When is the best time to travel to Hawaii? When should I visit Hawaii? These are questions we hear frequently, along with What's the weather like in Hawaii? You can learn about the general weather conditions on our Hawaii Weather page. If you're looking to determine which island is best for you, be sure to take our quiz Which Hawaiian Island to Visit.
On this page we'll discuss our personal favorite times of the year to visit and why. We should note that this article is written in bias towards the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai, and doesn't detail Oahu as much. We highly recommend checking a local Hawaii calendar online prior to scheduling your trip, thus allowing you to determine what is and what is not occurring on the island of your choice ahead of time. We've detailed a few of the major events (specifically on the Big Island) below. Also, as a general rule of thumb, if you hope to avoid the crowds, then consider planning your trip to avoid holidays. Many folks from the West Coast of the mainland (or even from neighboring Oahu) will jump over to the less-visited islands for the holiday(s). This is especially true during the Christmas holidays when things get very busy in the islands.
Be sure to read our recommendations for each individual island about the best time to travel to Hawaii:
First, we want to point out that there is considerable confusion about there being a "wet/dry" season and a "high/low" travel season in Hawaii. The two assumptions are in some ways true and in some ways false. Let's take a closer look.
Spring in Hawaii
Less rain starts to fall on the islands as the trade winds die down to their summer levels, making this an ideal time to visit. Some call this the start of the "dry" season. The weather is almost always perfect, and, in general, this is the best time to find good bargaintravel activities. After mid-April, most airfare and lodging prices drop as a result of the "high season" ending. The last week of April and the first week of May are often a time when the most Japanese visitors will arrive due to the "Golden Week" holiday in Japan.
Water temperatures measure near the high 70-degree mark this time of year, and the surf begins to die down as the trade winds let up. The best part of the spring is the fresh flowers, fruit, and vegetation that can be seen around the island. This is our favorite time to visit. We should note that the spring does hold one large event on the Big Island of Hawaii that can cause crowding on the Hilo side of the Island: the Merrie Monarch festival, which is held annually starting on Easter Sunday.
Rainbow Falls on the Big Island
Summer in Hawaii
Typically, summer is classified on Hawaii as the "low season." This results in lower rates for both accommodations and rental vehicles. However, this "low season" classification can often be misleading, as June through August are very popular with travelers. Airline prices will often increase into late June through July, as demand is higher for seats nationwide. Thus, if you are flying from the East Coast, the most expensive flight you pay for might ironically be the continental flight to the West Coast.
According to the tourism authority in the islands, July continues to be the month with the most visitor arrivals. To us, this makes sense because this is when most families visit the island, as their children are out of school. The same is true for local children on the island; this is their summer and they often frequent the same beaches, trails, and places you'll be visiting, too.
The summer months are always the warmest on the island, and temperatures can reach as high as the 90's under the right conditions. Combined with the high humidity, the heat can occasionally be unpleasant for some travelers not accustomed to it. Surf is at its lowest during the summer, and the rain clouds are few and far between, except on the windward coast. Note the difference in flow rates at Rainbow Falls (below), located on the Big Island, between summer (left) and winter (right).
Seasonal Waterfall Differences (Rainbow Falls)
Water temperatures usually rise above the 80-degree mark. While a rare event, the summer months are also hurricane season in Hawaii, and the islands are certainly not immune to a hit. Such was the case with Iniki in September 1992. It came ashore on Kauai as a strong category 3 (borderline category 4) storm. Since then, several additional storms have grazed Hawaii, but none have caused such widespread damage as Iniki. Again, large storm systems are rare - just be aware they do occur from time to time.
In our opinion, the summer is simply too warm for a lot of outdoor hiking and adventure, especially at locations like the Big Island's black lava fields or any other island's coastal trails (Kalalau on Kauai for example). Lower prices are nice on the wallet; however, the sun and humidity combination makes going anywhere but the beach seem like a chore. We advise visiting a few months earlier in the spring or a few months later in the fall if you can.
Regardless of when you travel, we recommend that you book your flight with Hawaiian Airlines. Not only are they the largest airline serving the Hawaiian Islands, but they also appear near the top of many "best carrier" lists; including the most on-time carrier, fewest cancellations, lowest baggage handling issues, and safest airline.
Fall in Hawaii
More rain begins to fall in November as the trade winds increase to their winter levels, and there are days where rain showers will dominate on the windward coast and mauka areas. While Hawaii had been going through a fairly dry spell for several years, 2006 was a year of almost extreme precipitation amounts, causing flooding on many islands in the early winter months. 2007 and 2008 were also considerably wetter than previous years. A Kona storm in late 2007 dumped a tremendous amount of rain on the islands and caused wind damage in several areas. More recently, in July 2016, Tropical Storm Darby became only the fifth recorded tropical cyclone to make landfall in Hawaii since 1958, and the islands experienced severe flash flooding. However, as a general rule, Kona storms cause more headaches than tropical storms. So what exactly IS a Kona storm?
When a Kona storm develops or moves into the area, the prevailing wind pattern changes - south and southwesterly winds replace the trade winds. Since the winds typically affect the Kona coast of the Big Island, the storms have thus taken on that name.
Although destructive Kona storms are fairly rare, they occur often enough to warrant a mention here. Kona storms bring high winds, heavy rain, snow atop higher mountains (like Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island), and lightning and thunder can occur (a rarity in Hawaii). Due to extreme terrain differences in the islands, weather conditions can be highly variable across a relatively small area. Gusts of wind up to 60 miles per hour have been known to happen on the Big Island, while other portions of the Hawaiian chain simply deal with increasing breezes.
"High season" for traveling begins in mid-December, which typically causes rates for flights, tours, and accommodations to rise. In general, the fall months and the spring months are very similar. Like in the spring, the Big Island of Hawaii can become quite busy during October, as a major event is held on the island. Typically, in October, the Ironman Triathlon event is held on the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Check online calendars for the exact dates each year.
Waipio Valley - Big Island of Hawaii
Winter in Hawaii
By the time winter is in full swing, the "high season" has begun on the islands. This term, of course, brings back the debate about defining "low" and "high" season. And although the tourism authority in the islands, using 2014 data, shows the second highest number of visitors arriving in December of each year, it's important to note that most of these visitors are showing up for about a week - Christmas through New Year. This is always a very busy time in the islands and can almost single-handedly make this the "high season" for accommodations. Thus, on average, the prices are higher and occupancy rates are higher. Bottom-line: expect to pay more in winter months. As noted in the introduction, Christmas is a time that anyone who dislikes crowds should avoid coming to the islands.
Hawaii - a diverse land of contrasts
The high temperature remains a comfortable average of near 78 degrees. Water temperatures are often around 74 degrees during this period, and swimming can be rough as a result of the higher surf. If you're coming to Hawaii to see any surfing events, then this is definitely the time to come - especially on Maui and Oahu. During the winter months, this is one of the only places in the world you can come play in the snow (on the Big Island and occasionally Maui) and swim in the (warm) ocean in the same day.
Winter is also the whale watching season in Hawaii. Humpback whales travel all the way from Alaska every winter to mate, calve, and birth their young (usually in the shallow waters off the coast of Maui).
Unless you are coming specifically for big surf or to see whales, we believe winter is usually the least desirable time to visit the islands. Despite the waterfalls being more active due to the rain, and the potential to see huge surf and the amazing shows put on by whales breaching off the coast, the combination of higher prices, wetter weather, and cooler temperatures has never sat well with us. You can easily visit during the spring or fall for much cheaper prices and better weather.
Before we end this section we want to stress again that this "low" or "high" season classification changes on a year-to-year basis; therefore, predicting the visitation rates season to season becomes more and more difficult. Several factors, including the economy and weather, can affect travel to and from Hawaii. The same is true of natural events (like flooding, earthquakes, etc.). For example, during the span of one week in August 2007, the Big Island was faced with a 5.4 earthquake, a Category 3 Hurricane, and a tsunami warning after an earthquake off the coast of Peru. On a personal note, despite all of that, we still enjoy the Big Island the most. As they say in the islands, "There's never a dull moment here."
If you need even more detailed information about Hawaii precipitation and climate patterns, please visit our Hawaii Weather page.
Article Edited/Contributed by: John C. Derrick Published/Updated: 10-17-2016
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