The 11 Best Hikes on the Big Island, Hawaii (2023)

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Amidst its active volcanoes, rugged coastline, and picturesque beaches, it’s no wonder that the Big Island boasts a variety of exceptional hiking trails waiting to be explored. However, there are a lot of trails to explore which can definitely make it a time-consuming search. To help you make the most of your paradise experience, here are the 7 best hikes on the Big Island that you won’t want to miss.

When it comes to hiking on the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island has a lot to offer with variety and overall uniqueness and just flat-out awesome experiences. The trails highlighted in this article will lead you to black sand beaches, 1 of 4 green sand beaches in the world, across the sizzling terrain of a once volcanic crater, and even take you to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain (measured from the base).

What’s even more appealing is that the best hiking routes on the Big Island are conveniently spread across this expansive paradise, and the good news is that they’re all within a maximum drive of 1-2 hours from either Kona or Hilo. So, regardless of your accommodation on the Big Island, you’ll have a plethora of nearby hiking trails to choose from!

11 Best Hikes Big Island of Hawaii

Kīlauea Iki Trail & Crater Rim Trail

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

This trail takes you through the heart of one of Hawaii’s most iconic volcanic landscapes. Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, this trail offers a unique opportunity to walk across the floor of a recently active volcanic crater. As you traverse the path, you’ll be surrounded by dense rainforest around the crater’s rim and unique solidified lava formations.

The highlight of the hike is the moment you descend into the Kīlauea Iki crater itself, where you’ll encounter a vast expanse of hardened solidified lava lake that once flowed in a fiery spectacle during the 1959 volcanic eruption. There are cracks where the lava lake once was among the crater floor that have Ohia trees sprouting out of them throughout the trail that make the trail ironic with how beauty can sprout from something so destructive.

It makes for an unforgettable experience that allows you to step into the dynamic story of Hawaii’s volcanic past. The parking lot for this hike is a little small and busy so try to get here in an off time if able. If I had to choose one trail to do while hiking on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Kilauea Iki Trail would be the top of the list for Big Island hikes. Also, if you have time take this trail to the Thurston lava tube.

Kīlauea Iki Trail Overlook

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach  

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

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach, located on the southernmost tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, close to Naalehu, Hawaii. The trail itself provides a rare opportunity to see a beach with unique Olivine green crystals found in the surrounding volcanic rocks there are only 4 verified green sand beaches in the world.

Now, getting to the beach is an adventure in itself, as it requires a moderately challenging hike. There are often locals hanging out in the parking lot with four-wheel drive vehicles offering to shuttle visitors to the beach for $20 dollars per person. I don’t recommend doing that as it is illegal to drive to Papakōlea green sand beach and the damage it has caused to the area is sad.

Just opt for the hike it’s well 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 a hiking app. But basically, you’ll follow the trail closest to the coast the whole way to the green sand beach. About halfway are remnants of an ancient temple leftover from one of the earliest ancient Hawaiians this is worth checking out and also makes for a good mile marker.

As you make it to the trail, get ready to have your jaw drop. The striking contrast of the vibrant green sand against the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean creates a beautiful view. The beach is surrounded by cliffs, providing a sense of seclusion and a dramatic backdrop. Getting closer to the beach takes a steep descent down but is well worth it.

Ka’Awaloa Captain Cook Monument Trail

  • Length: 3.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1266ft
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Dogs Allowed: No

The Ka’Awaloa Captain Cook Monument Trail takes you through a historical path that leads you to the iconic Captain Cook Monument, perched on the shores of Kealakekua Bay. The hike begins with a descent through lush tropical forest, revealing glimpses of the pristine coastline along the way. The trail meanders through the captivating landscape, offering sweeping ocean views and cliffs surrounding the bay.

As you approach the monument, you get a cool look into history, as this site commemorates the first known European contact with the Hawaiian Islands. It’s a fantastic opportunity to connect with the island’s history, experience its natural beauty, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of dolphins or green sea turtles in the bay. The Ka’Awaloa Captain Cook Monument Trail is a neat trail offering a harmonious blend of history and magnificent scenery.

Pololū Trail 

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

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

Anyhow, Pololū valley is located on the northern coast of the Big Island, Hawaii. Parking can be limited so it is best to kind of get here at an off time. The trail starts with a steep descent to the valley floor through lush forest, then gradually reveals breathtaking views of the coastline.

As you follow the path, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular sight of Pololū Valley, a pristine valley carved by ancient volcanic forces. Descending further, the black sand beach at the valley’s floor creates a striking contrast against the lush green surroundings, and the crashing waves. Amongst the many black sand beach areas in Hawaii, Pololū coast is well worth the effort.

Pololū Coast

Mauna Kea Humu’ula Trail

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

The Mauna Kea Humu’ula Trail is a the most challenging Big Island hikes and the tallest peak in Hawaii. The trail takes you up to the highest mountain in Hawaii and if measured from the sea floor then technically the highest mountain in the world! That alone makes this brutal hike one that is worth it. But before you start this hike make a pit stop at the visitor center and self-register.

This trail is similar to most mountain summit hikes, so be sure to bring layers because it can be hot and also very cold. This is one of the only places in Hawaii that actually gets snow. As you make your way up to the summit of Mauna Kea, the landscape transitions from lush vegetation to a stark, rocky like terrain, leading you above the clouds. The trail offers some of the best views of the surrounding volcanic landscape, and on clear days, the sunset and star-gazing opportunities at the summit are beyond compare.

It’s essential to prepare for altitude and rapidly changing weather conditions on this trail, as the air gets thinner, and temperatures can drop dramatically. Yet, the challenge is well worth the reward, as you’ll be left with memories of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and bragging rights 😉 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 and hydrated!

Akaka Falls Trail 

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

One of the most family friendly Big Island hikes. Located in Akaka Falls State, this hike is a paved trail that is fairly flat and is one of the most accessible trails on this list. The trail takes you through lush rainforest, wildflowers, and vegetation and features two large waterfalls. The Kahuna falls is seen at a distance and falls about 100ft, and the highlight of the trail is the second waterfall Akaka Falls.

Akaka Falls is impressive as it plunges 442ft into a lush gorge below and is easily one of the most popular falls on the island of Hawaii. The captivating views and refreshing natural surroundings make the Akaka Falls Trail a must-visit for those seeking a quick, family friendly, accessible Big Island hikes.

Akaka Falls flowing down 442ft

Pu’u Wa’awa’a Cinder Cone Trail

  • Length: 6.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1935ft
  • Route Type: Lollipop loop
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

The Pu’u Wa’awa’a Cinder Cone Trail offers a unique hiking experience on the Big Island of Hawaii. This trail leads you through Pu’u Wa’awa’a, a cinder cone formed by ancient volcanic activity. As you ascend the trail, you’ll traverse through diverse ecosystems, ranging from dry, rocky terrain to lush greenery areas. The trail rewards you with views of stunning beaches and Mauna Kea in the distance.

Thurston Lava Tube Trail

  • Length: 0.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 50ft
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Dogs Allowed: No

The Thurston Lava Tube, also known as Nāhuku, is a one of the most unique formations in this list of Big Island hikes, nestled within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Created as a result, of flooded lava tube the underground tunnel offers a really cool look into the island’s volcanic past. As you venture into the dark lava tube, you’ll be surrounded by the ancient lava formations that were once a conduit for molten rock during volcanic eruptions.

The tube’s intricate patterns and textures, formed as lava flowed and solidified, creating an really neat tunnel you get to walk into as you walk along the path. The trail is family friendly and is mostly paved, it gradually takes you through old lava flows and some green vegetation. It’s a unique opportunity to experience how volcanic forces have changed the geology of the Hawaiian Islands.

Thurston Lava Tube

Rainbow Falls Upper Lookout

  • Length: .1 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 3ft 
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Dogs Allowed: No

Rainbow Falls Upper Lookout is a short hike on this list of hikes on the Big Island. It features one of the most breathtaking and iconic waterfalls in Hawaii. Located in Hilo on the Big Island, this elevated vantage point offers a spectacular view of the cascading Waiānuenue Falls, more commonly known as Rainbow Falls. As you stand at the lookout, the sight of the waterfall plunging about 80 feet into the turquoise pool below is just gorgeous.

The name “Rainbow Falls” is fitting, as during sunny mornings, the mist from the falls often catches the sunlight, creating vibrant rainbows that dance in the mist. It is definitely the shortest in our list of hikes on the Big Island, being under a quarter of a mile in distance. But it is excellent for families with children and is super accessible. The waterfall also in town making it great for a quick morning walk with the family. If you get a chance be sure to check out the Hawaii tropical botanical garden near Hilo, Hawaii.

Standing in front of Rainbow Falls

Halema’uma’u Steam Bluff and Sulfur Banks

  • Length: 1.5 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 94ft 
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Dogs Allowed: No

The Halema’uma’u Steam Bluff and Sulfur Banks are neat geothermal features located within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and feature some of Big Island’s unique volcanic landscape. During your walk through the steam bluff and sulfur banks you will see steam rising from the heart of the Earth.

The steam bluff lets loose whiteish smoke in the distance, the sight is pretty unique and is a fun experience for kids. Nearby, the sulfur banks let loose a display of vibrant yellow and orange mineral deposits, with sulfur gases subtly perfuming the air. The overall experience is pretty unique, and I believe that the Halema’uma’u Steam Bluff and Sulfur Banks are a must-see for anyone fascinated by Hawaii’s volcanic geology.

Standing at the Sulfur banks

Waipio Valley Trail (Closed Now)

  • Length: 4.5 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 1312ft 
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Dogs Allowed: No

Due to current events, this trail is no longer open and is expected to stay closed at least until 2025 until further notice. There are some tour guide trips that will take people to Waipio beach check:

The Waipio Valley Trail is a hidden gem, and one of the best hikes on the Big Island but it is a chore to get to. Access requires a 4WD vehicle and requires driving up an awfully steep road. The trailhead is located on the northeastern coast of the Big Island, the trail descends into the lush and iconic Waipio Valley, often referred to as the land of curving water.

As you make your way down the steep path, the views are just mind blowing. Green jungle tropical forestry, oceans views, and rivers carve through the valley floor. Waipio is not by means an easy hike and the strem at times can be waist deep. The beach is a beautiful black sand beach surrounded by towering cliffs that surround the valley.

The Waipio Valley Trail does border a piece of private property but has been accessible through for tourism. Once at the end of the trail, you can extend the trail to the next valley for a strenuous backpacking trip, by hopping onto Muliwai Trail which switchbacks another steep climb 7.6 miles to the Waimanu Valley floor with another river crossing that is sometimes over waist deep.

Waipio Valley

Tips for Hiking the Big Island of Hawaii

America The Beautiful Pass: 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. Thats what we did, and it will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Leave No Trace: Don’t forget to follow the principles of leaving no trace. Remember to pack out what you pack in this way so we can keep these places beautiful for the next generations. Also do not pick up and keep the lava rocks at the beaches or in the Hawaii volcanoes national park!

Hike at Off Times: The most important tip I can give you is to start early. Hiking early in the morning or later in the day has many advantages especially in the summer when temperatures are warmer and muggier.

Brush up on Basic First Aid: Be sure to re-stock any supplies you have used in your first aid kit. Also, be sure to revisit things in your first aid kit that you may need and also items that you haven’t used and don’t think you’ll need. The best first aid kit is one that is tailored to your needs. 

Bring Sunscreen, water, & Rain Gear: Depending on when you go, it is not uncommon for it to rain frequently especially near Hilo, Hawaii. During our hike in the Kilauea iki trail it rained on us the last 3/4ths of the trail. Some areas in Hawaii can get smoking hot pack your sunscreen and water!

Best Time to Hike in Big Island of Hawaii

The best time to hike on the Big Island of Hawaii largely depends on your preferences for weather, crowds, and specific trails. Here are some considerations for different times of the year:

1. Spring (March to May): Spring one of the times to check out the best hikes, it is popular time for hiking due to comfortable temperatures, blooming flower, and fewer crowds compared to the peak Summer season.

2. Summer (June to August): Summer offers warm temperatures and longer daylight hours, making it an excellent time for early morning or late afternoon hikes. Summer is usually the busier season for tourism, so popular trails like Kīlauea Iki will be more crowded.

3. Fall (September to November): Fall is another great time for checking out the best hikes on the Big Island. The weather is generally pleasant, and there are fewer tourists compared to the summer months. Consider exploring trails such as Pololū Valley and the Pu’u Wa’awa’a Cinder Cone during this period.

4. Winter (December to February): While winter can be a bit rainier, it’s still a good time for hiking, especially in areas like the Kohala Coast, where you can enjoy clearer skies. The Waimea Canyon and Mauna Kea trails are popular options during this time, offering unique experiences with snow on the higher elevations.

Overall, just be sure to check weather conditions, trail closures, and your own comfort level before embarking on any hikes on the Big Island.

Hiking through the Kīlauea Iki Trail crater

Getting Around The Big Island 

Getting around the Big Island of Hawaii is primarily done by car, and having your own vehicle provides the most flexibility to explore the island. Here are some options and tips for getting around:

1. Rental Cars: Renting a car is the most popular choice for tourists. Major car rental companies are available at both Hilo and Kona airports. Be sure to book in advance, especially during peak seasons, to secure the vehicle you want.

2. Public Transportation: The island does have a public bus system called “Hele-On Bus.” While it’s more affordable, it might not be as convenient for tourists looking to explore multiple destinations in a limited time.

3. Taxis and Rideshares: Taxis are available, but they can be expensive for long distances. Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are more limited compared to major cities but might be available in larger towns.

4. Biking: If you’re an avid cyclist, some areas, particularly in towns, have bike lanes, and there are guided bike tours in specific locations.

5. Tours: Guided tours are a great way to explore specific attractions, especially if you prefer not to drive. There are various tour options for popular destinations like the volcano, waterfalls, and historical sites.

6. Inter-Island Flights: If you’re visiting other Hawaiian Islands, there are inter-island flights available. However, this is not a practical way to get around the Big Island itself.

The Big Island is vast, and attractions are spread out, so planning your transportation in advance will help you make the most of your visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Big Island have good hiking?

The Big Island of Hawaii has plenty of good hiking with a variety of trails with beaches, lava formations, mountains, volcanoes, lush forests, and waterfalls. There is so much hiking to do.

What is the most challenging hike on the Big Island?

The most challenging day hike on the Big Island I would say in Mauna Kea due to the steepness and technicality.

Summary of Best Big Island Hikes

  1. Kīlauea Iki Trail & Crater Rim Trail
  2. Papakōlea Green Sand Beach  
  3. Ka’Awaloa Captain Cook Monument Trail
  4. Pololū Trail 
  5. Mauna Kea Humu’ula Trail
  6. Akaka Falls Trail 
  7. Pu’u Wa’awa’a Cinder Cone Trail
  8. Thurston Lava Tube Trail
  9. Rainbow Falls Upper Lookout
  10. Halema’uma’u Steam Bluff and Sulfur Banks
  11. Waipi’o Valley Trail (Closed Now)

Final Thoughts

This is our list of the best Big Island hikes! The Big Island is really a magical place that offers a wide range of hikes from walking through a solidified lava crater floor, waterfalls, beaches, jungles, to summiting peaks. It really does have it all and there will be something for everyone.

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

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