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If you’re looking for a great escape, there’s no shortage of stunning destinations at your disposal—from Australia’s Gold Coast to the Arctic tundra and everything in between. But the truth is you don’t have to travel very far to experience some of Earth’s most exotic offerings. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the U.S. Just hop a flight to Hawaii—no passport required.
Hawaii is like something out of a sci-fi novel: eight enchanting islands literally formed from volcanoes that erupted underwater. The result? An otherworldly landscape comprised of active lava flows, mystical caves and canyons, pristine beaches, cascading waterfalls, and forests sprouting 50-foot bamboo stalks and towering eucalyptus trees wrapped in rainbow bark.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You truly have to see the Aloha State to believe it, but in the meantime, behold six of the most awe-inspiring sights you’ll only find in this (not-so) little slice of paradise.
Kilauea Volcano and Halema’uma’u Crater
The Big Island is Hawaii’s largest island and home to five major volcanoes. The most active is the majestic, 280,000-year-old Kilauea Volcano (believe it or not, it’s the youngest!) along the southeastern shore. Each year, millions of tourists visit Kilauea to watch its glowing lava flow into the ocean and witness the jaw-dropping Halema’uma’u crater. Kilauea erupted as recently as 2018, so some park trails leading to the volcano might still be closed, but visitors are still coming in droves. Book your stay at the nearby Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant—and don’t forget to join the Volcano Unveiled Tour for an up-close-and-personal adventure in Volcanoes National Park.
Hawaii is famous for its massive waterfalls. If you can only visit one, make it Wailua Falls on the island of Kauai. You might recognize this 80-foot, dual-stream waterfall from the opening credits of the classic television show “Fantasy Island,” but only in person can you witness the wondrous rainbow that appears at the base of the falls on lucky mornings when the sunlight hits the mist just right. For easy access to this landmark and the nearby Kalepa Mountain Forest Reserve, stay at the Kauai Shores Hotel, a secluded beachfront resort along the Royal Coconut Coast.
Let’s be real: When it comes to Hawaiian beaches, you can’t go wrong. You have Kauai’s Hanalei Bay and its Emerald Mountains backdrop. And then there’s the famous Waikiki Beach in Oahu, where surfers flock to catch some of the fiercest waves the state has to offer. But there’s something extra special about Oahu’s Lanikai Beach. Maybe it’s those infinite turquoise waters, powdery golden sand, or the view of the Mokulua Islands in the distance. Shack up at the Hotel LaCroix and wake up to one of the most jaw-dropping sights of your life: a radiant pink sunrise over Lanikai Beach—considered by many to be the best spot on the island to watch the sun come up.
Rainbow Eucalyptus Forest
The “Road to Hana” is a 64.4-mile-long stretch of the Hana Highway that runs along the east coast of Maui. Along the way is the Hana Forest, otherwise known as the Rainbow Eucalyptus Forest because of its dense population of fairytale-like rainbow eucalyptus trees. Along their trunks you’ll find all-natural, multicolored streaks of blue, purple, orange, and maroon, which only deepen as the trees mature. Ancient Polynesians first brought the species to the island, but now the trees have taken on a life of their own, making Maui’s idyllic landscape that much more magical. The top-rated Maui Coast Hotel is a short drive from the Hana Forest but also close to conveniences like shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
Waimea Canyon State Park
There’s a reason Waimea Canyon State Park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and one look at this 3,600-foot-deep gorge and you’ll know why. The colorful canyon in Kauai is made even more vibrant by rainbows that often appear thanks to several dramatic waterfalls, like the gorgeous Waipo'o Falls. Book a stay at the nearby Princeville Resort—a 251-room utopia that looks down upon Hanalei but be sure to head out to explore the spectacular state park. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from as well as two lookouts—the Puu ka Pele and Puu Hinahina—that give you a 360-degree view of your stunning surroundings.
Mauna Kea Summit
You already know that exploring Hawaii is the destination for exploring volcanoes, but what about climbing them? The dormant Mauna Kea, located on the Big Island, is the highest point in all of Hawaii and a contender for the tallest mountain in the world (at close to 14,000 feet, though, it’s still short compared to the soaring Mount Everest). The view from the top of this towering volcano, known as the Mauna Kea Summit, is not to be missed during any visit to this tropical paradise. High altitudes mean less oxygen, of course, so you should be fully prepared before embarking on such an ascent. But once you drive to Mauna Kea’s peak, you’ll understand why it’s drawn astronomers, spiritual seekers, and adventurers alike. Here, you can get a grand view of snow-capped mountains (really!), watch a life-changing sunset, or gaze at the stars in the clearest night sky you can imagine. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel offers a beautiful respite at day’s end.