Hawaii is known for its lush rainforests, colorful fauna, scenic waterfalls and breathtaking beaches. It’s one of the most popular vacation spots around because of its abundance of natural and cultural attractions. There are plenty of well-known highlights that most tourists see and do on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, but there are some lesser-known gems a bit off the beaten path, too. Including volcanic heated pools, beautiful state parks, unique colored beaches and spectacular hikes, these ten underrated attractions in Hawaii are well worth a visit.
1. Hike to the Hanakapi’ai Falls, Kauai
This challenging 8-mile round trip hike takes you deep into the mountains over slippery rocks, uneven terrain and deep river crossings. What awaits you is a hidden mountain oasis with a stunning 300-foot waterfall that cascades into a swimmable pond. About halfway to the falls is Hanakapi’ai Beach. It’s only visible during the summer as large winter swells wash it completely away. In other seasons, this unspoiled beach makes a great stop to marvel at the dramatic cliffs and punched out caves. If you’re tempted to take a dip, be careful of riptides as this is considered a dangerous swimming spot. A safer choice is to swim in the pristine stream that you cross.
2. Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach), Big Island Hawaii
A bit off the standard tourist path lies one of only four green sand beaches in the world. Getting there can be an adventure but it’s well worth it. Choose to drive your 4X4 rental, hike the two miles or catch a ride down to the beach with locals for a small price. The beach is carved into the side of a cinder cone that erupted over 50,000 years ago. The result is a breathtaking cove with sparkling soft green sand. Often uncrowded with plenty of sunshine, Green Sand Beach is a must-visit on the Big Island.
3. Kaihalulu (Red Sand) Beach, Maui
Kaihalulu means “roaring sea” in the Hawaiian language, and that is exactly what you’ll find at the red sand beach in Maui. A dramatic hidden cove unlike anything you have seen before awaits you. Rusty red sand and brilliant blue water coupled with the black lava wall and lush green trees makes this a dramatic landscape. Cut deep into the Ka’uiki Head cinder cone, this crescent shaped beach will wow you. Strong currents and turbulent waters are often present, so swimming is unsafe during certain conditions. Snorkeling when the waters are calm is magnificent, though, with views of tropical fish as soon as your head goes underwater. One thing to note is that this is a nude beach and a haven for Maui locals.
4. Kualoa Ranch, Oahu
If you’ve ever wanted to step foot on the location of where Jurassic Park, Lost or Godzilla were filmed, Kualoa Ranch should be on your itinerary. This 4,000-acre working cattle ranch is a collection of rainforests, valleys, white sand beaches and cliff faces. Kualoa ranch offers many types of tours and experiences whether you are looking to see the movie sets or escape into the legends of the land. From horseback riding to ATV rides, this ranch caters to all. Explore the secluded secret beach and try your hand at paddle boarding or kayaking, or journey across an ancient Hawaiian fishpond and tropical garden.
5. Ahalanui Park, Hawaii Big Island
Unlike your hotel swimming pool, you’ll find the locals often outnumber the tourists here. The main feature of Ahalanui Park is the spring-fed volcanic hot pool that hovers around a balmy 90 degrees. The perfect place to soak your muscles after a hike, the view of the crashing ocean beyond the sea wall and the surrounding coconut trees makes this a hidden oasis. The park makes perfect outing for the family. There are lots of ladders to climb down in the water and snorkels are encouraged as there are plenty of fish swimming about.
6. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Kauai
If you’re a photography buff and looking to snap that perfect vacation photo, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is where you want to head. A picturesque lighthouse stands amongst towering cliffs with lush green foliage in the distance. A haven to the endangered monk seals, the infamous green sea turtle and humpback whales in the winter, this is the perfect viewpoint for any marine life lover. Witness the huge gathering of birds that seek refuge at Kilauea Point and use the telescopes and binoculars to catch a closer glimpse. Explore the lighthouse and learn its history from the displays throughout.
7. Visit the Halona Blowhole, Oahu
The Halona Blowhole on the island of Oahu is a spellbinding sight for those in the know. The blowhole was formed by molten lava tubes from volcanic eruptions and can shoot the water up thirty feet in the air. Visit during the winter months and this is a prime spot to see humpback whales playing in the sea. If the wind is strong and the tide is high, prepare yourself for a spectacle of nature as the waves push through the hole and spray into the air. This is a top opportunity to get some amazing photos. Head down the rocky path from the blowhole to find a small secluded beach known as Halona Cove. Have a swim if the water is calm.
8. Iao Valley State Park, Maui
With so many beautiful beaches to distract you, it is easy to forget that Maui also offers incredible scenic hikes through striking landscapes. Iao Valley State Park boasts the famous Maui landmark, the Iao Needle, which rises 1200 feet in to the sky. History was made here, as it was beneath the Iao Needle where the Hawaiian Islands became officially united. For the novice hiker, take the paved path through the botanical garden that leads straight to the iconic rock formation. For the avid hiker, there are numerous trails offering various degrees of difficulty. Take a guided rainforest hike or explore the interactive exhibits that are housed in the Hawaii Nature Center, conveniently located in the park.
9. Kaena Point, Oahu
A rugged coastline with crashing waves, blue skies, and an abundance of wildlife awaits you on the hike to Kaena Point. Located on the western tip of Oahu, this dramatic lava shoreline is said to be the place where souls of ancient Hawaiians would jump into the spirit world to meet the souls of their ancestors. The only way to get to Kaena Point is to hike. It’s approximately 5 miles return, but if you pack plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen, the hike is well worth it. Keep your eyes peeled for the endangered monk seals, humpback whales (in the winter), dolphins and the large sea cave. Legend has it Kaneana is where the shark man, Nanue, resided.
10. Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii Big Island
One of few black sand beaches on The Big Island, Punalu’u Beach is a favorite of ours. Typically less crowded than other beaches here, it is also one of the best places to see sea turtles in their natural habitat. The fine black sand, the swaying palms and the huge lily pond with white and purple flowers makes for a picture-perfect setting. If the surf allows for it, make sure to snorkel into the water for some amazing underwater marine life where brilliantly colored reef fish dart in and out of sight. With restrooms, change rooms and more than its fair share of waves, Punalu’u Beach is one of the underrated attractions in Hawaii well worth the visit.