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Best Big Island Hikes

This is a "best of" list for the hikes featured on this website from a variety of different criteria, from best short hikes to finding the most remote places on the island.

 

Best Short Hikes on the Big Island

Amazing scenery, minimal investment. The American Dream.

  • Kīlauea Iki - Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park - If you only have time to do one hike in the National Park, this is probably your best bet. It allows you to hike through native rainforest, cross a pit crater with steaming cracks, and even visit a short lava tube across the street. 
  • Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach) - Kaʻū - There aren't many green sand beaches in the world, and this short coast hike takes you to a dramatic beach setting as a cinder cone is eroded into the sea in a small bay. The other benefit of this hike is that you will pass by many archaeological sites of the ancient Hawaiians.
  • Pololū Valley - North Kohala Coast - I chose this hike instead of the more popular Waipi'o Valley because this hike is actually shorter, Pololū Valley is uninhabited, and the hike isn't on a road. It's a really short hike if you're just going to the beach, but you can continue on to the next valley.

 

Best Secluded Beach Hikes on the Big Island

Hike to your South Pacific dreamscape -- a secluded strip of white or black sand beach in Hawai'i

  • Keawaiki Bay to ʻAnaehoʻomalu Bay Loop - Kohala Coast - Although A Bay is developed and busy, I can nearly guarantee solitude if you're willing to hike south from A Bay for about a mile or so. Keawaiki Bay is also way off the radar.
  • Kīholo Bay to Keawaiki - Kohala Coast - Kīholo Bay is often crowded, but this hike takes you past several brackish tidepools where you can find solitude. 
  • Hōnaunau Coast - Kona - The bay is a crowded family beach, but hike north along the coast and you'll surely find a nice spot to watch the waves slap against the cliffs and erupt out of lava blowholes. It's possible to swim here for expert ocean swimmers, but be very careful with the currents and cliffs.
  • Makalawena Beach - Kona - Perhaps the best beach on the Big Island that doesn't have a paved parking lot.
  • Hā'ena Beach - Puna - The Puna Trail is the only way to access this white sandy crescent of safety on a coastline that is usually harsh lava cliffs.
  • Honomalino - Kona - A black sand beach (actually salt-and-pepper) just south of the charming fishing community of Miloli'i. 

 

Best Places to Experience Ancient Hawaiian Culture

Authentic experiences -- no fake touristy stuff here.

  • Mo'okini Heiau - North Kohala Coast - On the rocky, windy, and barren northern Kohala coast lies this ancient temple dedicated to human sacrifice. This National Historical Landmark has been partially restored.
  • Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site - Kohala Coast - This National Historic Site offers free admission. A few short trails visit ancient temples from several time periods. There is a fascinating submerged temple in the bay next to the site that was dedicated to sharks.
  • Puakō Malama Petroglyph Preserve - Kohala Coast - One of the most extensive petroglyph fields on the island.
  • Kalāhuipua'a - Kohala Coast - On the grounds of the Mauna Lani megaresort, this fascinating ancient site has a few unique petroglyphs, an easy-to-visit lava tube shelter, and extremely large fishponds that used to feed royalty.
  • Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve - Kohala Coast - Distressingly near to a golf course, the area boasts many amazing petroglyhs, ancient cave shelters, and other archaeological remains.
  • Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park - Kona - Probably the best Historical Park in the entire state. This rebuilt ancient site has many fascinating archaeological sites. The main attraction is that the area was a place where those who broke the ancient religous laws could reach this place and have their life spared (the usual penalty was death).
  • Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve - Mauna Kea - This undeveloped ancient site isn't easy to reach. It's located above 12,000 feet along the main trail to reach the summit. This place was an ancient quarry for volcanic basalt. Archaeologists have only begun to catalog this place.
  • Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs - Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park - This very large petroglyph field features unique 'glyphs that some think are associated with births and deaths.

 

Most Remote Places on the Big Island

It's a BIG island. Get way out there and find solitude.

  • Waimanu Valley - North Kohala Coast - Remoteness has its price. The raw stats on this hike look paniful (16+ miles, 7300' vertical gain), but the terrain itself is also punishing. At least 14 stream crossings, any of which can flash flood and strand you. Mosquitoes. Intense sun. Loose, uneven footing. Big Drops. Deep rainforest. It's more than worth the pain, but go very prepared for this one.
  • Mauna Loa - High Country - The summit of Mauna Kea has observatories and a road, so if you want big mountain solitude, look no further than the world's biggest mountain. Containing more rock than the entire Sierra Nevada range, finding solitude on Mauna Loa is easy. It's a long way to the summit, and you cross oceans of loose lava that beat up on your joints.
  • Kaʻū Desert - Kaʻū District, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park - Hawaiian desert? While it's not technically a desert because rainfall is too great, the desert effect is created by the rain shadow of Mauna Loa and also acid rain from the current eruption. This hike is west of the National Park's entrance and sees few visitors. Traveling a bit past the Footprints area almost guarantees solitude.
  • KumukahiPuna District - Hike along the lonely eastern coast of the Big Island. Kumukahi is an area of stark beauty where violent waves crash against lava cliffs.
  • Puʻu ʻŌʻō Trail - High Country - Don't let the name fool you -- this isn't in the National Park and has nothing to do with the current eruption site. Named for an old ranch, this Saddle Road adventure travels among kīpuka, areas of old-growth forest saved between lava flows. This little-used trail can be hard to follow, but experienced outdoorspersons will enjoy the difficult terrain. You might even find a lava tube way out there...

 

Most Difficult Hikes on the Big Island

"Wanna get nuts? Let's get nuts!" - George Costanza. So you didn't come to Hawai'i to sip Mai Tais and work on your tan? Big Volcanoes. Remote valleys. Read on...

  • Mauna Kea - High Country - Sure, you can drive to the summit, but what's the point in that? Starting at the Visitor Information Center, it's more than 11 miles and nearly a vertical mile of elevation gain to the summit at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level.
  • Mauna Loa - High Country - Just a few feet below Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa requires over 13 miles of hiking at elevations over 11,000 feet on oceans of lava. This one is especially tough on the joints.
  • Waimanu Valley - North Kohala Coast - Although this hike is near to the coast, this is probably the most difficult adventure on this website, and probably on the entire island of Hawai'i. Getting to Waimanu Valley is an extremely challenging backpack, and trying it as a dayhike is an endurance test for only the most fit and experienced outdoorspersons. The stats are the stats: 16.2 miles; 7300' of elevation gain. There are at least 14 stream crossings. The footing is uneven, wet, slippery, and rocky. Mosquitoes are fierce. Falls in some areas could kill you. But, the reward is absolutely sublime...
  • Keawaiki Bay to ʻAnaehoʻomalu Bay Loop - Kohala Coast - It's possible to visit both A Bay and Keawaiki Bay with very short hikes (see the link), but you can also link them up in a big loop using the ancient King's Highway trail. This round trip is about seven miles.
  • Kīholo Bay to Keawaiki - Kohala Coast - This long, beautiful hike is under the relentless Kohala sun and on black lava. In other words, it's hot. 
  • Napaū Trail - Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park - This hike gets you as close as you can possibly get to the current eruption site, P'u ʻŌʻō. If you plan this hike for a clear day, you'll have a great view from the end of the trail. There used to be a campsite at the end of this trail, but it's closed now and should be for the near future. So, you can only dayhike this twelve mile round-trip hike through an amazing landscape.