Lanai isn’t quite like the quintessential Hawaii that most visitors envision when they think about coming to the islands. It isn’t quite as tropical, and there really isn’t so much in terms of peopled places to explore (there’s one small town on the island). But if you are looking for time away in a unique place, it offers many adventures and beautiful vistas. Lanai is also a wonderful place to learn more about the history and variety of Hawaii.
When Is a Day Trip to Lanai Right for You?
If you are open to and/or looking for a simpler Hawaiian experience, as least in regards to the size of the island and its town, Lanai is a great place to visit, especially if you like hiking, 4-wheeling, and relaxing on beaches with beautiful red cliffs. (I think hunting is big here too, but since I’ve never hunted myself, I can’t speak to it). And if your itinerary is a bit limited on time, Lanai for a day might be ideal for you. You won’t have time to see nearly everything that this island has to offer, but you won’t be disappointed in what you do manage to check out in a day.
How I Figured Out What to Do On Lanai for a Day
Generally speaking, my goals when visiting somewhere is to do a bit (or a lot) of hiking, and to learn more about the local culture and history. I also like to try to see as much as I can of the places that I visit, even knowing that I won’t be able to see everything I am hoping to. (Sometimes this is due to a lack of time, or situations that just make it impossible for me to visit). So, these were the goals that I had in mind when planning what I would do on Lanai for a day.
The first thing on my list every time, is a good hike (or three). So of course, I started off my planning by search for some good trail options. I am definitely no expert, but as an outsider, it seemed to me that hiking options on Lanai aren’t super common. So, I picked the most official trail that I could find, the Munro trail. I enjoyed it (more below), but if you really want to see the wild side of Lanai from a trail, you might consider looking for a guided tour. The thing to remember about hiking in Hawaii is that there is a lot of private property along trails and crossed by trails. There are also sacred spaces that aren’t always appropriate for visitors. So, be careful about which trails you pick.
Culture and More
For the cultural and historic elements of what I planned on doing, planning for Lanai is pretty easy. There is basically just one town on the island – Lanai City. Once I knew that I would be spending some hours in the city, I looked up the best restaurants to try and I looked for cultural institutions like museums, for example, the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center.
Finally, I supplemented my day itinerary, with various unique locations across the island and accessible by 4WD vehicles. Some cursory research revealed there was a wrecked ship I wanted to see, as well as a historic church. I was able to find out more about accessing both from the amazing car rental company that I got a Jeep from for the day.
Please note that I visited Lanai in 2019, so some things will have changed since then, particularly since COVID-19 happened between then and now.
How to Get to Lanai
For my Lanai in a day trip, I took a ferry from Maui in the morning and then returned in the evening. Specifically, I used Expeditions Lanai Passenger Ferry. If you would like to learn more about this to plan your own trip with the most up-to-date ferry schedules, visit their website here.
You can also fly to Lanai from both Honolulu and the Kahului Airport in Maui. But if you don’t mind boat travel, I think the ferry is a wonderful way to enjoy the ocean and limit a little bit of your carbon emissions. It’s also fairly affordable to take the ferry, and it’s very low stress in terms of boarding.
Getting Around on Lanai
If you are doing Lanai in a day, I would suggest springing for a rental car if you can, and in particular a Jeep or 4WD vehicle. This will allow you to see more of the island in the most efficient amount of time. And there are also many sights that you can’t get to without a 4WD vehicle.
That all being said, prices have changed A LOT since I visited Lanai in 2019. When I visited, I was able to rent a Jeep for the day for $99 USD. Now, I am seeing prices from $200-$295 per day. And I am not sure that the company that I went with is even still out there. This is too bad because they were really supportive while I was there alone. They helped me find a good trail, and they walked me through some 4WD stuff that I didn’t know a lot about. Even so, most of the rental car companies on the island are local, so I think they will likely be a great resource for visitors.
Visiting Lanai City
Even if you are all about nature when you visit Lanai for a day, checking out Lanai City (at least for some food) is a must. When I visited, I spent some time enjoying the main square, which is a large, grassy park. This is not only a beautiful spot for some photography, but it hints at the history of the town and agriculture on the island.
After relaxing in the shade, I found some good eats at one of the surrounding restaurants. There are several great options which include Hawaiian BBQ, fusions, and high-quality Japanese. This also means that there are some really great options for all budgets in town. There are also some nice spots to grab some coffee/tea. I walked over to Coffee Works for a drink and hung out on their beautiful porch for a while. It was a great place to enjoy the atmosphere and quietly observe the goings-ons.
In terms of cultural offerings, the Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center will be your go-to for learning more about the culture and history of the island. I visited their little museum after I had gotten some food and relaxed in the park. The temperature was getting a little higher at that point, and it was a great opportunity to rest and explore all at once. That being said, as of April 2022, the museum is closed – they do have a digital guide that you can download, however, to learn more about Lanai while they are closed.
Hiking in the Woods
The first thing that I wanted to do was find a trail; this was easier said than done. Hiking on Hawaii is a bit complicated, because you need to be careful with the suggestions that you find online. Trails might be on private land or even lead to sacred spaces that aren’t meant for visitors. Due to this, it is best to try to find established trails – don’t just find a AllTrails map or blog post on where to go.
The best way to make sure the trail is established is to do a bit of extra research and see who owns the trail and what the rules around parking and useage are. You might also check official sources of information like the state tourism bureau or land management agencies. For instance, the trail that I ended up finding on Lanai was the Munro trail, which is featured on the Hawaiian tourism website.
The great thing about the Munro trail is that it is sufficiently long for anyone looking for a challenge while you are seeing Lanai in a day and it has elevation gain. I ended up hiking 8 miles round trip, but I believe that you could make the trip 12 miles if you so choose. This trail will also lead you to the high-point of the island.
More on the Munro Trail
The Munro trail also has beautiful views of the unique forest of Lanai and the island itself. Unlike many of the other Hawaiian islands, Lanai is somewhat low-lying and its forests aren’t quite as tropical. You will still get the benefit of verdant, shady trails, but you will also see the Cook Island/Norfolk pines that the island is known for. There are also several spots where the forest will break and you can get some amazing views of the rolling hills of the island, the ocean beyond with Molokai in the distance.
That all being said, this isn’t a peaceful trail that you can expect to share with only hikers, bikers, and horse-back riders, because Munro trail is also an OHV trail/dirt road. That means that you will be sharing the track with OHV vehicles and trucks. I didn’t find this too bad, as everyone on the trail with me was polite. But it did feel a little unsafe at times, particularly because not everyone driving the road seemed to expect hikers. They drove a little fast and some seemed surprised to see me. So, it is really important to hike to the side of the trail, and keep your senses attuned for any vehicles approaching.
Hiking on the Beach
I also did a bit of hiking on the beaches while doing Lanai in a day.
The first time, I was trying to make it to the ship wreck that you can see from shore, and I wasn’t comfortable enough with 4WD to drive down the sandy road. (Whether you are comfortable driving in sand or not, remember to stay on roads.It is important to stay off of the beach with any 4WD vehicle on Lanai. This is detrimental for the beach ecosystem, and many people do get stuck in the sand.) So, I took a nice stroll through the white sand and coastal shrubs towards the wreck. I didn’t end up making it, but I did get a nice work out in the soft, sand.
The second time that I hiked on a Lanai beach was along the red cliffs near the ferry port. This wasn’t a planned locale for me, but it ended up being one of the most beautiful spots that I was able to visit on the island. Here, you can relax on the sandy beach, or you can follow a trail up onto the cliffs for some amazing views of the ocean.
More Remote Places to Explore
4WD is pretty essential to any Lanai in a day trip, because so many parts of the island are only accessible by dirt roads which are sometimes rough or too sandy for regular cars. This includes the famous shipwreck (which I missed), and yes, you can actually drive up Munro trail rather than hike it.
There is also a historic church and Japanese graveyard to be visited on the back side of the island. All of these places, tucked along the dirt roads, are historic treasures for respectful visitors to enjoy.
Be careful and polite on the road, and Lanai’s back country roads will reward you.
Learn More About Hawaii
We are just visitors to Hawaii, but we have other posts about our adventures on Molokai and I have a couple posts full of suggestions for people looking for a hike or an itinerary for nature and history on the island.
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It looks like a beautiful island to tour around for the day. I like that there are so many different types of hiking trails to go on here as well.