Hawaii is comprised of a chain of 137 islands spread out over 1,500 miles. Formed by powerful volcanic forces, one visit to the Pacific paradise will illustrate the tenuous balance of nature's unbridled power and its breathtaking beauty.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Island of Hawaii, called "The Big Island" is one of the youngest in the chain, first peeking above the waves only a half a million years ago. In comparison, the North American landmass is 1.4 billion years old. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the island's youth is on display in the form of volcanic activity and geographic resurfacing.
-- Mt. Kilauea is the youngest volcano on the island and also the world's most productive, erupting continuously since 1983. Hike the Kilauea Iki trail, which starts in the rainforest on the crater's rim. The trail then descends 400 feet through the rainforest and you can cross the still-steaming crater floor and pass the Pu'u Pua'i cinder cone.
-- If you're up for something slightly longer than a day hike, backpack to Mauna Loa, which is not only the biggest volcano in the world, it's the biggest mountain, too. It stretches 60 miles long, 30 miles wide and rises five miles above the sea floor.
-- The park also has two beautiful drives open to visitors. Crater Rim Drive is an 11-mile road encircling Kilauea. You'll see desert, lush tropical rainforests and, of course, scenic stops for picture-taking. A slightly longer drive is Chain of Craters Road, which will take you through the East Rift and the coastal area of the park. Buckle up -- the road descends 3,700 feet in only 20 miles!
On Hawaii's Kauai Island, nature seems to be at its best. Here the rugged Nepali Mountains, the gorgeous blue of the Pacific, awe-inspiring waterfalls and lush hidden valleys all create an Eden-like island of wonder. Among its most beautiful wonders is Waimea Canyon.
-- Located within Hawaii's Koke'e State Park, Waimea Canyon is the largest in the Pacific, measuring 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and more than 3,500 feet deep. For those wanting to hike, Kukui Trail is a steep trail that takes you right into the canyon. Make sure to check out the Iliau nature loop at the top of the trail to learn about Kauai's dry forests.
-- If you don't have the time for a hike, there are several roadways offering beautiful views of the canyon. Waimea Canyon lookout, Puukapele lookout and Puu Hinahina lookout offer picnic tables, comfort stations and innumerable photo opportunities.
-- Know before you go: gas stations are not available on all the roadways. Make sure you fill up before visiting the park.