Hawaii, an archipelago of eight islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most stunning places on Earth and a top vacation destination.
This tropical paradise is known for its colorful culture, which features hula dancing, luaus, Polynesian cuisine, and historic sites like Pearl Harbor. Popular activities include sunbathing, swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, wildlife viewing, hiking, and taking helicopter and boat tours.
The pleasant climate makes Hawaii one of the world’s most popular destinations, especially for winter travelers from cold locales. Though temperatures and rainfall vary depending upon elevation, the nation’s 50th state offers nice weather throughout the year.
For most tourists, the main attractions are scenic marvels such as the sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, lush forests, mountains, deep canyons, volcanoes and large waterfalls. Here are five of the places where nature’s wonders are on display.
Na Pali Coast
This shoreline on the island of Kauai provides expansive views from atop the cliffs, some of which extend more than 4,000 feet above the sea. There are also valleys, forests, waterfalls and beaches. Trails, boat trips and helicopter tours are available.
Among the activities are diving from the lower cliffs and hiking at Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. The Kalalau Trail, a 22-mile loop through the woods and across gorges, leads to a beach of the same name. Many people walk just the first two scenic miles of the trail.
Renowned as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” this awesome chasm is a few miles inland from the Na Pali Coast. It is 3,600 feet deep and 14 miles long, full of valleys and waterfalls and surrounded by cliffs and peaks. Stone walls and terraces from Hawaii’s days as an independent monarchy are still visible.
Two lookout points are accessible via Waimea Canyon Drive. More adventurous visitors hike or mountain bike into the canyon. A plane flight over the region is another alternative. Camping is allowed at a state park in the canyon.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Visitors get a glimpse of how the islands were formed at this magnificent location, where the Kilauea Volcano continuously spews lava. Touring options include the Crater Rim Road, Chain of Craters Road, hiking trails, and an observation deck at the Kilauea Visitor Center. The best way to appreciate the area may be seeing it from a helicopter.
Guided tours lead to the dormant volcano of Mauna Loa, the highest site in Hawaii (and the tallest mountain in the world, when its underwater portion is included in the elevation.) More than a dozen telescopes on the summit provide views of the heavens to augment the panorama surrounding the mountain.
Haleakala National Park
For many, the gorgeous island of Maui is the heart of Hawaii because of its natural splendor. This is the home of Haleakala National Park, with a 10,000-foot-high crater called the Summit District. A favorite recreational activity is to climb the mountain to see the sunrise or sunset.
There are 30 miles of trails, some of which pass through dense vegetation and across lava flows to backpacking campsites. In addition to the flora, hikers may see an endangered species of goose and other wild animals. Paths in the adjacent Coastal District feature waterfalls and pools within a bamboo forest.
This is one of the most famous strips of white sand on the planet, and perhaps the most heavily visited spot in Hawaii. It is one of numerous Hawaiian beaches that afford sweeping views of the ocean and mountains. Waikiki’s big waves allow for world-class surfing, but most people simply enjoy catching some rays and checking out the scenery.
Within sight of the beach is Diamond Head, a volcanic mountain that appears on many Hawaiian postcards. A hike to the crater is just a mile long, but extremely steep. Climbers are rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of Honolulu and the ocean.