Top 10 Scenic Drives in Hawaii

There’s no denying that Hawaii is a tropical paradise, which is why so many tourists flock there throughout the year to get their fill of surf and sun. This network of islands has more to offer than beachside resorts and leis. From active volcanoes to deep, sweeping valleys to a native culture that permeates everything around, becoming fully acquainted with this state isn’t something to be done in a week or few short days. It is possible, however, to get a glimpse at what Hawaii has to offer and savor it. There’s no better way to tour the area than hitting its roads and stopping to explore whenever the urge hits. Use some of our favorite scenic Hawaii drives as a place to start, and you’ll soon find even more places to investigate with an open mind and adventurous heart.

No. 10 – Molokai

Molokai Hawaii
Flickr user: Ed Suominen

Starting Location: Maunaloa, HI
Ending Location: Halawa Valley, HI
Length: 47 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

To truly get a taste of the local culture, this drive through Molokai is about as Hawaiian as it gets. There’s no shortage of recreational opportunities from camping to scuba diving, but don’t expect to find a bunch of resorts or tourist traps on this small island. In fact, you can stop and hike to Kalaupapa Peninsula, which is home to the recently canonized Father Damien and his colony of lepers, but there are many other less-gritty trails to explore.

No. 9 – Hamakua Coast

Hamakua Coast Hawaii
Flickr user: brewbooks

Starting Location: Hilo, HI
Ending Location: Kohala, HI
Length: 72 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

The Hamakua coastline isn’t as tourist-laden as other Hawaiian shores, but that makes it all the better for a leisurely drive. With plunging cliffs and sweeping valleys with wonders like waterfalls popping up here and there, a new surprise awaits at every turn. Railroad enthusiasts can also stop at the train museum at Laupahoehoe, and Waipio Valley Lookout is an essential stop for photography.

No. 8 – Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park Hawaii
Flickr user: Jason Carpenter

Starting Location: Kula, HI
Ending Location: Kula, HI
Length: 15 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This high-altitude road may induce a head change, but the views from the top are of a more profound, life-changing variety. Take time to pull off and explore the Waikamoi Cloud Forest, which is renowned for its outstanding birdwatching opportunities. From the volcano’s summit, Haleakala Crater is fully visible, and don’t miss Hosmer’s Grove, where the non-native trees have an otherworldly look.

No. 7 – Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods Hawaii
Flickr user: Schnik78

Starting Location: Lanai City, HI
Ending Location: Lanai, HI
Length: 5 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Travelers on this short but highly rugged route will need an SUV to make it to the Garden of the Gods, but the sights once there will make the effort worth it. The landscape is unlike any other part of Hawaii, and its unusual rock formations created by thousands of years of erosion have been likened to terrain on the moon. Those who have been there before claim that sunrise is the best time to arrive when the light dances in an otherworldly manner on the stones.

No. 6 – Pearl Harbor and Windward Coast

Pearl Harbor and Windward Coast Hawaii
Flickr user: Peter Lee

Starting Location: Oahu, HI
Ending Location: Laie, HI
Length: 42 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive by historic Pearl Harbor then up Oahu’s Windward Coast has something to appeal to just about anyone. Stop to see the island of Moloka'I, also called Chinaman’s Hat, which is known for its array of native birds and is an ideal spot for surfing or swimming. The Polynesian Cultural Center near Kahuku is a lively living museum as well as theme park to keep kiddos amused.

No. 5 – Grand Canyon of the Pacific

Grand Canyon of the Pacific Hawaii
Flickr user: carfull

Starting Location: The Lodge at Kokee LLC
Ending Location: Kekaha,HI
Length: 16 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Just because the mileage of this route is low, allow plenty of time to drive and explore this steep way up to Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Hikers will soon notice that the vegetation is dense but also how any walkabouts gain remarkable views. In Kokee State Park, don’t miss taking a photo from Kalalau Lookout before making a descent toward Alakai Swamp, where the fly fishing is good.

No. 4 – Honoapiilani Highway

Honoapiilani Highway Hawaii
Flickr user: Lesley Wilson

Starting Location: Maui, HI
Ending Location: Maalaea, HI
Length: 66 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Circling around the West Maui Forest Reserve and along the island’s coast, travelers get an eyeful of both water and wooded views. Visit the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens in Kahului that showcases ocean dunes and native plants, including 60 varieties of taro. In Lahaina, whale-watching tours are popular, although it’s not unusual to be able to spy whales coming up for air from the shore.

No. 3 – Chain of Craters Road

Chain of Craters Road Hawaii
Flickr user: A. Strakey

Starting Location: Volcano, HI
Ending Location: Pahoa, HI
Length: 22 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this Drive on Google Maps

This drive through the heart of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a veritable hotbed of volcanic activity, which should come as no surprise. The landscape is characterized by interesting rock formations and earthy hues. Various offshoots and paths on the way lead travelers to lava flows, steam vents, and craters to behold, and the fresh lava pooled around 1000-year-old trees is a favorite among photographers.

No. 2 – Route 560

Route 560 Hawaii
Flickr user: Andy Tolsma

Starting Location: Princeville, HI
Ending Location: Ke’e Beach, HI
Length: 11 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Less touristy than other Hawaiian routes, this highway along Kauai’s north shore provides stunning views and a peek at how the locals live. Expect plenty of one-lane bridges (11 to be exact) and winding road, so don’t get in a hurry and just enjoy the scenery. The Hanalei Pier is a popular stopover where visitors may recognize it from films like South Pacific or charter a boat near there for deep-sea fishing.

No. 1 – Hana Highway

Hana Highway Hawaii
Flickr user: Joe Parks

Starting Location: Hana, HI
Ending Location: Kahului, HI
Length: 51 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This route from Hana to Kahului winds along Maui’s northeast coast and is the most famous route on the islands with good reason. Along the way, travelers are treated to scenes of waterfalls emerging from lush, green rainforest with multi colored beaches down below. Stop in Ohe’o by the Seven Sacred Pools to hike to Wailua Falls to take a secluded dip and seize spectacular photo opportunities.

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