Top 3 Hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii

by | February 2020 | 0 comments

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If you’re planning a vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii, you’re probably going for some much needed relaxation.

But while you’re there, you might as well get in some physical activity and explore with some worthwhile hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Right?

The Big Island of Hawaii has so much to offer with incredible diversity.

From lush rainforests to barren lava fields, mountains to beaches, bustling tourist spots to rural farm country, it has a little bit of everything with something for everyone.

Hiking will allow you to experience places on the Big Island of Hawaii that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.

So rather than lounge at the hotel pool all day, hit the trails to see some special spots on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Then reward yourself with a pool day. 😉

Wondering which hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii you should get in during your Hawaiian vacay?

Keep reading for my top 3 favorite hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii. Pssst… they include hikes to 2 remote beaches and the best hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!

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click on this interactive map of the Big Island of Hawaii for details of each location

Top 3 Hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii

1. Pololū Valley (Black Sand Beach)

During my research of must-dos on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Pololū Valley Overlook came up. We figured an overlook would be an easy thing to do for our first day on the island. We’d be able to take a little drive, and it wouldn’t be too strenuous compared to some of the other things we had planned. 

We didn’t realize there was a hike down to the valley (and an amazing black sand beach) until we got to the overlook. Parking was very limited. We were able to parallel park down the road a bit and take a short walk to the overlook.

To be honest, the view from the overlook wasn’t that great. But we saw a trail leading down and thought there might be different viewpoints we could check out. We ended up taking the steep, rocky trail all the way down about 1/2 a mile to the black sand beach.

The scenery along the trail is worth a visit in itself with breathtaking views of the Hamakua coast and dramatic cliffs framing the ocean. But you don’t want to miss the incredible black sand beach at the bottom! It’s a must to hike all the way down the trail to the beach. The area is gorgeous and also includes an upriver view of Pololū Valley.

As we walked along the beach, we saw that the trail continued on the far end. Not being one to leave a path unexplored, my hubby wanted to see where it led. The narrow, closed-in trail with switchbacks was stifling and claustrophobic at times. But it took us up to another lookout for Honokane Nui Valley (3.2 miles roundtrip from the parking area).

The trail from the parking area down to the black sand beach isn’t long, but it’s steep and rocky. I recommend wearing Teva-style sport sandals or something similar. It’s also very hot. Be sure to bring plenty of water (especially if you’re going to keep going to the Honokane Nui Valley lookout).  

We weren’t prepared and were dying of thirst by the time we got back up to the parking area. Luckily, the nearby farm stand saved us. It’s a great place to stop at after your hike to cool down with beverages, fresh fruit, shaved ice, and views of the ocean.

2. Kīlauea Iki Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Of all the National Parks we’ve visited and trails we’ve hiked throughout our travels, the Kīlauea Iki Trail was one of our all-time favorites! And it’s also the best hike in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Hiking across the floor of the solidified Kīlauea Iki Crater lava lake was such a unique experience!

After sleeping for 90 years, Kīlauea Iki awoke in November 1959, erupting over the course of 36 days. The eruptions created a 400-feet deep lake of lava that took 36 years to harden. And the 4-mile loop trail takes you over that hardened lava lake!

You’ll hike through a lush rainforest, down switchbacks and steps, across the lava field on the floor of the mile-long crater, then back up. From the Kilauea Iki Overlook 400-feet above, you have vast views of the immense crater. The trail on the crater floor below looks like a dusty path through a barren dirt wasteland.

But it’s so much more than that! Being down on the crater floor gives you a completely different perspective. You get a close-up view of the incredibly detailed texture of the hardened lava, the steam vents and cracks along the surface, and the revegetation of plants growing up through the cracks. It feels like you’re walking on the moon! So surreal!

I highly recommend hiking the Kīlauea Iki Trail. And if you’re going to be visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, it’s a must! Give yourself at least a few hours to complete the trail, and bring plenty of water. It gets hot! And there’s no shade on the crater floor.

You can access the trailhead from the Kilauea Iki Overlook. Another way to reach the trail is at the parking area for the Thurston Lava Tube. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the lava tube during our visit as it was closed from the 2018 volcano eruption.

3. Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach)

This is the longest (and toughest in my opinion) of the top 3 hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii. But it will take you somewhere incredible that you might not get another opportunity to experience in your lifetime!

There are only 4 green sand beaches in the world, and guess what… one of them is on the Big Island of Hawaii! You have to hike to it though, and the trail is about 2.8 miles each way.

That may not seem bad and it’s totally worth it, but I’ll be honest. This is a rough hike. The trail itself isn’t that difficult as it’s essentially a dirt road. But it’s dusty and HOT (bring a ton of water, sunscreen, and a large hat)!

I’ve never sweated so much in my life. I’m not athletic whatsoever, so I had never experienced sweat dripping into my eyes, that is, until this hike. At one point, I thought there was a bug on my leg, but no… it was just sweat dripping down my shin. I didn’t even know shin sweat was a thing.

I was swearing the entire way to the beach and back (strenuous hikes make me cranky… haha!). But the beach itself was such an incredible sight! As much as I was hating the hike, I’m so glad we got to experience one of only four green sand beaches! How amazing is that?!

As you’re trekking along the seemingly endless road, you finally come to a spot where it looks like the trail drops off a cliff. But down below is the beach, a beacon of hope like an oasis mirage in a desert. You become giddy at the sight, realizing that you made it and briefly forgetting that you were just cursing the hike.

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The green hue of the small beach from the view above doesn’t even do it justice. Seeing the olive green and goldish-black sand close-up is a surreal experience. Add it to your bucket list! I wouldn’t recommend swimming at the beach here though. The surf and undercurrent are quite strong with massive waves crashing on the shore. Swim at your own risk.

To get to the green sand beach, take Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy 11) to South Point Road and turn on it heading south. Drive to where the road practically ends and turn left to end up at a dirt lot. Park there and start walking towards the ocean to the trailhead.

Then follow the trail with the ocean on your right for about 2.8 miles to the cliffs above the beach. There’s a ladder with steps on the wall of the lava cliff to the left across from the bay. Climb down them carefully to reach the beach.

FYI: the trail is basically an extremely rough and bumpy 4×4 road from the parking area to the beach. I heard that it was illegal to drive on (not quite sure why that would be though).

If you were to drive on the road, you’d definitely need a 4-wheel drive vehicle with very high clearance. But there were some locals there offering rides to and from the beach. I want to say they were charging about $20 per person each way. Click here for more info on Papakōlea Green Sand Beach.

Wrapping Up the Top 3 Hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii

Hopefully, you’re able to do these hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii. They’ll give you the opportunity to explore some amazing remote areas you wouldn’t be able to access by car.

There’s so much to see and do on Hawaii’s Big Island. And one of the best ways to see and do them is by hiking. So be sure to bring your hiking gear to Hawaii!

Have you done any of these hikes before? Tell me what you thought about them in the comments below. Or let me know if there are any other Big Island of Hawaii hikes that should be added to this list!

If hiking is your jam, be sure to grab your free Hiking Log to keep track of all the amazing hikes you do!

Briana Nickas

Behind the Blog

I’m Briana Nickas, a part-time RVer who loves RVing, hiking, visiting National Parks, and taking photos. My happiest days are spent on the road with my hubby and our fur-baby Saucy (a 7-lb maltipoo) exploring the country and meeting fellow adventurers along the way… READ MORE

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