Free Things to Do on the Big Island - 16 Can't-Miss Activities

November 9, 2022

Are you trying to save money on your Big Island vacation? Explore breathtaking Big Island waterfalls, embark on epic hiking trails, and visit the most beautiful black sand beaches. All of these and so much more don’t cost a penny!

Pack your bags and prepare for the adventure of your life on the biggest island in all of the Hawaiian islands! The Big Island has so much to offer, whether you’re a history buff, a thrill-seeker, or a down-to-earth outdoor lover.

Spend precious days on the island exploring everything you can, from the most majestic waterfalls to the greenest of green sand beaches. And the good news is many of these natural attractions are available to the public for free!

You don’t have to spend a single penny to gain access to some of the best Big Island top attractions. Start packing your itinerary with fun and free things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!

16 Things to Do on the Big Island for Free

1. Akaka Falls State Park

Visiting Akaka Falls State Park is always one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii because the Park provides two views of the Big Island’s most majestic waterfalls–the Kahuna and Akaka Falls! Best of all, these two attractions inside the Akaka Falls State Park are two of the things to do in Hilo, Hawaii free!

Akaka Falls State Park is hidden in a densely forested area northwest of Hilo, along the picturesque Hamakua Coasts. The 100-foot Kahuna Falls and the 442-feet Akaka Falls inside the park are accessible by a short, moderately strenuous trail.

The effort is well rewarded by spectacular scenes of cascading waterfalls over a tree-lined cliff and clear water that tumbles more than 440 feet into a lush gorge.

Interested in other Big Island waterfall hikes? Check out our In-Depth Guide to Big Island Hiking for more outdoor adventure!

View of Akaka Falls on a sunny day in Hilo, Hawaii, USA

photo credit: John ko via Unsplash

2. Kalapana Lava Viewing Area

Looking for things to do on the Big Island? Well, the Big Island is famous for its active volcano, so seeing molten lava should be included on your top must-sees while on the island.

The Kalapana Lava Viewing Area is a free-access site located at the end of Highway 130 in the Puna District. From there, stand in awe as you witness the fury of roaring stream and exploding lava gushing back into the roiling ocean.

Conditions change daily, but the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area is usually open daily from 2 pm to 10 pm. However, vehicles are no longer allowed into the parking area after 8 pm. In addition, don’t forget to check the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for volcano eruption updates before visiting.

Lava flowing on the Big Island Hawaii

Molten lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean on Big Island of Hawaii at sunrise

3. Lava Tree State Park

Maybe you’ve seen lava flows and even lava tubes, but did you know that lava trees also exist? Visiting the Lava Tree State Park is one of the best and most unique free things to do Big Island Hawaii.

What exactly are lava trees? The trees that you will see inside the Lava Tree State Park are coated in thick lava because of the lava flow that once swept through the area. Basically, the lava burned the trees away and left hollow vertical lava tubes in the shape of trees.

You’ll be able to walk through the Park and admire this natural wonder at your own pace. The trail is just half a mile long, so this is an excellent quick stop if you’re driving along Pahoa-Pohoiki Road.

Ground view of rock statues inside a forest in Lava Tree State Monument in Big Island, Hawaii, USA4. Mokupapapa Discovery Center

We love it when we get to learn for free and visit a top attraction at the same time! That’s why the Mokupapapa Discovery Center is one of the best free things to do in Hilo Hawaii.

The Mokupapapa Discovery Center is a small museum located in a century-old building in Hilo. Touring the place within 30 minutes to an hour is possible, but you’d want to stay longer and learn more once you see the 2,500-gallon saltwater aquarium inside the discovery center.

Learn more about the diverse marine life of Papahanaumokuakea Marine Nation Monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is believed to be one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. The Monument is also one of Earth’s most remote and pristine ocean environments, with untouched coral reefs, undisturbed islands, and maintenance structures that are constantly being monitored to protect are for generations to come.

5. Mauna Kea

The Mauna Kea Summit is one of the top 5 things to do in Big Island Kailua Kona. It is also one of the best free things to do on Big Island. If you’re familiar with the name Mauna Kea, that’s because Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are two of Big Island's most breathtaking and widely talked-about attractions

The view at the top of the Mauna Kea is well worth the trip, but you will also enjoy the road trip from seal level to 14,000 feet above sea level in less than 2 hours. And if you do decide to drive yourself up, don’t forget to stop by the Visitors Information Center. Local guides and rangers are available to answer your questions and give insider tips.

If you stay until nighttime, you can gaze at the stars from this amazing vantage point, and it is absolutely free.

People hiking the Mauna Kea Visitors Center Volcano Hike in Hawaii, USA

photo credit: Mouna Kea Visitor Station via Facebook

6. Puukohala National Historic Site

There are many free things to do on the Big Island, especially for outdoor lovers and history buffs!

You can visit Puukohala National Historic Site for free and experience Hawaii’s history first-hand. This place holds Hawaii’s largest template, which according to stories, was built under the order of Kamehameha I to appease the war god Ku. And based on history books, the founding of the Hawaiian Kingdom can be directly linked to this site, making it a true Kohala coast history lesson.

7. Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens

Looking for the best things to do in Hilo and nearby Hilo? Bring your family to explore the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens free of charge! That’s right, this 12-acre rainforest zoo located just south of Hilo is one of the best free things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The zoo's highlight is a visit to Namaste, the white Bengal tiger who has made a home out of the park. He gets fed daily at 3:30 pm, while there’s also a children’s petting zoo on Saturdays from 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm. There are native Hawaiian animals and birds that you can view while learning more about them.

The botanical gardens, meanwhile, feature a hundred varieties of palm trees and colorful flora. Expect dozens of orchids, bamboo, and more. In addition, there is an on-site playground set amidst the beautiful, lush garden where children can play and enjoy the outdoors.

The entry is free, but consider leaving a small donation for the Zoo and Garden if you enjoyed exploring the well-maintained space!

White Tiger laying down at The National Tiger Sanctuary - Branson, Missouri, USA8. Rainbow Falls at the Wailuku River State Park

The cascading waterfall known as the Rainbow Falls, found inside the Wailuku River State Park, is one of the most iconic waterfalls in Hawaii. The best part? Viewing the Falls in person is free and is one of the best things to do in Hilo free!

You can view the Rainbow Falls from the viewing platform in the Park with no hiking involved. From that vantage point, you’ll be able to admire the majestic falls and a rainbow through the mist thrown up by the waterfall. For more chances of a brighter rainbow, visit in the mornings as early as 10 am. You will realize that visiting Rainbow Falls is one of the best free things to do in Hawaii Big Island.

Looking to make a splash? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Waterfalls Near Hilo: Kayak Tour Discount Tickets and Reviews to learn how to score the best deals to aquatic adventures on the Big Island.

Aerial view of Wailua Falls with a small rainbow in Kauai, Hawaii, USA.

photo credit: Alexandra Tran via Facebook

9. Waipio Valley

The Waipio Valley is one of the most beautiful and magical hiking spots on the Big Island, so if you’re wondering what to do on the Big Island, venturing into the Valley should be your top priority.

The view of the valley from the top, surrounded by cliffs up to 2,000 feet high, is already awe-inspiring. However, if you’re feeling more adventurous, we recommend hiking down to the valley floor, and you’ll be able to experience more of the valley’s natural beauty, from the tranquil black sand beach below to the rewarding view of the Kuluhine Falls. 

Overall, this free must-go-on adventure is a 6.5-mile hike from the lookout to the black sand beach. Please note, however, that the trail can be challenging, so it is only recommended for experienced hikers.

Wide shot of Waipi'o Valley Lookout on a sunny day with bright blue water in Oahu, Hawaii, USA

photo credit: Benjamin Vera-Tudela via Facebook

10. Pololu Valley

The Pololu Valley is one of the most impressive valleys that make driving along the Big Island’s dramatic Kohala coastline a majestic experience. If you make it to the end of scenic Highway 270, you’ll arrive at the Pololu Valley viewpoint, where you’ll see sweeping vistas of verdant cliffs and sliver-like waterfalls cascading over them.

However, if you’re feeling more adventurous, it is also free to hike down to the valley floor of the Pololu Valley. Once there, take the time to explore the black sand beach, the forest of ironwood trees, and so much more of the magical landscape that most travelers will never see.

11. Free Big Island Beaches

If there’s any place you can go on the Big Island in the blink of an eye, it’s at the dozens of fine sand beaches near you! Most of the best hotels and resorts on the Big Island are beachfront, but there are also several Big Island beaches that are absolutely free. In fact, a trip to the beach is one of the best free things to do on Big Island Hawaii. Whether it’s the black sand beaches, the most coveted green sand beach, or the pristine white beaches you’re aiming for, you will never run out of free-access beaches on the Big Island.

Among our top favorites is a trip to Kealakekua Bay. It’s not a place for whale watching even in the right seasons, but it is a place where you can snorkel to your heart’s content. This remote bay on Hawaii’s west coast is known for having an abundance of tropical fish, sea turtles, and Hawaiian Spinner dolphins that are visible just below the calm, shallow water's surface.

Another best free Big Island beach on our list is Hapuna Beach on the South Kohala coast. Hapuna Beach’s famously calm waves and soft-as-cotton sand draws visitors and residents alike. And if you plan to visit, we recommend bringing food and drinks so you can enjoy the shaded picnic tables as well.

daytime view of Hapuna Beach at Big Island of Hawaii12. Jaggar Museum at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the top attractions on the Big Island. It also houses one of the best free things to do in Big Island.

The Jagger Museum, located inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is a free-for-all museum highlighting all things volcanology. There are displays of equipment used by scientists in the past to study volcanoes, plus an excellent exhibit of clothing and gear from scientists who got a bit too close to lava.

In addition, the Museum also features large windows which give visitors a sheltered view of the caldera and the main crater. Meanwhile, the overlook outside offers an incredible view of the volcano with interpretive displays that contains information about the world’s most active volcanoes. You don’t have to pay anything to learn and appreciate the unobstructed sights from the Jagger Museum!

Active Volcano Smoking at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - The Big Island, Hawaii, USA13. Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company

Did you know that Macadamia nuts are among the top souvenirs? Pineapples aren’t the only heaven-on-earth goodies that are exported from Hawaii. Macadamia nuts are too! And when you’re on the Big Island, you need to try free Macadamia samples and tour around the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company.

Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company, located in Kawaihae, offers free factory tours. You’ll learn how one of America’s favorite snacks is grown, harvested, and processed by local farmers on the Big Island. Afterward, you’ll be treated to free samples of different macadamia nuts! Then, if you like, you can wash it down with coffee, which is free too!

14. Liliuokalani Park and Gardens

There are so many free things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii! One of the best ones is to visit Liliuokalani Park and Gardens!

If you are looking for a relaxing, quiet afternoon, look no further than Liliuokalani Park and Gardens in Hilo. It is supposedly the largest Japanese Garden outside of Japan and spans a whopping 24 acres. Inside, you can walk around at your own pace. Meanwhile, admiring the ponds, beautiful bridges, paths, statues, pagodas, and more. 

two botanical flower

photo credit: Foster Botanical Garden via Facebook

15. Coffee Plantation Tour

You’ve probably heard of Kona coffee, which is only grown on the slopes of Kona, Hawaii. Are you a coffee lover? Or just curious about what makes Kona coffee so special? Then take advantage of the multiple free guided tours on one of the Kona coffee farms!

One of the things to do in Kona for free is to visit coffee farms like Rooster Farms, Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, and Greenwell Farms, all of which offer free tours and free coffee! Enjoy free walking tours of coffee fields and learn how coffee is farmed. Then learn how the local farmers process it! Finally, treat yourself to a cup of 100% authentic Kona coffee!

a cup of tea

photo credit: Kailani Tours Hawaii via Facebook

16. Kaumana Caves

Of all the lava tubes you can explore without fees, Kaumana Caves is arguably one of the best free things to do on the Big Island Hawaii.

Wondering what makes the Kaumana Caves stand out from the rest? It's a lava tube from Mauna Loa that is said to date back to the 1800s. It is a hidden gem and worth the visit, but don’t forget to bring a flashlight! There is no natural light inside the lava tube, which, in our opinion, makes the adventure much more exciting.

Find Cheap Things to Do on Big Island Hawaii

Want to learn more about the Big Island? Check out the ultimate Big Island travel guide! Find out more free and cheap things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, check out the best places to stay, discover must-not-miss Big Island vacation packages, learn about insider travel tips, and so much more!

Have You Been to the Big Island? 

Did we miss any of your favorite free activities? Leave us a comment below!


Nicole sitting on rocks with waves in background

Written By Nicole

There are only two things that make Nicole really happy–books and travel! When her head’s not buried in a book, she’s most likely exploring the great o ...

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