How Long does it take to Drive Around Hawaii?

The road network in Hawaii is somewhat limited compared to larger land masses due to the islands' smaller sizes and natural boundaries. Major highways connect key cities and towns, but the network is not as extensive as on the mainland. On the Big Island, the Hawaii Belt Road forms a semi-circle around the island, providing access to many regions, but it doesn't fully encircle the island due to the challenging volcanic terrain in the south. Oahu, home to Honolulu, has the most developed road network in the state, including freeways and multi-lane highways. However, even on Oahu, the roads are subject to natural limitations, such as mountain ranges and coastal areas, that restrict expansion and affect travel times.

Estimating Travel Time on the Big Island

When considering travel time around the Big Island of Hawaii, it's crucial to take into account both the size of the island and the nature of its roads. The Big Island is the largest in the Hawaiian archipelago, with a land area of over 4,000 square miles. A common misconception is that one can drive around the entire island in a day. While it's technically possible, it doesn't account for the diversity of experiences and the time needed to truly appreciate the island's unique landscapes and attractions. The Hawaii Belt Road, which includes Routes 11, 19, and 190, covers most of the island's perimeter. A complete loop around the island on this road is approximately 300 miles and can take around 6 to 8 hours of driving time without stops.

However, this estimate is quite basic and doesn't consider several factors that can extend travel time. The Big Island's diverse climate zones range from arid deserts to tropical rainforests, impacting road conditions and driving speeds. Additionally, the island features numerous attractions like the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, and the Waipio Valley, which are worth exploring. These detours, along with the need for breaks, can turn a single-day drive into a multi-day journey. Furthermore, weather conditions, especially on the Hilo side, which is known for frequent rain, can slow down travel. 

Exploring Oahu: Drive Times and Scenic Routes

Oahu, the third-largest of the Hawaiian islands, is often a central question in the topic of how long does it take to drive around hawaii. Known for its vibrant city life in Honolulu and iconic landmarks like Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor, Oahu offers a diverse driving experience. The island can be circumnavigated relatively quickly due to its smaller size compared to the Big Island, with the total drive time around the island taking approximately 4 to 6 hours without stops. The route primarily follows coastal roads, including the famous H-1, H-2, and H-3 highways, which provide breathtaking views of the ocean and access to several scenic spots and attractions.

However, the journey around Oahu is much more than just a drive; it's an exploration of varied landscapes and cultures. The eastern side of the island, with the stunning Hanauma Bay and the scenic Windward Coast, offers lush greenery and dramatic mountain backdrops. In contrast, the North Shore is famous for its world-renowned surfing beaches and laid-back atmosphere. On the western side, travelers encounter less touristy areas with quiet beaches and local communities. Traffic congestion, particularly in and around Honolulu, can significantly impact travel times, making it advisable to start the journey early in the day. Moreover, numerous worthwhile stops, including historical sites, local eateries, and hidden beaches, encourage a slower, more immersive experience than the simple drive time might suggest.

Exploring Oahu: Drive Times and Scenic Routes

Maui's Roads: Duration and Destinations

Maui, the second-largest Hawaiian island, is renowned for its diverse landscapes, ranging from the volcanic crater of Haleakalā to the lush Road to Hana. The question of how long does it take to drive around Maui is influenced by the island's unique geography. A complete loop around Maui, including the famous Hana Highway and the Piilani Highway, spans approximately 10 to 12 hours of driving time without significant stops. This estimate, however, doesn't capture the essence of Maui's driving experience. The Road to Hana, a stretch of highway known for its winding turns and narrow bridges, is less about the destination and more about the journey, with numerous waterfalls, hiking trails, and scenic viewpoints along the way.

In contrast to the lush eastern side, the drive through Maui's upcountry and the backside of Haleakalā presents a different terrain, characterized by wide-open landscapes and fewer tourists. This part of the drive, on the Piilani Highway, is less developed and can be challenging, with unpaved sections and blind curves, requiring careful navigation. It's essential to check road conditions before embarking on this less-traveled path. Furthermore, stops at Haleakalā National Park for sunrise or sunset, and at various beaches and towns like Lahaina and Kihei, add to the travel time. 

Kauai's Driving Experience: Time and Terrain

Kauai, often referred to as the "Garden Isle," offers a distinct driving experience that contributes to understanding how long does it take to drive around hawaii. Unlike its larger counterparts, Kauai does not have a road that fully encircles the island due to the impassable Na Pali Coast. However, a drive around the accessible parts of the island, primarily using the Kuhio Highway (Route 56) and Kaumualii Highway (Route 50), can take about 2 to 3 hours without stops. This journey includes the northern route to Hanalei and the southern route towards Waimea. Kauai's roads are known for their natural beauty, winding through lush rainforests, past cascading waterfalls, and alongside dramatic coastlines.

While the driving time might seem short, the true allure of Kauai's roads lies in the numerous attractions along the way. The North Shore presents stunning beaches like Hanalei Bay and historical sites like the Kilauea Lighthouse. In contrast, the drive to the South Shore offers the chance to visit the Waimea Canyon, known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," and the breathtaking vistas along the way. The island's slower pace and rural nature mean that journeys are often leisurely, with time taken to appreciate the scenery and local culture. Traffic is generally light, but can be heavier in tourist hotspots like Poipu. Therefore, while the drive time is relatively short, a complete exploration of Kauai's accessible roads and attractions ideally spans several days.

Lesser-Known Islands: Lanai and Molokai Drive Times

Lanai and Molokai, two of the lesser-visited islands in Hawaii, offer unique driving experiences that contribute to the broader picture of how long does it take to drive around hawaii. Lanai, the smaller of the two, has a limited road network with only about 30 miles of paved roads. The island can be traversed end-to-end in about an hour, but this doesn't account for the rugged terrain and unpaved roads that lead to some of Lanai's more secluded spots, like Shipwreck Beach and the Garden of the Gods. Driving on Lanai often requires a four-wheel drive vehicle and a sense of adventure, as the roads can be challenging but rewarding, offering stunning landscapes and a sense of solitude.

Molokai, known for retaining a strong sense of traditional Hawaiian culture, also has a limited road network. The main road, Maunaloa Highway (Route 460) extends from Kaunakakai to the west end of the island, and Kamehameha V Highway (Route 450) runs along the southern coast to the east end. It takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to drive from one end of Molokai to the other. The island's north coast, home to the highest sea cliffs in the world, is not accessible by road. Molokai's driving experience is characterized by its scenic simplicity and the absence of heavy tourist traffic. The island's highlights include the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, accessible only by hiking, mule ride, or a small-plane flight. Thus, while Lanai and Molokai can be driven across in a short time, they offer unique experiences that extend beyond mere driving, inviting visitors to explore their natural beauty and cultural heritage at a leisurely pace.

Navigating Traffic and Road Conditions in Hawaii

Understanding traffic and road conditions is essential in determining how long does it take to drive around hawaii. Hawaii's unique geography and limited road infrastructure contribute to varied traffic conditions across the islands. On islands like Oahu, particularly in Honolulu, traffic congestion is a common occurrence, especially during rush hours. This congestion can significantly impact travel times, turning a short drive into a prolonged journey. The H-1, H-2, and H-3 freeways, the major arteries in Honolulu, are notorious for heavy traffic. It's crucial for travelers to plan their journeys to avoid peak traffic hours, typically early morning and late afternoon.

Road conditions in Hawaii also vary widely, from well-maintained highways to narrow, winding roads in more remote areas. Weather conditions, particularly on the windward sides of the islands, can affect road safety and travel time. Rain can create slippery conditions and reduce visibility, especially on roads like the Road to Hana in Maui or the winding paths leading to Waimea Canyon in Kauai. Additionally, some of the more scenic routes, such as those in rural areas or those leading to popular tourist destinations, can become crowded, slowing down travel. Therefore, when planning a drive around the Hawaiian Islands, it's important to consider these factors and allow extra time for unforeseen delays.

Best Times to Travel: Avoiding Peak Hours

Selecting the best times to travel is crucial in optimizing how long does it take to drive around hawaii. Timing can significantly influence the overall driving experience, with certain times of the day offering smoother travels and enhanced scenic beauty. To avoid the busiest traffic periods, particularly in urban areas like Honolulu on Oahu, it's advisable to travel outside of the typical rush hours, which occur from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM on weekdays. Early morning drives often provide the added benefit of witnessing spectacular sunrises, especially on east-facing shores and routes.

For those planning to drive on popular scenic roads, such as the Road to Hana on Maui or the route to the North Shore on Oahu, starting early can also help avoid crowds at key tourist spots. This early start allows travelers to enjoy attractions more peacefully and ensures easier parking and accessibility. Similarly, planning drives around the less busy days of the week, typically mid-week, can result in a more relaxed journey. Weather also plays a significant role in determining the best travel times. For example, driving to high-elevation areas like Haleakalā on Maui for sunrise or sunset requires checking weather forecasts and road conditions. By carefully considering these factors, travelers can enhance their driving experience around the Hawaiian Islands.

Best Times to Travel: Avoiding Peak Hours

Scenic Stops and Detours: Balancing Time and Experience

When considering the question, "how long does it take to drive around hawaii," it's important to factor in the time spent on scenic stops and detours. These pauses in the journey are not merely interruptions; they are integral to the Hawaiian driving experience. Each island boasts its own array of breathtaking vistas, cultural sites, and natural wonders that beckon for a closer look. For instance, a drive around the Big Island would be incomplete without stopping at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where one can witness the awe-inspiring Kilauea volcano. Similarly, on the Road to Hana in Maui, numerous waterfalls, such as the Twin Falls and Waikamoi Falls, offer refreshing breaks and photo opportunities.

The time spent at these stops can vary greatly depending on personal interests and the nature of the attraction. A quick photo stop at a scenic lookout might take only a few minutes, while a hike to a waterfall or a visit to a historical site could extend to several hours. On islands like Kauai and Oahu, detours to less-known beaches or hidden trails can lead to unexpected adventures and discoveries. However, these detours mean that a drive which might have taken a few hours in theory could easily turn into a full-day or multi-day excursion. Therefore, when planning a drive around any of the Hawaiian islands, it's advisable to allocate ample time for these scenic stops and detours, allowing for a richer and more immersive experience.

Fuel and Charging Stations: Planning Your Route

Planning a route around the Hawaiian Islands also involves considering the locations of fuel and charging stations, especially given the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs). This planning is an essential aspect of determining how long does it take to drive around hawaii, as it affects where and when one can travel. On the more populated islands like Oahu and Maui, gas stations are readily available, particularly along major highways and in urban areas. However, on the less populated islands like Molokai and Lanai, fuel stations are fewer and farther between, necessitating careful planning to ensure one doesn't run out of fuel, especially when exploring remote areas.

For electric vehicle users, the availability of charging stations is a growing but still developing infrastructure in Hawaii. Major tourist areas and hotels often have charging stations, and their numbers are increasing across the islands. However, the distribution of EV charging stations is not as widespread as gas stations, which can be a limiting factor for those traveling long distances or to less frequented areas. On islands with extensive rural regions, such as the Big Island, finding a charging station can be more challenging, requiring EV drivers to plan their routes and charging stops meticulously. To ensure a smooth driving experience, it's advisable to research the locations of fuel and charging stations beforehand and to incorporate these stops into the travel itinerary, especially when planning to drive longer distances or in more remote areas of Hawaii.


In conclusion, the question of how long does it take to drive around hawaii doesn't have a one-size-fits-all answer. It varies significantly depending on the island, the specific route taken, driving conditions, and individual travel preferences. Each of Hawaii's islands offers a unique driving experience, from Oahu's bustling cityscapes to Maui's famous Road to Hana, and from the Big Island's volcanic landscapes to Kauai's lush greenery. While it's possible to estimate basic driving times for each island, these don't capture the full essence of the journey. The true beauty of exploring Hawaii by road lies in the detours, the scenic stops, and the unexpected discoveries along the way.