12 Exciting Outdoor Hawaiian Adventure Tours

Palm trees silhouetted by a pink and orange sunset |Photo Ethan Robertson
Photo Ethan Robertson

There’s no denying Hawaii is a dream location for many. Me too, in fact. That’s why I asked a fellow travel writer who experienced firsthand all the fun Hawaiian adventures below to pen this piece. Enjoy.

By Katherine Parker-Magyar

There’s far more to the Hawaiian Islands than just eye-popping sunsets and mouthwatering mai tais (though both are spectacular, of course). From zip-lining to ATVing, there are endless opportunities for outdoor adventure on Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Lanai, and the Big Island of Hawaii. 

Say ‘aloha’ to a Hawaii adventure holiday with these spectacular outdoor activities.

Guy on a zipline bridge sticking his tongue out. One of many Hawaiian Adventures worth trying.
Photo: PF Bentley

Zip-line in Haleakalā National Park, Maui 

Give back to the forest before ziplining above it with Skyline Eco-Adventures. Planting native trees in Haleakalā prior to traversing hanging bridges and gliding through tropical canopies on your return home. The program manager, Joe Imhoff, is famous for planting trees all over the world. I loved learning the symbolism behind each plant and fern and plan on checking in with my botanical offspring on my next trip to Maui.

Tip: Wear long pants, as the harness rides up your legs while ziplining — trust me, you will look better in pictures.
A thrilling Hawaiian adventure. Try and ATV experience.A man and a woman, covered in mud, with a thumbs up in an ATV
Photo: Kauai ATV Tours

Off-Road in Koloa, Kauai 

Venture into the wild with Kauai ATV Tours and explore the majestic landscape of Koloa. Navigate through narrow tunnels and limestone caves as you explore the terrain that inspired Jurassic Park. It rained sporadically during my off-road adventure, which resulted in some spectacular rainbows — unsurprisingly, tropical showers are considered a blessing in Hawaii. 

Tip: Wear clothing and shoes you don’t mind ruining, and expect to be covered in the island’s famous red dirt. 
People on Sweetheart Rock at sunset, Lanai
Photo: PF Bentley

Sunrise Hike to Pu’u Pehe in Lanai 

The picturesque sunrise at the 80-foot tall Pu’u Pehe (also known as Sweetheart Rock) is well worth the early morning wake-up call. As someone who is an avowed believer in sleeping in, I never regret the decision to rise in the dark for the chance to watch the sun cast an otherworldly glow across this dramatic rock formation overlooking Manele Bay and Hulopoe Beach at the Four Seasons Lanai.

Tip: Even though this 0.9-mile trail is along the beach, it’s not flip-flop terrain — lace up a pair of sneakers or hiking boots, as the hike becomes rockier as you journey uphill.

Planting trees at the Molokai Land truse Hawaiian adventure
Photo: Molokai Land Trust

Plant Native Trees at Mokio Preserve in Molokai

The Mālama Hawaii program is dedicated to tourists giving back, and there’s no better way to do so than by an afternoon of volunteering at the Mokio Preserve. Mokio is a major archeological and cultural site for native Hawaiians and new treasures and discoveries are being unearthed daily from its 1,718 acres. Molokai Land Trust provides the opportunity for visitors to assist in both the archeological process and the reforestation efforts. I spent a day exploring the landscape and learning more about native culture, and it was one of the most rewarding Hawaiian adventures I’ve had in the islands. 

Tip: Expect hot sun and bumpy roads, so pack extra water and sunblock for your trip.
A Hawaiian adventure must: Close up of a woman surfing with a white t-shirt on underneath the curl of the wave
Photo: Jeremy Bishop

Hang Ten at Waikiki Beach in Oahu

Surfing in Hawaii is more than just a sport or a hobby, it’s an entire lifestyle. So while hanging ten may not be the most surprising of outdoor adventures in Hawaii, it is the most mandatory. Surfing is easy on Waikiki Beach, where the royals once rode the waves. It’s almost harder to not catch a wave than it is to ride one into shore. I was so confident in my skills after a morning lesson with Faith Surf School that it came as a shock when my skills didn’t translate to the choppy surf of New England. (Just one more reason to move to Hawaii, I suppose.)

Tip: Opt for a longboard, as it provides more stability.
One of the lesser-known Hawaiian adventures - The View from the Waipio Valley Lookout, Hamakua, Hawaii
Photo: Paul Hirst

Hike to Koa’kea Waip’o Valley Lookout on the Island of Hawaii

Pōhāhā I Ka Lani is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving indigenous Kanaka Maoli culture, of which Waip’o Valley is a sacred ancestral site. Sign up for a hike to the lookout for one of the most beautiful views in Hawaii, and to learn about the even more beautiful native culture along the way. Having a host who was so intimately familiar with the history of the land and the particularities of the flowers and the trees gave me a deeper appreciation for the gorgeous landscape than I ever would have had otherwise.  

Tip: Lace up your hiking boots, and pack a raincoat as the valley is located on the eastern side of Hawaii Island — the greener, lusher (and wetter) side of paradise.
Humpback whale breaching in the ocean- It's a Hawaiian adventure worth enjoying
Photo: Todd Cravens

Whale Watching in Maui   

Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to see whales in the wild, and Maui is the best island in Hawaii for whale watching. As such, this activity is a must-do for travelers visiting between November to May. I was 13 for my very first Maui whale-watching adventure — two humpbacks swam up to our boat and played beside us in the water. From then on, I donated my entire allowance to the Pacific Whale Foundation. Many years later, I remain just as enthralled by these majestic creatures — and with the organization that protects them — as much as ever.  

Tip: The best seat on the boat isn’t necessarily at the bow — listen to the sounds of whales singing underwater via a speaker system located on the sides of the vessel.
Sailing around the Na Pali Coast in Kauai
Photo: Creative Commons

Sail to the Na Pali Coast in Kauai

The Na pali coast of Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and though there’s no bad vista from which to behold such splendor, we’re partial to the Pacific. Helicopter tours may be more time-efficient but a catamaran cruise with Kauai Sea Tours allows you to fully immerse yourself in your picturesque surroundings so by the time those majestic green cliffs come into view, you will be simply overwhelmed. Reader, I cried. (I also had several mai tais by then, but still — very moving).  

the head of a white horse among the backs of brown horses
Photo: Susan Portnoy

Horseback Riding in the Koele Hills of Lanai

Trail riding in the Koele Hills is a gorgeous way to explore the landscape of Lanai. The serenity of the island is best appreciated on horseback, and the rolling hills and guava groves lead up to a spectacular panoramic view of the island and nearby Maui. Plus, you have the opportunity to make an equine friend on-island — my horse’s blonde mane resembled my own, but with better volume, and I’ve yet to forget her ever since.

Tip: Wear shoes you don’t mind ruining, as the red dirt can stain your sneakers.
Aerial view of two outrigger canoes in turquoise water
Photo: Nelson PIgossi Jr.

Outrigger Canoeing in Honolulu, Oahu

Outrigger canoeing is a classic Hawaiian pastime, but for daredevils who wish to take the adventure a step further, there’s always the option for outrigger canoe surfing with Faith Surf School. While I was happy to keep both activities — surfing and canoeing — separate during my last visit to Oahu, there are definitely worse places to wipe out than Waikiki Beach, with views of the iconic Diamond Head in the distance.

Tip: Keep an eye out for sea turtles — I had several swim beside me in the water, which is a sign of good luck in Hawaii.
Four people in two orange ocean kayaks on the water with cliffs behind them.
Photo: PF Bentley

Ocean Kayaking in Molokai  

Molokai Outdoors is a locally-owned adventure outfitter with an office in Hotel Molokai (the only hotel on the island). Though visitors can opt for stand-up paddle boarding, we recommend ocean kayaking. Though the waters are quite protected off Molokai, be sure to leave in the morning (or whenever is advised by your guide) to avoid strong Pacific currents. I found the outing to be the perfect blend of exercise and relaxation, with gorgeous views of the Molokai coast. 

Tip: Pack reef-safe sunscreen to ensure you’re not harming the native environment. 

Foraging in Hilo on the Island of Hawaii

Hawaii’s food scene has exploded in recent years — poke bowls and shave ice, anyone? — and there’s a reason it tastes so delicious: the freshness of the ingredients. That, and Hawaii’s distinct blend of eastern and western cultural influences. You will learn all about that on an afternoon foraging for native plants and herbs with Na’au, an organization led by Chef Brian Hirata that is dedicated to preserving Hawaii’s culinary heritage. I found myself with an even greater appreciation for the tastes and spices of Hawaii over a moonlit dinner I’d helped to prepare myself. Cheers!

Tip: Pack gardening gloves to protect your hands while foraging in the countryside.

Katherine Parker-Magyar is a travel and culture writer who has traveled to 70 countries, 50 states, and six continents in pursuit of a good story. Her work has been featured in Departures, Business Insider, Architectural Digest, and more. Follow her adventures on Instagram @katherineparkermagyar or read her latest work on her website www.katherineparkermagyar.com.

For regular updates sign up for The Insatiable Traveler’s newsletter

Related Posts