As local residents, we get asked a lot about the best things to do when visiting the Big Island. Here are some of our favorites. If you need help planning, contact our Travel Consultants who can help you book incredible adventures and unforgettable experiences.
Address: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718
Amenities: Scattered bathrooms, parking, water fountains
Length/Difficulty Level: Choose Your Own Adventure!
Okay, here’s the thing about hiking in the park, there is a TON. There are hikes from every length and difficulty level. To write about every one in the park would take …well, a long long time. So for now, we’ll just say that you should think of this entire national park as your hiking oasis. If you’re feeling something relatively easy with a high pay-off, saunter by steam vents or to the coast to the Holei sea arch. Or if you’re in the mood to feel-the-burn, traverse barren lava fields for miles to far off craters. This park really does have it all!
Address: Follow directions below
Difficulty/Length: Medium-Difficult/ Around 6 miles round-trip)
A gorgeous and unique beach (which we talk about under “Life’s a Beach”) sits about three miles down a rough 4WD path. Yes, you can drive if you have the clearance and the confidence; but even if you don’t, you can still visit this famous locale. To get here you take the exit between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11 and drive to a small harbor at the end. On the left hand side there is a parking lot where you can park.
Like we said, although this beach can theoretically be accessed via 4WD , we staunchly encourage NOT doing that. Besides, you’re here for hiking, not driving. While this hike is more a long walk than a hike per se, the reason we rated this a medium-difficult is because there is NO shade, literally none. And since you’re hiking to a beach you’ll probably want to lounge a while at your destination (please do) meaning you’ll have to hike in quite a bit of water (bring more than you need) and sunscreen. We promise the hike is under 3 miles, but talk to anyone who’s done it and they’ll swear it was twice the distance.
Address: Located in Volcanoes National Park and park at Kīlauea Iki Overlook
Difficulty/Length: Medium-Difficult/ Around 3 miles
This loop is a little over three miles in total (if you start from the overlook) and is a popular hike within the park. That means you won’t need to worry about getting lost since you’re likely to encounter other hikers. It’s considered medium to be difficult because of a 400 ft descent (and ascension) throughout the trail. It can be steep and rocky in parts, so it’s important to watch your footing. (We want to make sure “watching your footing” is something you do for all hikes though!) This hike will take you through the rainforest to the floor of the crater Kilauea Iki. From here you can look into a lava vent that was the site of a 1900 foot tall eruption in 1959! You’ll also see a cinder cone called Puʻupua‘i.
Address: Follow Directions Below
Difficulty: Low-Medium (around 2 miles down and 2 miles up OR around 2 miles along the beach and
back-we think walking through sand makes this seem longer and harder, but the choice is yours)
While Makalawena is technically a drivable adventure, we do not suggest it, even to the brave. The drive is a perilous road requiring not just 4WD but a ton of clearance and driving expertise. The road down is rough lava rock, sharp, unpredictable, and always shifting. We strongly strongly suggest not even attempting this drive. Insurance won’t cover any damage and if your car gets stuck it’s pretty much gone forever.
So, what is your other option? The good news is that this is by no means an impossible hike. And in fact, if you leave at the same time someone driving that terrible road does, you have a decent chance of beating them. It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are no amenities at the beach, so you’ll want to plan to bring LOTS of water.
There are two paths to hike into Makalewena. One goes along the beach and one goes straight from the highway (it’s the same road people will drive down).
Along the Beach
To walk along the beach, park at Mahaiulas by following the signs to Kekaha Kai State park. Park before you reach Kekaha Kai, you’ll see the first parking lot with a path leading north (to your right as you drive down). The path starts behind a yellow closed gate. You’ll begin by following this path to Mahaiulas, an equally nice beach that boasts some great surfing with the right swell. Eventually this path will seemingly end at that beach, but walk along the beach past the red empty houses. On the other side of the red houses you’ll see the path resurface through lava rocks (bring hardy shoes). Follow this back until it leads you onto a white sand picturesque beach. The hike will probably take about 20 minutes, and if you get to Mahaiulas and decide you’d rather end your stroll there, no judgment from us!
Park near mile marker 88/89. You’ll most likely see quite a few cars also parked here. After that the way is pretty self explanatory. The road isn’t paved, but it’s easy to follow. Watch out for cars (although they’ll be moving at a glacial pace) and follow the path down until you see the ocean. From there you’ll take a left and walk past the lower parking area and some tide pools. Past that you’ll find the lovely Makalawena!
Address: So great it is its own address (or follow the directions below)
Difficulty/Length: Easy (but a little steep)/ 1 Mile round-trip
Pololu Valley is its own location, so you don’t really need much else than the name to find it on a map, but just in case you need help: follow highway 270 until it ends 8 miles east of Hawi at the incredible valley lookout. There is limited parking so we recommend getting there early, especially on weekends. They have a parking guide that will direct you where to park. If you must park along the road, ensure that you respect the private homes and heed “No Parking” signs. If there is no room, wait or come back another day. Note: there is no cell service or restrooms. We recommend wearing closed toed shoes and bring lots of water and sunscreen as it can get very hot.
Pololu Valley is one of our favorite spots on the island, and we would recommend stopping at the lookout even if you weren’t in the mood to hike, but if you ARE in the mood to hike, then that just makes it all the better! The lookout for Pololu Valley is down a long road where it dead ends at one of the most stupendous views you may ever see. Gaze across the valley, a green lush jungle, a stretch of breathtaking black pebble beach and pristine crystal water. It is a photographers dream (and a non-photographers dream because it would take SKILL to make this view look unimpressive). Like we said, if you’re not in the mood to hike, then just soak in this view and breathe in this clean air. If you ARE in the mood to hike then we have good news,, the hike down is only about 15-20 minutes (let’s say it’s double that coming back up, although it will probably be quicker). The hike can be slightly steep and can be slippery, especially depending on the weather.
Once you hit the bottom you’ll find all that you basked in at the overlook and more. Although there can be some traffic on the hike, there’s so much room on the valley floor that it will feel remote and private. The water and shore break here can be very dangerous and should only be attempted by highly experienced swimmers and surfers as there is no lifeguard on duty. There is no longer access to the mounds and rope swings behind the beach. Make sure anything you bring down with you comes back with you! All in all, this is one of our favorite hikes, and not only because it’s one of the easier and quick ones. Pololu is a beautiful and sacred place that encapsulates so many of the amazing things Hawaii has to offer.
Located North along the Hamakua Coast, Waipio Valley Lookout also known as “The Valley of the Kings” is located at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor drive. It’s an important site for Hawaiian history and culture while showcasing breathtaking views of the historic valley. Please note, the Waipio Lookout is open but the hike down to the valley is closed indefinitely. We kindly suggest Visitors respect the land and road closure to the beach access.
Address: 71-1645 Hawaiʻi Belt Rd, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Difficulty/Length: Medium/ About a 6.5 Mile Loop
In our option, this hike is more about getting outside and moving rather than what we call having a “payoff.” There’s no waterfall, spanning view, or pristine and secluded beach at the end of this hike but hey, isn’t there a saying about how it’s more about the journey than the destination? While this isn’t the first hike we would recommend to visitors with only a short period of time on the island, that doesn’t mean we aren’t fond of it. It leads past green pastures (which feel very un-Hawaii), past cows, and over a hill yonder, or what you may think is a hill. The big almost perfectly-hill shaped grassy bump is actually a Pu’u or an ancient volcanic cinder cone.
Address: Follow directions below
To get to this gem you’ll either need 4WD (with a ton of clearance) or some dedication and enough water to keep you hydrated for a few hours. The not-quite 3 mile hike to this beach is definitely worth it, and it means it isn’t as crowded as some other easier-to-reach beaches. The water here feels even more crystal and clean and the soft sand makes this an easy recommendation.
There are two paths to hike into Makalewena. One goes along the beach and one goes straight from the highway (it’s the same road people will drive down). Look at our descriptions under North and Kona Hikes for more info.
Address: Right around 77-6452 Ali‘i Dr in Kona
Lounging at the beach is all well and good, but you want to experience the Pacific Ocean! For some great body surfing, or for some great wave-watching check out Magic’s Beach in Kona. It’s an easy and fun spot to recommend, popular with both visitors and local residents. Don’t get us wrong, we are huge fans of the water and all the activities that make Hawaii a tropical playground, but we also want to reiterate how important it is to be aware of your surroundings, at all times and especially in the water. The ocean is unpredictable and powerful, never turn your back to the waves and watch the breaks for a while to learn how they break and to maybe even decide its too much for you.
Address: See directions below
Amenities: Bathrooms, water fountains
Hapuna is located north of Kailua Kona close to mile marker 70 of Hwy 19 in the south Kohala district.
Why spend your Hawaii vacation doing anything but soaking up that vitamin D and getting some nice ol’ RNR? Hapuna Beach is one of the most quintessential white sand beaches throughout the islands. Forget that the sand was brought in from Australia, no one will know that when they see your incredible instagram pics. Continually listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Hapuna is also often blessed with calm water which makes it not only perfect for lounging, but a popular choice with families and people not necessarily wanting to get tossed around by waves.
Address: So great it is its own address (or follow the directions below)
Follow highway 270 until it ends 8 miles east of Hawi at the incredible valley lookout. Park here (you’ll have to park a little ways up from the lookout parking) and begin your descent (about half a mile).
Not only an incredible lookout (one of our favorites across all the islands), but a lovely black sand beach. Although we can’t suggest actually getting in the water here (every time we’ve been the current has been deceptively strong), it is nearly unbeatable for the scenery.