Hiking on Big Island of Hawaii: 5 Eye-opening Trails

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The big island of Hawaii is the largest island yet the youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands. Here you can experience almost all 4 seasons in a day ranging from wet tropical to polar tundra. It features many of the largest mountains in the world Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, which depending on how you measure it, is technically the largest mountain in the world. In addition, the island features unique black beaches and one of only four green sand beaches in the world. In this list I am going to cover the best hiking on the big island of Hawaii. This list is in no ranking order all of these trails are super awesome.

A few of these hikes listed are in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you plan on doing those hikes I and visiting other national parks I would recommend getting a America the Beautiful pass. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.

*Note: As always before embarking on any outdoor journey make sure to show good Trail etiquette and follow Leave No Trace to respect others and protect these beautiful natural areas

Hiking on Big Island of Hawaii

The Kilauea Iki Trail overlook

Kīlauea Iki 

  • Length: 3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 700ft
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Dogs Allowed: No 

Kilauea Iki Crater Trail is a trail that is located within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island of Hawaii. This trail starts off covered with lush jungle and then slowly descends down into the crater floor which is covered with cooled off lava. There are cracks that are among the crater floor that have Ohia trees sprouting out of them throughout the trail. If I had to choose one trail to do while hiking on the big island of Hawaii this would be the top trail.

Akaka Falls flowing 442ft down

Akaka Falls Trail 

  • Length: .5 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 121ft 
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Dogs Allowed: No

This trail is located at the Akaka Falls State Park, and is a paved trail that is fairly flat and is the most accessible trail on this list. The trail takes you through lush forest, wild flowers, and vegetation and features two large waterfalls. The Kahuna falls is seen at a distance and falls about 100ft and the second waterfall is Akaka Falls, which is arguably one of the most popular falls on the island of Hawaii. Akaka Fall is a huge waterfall that falls a whopping 442ft and is covered with beautiful rainforest. 

Polulu overlook

Pololū Trail 

  • Length: 1 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 344ft 
  • Route Type: Out & back
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

This trail wasn’t originally on our to do list. We were eating at Kona Brewing Company and our server highly recommended doing this trail. And we are so glad she recommended this hike, it was absolutely stunning. Side note: if you are wanting some of the best pizza on the island go to Kona Brew Co its worth the wait.

Anyhow, Polulu valley is located in the northwestern part of the big island of Hawaii, it offers multiple beautiful scenic overlooks. The trail is fairly short, it is very steep at first and can be slick at times due to loose dirt and rock. On the way down keep an eye out for some of the ancient cobblestone still embedded in the trail. At the bottom of the trail features a beautiful black sand beach that stretches for almost 900 yards. In addition, to a breath taking view of Pololu valley.

Mauna Kea Humu’ula Trail

  • Length: 13.4 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 4986ft 
  • Route Type: Out & back
  • Dogs Allowed: No

Frankly, we didnt have time to do this trail but it was on our list. This trail takes you up to the highest mountain in Hawaii and if measured from the sea floor the highest mountain in the world! That alone makes this brutal hike one that is worth it. Before starting this trail make a pit stop at the visitor center and self register. Then follow the trail as it takes you through beautiful views of Mauna Loa and the ocean. The trail has a few switchbacks and consists of loose cinder where it is helpful to use trekking poles. Make sure to read about the 10 essentials to bring for day hiking to make sure you are prepared!

Beautiful green sand beach in the background

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach  

  • Length: 5.6 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 370ft 
  • Route Type: Out & back
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

This trail is located at the southern tip close to Naalehu, Hawaii its a little bit of a drive to get too and at some point you will be at the most southern point of the United States. Just a heads up, there are often locals hanging out in the parking lot with four wheel drive trucks offering to shuttle visitors to the beach for $20 dollars per person. I don’t recommend that you do that as it is technically illegal to drive to Papakolea beach, just opt for the hike its worth it! 

This trail can be a little difficult to navigate with all the off road ruts causing trail erosion. I highly recommend downloading a map from All Trails and bringing a extra battery pack. But, basically you’ll follow the trail closest to the coast the whole way to the green sand beach. About half way are remnants of an ancient temple leftover from one of the earliest Hawaiian settlements. Its a pretty cool trail that I highly recommend as there are only 4 green sand beaches in the world.

What To Wear Hiking on the Big Island of Hawaii

The weather is pretty warm on Hawaii. We went during July and the sun can get pretty warm easily around the 90s. This is what I would recommend to wear during the warmer seasons

Hiking Bottoms

Overall, this is kind of your preference. My legs tend to not get too cold so I lean towards shorts most times but it just depends. For pants I usually wear Columbia Flex Roc Pants or something similar. For women my better half opts for Prana Halle pants due to their lightweight and ability to stretch. When wearing shorts she likes Eddie Bauer guide pro shorts and I usually just wear a pair of trail running shorts like these from New Balance. Overall, it really depends on what you like and the season.

Hiking Tops 

For tops it just depends on the time and season again. But for the warmer seasons I recommend a layer because you can always take off a layer. I usually go with a tank or short sleeve. If I know it’s going to be cooler I might opt for a long sleeve shirt over that. I always like to wear some type of dry fit or merino wool product to help wick sweat off. Most hikes in Hawaii are a bit warmer so dressing lighter usually works. It can rain frequently in Hawaii especially by the Volcanoes National Park so I would layer with the Columbia Watertight windbreaker 

Hiking Shoes 

Hiking shoes depend on preference and what side you are on with the everlasting Trail runners vs Hiking boot debate. I use both hiking shoes and hiking boots. Most of the time we opt for shoes, you can read more about our 5  favorite shoes in this article. If I am going to be hiking in more wet conditions and I need some more water resistance and a more sturdy boot like the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX. In Hawaii hiking sandals like choco’s may also be a viable option although I would necessarily wear them during really rough terrain.

Hiking Socks

Probably the most important piece of clothing you could wear. I have found very few socks that work better than Darn Tough. If you want to check out some other good socks to wear, view this article we wrote about our top favorite socks. For further help on what to pack checkout our hiking 10 essentials post to get a good foundation and build from there.

Conclusion: 

Alright, and there you have it the 5 of the best trails for hiking on the big island Hawaii. If you found this helpful be sure to leave a comment below. If you have any questions leave them in the comments and I will do my best to help you out!

Editor note: This post was originally published October 19, 2021 and has been updated for more accuracy and comprehensiveness

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