THE HAWAIIAN ISLAND OF MOLOKAI BOASTS THE STATE’S LARGEST WHITE-SAND BEACH, its longest barrier reef and the world’s highest sea cliffs, but it’s the privacy of the relatively unspoiled island (number of traffic lights: zero) that’s the real draw. Need another reason to visit this tranquil hideaway? Try the gorgeous waterfalls that spill into velvety green valleys; gurgling streams that crisscross tropical forests; beautiful empty beaches ringing the island. Once the province of powerful kahunas, Molokai is also home to some of Hawaii’s most sacred sites.
Don’t expect posh. This tiny enclave, just 38 miles long and 10 miles wide, features just a handful of quaint hotels and clusters of stuck-in-time shops and eateries. Rent a car to get around, and make it a four-wheel drive.
Halawa Valley is a must; take a guided hike into the lush, cathedral-like gorge (book through Hotel Molokai, 808-553-5347, hotelmolokai.com), past ancient temples to the 250-foot Mo’oula Falls, and stand in awe. Stroll three-mile-long
Papohaku Beach on the island’s west end, then head three miles down the road to secluded Dixie Maru Beach for a swim in the island’s calmest waters. Don’t miss the stomach-lurching mule ride down a rugged, serpentine trail to the
Kalaupapa National Historical Park (nps.gov/kala; arrange in advance), the site of Molokai’s infamous leper colony. Don’t worry. The disease is gone but the stunning views remain fully intact. —Diane Bair & Pamela Wright
A Dune Deal
On Molokai’s northwest coast, visitors can access Mo’omomi Preserve, one of the last intact coastal dune ecosystems in Hawaii. Windswept sand dunes harbor native plants, nesting sea turtles and colonies of wedge-tailed shearwaters. Albatrosses and monk seals also abound. On the island’s mountainous east end, take the slippery boardwalk trail through 2,774-acre Kamakou Preserve, near the summit of Molokai’s highest mountain. You’ll snake through a dense cloud forest to Pepeopae Bog—a misty mountaintop jungle of rare plants found nowhere else in the world.
The Nature Conservancy offers monthly guided hikes (nature.org).