Top 5 Best Hikes on the Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii is a hiker’s dream. Within its 4028 square miles of land area are 11 different climate zones, a range of terrain types, and 13,796′ of potential elevation gain. Most trailheads are easily accessible from Kona and Hilo within an hour or two, which means hikers can explore a tropical forest, alpine mountaintop, and a volcanic desert in the same day. And since the trails range from maintained walking paths to backcountry slopes, there are hikes available for people of all abilities. Here are some of the best hikes on the Big Island:

1) Lapakahi State Historical Park Loop

View from one of the best hikes on the big island

By Makana Chai CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1mi loop – Difficulty: Easy

Lapakahi State Park is the perfect place to take a short hike along the beautiful and rugged Kohala coastline and explore ancient Hawaiian culture at the same time. The trail winds through the remains of ancient house sites, stone walls, and Hawaiian artifacts, as well as modern recreations of traditionally-constructed homes and canoe storage houses. The area is usually swept by the strong breeze brought by the trade winds, which offers relief from the heat of the day. The views are modest, but the rocky shores and crystal-blue waters of the Kohala coast are breathtaking by themselves. The hike is easily accessed off Highway 270, but since it is out of the way it does not receive nearly as much attention as other parks such as Pu’uhonua O Honaunau or Kaloko-Honokohau. Come visit on a weekday morning and you might even find you have the trail to yourself.

2) Captain Cook Monument/Ka’awaloa Trail

Beautiful ocean view from one of the best hikes on the big island

By Makana Chai CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4mi round trip – Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

The Ka’awaloa Trail is not about the hike, but the destination. The hike itself can be somewhat grueling when the upper portion becomes overgrown with cane grass, or if you are caught in the heat of the day. The lower portion is rugged and cuts through a lava field, and because of the heat, loose footing, and lack of facilities this trail gets a difficulty rating of moderate to hard. This trail provides the only land access to the Captain Cook Monument and, more importantly, to the excellent snorkeling spot just offshore. The reef below the monument is one of the healthiest in Kealakekua Bay, and is home to a variety of tropical reef creatures. The best part of this hike will certainly be jumping in the water at the bottom and snorkeling along the shoreline. Just remember that since the trail descends nearly 1500 feet, you will have to climb 1500 feet back up after your swim. Be sure to bring lots of fresh water and protection from the sun. Parking for the trailhead can be found at the top of Napo’opo’o Road along the shoulder.

3) Kilauea Iki

View from one of the best hikes on the big island

By Scott Carpenter CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4mi loop – Difficulty: Moderate

This is possibly the best all-around hike on the Big Island. The Kilauea Iki Loop is of moderate distance, has some steep elevation changes between long flat sections, and traverses both unspoiled, endemic rain forests and a volcanic crater. It is also within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, near the summit area, which means it can be part of a full-day adventure. The loop can be done clockwise or counter-clockwise and can be accessed from the Kilauea Iki Overlook or Thurston Lava Tube parking areas. Either way, the trail winds through native forests of Ohia trees and massive Hapu’u tree ferns before descending into the massive Kilauea Iki crater, which is still steaming (but thankfully cool enough to walk on!) from an eruption that took place there in 1959. As an added bonus, you can take the short loop through the Thurston Lava Tube as part of this hike and see the inner workings of the world’s most active volcano.

4) Mauna Kea Summit

11.5mi round trip – Difficulty: Extreme

The hike to Mauna Kea’s summit is not for the faint of heart. WhileMauna Kia - one of the best hikes on the big island there is no technical climbing on the hike, most of the trek takes place above 10,000’ feet and is subject to rapidly changing weather. That said, if you are properly prepared for the challenge it can make for an extremely rewarding experience. The hike takes in sweeping vistas of the Big Island to the south, including neighboring Mauna Loa, as well as numerous volcanic features, ancient archaeological sites, and a pristine alpine lake. Upon reaching the summit, you will also have reached the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands and the top of the world’s tallest submarine volcano (33,000’ feet above the sea floor!). The trail is accessible across from the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center at the end of the paved road. Stop in at the Visitor’s Center to sign in before heading up, and again on the way out to let them know you’ve made it back safely. Be sure to bring extra water, rain gear, and a winter jacket. Dress in layers, check the weather before heading up, and be aware that Acute Mountain Sickness is a potential danger on this hike. Know the signs and symptoms, and if in doubt, turn back. Follow these rules and the Mauna Kea summit hike may just be the most amazing part of your trip to the Big Island.

5) Pololu Valley to Honokane Nui Lookout

Beautiful view from one of the best hikes on the big island

By Madereugeneandrew CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3.2mi round trip – Difficulty: Hard

Near the north end of the Big Island, where Highway 270 abruptly ends, the Awini Trail descends into the picturesque Pololu Valley. White puffy clouds drift by overhead in an endless blue sky while wave after wave rolls in along the crescent back sand beach below. Many hikers enjoy the view from the parking area and then make their way down to stroll along the valley floor. But an even better vista awaits those who continue on, up the far wall of Pololu and up to the ridgeline above the next valley. After descending the switchbacks into Pololu Valley, you can make your way either along the beach or through the stand of ironwood trees behind it until you almost reach the far side. Look out for a trail that cuts up through some low underbrush, and follow the switchbacks up the far wall until the trail levels out some. Continue through groves of wild guava until the view opens up again above Honokane Nui Valley. The vista takes in the trio of offshore islets known as Mokupuku, Paokalani, and Pa’alaea. There used to be a wooden bench at the overlook, but it has disappeared (probably into the valley below). The trail is alternately dry, rocky, sandy, and muddy, so be sure to wear good hiking shoes. Also, be sure to bring a good camera!

After enjoying one of the best hikes on the Big Island, head back to our romantic bed and breakfast near Kona. Choose from 4 guest rooms, 2 suites, 1 cottage and our newly-renovated Red Barn. Enjoy delicious daily breakfast, 30 acres of lush tropical gardens and sweeping ocean views. Book now for an island getaway to remember!