From the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, visitors see the sweeping expanse of windward Oahu. // © 2014 HTA/Tor Johnson
Feature image (above): The Kalalau Valley Lookout provides phenomenal views of Kauai's largest valley. // © 2014 HTA/Tor Johnson
You can hike, bike or take a boat to beautiful views, but sometimes, the best Hawaii lookouts are right outside the window of your rental car.
Hawaii feels like one big movie set, with scenic overlooks from one end of the island chain to the other. Many lookouts have historical significance, while others are steeped in legend. Each presents awe-inspiring panoramas, and all of them are free.
Following are five easy-to-reach lookouts on four Hawaiian islands.
Haleakala Summit, Maui
Whether you head to this dormant volcano at sunrise, sunset or sometime in between, the views are jaw-dropping from its 9,740-foot-high visitor center. Haleakala’s scenery is ever-changing as shadows and light play games with its cinder cones and lava deserts. When the skies are clear, you can look beyond its mammoth crater and spot the islands of Hawaii, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe in the distance.
Kalalau Valley Lookout, Kauai
After spending time in the highland forests of Kokee State Park, continue upward until the road ends at a 4,000-foot perch overlooking Kalalau Valley. From there, you are able to gaze into the heart of the 2-mile-wide valley the largest on Kauai — whose 2,000- to 3,000-foot-high fluted sea cliffs have been showcased in Hollywood movies. A trail from the main lookout leads to another vantage point with equally mesmerizing views.
Nuuanu Pali Lookout, Oahu
From downtown Honolulu, a 5-mile uphill highway leads to this spectacular lookout with unparalleled vistas of the Koolau cliffs and windward Oahu. This is the site of the 1795 Battle of Nuuanu, part of King Kamehameha I’s efforts to unify the islands. Today, all is peaceful on this stone terrace — except for the wind, which has been known to blow a few hats off the heads of unsuspecting visitors.
Waimea Canyon Overlooks, Kauai
On the northwest side of the island, the winding drive up Waimea Canyon Drive leads to commanding views of this geological marvel. Several lookouts provide different takes on the 14-mile-long, 3,600-foot-deep chasm nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Buttes, crags and gorges are striated in various shades of rust. Waterfalls, rainbows and the vast ocean add to the drama.
Waipio Valley Overlook, Hawaii Island
Kamehameha grew up in Waipio Valley, as did thousands of ancient Hawaiians. At present day, the sparsely-populated valley remains culturally rich, not to mention beautiful. Cliffs up to 2,000 feet high embrace its expanse, 1 mile across and 5 miles deep. The 1,300-foot-high Hiilawe Waterfall adds to the magic. The Hamakua coastal road ends at this sweeping spectacle, easily viewed from one of the most alluring lookouts in Hawaii.