The Best Scenic Drives In Hawaii

One of the prime ingredients to every memorable holiday is that feeling of freedom when you hit the road and drive into unchartered territory as you discover beautiful new places. The good news when it comes to a vacation in Hawaii is that every island has this “secret ingredient”. I spent four months exploring the major Hawaiian Islands, hopping from one to another and driving hundreds of miles on a quest to find the best scenic drives. Though with all the gasoline that was burned this wasn’t exactly an eco-friendly task, here are the best scenic drives in Hawaii!

Visiting Hawaii? Sample itineraries, guides to the best spots, and the must-see highlights in five islands are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!

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The Best Islands In Hawaii

Watch this video countdown of the top 5 islands in Hawaii (you might need to disable your ad blocker).

Best Scenic Drives On The Big Island

Larger than the rest of the Hawaiian Islands put together, the sheer size and climatic diversity of the Big Island of Hawaii are the keys to its long and enjoyable scenic drives.

Quick Finds

Saddle Road – Highway 200

Slicing through the Big Island’s high interior and reaching an elevation of 6,632 feet (2,021 m), Saddle Road connects the sunny Kona Coast with the tropical Hilo side, taking advantage of the relatively flat surface between the mammoth shield volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The road shaves well over an hour from the shortest alternative route and has come a long way from its days as “the last resort”.

Getting around Big Island Hawaii - Saddle Road

Saddle Road is the best way to experience the Big Island’s diversity within the shortest possible time. Climbing from the Hilo side, it is likely raining and foggy, but just like magic, when you reach the high lava desert of the saddle, the clouds vanish, and it is nothing but sunshine until your descent beneath the cloud line down to the Kona Coast. Combine this drive with sunset viewing and stargazing on Mauna Kea or a challenging hike to the summit of Mauna Loa.

Drive to Mauna Kea above clouds - Big Island Hawaii
Sunset on Mauna Kea - Woman watching sunset - Big Island Hawaii

Highway 137

Isolated and wildly tropical, Highway 137 eventually ends at Kalapana, where the current lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano blocks it. This is a relatively short scenic drive, so take it slow, stop in several places to get wet, and tune into the road’s end-of-the-line vibe. At the Kapoho Tide Pools, put on your mask and snorkel and check out the rich underwater life. Go for a dip at Ahalanui Beach Park in natural thermal pools heated by Pele. At Kehena Beach, visit one of the East Coast’s better black sand beaches before admiring the interior decoration of the Star of the Sea Church. This scenic drive culminates in the Kalapana lava viewing area (currently closed).

Highway 137 - Big Island - Hawaii
Tunnel of Trees on the Big Island of Hawaii - Puna
The Kalapana lava flow area - Big Island

Chain of Craters Road

Part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this 20-mile scenic drive is not to be missed. In the far distance, steam rises high into the sky from the current lava flow as the scenic road drops from Kilauea Volcano’s slopes to the Pacific Ocean’s rugged coastline. On the way, stop to check out several pit craters, take short walks on the immense lava field, and hike to the impressive Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. The Chain of Craters Road ends at the Holei Sea Arch. From this spot, be on the lookout for humpback whales and embark on a long coastal walk.

Chain of Craters Road - Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park - Big Island
Hawaiian Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs - Volcanoes National Park Big Island
Holei Sea Arch - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Big Island

Kona to Hawi

Geologically speaking, the Big Island’s Kohala region is also its oldest. Scenery-wise, it’s one of the most rewarding regions on the island. From Kailua-Kona, link up with Highway 190 and head north towards Waimea – the region’s largest town and home to several farmers’ markets. This scenic mountain road boasts awesome views of eroded lava fields tumbling to the blue ocean on one side and snow-capped Mauna Kea on the other. As you pass the Saddle Road intersection, the scenery quickly changes to that of large cattle ranches and paniolos riding their horses.

Getting around Big Island Hawaii by car

As you inch closer to Waimea, rolling green hills “teleport” you to somewhere in Northern Europe, after which Highway 250 leads you through sparsely populated land to the charming little town of Hawi. After a stroll along “Main Street”, go for a picnic lunch with an ocean view at Keokea Beach Park, before hiking down to the majestic Pololu Valley.  

Road to Waimea - Big Island Hawaii
Pololu Valley Lookout - Big Island Hawaii

Best Scenic Drives In Kauai

“The Garden Isle” is perhaps Hawaii’s most stunning island, well known for its lush valleys and the eroded peaks of the Na Pali Coast.

Quick Finds

Princeville to Ke’e Beach

Extending for about 10 miles (16 km) but easily filling an entire day, Highway 560 links the posh resort community of Princeville with Ke’e Beach, beyond which is the impenetrable Na Pali Coast. Though it’s understandably congested with tourists, calling this road a highway is misleading. Highway 560 is a one-lane road that often narrows to a single lane when crossing streams.

Hanalei Valley Lookout - Kauai, Hawaii

From Hanalei Valley Lookout, admire patterns created by taro patches. Then, descend to the valley, eventually reaching the charming village of Hanalei. In picturesque Hanalei Bay, Kauai’s largest, go for a long stroll or a dip. From Hanalei, head west for some snorkeling in stunning Tunnels Beach. Wrap up this scenic drive at Ke’e Beach. This is the starting point for the Kalalau Trail, where you can also hike part of the Kalalau Trail – one of the best hikes in Hawaii. Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail are part of Ha’ena State Park (reservations required).

Hanalei Bay Beach - Kauai - Hawaii - Pier

Waimea Canyon Drive

Worthy of its nickname – “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” – it’s hard to believe a natural wonder like Waimea Canyon exists on such a small island like Kauai. It was formed by the collapse of Kauai’s shield volcano and subsequent millennia of rainfall and erosion. The “red canyon follows the bending contours of the Waimea River, dropping in certain sections to a depth of over 3,500 feet (1,000m).


Snaking for 14 miles above the canyon, Waimea Canyon Drive is a scenic drive where the views keep improving. Stop at scenic lookouts to admire the views, venture on long or short hikes to explore the canyon, and wrap things up with stunning views of the Na Pali Coast from Koke’e State Park.

Pu’u Hinahina Lookout - Waimea Canyon - Kauai
Pu’u o Kila Lookout - Na Pali Cliffs - Kauai Hawaii

Best Scenic Drives In Molokai

One of Hawaii’s least visited and sparsely populated islands, over 50% of Molokai’s residents possess native Hawaiian heritage. The island is also home to the tallest sea cliffs in the world and the longest barrier in Hawaii. This and other factors make Molokai one of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets!

Quick Finds

Kamakou Preserve

You’ll need to get your hands on a 4WD for this scenic drive, but I guarantee it’ll pay off. Begin with sweeping views of the south coast’s coral reef and the desert-like surroundings of Central Molokai. Then, head east on a dirt road deep into the island’s high and uninhabited tree-covered interior.

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Rainbows in Waikulu Lookout - Molokai Hawaii

With temperatures dropping as you gain elevation, treat yourself to billion-dollar views from the Waikolu Lookout (3,600 feet or 1100m). Then, continue your slow-going quest inland to the start of the PepeOpae Bog Trail Trail. Park the car, put your hiking shoes on, and march on a metal-covered wooden boardwalk over who-knows-how-many centuries of rotting vegetation. At the Pelekunu Valley Overlook, admire the views of Molokai’s highest peaks. If it has rained lately, enjoy the symphony of cascading waterfalls.  

Pelekunu Valley Overlook - Pepeopae Trail - Molokai Hawaii 2
Pepeopae bog hike - Kamakou Preserve - Molokai Hawaii


From Kaunakakai to Halawa Beach Park, Molokai’s Highway 450 is the epitome of a Polynesian scenic drive. With hardly anyone on the road, apart from a few fallen coconuts, stop at historical sites such as ancient fishponds and churches. Splash and snorkel in pristine Mile 20 and Sandy Beach, and chit-chat with the locals at Mana’e Goods & Grindz. Then, head down to the Halawa Valley to swim in one of the twin beaches or hike with a guide deep inside the valley to a waterfall.

Scenic narrow coastal road in Molokai Hawaii
Sandy Beach - Molokai Hawaii_3
Halawa Valley Molokai Hawaii

Best Scenic Drives In Maui

One of the most visited islands in Hawaii, Maui’s diverse landscapes – ranging from the Mars-like to the super tropical – are the ingredients for a number of classic scenic drives.

Quick Finds

Hana Highway

One of the world’s best scenic drives, Highway 360 snakes along the sea cliffs of East Maui’s tropical and wet north shore. It connects the island’s most remote settlements with “civilization”. The Hana Highway is part of a 16th-century trail that encircled Maui. With the completion of a paved road came the tourists. Nowadays, to call this scenic drive merely “popular” would be a huge understatement. The 44-mile (70 km) journey is beautifully slow going, crossing 54 one-lane bridges and nearly as many waterfalls. Not-to-be-missed highlights include the giant bamboo forest of the Pipiwai Trail, the Red Sand Beach in Hana, and the black sand beach in Waianapanapa (reservations required).

Scenic Hana Highway - Three Bears Falls - Mui - Hawaii - Panoramic View
Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach - road to Hana - Maui Hawaii
Pipiwai Trail Hike Bamboo Forest - Road to Hana - Maui Hawaii

The Road to Haleakala’s Summit

Haleakala is the volcano that created East Maui. It is so immense that it is roughly the size of Manhattan! Known as “the world’s largest dormant volcano”, Haleakala reaches a staggering height of 10,023 ft (3,055m). It is responsible for much of Maui’s bizarre weather. The road to its summit offers incredible views of the Central Valley and West Maui. You’ll need to dress warmly as temperatures quickly plummet.

Road to Haleakala Summit - Maui Hawaii

Part of Haleakala National Park, the summit is a popular spot for watching the sunrise (reservations required). The Mars-like summit hosts several large scientific instruments as well as a viewing shelter to help overcome the ferocious winds. The best way to truly experience the crater is by hiking part of the Sliding Sands Trail. However, you can also drive down to the coast while making frequent stops in scenic lookouts, the finest of which is the Kalahaku Overlook.

View of Haleakala Crater from summit - Maui Hawaii
Haleakala Volcano summit - Maui Hawaii

Kahekili Highway

The scenic road to Hana gets all the glory, but if you want to have Maui’s awesome coastal scenery to yourself, hit the road and drive (very slowly) along the scenic Kahekili Highway (Highway 340). There’s barely any cell phone reception out here, or residents for that matter, just pristine beauty and… strong winds!

Homes in Kahekili Highway Scenic Drive - Maui - Hawaii

To call this road a “highway” is to give highways a bad name. But seeing as you want to take things slow when the view is this nice, who cares about doing 5-10 mph and sharing the road with oncoming traffic for a few miles? Visit exceptional sights like the Olivine Pools, Nakalele Blowhole, and Kahakuloa Head. Wrap the day with some snorkeling in Honolua Bay.

Old Church in Kahakuloa - Maui - Hawaii
Nakalele Blowhole - Maui Hawaii

Best Scenic Drives In Oahu

Oahu is Hawaii’s most populated island and often gets a bad rap for that. But it is also one of the prettiest in the chain, offering a good mix between urban and country life.

Quick Finds

Tantalus Scenic Drive

This isn’t exactly the Hollywood Hills, but Honolulu has a spectacular scenic drive just minutes away from downtown. Tantalus Drive snakes up forested mountains, home to million-dollar homes and panoramic views of Honolulu and Diamond Head. The winding road, crossed by several hiking trails, becomes Round Top Road and eventually heads down, completing a loop. Tantalus Drive can easily be combined with the short hike to Manoa Falls.

Honolulu Panoramic View - Tantalus Scenic Drive - Oahu - Hawaii

The Windward Coast

Oahu’s windward coast is a reminder of what life may have looked like in the pre-development days. Signs of “keep the country, country” greet you as you exit the engineering marvel that is the scenic Interstate H-3. As you head north on the coastal Kamehameha Highway, Honolulu‘s gravitational pull is slowly replaced by a relaxing mixture of mountains, ranches, and lots of blue. Begin this scenic road trip on one of Kailua’s fine beaches (Lanikai Beach is the best). Then, continue north as you meander through sleepy villages.

Cliff jumping - Laʻie Point State Wayside - Oahu - Hawaii

If you feel the itch, stop at one of a handful of beautiful and relatively empty beaches. However, don’t forget to taste the locally grown shrimp at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. After marveling at the perfect sea arch in Laʻie Point, round the northern tip of the island and enter the Mecca of surfing. These legendary north shore beaches are some of the best surfing spots on the planet. As you head back to Honolulu, wrap up this scenic drive in sweet style with a visit to Matsumoto Shave Ice.

Pali Cliffs - Oahu - Hawaii
Makapu‘u Beach from Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail - Oahu - Hawaii

The Pali Highway

Oahu is among the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. This means that Mother Nature has had millennia of rain and wind with which to sculpt and paint the island’s peaks – the prettiest of which form the Ko’olau Mountain Range. Highway 61, better known as the Pali Highway, slices through this mountain range. It connects Honolulu with the windward side of the island. Unless you’re hiking in this area, cruise the Pali Highway on the way to or back from the windward side.

Pali Lookout - Oahu - Hawaii

Whatever your plan may be, don’t forget to stop at the Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout, where you can admire the beauty of the eroded peaks, the lush valley beneath your feet, and the blue of the Pacific Ocean. At a height of 1,200 feet, the lookout is also of historical significance. From here, the winning forces of King Kamehameha the Great literally tossed about 500 enemy soldiers to their deaths. This act led to King K’s victory and eventual unification of the Hawaiian Islands under his crown.

More from Hawaii

Now that we’ve covered the best scenic drives in Hawaii, it is just a matter of getting a set of wheels and hitting the road. Want to see more of paradise or plan a visit to the islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best spots, and the must-see highlights in five islands are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!

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