The Big Island is an outdoor paradise for hikers. The low population density, miles and miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, and many different climate zones make hiking one of our favorite pastimes on the island. 11 out of 13 climate zones worldwide are represented on the Big Island, which means that you can see a totally different view around every corner. We consulted with the island’s top hiking experts and put together this blog with the 5 best hikes on the Big Island.
1. Pololu Valley
Probably one of the most popular hiking destinations, this magnificent wild valley is at the head of the Kohala Coast, the oldest part of the island with deep valleys and picturesque beaches. You would take Hwy. 270 to the northern Kohala Coast, past the towns of Hawi and Kapa’au. Park at the end of the highway at the Pololū Valley overlook. Most people look at the beauty of the rugged northern Kohala coastline from the Pololū Overlook. However, hiking down to the valley floor and spending some time on the beach is very worthwhile. If you are up to this adventure, find the trailhead for the Awini Trail and hike down the wide trail and stop at each switchback in the trail to take in the awesome views of the northern Kohala coast.
The Pololū Valley beach is mostly made up of moderately-sized polished lava rocks. The water here is notoriously dangerous and should only be attempted by very experienced swimmers and surfers. There is no lifeguard. The mounds of sand behind the beach are a fun place to spend some time. For more information, click here.
2. Makalawena Beach
Makalawena might be the best beach on the Big Island that can’t be reached by road. It is located in the Kekaha Kai State Park – a large and relatively undeveloped beach park north of Kailua-Kona. There are several bays scooped out of the Kona Coast with gorgeous white sand and plentiful shade from palm trees. The hike out to Makalawena keeps the crowds away, especially on weekdays. It’s tough to find a more perfect beach anywhere in the Hawaiian island chain. Swimming is usually pretty safe when the waters are calm. The land behind Makalawena is private. The most northerly bay has a protected spot that’s very calm. ʻŌpaeʻula Pond is behind Makalawena and its twelve acres are a National Natural Landmark that protects nesting and breeding areas for some native Hawaiian birds. To learn more about the beach and how to get there, click here.
3. Kalopa State Park
Kalopa Native Forest State Park and Recreation Area is located near the village of Honoka’a, about 15 miles east of Waimea and about 40 miles north of Hilo. The location of the Park keeps the traffic light. If you’re looking for solitude, you have a great chance of finding it here. Located on the upcountry, windward slopes of Mauna Kea, the Park gets a significant amount of rainfall. This rainfall creates an enchanting and lush native forest. A ‘native forest’ attempts to preserve the endemic Hawaiian ecosystem as it existed before contact with a man. Most of the plant species in the Park were on the island before the first Polynesians discovered and settled Hawai’i. The Park has a family-friendly loop called the “Nature Trail,” with easy hiking and lots of information about the native forest. It’s ideal for the keikis (kids) or for visitors short on time. Several other trails criss-cross the Park and provide many opportunities to create different loops to explore the extent of the land. Click here to learn more.
4. Akaka Falls State Park
Located about 10 miles north of Hilo, this small state park’s main attraction is the free-falling 442′ tall ‘Akaka Falls along the Kolekole stream. ‘Akaka means “split, separation, or crack” in the Hawaiian language. A short, paved hiking trail leads to a lookout over ‘Akaka Falls and also smaller Kahūnā Falls. This short hike follows a paved trail that travels to both ‘Akaka Falls and Kahūnā Falls through a lush upcountry rainforest. The overview spot for 442 foot tall ‘Akaka Falls is very picturesque and the views are expansive, but it’s much more difficult to see 100-foot tall Kahūnā Falls from its overlook through the forest. The best time to visit this popular park is on a weekday, between about 9 am and 11 am. You’ll probably beat the tour buses and the sun is high enough to illuminate the entire ‘Akaka Falls.
5. Papakolea Green Sand Beach
Papakōlea Beach is a geologic oddity among few in the world. The Green Sand Beach is located in a bay cut into a side of Puʻu Mahana, a cinder cone that erupted about 50,000 years ago. The green sand is created by a common mineral in Big Island lava called olivine, which stays deposited on this beach because it is heavier than the other components of the lava.
To get there, from the parking area walk south on a paved road that turns to dirt. Head toward the ocean. At a concrete boat launch into Kaulana Bay, turn and hike east along a very rough four-wheel-drive road. Shortly pass a picturesque bay and continue to hike northeast. There is a maze of dirt roads in this area, but just stay parallel to the ocean. After about two miles of hiking along the dirt roads, you’ll come to a dramatic view of Papakōlea Beach. Hike around the rim of the eroded cinder cone to the north end where you’ll find the path down to the beach. The footing can be uncertain, and the hike down to the beach is very steep. Enjoy the beach and return the way you came. Click here for more info.
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We hope to see you soon – a hui hou!
Images courtesy of LoveBigIsland.com, BigIslandHikes.com.