Hiking Havens: Must-Try Trails for Nature Enthusiasts on the Big Island

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Kilauea Iki Trail

The Big Island of Hawaii is a paradise for nature enthusiasts, boasting diverse landscapes, from lush rainforests to volcanic deserts. Among its many attractions, hiking trails stand out as a fantastic way to immerse oneself in the island’s natural beauty. With many trails catering to various skill levels and preferences, the Big Island offers something for everyone. For this blog post, we consulted with the hiking experts from Big Island Hikes to help us explore some of the must-try hiking trails for those seeking adventure and connection with nature.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: KÄ«lauea Iki Trail

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and KÄ«lauea. The KÄ«lauea Iki Trail offers hikers a unique opportunity to explore the dramatic landscapes shaped by volcanic activity. This moderate 4-mile loop trail takes you across a crater floor surrounded by lush rainforest and volcanic steam vents. Hikers can witness the power of nature as they traverse hardened lava fields and marvel at the contrast between new growth and the raw volcanic landscape.

The well-known pathway follows the northern edge of the KÄ«lauea Iki Crater, also known as “little KÄ«lauea,” before looping back to the starting point by crossing through the center of the crater itself. It presents an exhilarating and straightforward trek, traversing over the warm, fifty-year-old lava fields where steam escapes from fissures caused by rainwater seeping and evaporating. Some of the volcanic rocks on the crater floor may even emit excessive heat, making them too hot to handle. KÄ«lauea Iki is a pit crater formed when the ground above a cavity beneath the Earth’s surface collapses, typically leaving steep vertical walls. In 1959, lava erupted dramatically from Pu’u Pua’i, also known as the “gushing hill,” shooting up to 1900 feet into the air and subsequently filling KÄ«lauea Iki until it started draining into the primary KÄ«lauea Caldera. A faint “bathtub ring” remains visible at the highest point reached by the lava within the crater. Additionally, visitors can access Nāhuku, the Thurston Lava Tube, from the same starting point along this trail.

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Pololū Valley Trail

Located on the northern coast of the Big Island, the PololÅ« Valley Trail is a scenic adventure that rewards hikers with breathtaking views of the rugged coastline and lush valleys. The trail begins at the PololÅ« Valley lookout and descends steeply into the valley below. Hikers will traverse rocky terrain and dense vegetation before reaching the black sand beach at the valley’s mouth. Along the way, keep an eye out for native wildlife, including Hawaiian hawks and endangered plants. This moderately difficult trail offers a glimpse into the island’s remote and untamed beauty.

PololÅ«, translating to “long spear,” carves an extensive cleft on the northern flank of Kohala Mountain. This stunning valley sits at the apex of the Kohala Coast, renowned for its ancient landscape characterized by deep ravines and scenic shorelines. While many visitors opt to drive along Highway 270 to behold the rugged beauty of the northern Kohala coastline from the PololÅ« Overlook, they miss out on the opportunity to capture even more breathtaking views by descending one or two switchbacks towards PololÅ« Beach. Regrettably, some fail to recognize the enhanced photographic vantage point this offers. Moreover, venturing down to the valley floor and spending time on the beach proves immensely rewarding. Only the beach area within this valley is accessible to the public, as all the land upstream is privately owned.

Mauna Kea Summit Trail

For experienced hikers seeking a challenge, the Mauna Kea Summit Trail offers an exhilarating trek to the summit of the tallest mountain in Hawaii. Rising over 13,000 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea is renowned for its observatories and unparalleled stargazing opportunities. The trail begins at the Visitor Information Station and ascends steeply through alpine desert terrain. Hikers must acclimate to the high altitude and extreme weather conditions, including freezing temperatures and strong winds. Despite the challenges, reaching the summit offers sweeping panoramic views of the island and a profound sense of accomplishment.

While a road accessible by 4WD vehicles leads to the summit and hosts several astronomical observatories, most of Mauna Kea remains rugged and untouched. Scaling its peak demands significant exertion and above-average hiking skills, although the trail itself is considered relatively manageable for experienced climbers. The University of Hawai’i leases the upper reaches of the mountain, with the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station serving as the trailhead. Upon arrival, hikers must complete a form and deposit it into a dropbox in front of the building. It’s essential to check back in upon descent to ensure the staff at the station are aware of your safe return from the mountain.

Kiholo Bay

KÄ«holo Bay presents a serene haven of tranquil turquoise tidepools nestled within a stunning bay, making it an ideal destination for a secluded beach excursion. Renowned for its off-the-beaten-path charm, this bay has undergone significant conservation efforts in recent years to mitigate the adverse impacts of heavy tourist traffic. Prohibiting beach driving, which previously contributed to ecosystem degradation, stands out as a pivotal improvement. For a preview of KÄ«holo Bay’s beauty before embarking on the hike down, visitors can stop by the designated “Scenic Area” adjacent to mile marker 82 along Highway 19. The bay’s striking turquoise hue results from the intermingling of freshwater and seawater, though this mixture also creates slightly cloudy conditions compared to other sites along the Kohala Coast. Notably, KÄ«holo Bay is renowned for its abundance of sea turtles, offering an unparalleled opportunity for wildlife observation. The hike encompassing KÄ«holo Bay unveils a black sand beach, a submerged lava tube, and a remarkable brackish tidepool once utilized as an ancient fishpond. While this area is currently under park reserve status and undergoing conceptual planning for future public use, it remains a captivating destination for nature enthusiasts seeking to explore Hawaii’s coastal wonders.

Kalopa State Park

Situated approximately 15 miles east of Waimea and 40 miles north of Hilo, this 100-acre State Park and Recreation Area near the village of Honoka’a offers a tranquil retreat away from the bustling tourist hubs. Its secluded location ensures minimal traffic, making it an ideal haven for those seeking solitude. Nestled on the upcountry, windward slopes of Mauna Kea, the park benefits from abundant rainfall, fostering a lush and captivating native forest. This ‘native forest’ endeavors to conserve the endemic Hawaiian ecosystem predating human contact, with many plant species existing on the island before the arrival of the first Polynesians. A family-friendly loop known as the “Nature Trail” guides visitors through the park, offering easy hiking opportunities and insightful information about the native flora and fauna. This trail provides an ideal option for those pressed for time or exploring with young children.

Additionally, the park boasts several other trails that crisscross its expanse, allowing for diverse exploration routes. An extended trail designated for horses adds to the park’s recreational offerings. While restroom facilities are available, visitors should bring their water as none is provided.

The Big Island of Hawaii offers many hiking opportunities for nature enthusiasts, from scenic coastal trails to rugged volcanic landscapes. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll through lush rainforests or a challenging trek to the summit of a volcano, the island’s diverse terrain has something for everyone. As you explore these must-try hiking trails, remember to respect the land and leave no trace of your visit. By immersing yourself in the island’s natural beauty, you’ll forge a deeper connection with the land and create memories that will last a lifetime.


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