Hawaii is a paradise in more ways than one and outdoor lovers will have no shortage of adventurous things to do in the Hawaiian Islands.
From swimming with manta rays to hiking the Kalalau Trail along Kauai’s Napali coast, there are unique experiences to enjoy no matter your personal preference.
I found 12 things every thrill-seeker will appreciate on your trip to Hawaii.
There’s no need to fit them all in on one visit because the only thing better than going to Hawaii for the first time is returning again and again and…
Fun Things to do on Oahu
1. Hike Diamond Head
The hike to the top of the Diamond Head crater is not too long – 0.8 miles – but it does become steep and uneven the further you go.
Your efforts will be rewarded with the most amazing views of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach.
If your Hawaii travels have you there during the winter, you could be lucky enough to see humpback whales breaching the warm Pacific Ocean waters off the coast.
Take your time on the 560 foot elevation gain to the top of Diamond Head – Le’ahi in Hawaiian – and soak in the views before the return trip down.
This adventure should only take 2 hours of your day so schedule it accordingly to have the rest of the time to pack in other beautiful sites.
Keep in mind that the park’s gate locks at 6 pm daily and everyone must depart before to that time.
Where: Park in the lots next to the Diamond Head State Monument and the trail begins near the visitor center.
2. Go Surfing on the North Shore
If you have ever surfed and this is your first time to Hawaii then no doubt you have aspirations of surfing on Oahu’s North Shore.
The North Shore’s world-renowned waves are famous for a reason. The height of the barrels you can catch there are any thrill seekers dream.
Although if you are a beginner surfer, there are better areas to get your surf legs under you but you still should make the drive to see waves everyone talks about.
During the winter, the surf is the biggest, with some sets more than 20 feet high! That number is more like 40 feet because waves are measured from the back, not the front face in Hawaii.
During my time living on Oahu, I was never brave enough to battle those waves.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t spend plenty of time on the North Shore, though. I always admired the surfers that could take on the ocean in that form.
It is an entirely different story in the summer months as the North Shore waters are tamer.
Know and stick to your ability level because history shows us that mother nature always wins!
Where: One of the best surf spots on the North Shore is Waimea Bay. You will take the H1 West to H2 North and exit onto HI-80 through Wahiawa or HI-99 a few miles further up the road to get there from Honolulu. HI-99 will turn into HI-83 East as you veer to the right and soon you will be driving along the coastline before coming to Waimea Bay.
While you are up there, you might as well plan a hike to Waimea Falls because you are on an adventure, right!
Related: Hawaii’s Best Beaches
3. Shark Cage Diving
There aren’t many activities more adventurous to do in Hawaii than cage diving with sharks.
Following up North Shore surfing with shark diving might not have been the best idea because the North Shore wins out for this activity too.
But you are an adrenaline junkie so why not get up close and personal with these famous underwater creatures.
I know you wanted to come face to face with a Great White but those are rare in the warm Hawaii waters of the Pacific.
Where: Both those shark cage dive tours leave from the Hale’iwa Ali’i beach area off of HI-83E. They’re close to the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice that would be a shame if you missed out on it while you were in the North Shore area.
For Maui Thrill Seekers
4. Swim with Manta Rays
Did you know that Manta Rays can have an average wingspan of 11 feet?
Although large, Mantas are friendly and offer quite a thrilling experience to swim with.
There are many ways to see these mystical sea creatures, whether you dive, snorkel, or even paddleboard.
Divers often spot Manta Rays at Wailea Beach on the Wailea Point Reef, but the West side of Maui is generally the optimal location for viewing. It’s unique experiences like this that make Maui one of the best islands to visit!
Tour guides can make swimming with these gentle giants easier based on their knowledge of what reefs Mantas like to visit for feeding and cleaning.
There are even tour options for night dives which we hear is a fantastic sight!
Where: If you are up for the adventure, check out the Manta Plus Shark dive offered by Maui Diving. The shop is located at 910 Honoapiilani Hwy Annex B, Lahaina, HI 96761
5. Bike the Road to Hana
I had to include the Road to Hana on this list when you visit Maui for my cycling friends.
You can book bike tours, but for the purists out there, the best way to experience riding the Road to Hana is on your own or with a friend leaving early in the morning.
The Road to Hana is a trendy destination for all Maui tourists and the road gets busy with vehicle traffic as the day goes on.
The ride technically begins at the Road to Hana mile marker 0 and continues for about 35 miles with just under 3,500 feet of elevation gain.
You should plan a few hours or more for this bike ride, especially since you will want to make plenty of stops along the way to take advantage of the scenery and smells this special place has to offer.
Waterfalls, flowers, shops and most importantly, an espresso or two are just some of the memorable pleasantries that make biking the Road to Hana a must-do experience.
Make sure you prepare for some rainy weather. This is Hawaii after all and this part of Maui stays green for a reason.
There are sections of the road that can become slick in wet conditions and there is not always a wide shoulder to ride on.
Don’t forget to bring your Garmin to document your journey or your Strava buddies will never believe it happened.
Oh, and take plenty of pictures because those same friends will be jealous when they see what they missed out on!
Where: Some start in Paia town and this will add around 12 miles round trip or you can get a little closer to the Mile 0 marker and leave from the Ha’iku Park and Community center which is only 4 miles from the Road to Hana Mile Marker Zero.
6. Hike the Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail hike offers spectacular views of the lush green rainforest, rugged Napali Coast, and Pacific Ocean.
Due to the Kalalau Trail growing in popularity, it is an adventure that you should plan in advance.
Make sure to do your research before having your heart set on hiking this breathtaking yet challenging trail on the north coast of Kauai.
There are different requirements based on how far you intend to hike and where you plan to park.
It can get pretty confusing, so it’s best to read this article for the most up-to-date information about the Kalalau Trail.
We hiked 2-miles along the trail to Hanakapiai Beach and then another 2-miles up to the Hanakapiai Falls.
Total elevation gain is around 750 feet from the beach to the falls and is considered reasonably strenuous.
Slick mud during the rainy season can add to the difficulty, but once you arrive at the 300 ft waterfall, the exertion is worth it.
For those who want to hike the 11 miles in, educate yourself on the trail and be sure to read the safety tips.
If you are in search of a hike that will get your heart rate up, Crawler’s Ledge at mile 7 is it.
Perfect for any daredevil, this section of the Kalalau trail is between 12 to 18 inches wide with a steep drop off into the ocean on one side. Slow and steady is the motto to follow here.
Where: The trailhead is located in Haena State Park
7. Kayak the Wailua River then Hike to Uluwehi Falls
In our opinion, kayaking the Wailua River is a must when visiting Kauai. The best way to get the whole experience is by taking a guided tour.
You will kayak, hike to a waterfall and even swim in the king’s pool at the base of the falls.
Your trip starts by paddling upstream 2 miles and securing your kayak on shore to begin your 35 minute walk to Secret Falls, also known as Uluwehi Falls.
Once you arrive, you can take a swim to cool off and refuel with the snacks you brought with you on your trip.
It doesn’t get much better than having a picnic while hanging out at a waterfall.
Along the way, you will learn legends and history from your guide about the Wailua River Valley, but don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have about the island in general.
We booked our tour with Kayak Wailua, but there are plenty of options to choose from if this specific outfitter doesn’t meet your needs.
Where: 4565 Haleilio Road, Kapaa, HI 96746
8. Snorkel with Sea Turtles at Tunnels Beach
Tunnels Beach is considered one of the best places to snorkel in Kauai, but experience and a little planning are needed when putting this activity on your itinerary.
It is essential to know that you should only snorkel in this area during the summer, as waves are rough in the winter and can be very dangerous.
Even during the summer months, there can be strong currents that will quickly pull you out to sea if not prepared.
For beginner snorkelers, it is advised to stay close to the shoreline and explore the inner reef.
If you are an advanced swimmer, there is a sizable outer reef that you can swim out to that offers better snorkeling.
Before swimming to the outer reef, check with the lifeguards in the area to determine if the current water conditions are safe to swim across the channel.
Now that we have addressed the safety concerns let’s talk about all the beautiful marine life you can see.
Your best chance at seeing Pacific Green Sea Turtles is early in the morning.
Hawkfish,Whitebar Surgeonfish, Cornetfish are just a few of the tropical fish you’ll spot swimming throughout the colorful coral.
Besides arriving early to swim with the sea turtles, parking is limited, so morning beach trips are a must.
Another option for transportation to Tunnels Beach is shuttles, so check into that locally when you arrive.
Last but not least, please do not step on the reefs in Hawaii (or anywhere else for that matter), and make sure to wear your reef-safe sunscreen!
Where: Near Haena Beach Park. This will be your best option for parking.
9. Go Horseback Riding at Princeville Ranch
Have you always wanted to ride a horse in the beautiful countryside? Maybe you’ve dreamed of experiencing a Paniono’s (Hawaiian cowboy) way of life.
Taking a lesson at the Princeville Ranch in Kauai can help you accomplish that and so much more.
Open to all skill levels, your 2-hour lesson involves learning how to communicate with your horse and what a horse’s natural instincts are.
Your instructor will help build your confidence while on your horse and give tips on riding.
As your horseback riding skills improve, you take in the panoramic scenery and learn the ranch history and Paniono culture.
There are age requirements and weight limits, so make sure you understand those before booking this unforgettable adventure.
Where: 5-3900 Kuhio Hwy, Princeville, HI 96722
The Big Island an Outdoor Lovers Playground
10. Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay and Explore Sea Caves
A 5 hour expedition by Sea Quest starts with a thrilling ride on a 14-person ocean raft along the Kona Coast, so be ready for speed and waves!
Kealakekua Bay is a prime spot for snorkeling and is an excellent option for beginners.
There will be no shortage of colorful marine life and the waters are almost always crystal clear.
This tour also visits the Place of Refuge at Honaunau Bay, home to the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle.
When you aren’t snorkeling, you will be exploring the coastline.
The captain will guide you through the sea caves and lava tubes on your ocean raft to get a closer look.
Along your journey, you will learn about the island’s history and interesting facts that will help you in your underwater explorations.
Snorkel equipment is provided, as well as lunch, snacks, and drinks.
Where: 78-7106 Kamehameha III Rd., Kailua Kona, HI 96740
11. Watch Sunrise at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
No matter your location, watching the sunrise is a magical experience. Add in a setting like Hawaii you are sure to have your mind blown.
You might be wondering, how is watching a sunrise adventurous?
Well, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
I would say that being that close to an active volcano would be appealing to any adventurer.
No, the volcanoes aren’t constantly erupting, but you can frequently check the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website to get up-to-date information on current volcano statuses.
Even without spewing lava, the park offers picturesque locations to see beautiful sunrises.
Take a drive down Chain of Craters Road to Holei Sea Arch to watch the sunrise or head to Kilauea Iki overlook.
Both have different surroundings but offer great views that prove the Big Island is continuing to grow.
Where: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718
12. Big Island Zipline Tours
Of course, there are numerous ziplining tours available, but Hawaii Zipline Tours is an interesting choice since it is on a working agricultural farm.
The guides will not only provide fascinating facts about Hawaiian culture and history but will keep you entertained throughout your 2.5 hour tour.
Seven different ziplines will take you over fields of sugarcane, pineapples, bananas and Hawaiian ginger.
If that doesn’t get your adrenaline juices flowing, you’ll also soar over the 250 ft Kolekole waterfall.
Hiking is involved in this tour and there are age and weight restrictions, so be sure to read their FAQ page.
Where: 28-1692 Old Mamalahoa Hwy Unit 1, Honomu, HI 96728
Wrapping It Up…
I hope you enjoyed this tour of Hawaii adventures. This is just a small sample of what you can enjoy during your Hawaiian vacation no matter which island you choose to visit.
Outdoor enthusiasts have no shortage of things to do in Hawaii so you can’t go wrong in my eyes.
What are you looking forward to doing the most? Let me know in the comments…