holua to Palikū Maui (20.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Mauna Loa TrailHawaii (36.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Halewai via Ainapo Road and TrailHawaii (20.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Na Pali Coast (Kalalau) TrailKauai (19.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Hilina Pali and HalapéHawaii (19.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

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):

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

FAQ

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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