The Big Island of Hawaii is a hiker’s dream. Within its 4,028 square miles of land area are most of the world’s 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 as a whole day or as one stop on a grander adventure. The trails range from maintained walking paths to backcountry slopes and are accessible for people of all abilities.
Lace up your boots, grab one of our lunches to go, and enjoy a few of the best hikes on the Big Island:
1) LAPAKAHI STATE HISTORIAL PARK LOOP
1 mile 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) KĪHOLO BAY
2.8 Miles – Difficulty: Easy
When driving north of Kona, a keen observer can’t help but notice the beckoning turquoise waters of Kīholo Bay. This hike visits a flooded lava tube, an incredible brackish tidepool that was once an ancient fishpond and concludes at a black sand beach.
Just past the scenic area adjacent to mile marker 82 on Hwy 19 to the south, find an unmarked gravel road leading makai (toward the ocean). Leave the parking lot heading north (to the right when facing the ocean).
Walk for less than a tenth of a mile and you will find Keanalele lava tube. Continue along the coastline to avoid private property and eventually you’ll arrive at the brackish turquoise lagoon. Once a fishpond constructed by Kamehameha I in 1810, there used to be a two-mile seawall that was six feet tall and twenty feet wide.
A lava flow from Mauna Loa in 1859 destroyed the fishpond, leaving the lagoon and an incredible spot for a swim. Green sea turtles are often seen in abundance, but please stay at least 20 feet away and refrain from loud noises.
Come back the way you came, but before leaving, be sure to pass the parking lot heading south (left from the parking lot when facing the ocean) for visit to a beautiful black sand and pebble beach.
3) KILAUEA IKI
4 mile 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 counterclockwise 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 recently reopened Thurston Lava Tube as part of this hike and see the inner workings of the world’s most active volcano.
4) KALŌPĀ STATE PARK
0.7 or up to 6 miles – Difficulty: Easy
Situated on the upcountry, windward slopes of Mauna Kea, Kalopa State Park hosts an extensive native forest, the ecosystem as it existed before contact with man. Most of the plant species here made it to the island before the first Polynesians and the park acts as a preserve for endemic Hawaiian species.
Located about 15 miles east of Waimea near the town of Honoka’a, and off the beaten path the park offers the chance to escape crowds. There are a variety of trails to explore, “Nature Trail,” is family-friendly with easy hiking and lots of information about the native flora and fauna. Stroll through groves of endemic ʻōhiʻa lehua trees and among dense fractals of ferns. Although it’s a short hike, you’ll spend longer than you think here marveling at the deep and lush scenes along the trail.
For a longer day with more exploring, explore multiple trails, but make sure to include Gulch Rim Trail. This trail traces the edge of deep Kalōpā Gulch on one side and has lush forest on the other side. Bring boots and a rain jacket and don’t forget your mosquito repellent (provided in your room).
5) POLOLU VALLEY TO HONOKANE NUI LOOKOUT
3.2 miles 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 black 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 again above Honokane Nui Valley. The vista takes in the trio of offshore islets known as Mokupuku, Paokalani, and Pa’alaea. The trail is alternately dry, rocky, sandy, and muddy, so wear sturdy hiking shoes.
After enjoying one of the best hikes on the Big Island, head back to our romantic bed and breakfast near Kona and unwind with a well-deserved massage. Look out at our 30 acres of lush tropical gardens and sweeping ocean views with a delicious fruit and cheese board, complete with a complimentary bottle of wine. Book now for an island getaway to remember!