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Best Scenic Drives in Hawaii
Hawaii is beautiful from every direction, so it makes sense to look for the best scenic drives in Hawaii for your Hawaii vacation.
Before we start on the best scenic drives in Hawaii, let’s go over some basics. Please be respectful to locals when doing any scenic drive in Hawaii. You may have all day, but they may need to get to work! Please pull over and let the locals pass.
Also, remember to wear your seatbelt and be courteous to other drivers. I have a list of 30 things you should never do in Hawaii for even more tips.
DO I NEED A RENTAL CAR in Hawaii?
This should come as no surprise, but you’ll need a rental car to explore the many scenic drives in Hawaii.
I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. They have the best rates and free cancellation. You can pick up your car at any of the airports in Hawaii. You won’t pay until you pick up your vehicle, and cancellation is free.
If you want to find the best flights to Hawaii, I recommend signing up for free alerts with Scott’s Cheap Flights.
The best drives in Hawaii
Now, let’s get to the best scenic drives in Hawaii. They are listed in no particular order, but we’ll start with what is arguably the most popular – the famous Road to Hana (or Hana Highway.)
The Road to Hana
It makes sense to start the list of the best scenic drives in Hawaii with one of the most famous.
The Road to Hana is one of the best scenic roads in Hawaii. This drive will take you along the northeastern coast of Maui. The road twists and turns while crossing over one-lane bridges. It is not a trip for the faint at heart, but if you dare to brave it, you will be rewarded.
If you don’t want to drive the Road to Hana, you can either take a tour or see it by helicopter.
This scenic drive in Hawaii deserves an entire day. The best part of this drive is the stops. After all, that is where you can spend time looking at the true beauty off the road. Trust me; you won’t want to miss the rushing waterfalls, colorful sandy beaches, or other sights.
I have a post with The ultimate guide to the Road to Hana, which details all the stops along this epic road trip.
Mauna Loa Road Scenic Drive
One of the best scenic drives in Hawaii is the Mauna Loa Road drive on the Big Island. This scenic drive is just over 11 miles each way. This fantastic drive begins in Volcano Village. Next, take Highway 11 towards Kona. When you reach the exit for Mauna Loa Road, turn towards the mountain. To give you an idea of where the exit is located, you will find it between mile markers 30 and 31.
I highly recommend getting out of the car to hike the trail at Bird Park. This trail is 1 mile long. At the halfway point, you must stop to look over at the Kilauea volcano.
Other sights you will see on this drive include parts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
It is essential to note this is one of the best drives in Hawaii that will not take you anywhere else. You can still do this in addition to another drive in a day. However, you would need to drive back to where you started and head to a different road for the next scenic drive in Hawaii.
The Hamakua Coast
You will want to drive along the Hamakua Coast while on vacation on the Big Island. This may not be as beautiful of a drive as the Road to Hana. However, it is still considered one of the best drives in Hawaii.
This scenic road in Hawaii will take you from Hilo to North Kohala. Along the way, you will have the chance to see rushing waterfalls, lush valleys, and massive cliffs. Add in the sandy beaches and ancient Hawaiian lore, and you may want to stretch this drive out a little longer.
Haleakala National Park
A drive along the road in Haleakala National Park on Maui is best done in the early morning hours. However, arriving before sunrise lets, you watch the magic as the sky changes colors.
Don’t worry if you can’t wake up early enough. This scenic road in Hawaii is incredible at any time of the day, especially if you take the time to wander through Waikamoi Cloud Forest.
As a Hawaii Travel Agent, one of my client’s top-rated adventures is the Haleakala Sunrise with a self-guided downhill bike ride. If riding a bike isn’t for you, you can do a sunrise tour only.
Check out the ultimate guide to Upcountry Maui for more things to do in the area.
Waimea Canyon Drive
The island of Kauai is where you will find Waimea Canyon Drive. Then, drive along Route 550 for one of the best drives in Hawaii.
There are too many places to pull over along the way to count. However, each one will have you looking out over the canyon and other scenery in the area.
A favorite place to stop is the Kalalau Lookout. The view of the Napali Coast is phenomenal, especially when the clouds have cleared out for the day.
You’ll find great hikes in Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park if you love to hike. The 10 Best Hikes on Kauai is a great place to start!
There is so much beauty in Kauai, and the only way to see it all is by helicopter tour. In fact, a helicopter tour is my #1 recommendation for things to do in Kauai.
Kuhio Highway is also known as the Highway to Hanalei on the island of Kauai. A visit to the town of Hanalei is a must, as well as seeing taro patches and Ke’e Beach. The beach can be found within Haena State Park.
Another must-stop is Lumahai Beach. South Pacific was filmed there.
Driving along the Windward Coast is one of the best things to do in Oahu. Yes, I am telling you to venture away from the beaches and shopping in Waikiki! Trust me; you won’t regret it!
Drive along the Pali Highway until you reach the Kamehameha Highway.
A few stops you should make on this drive include the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and near the island of Mokolii.
Chain of Craters Road
The Chain of Craters Road is 23 miles long. This scenic drive in Hawaii will take you through a fascinating section of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
You won’t find lush landscapes along this scenic drive in Hawaii. If that is what you are looking for while on the Big Island, I recommend choosing another road.
This best scenic drive is full of rocks and neutral colors. You can thank years of lava flows for the sights you will discover. Although, you may see a little red if you happen to be in the area where lava is flowing from an erupting volcano. Still, it has a beauty that is well worth seeing!
You will begin this drive at Crater Rim Drive near Kilauea. After the lava flows, craters, and steam vents, you will reach the Holei Sea Arch. Don’t forget to stop at the Pu’u Loa petroglyphs along the way.
One of the best places to go whale watching from the mainland is the Honoapiilani Highway on the island of Maui. If you visit between the months of October and May, you will see dozens of whales out in the water.
If you are visiting during the winter months, check out The Ultimate Guide to Maui Whale Watching.
In other months, you can turn your attention to the nearby islands of Molokai and Lanai.
Kapoho Kalapana Road Scenic Drive
This is one of the shorter scenic drives in Hawaii. The Kapoho Kalapana Road scenic drive is essentially the 6 miles between mile markers 8 and 14 on Highway 137.
This scenic drive on the Big Island is a little different than it used to be. Recent lava flow from 2018 covered some of the original roads. Thankfully, the road was extended out, so you can still experience this scenic road.
That lava covered the old Kalapana black sand beach. However, a new black sand beach is currently forming. The road basically ends at another beautiful beach. That beach is Isaac Hale Beach Park. The beach is full of sparkling black sand.
Pepeekeo Scenic Drive
The Pepeekeo scenic drive on the Big Island is only 4 miles long. It is around mile marker seven on Highway 19. You will turn at the sign that states scenic drive.
This drive will allow you to see the spectacular sights of Onomea Bay. However, the best thing to do on this drive is to stop at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Gardens. Getting out of the car and walking through the tropical gardens is worthwhile.
Coffee Country Scenic Drive
The Coffee County scenic drive can be found in South Kona on the Big Island. Start in Kona and drive along Highway 11 until you reach Highway 160. Once you reach Napo’opo’o Village, you can choose which way to take the Coffee Country scenic drive.
A turn to the right will take you to Kealakekua State Historical Park first. Then, go to the left, and you will begin at the painted church and Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park.
This scenic drive in Hawaii is 12 miles long. But, if you take the time to stop, there are so many things to see.
A few stops I recommend include the coffee farms and an interesting green sand beach.
The best scenic drives in Hawaii
What did you think of this list of the best scenic drives in Hawaii? You might not think of Hawaii as the type of place to take a road trip, but although they are short, the road trips can be pretty amazing!
Do you have a favorite scenic drive in Hawaii? If so, let me know in the comments.
More Hawaii vacation ideas
For more Big Island travel tips, check out some of my most popular blog posts:
- How to be a better tourist in Hawaii
- 50 things to do on the Big Island
- The 40 best places to eat in Maui
- The 8 best golf courses in Kauai
- What is the best luau in Hawaii?
- The Best Time for Whale Watching in Hawaii
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