12 of the Best Big Island Hikes

November 11, 2022

Breathtaking green and black sand beaches, majestic active volcanoes, and stunning cascading waterfalls–these are just some of the natural wonders to see on the Big Island if you’re willing to get out and explore.

For many, Hawaii is a collection of islands that feature some of the best beaches in the world. However, more adventurous outdoor lovers also ask which Hawaiian Island has the best hiking trails. The Big Island has some of the best hiking trails in Hawaii, considering the incomparable Big Island scenery, such as the life-changing views at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the evergreen Waipio Valley. 

To see is to believe, so if you’re brave enough to venture into the unknown, hike on the Big Island and discover that there actually is heaven on earth.

12 of the Best Hikes on the Big Island

1. Kilauea Iki Trail

When it’s your first time visiting the Big Island, chances are you’re going to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And if you’re into island hikes or are looking for the best Big Island hiking trails, ask your Big Island Volcano Hiking Adventure local tour guide to take you to the Kilauea Iki Trail, a four-mile loop located inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

During the hike, you’ll navigate through the Kilauea Iki Crater, the remains of a massive 1959 eruption. To this day, fresh lava flows are still seen from the crater, which makes the hiking trail one of the most unique and best hikes on the Big Island.

As you descend 400 feet of the crater, a variety of scenery welcomes you.  From lush rainforests to active steam and sulfur vents and a solidified lava lake, hiking this trail gives you access to incredible, unique sights only the Big Island can provide.

aerial view of the Kīlauea Iki Crater with trees and skyline on the Big Island, Hawaii, USA2. Waipio Valley

On the northern Hamakua Coast, you'll find the lush Waipio Valley. The Waipio Valley hike is one of the most beautiful and magical hiking spots on the Big Island. 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.

Hiilawe Falls, the Big Island’s tallest waterfall, a tranquil black sand beach, and Kuluhine Falls are just some of the natural attractions that make Waipio Valley trail one of the best Big Island trails. Park at the Waipio Valley Lookout and hike to the beach while enjoying the scenic sights surrounding you.

3. Akaka Falls Loop

Looking for the best hikes in Hawaii Big Island? Head to Akaka Falls State Park to see the 442-foot Akaka Falls! Situated on the northeastern Hamakua Coast, you can access the park about 3.5 miles from Honomu, a former sugar plantation town. 

You can see both beautiful falls by trekking a short 0.4-mile paved path laden with wild orchids, bamboo groves, and draping ferns. As far as Big Island scenic hikes go, this is one has one of the most rewarding sights. Plus, it's one of the shortest!

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

photo credit: John ko via Unsplash

4. Thurston Lava Tube

When you think of Big Island hiking, a lava tube might not come to mind. However, when you're on the Big Island, a volcanic world surrounds you. It begs to be explored, and if you answer the call, you just might discover one of the most life-changing views.

Of the 150 miles of hiking trails inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Thurston Lava Tube hike is the easiest. As a result, it's also pretty popular! On the 20-minute walk, you'll navigate through a thick, fern-filled forest to the Thurston Lava Tube. Once there, you'll enter a 500-foot cave-like tunnel (tube) that was carved by fast-moving molten lava. Walking through a lava tube is definitely a highlight of any visit to the Big Island. It's also one of the most interesting hikes you can experience.

For more lava tube experiences, check out the Hidden Craters Hike tour by Hawaii Forest and Trail. 

5. Papakolea Beach

Green sand beaches are extremely rare. In fact, there are only four green sand beaches, and one of them is on the Big Island. 

Someone who hikes Big Island with a passion will recommend the hike to Papakolea Beach, the only green sand beach in Hawaii. The hike to the beach is 2.5 miles one way. During the hike, you’ll gain access to one of the most remote beaches on the Big Island.

In addition, you’ll experience one of the most unique settings in the world. It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to visit one of four green sand beaches, so don’t miss it!

6. Makalawena Beach

Most Big Island beaches are typically crowded, and there’s no question why. However, the Big Island of Hawaii offers some of the most beautiful beaches globally. Makalawena Beach is one of those absolutely breathtaking beaches on the island, but the difference is it’s not as crowded!

If you’re wondering why this stunning beach is rarely crowded, that’s because Makalawena Beach makes you work a little bit to enjoy it. It is; however, one of the most rewarding and refreshing hikes in Kona and Hawaii hikes Big Island because once you get there, you can just jump right in to enjoy the blue water and fine white sand!

7. Pololu Valley Trail

Hiking on the Big Island is popular partly because of its impressive valleys, including the beautiful Pololu Valley on the Kohala coast. While some people just visit the viewpoint looking over the valley, we recommend that you don’t settle for the view from the overlook! The hidden gems of Poplolua Valley are more than that if you hike down to the valley floor.

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.

A photo of a wide ocean in Hawaii

photo credit: Bill Wilke via Facebook

8. Kealakekua Bay

We consider Kealakekua Bay as one of the best Big island hikes because of Captain Cook’s historical landmark and the refreshing snorkeling area that awaits at the end of the bay. You can reach Kealakekua Bay by driving, but the infamous Captain Cook Monument and the best snorkeling spots are only reachable by hiking. 

After stopping at the white obelisk monument built in 1874 to commemorate fallen British explorer Captain John Cook, bring out your packed snorkeling gear! The reef system and abundance of marine life are rumored to be the best in Kealakekua Bay, and that’s for you to find out!

9. Cinder Cone Trail

If you don’t mind a bit of a challenge, the Cinder Cone Trail at the Cinder Cone State park is absolutely one of the best hiked Big Island. All the effort in traversing the 6.5-mile loop trail will give you commanding views of the breathtaking Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the latter being the biggest volcano on Earth.

While hiking the Cinder Cone trail, you will also see some of the oldest lava flows on the island of Hawaii. But mostly, you will find peace, quiet, and unbelievable views.

10. Waimanu Valley

If you are looking for the most challenging hike, embark on the adventure of a lifetime towards Waimanu Valley because hiking in Hawaii Big Island doesn’t get more difficult than this. 

Pro Tip: If you plan to go on this journey, it is highly recommended that you bring a tent and camping gear.

Expect sky-high waterfalls, enchantingly remote valleys, and even a private beach where you can camp for the night. You’ll also be challenged by tumultuous water crossings and swarms of mosquitoes, so don’t forget to bring some bug spray. Overall, the trail’s elevation gain is a whopping 7,000 feet, and the entire hike is a 20-mile round trip.

a stunning, expansive ocean and a mountain

photo credit: Jay Ramstead via Facebook

11. Kaumana Caves State Park

Not all hikes on the Big Island are long and difficult. There are some as short as the hiking trail in the Kaumana Caves State Park, which is just over a mile round trip.

This short hike will lead you to a dark and seemingly endless lava tube, but since part of the area is considered private property and off-limits to hikers, you are only going to explore a portion of its cavernous expanse. Nevertheless, this short hike will reward you with a quick trip inside a large lava tube.

12. South Point

A list of the best hikes in Big Island will not be complete without the easy hike to South Point. There aren’t any cenotes Hawaii, but hiking Big Island’s southernmost point will lead you to an immensely breathtaking cliff. This is the point where visitors take off their shirts and get ready to jump off the cliff into the refreshingly blue ocean. There is a ladder for those who wish to climb back up and do it all over again!

Should you choose not to go cliff diving, you’ll still be able to appreciate spacious views of the Pacific Ocean.

Discover More of the Big Island of Hawaii

There is so much to explore on the Big Island of Hawaii! From embarking on the best Big Island hikes to the Big Island's top attractions, your days on the Big Island will be full of unforgettable adventures. 

Discover more of what the Big Island has to offer with the Ultimate Big Island Travel Guide.

Have You Hiked on The Big Island? 

Did we miss your favorite trail? 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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