Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise. With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.
Even choosing what activities you want to participate in…do you want to snorkel, hike, go on a whale watching tour? We highly recommend you go hiking on your visit…but where do you go? Many of the justly famous mountains, canyons and beaches of Hawaii all have superlative hikes, but which are best? Which suit your interests? Are you looking for an experience that is away from crowds, secluded and empty or one that’s exciting, but perhaps a little more tame? Do you want to hike near your resort or find one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering? Do you have the hankering to climb Hawaii’s highest peak, and the world’s highest peak from base to summit? How about a stroll through dryland forest, over ancient lava fields to a wilderness beach? And what about hiking to the Lava…is that really safe? Is it as unimaginably magical as it sounds?
Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the finest hikes on the Island of Hawaii. We’ve tried to strike a balance in ranking these places since each is a gem in its own right, we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine in their own right and of course, recommending some means that their popularity will increase and hence, they will become more crowded. This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you trail time. When you arrive we ask that you treat these special places, and the people who live near them, with care, respect and aloha.
Lava Viewing at Waikupanaha Ocean Entry: This is truly the one “Must-See” trip for every visitor to Hawaii Island; the unimaginable spectacle and beauty of the earth remaking herself thorough volcanic eruption. Explosions, glowing and flowing lava, waterspouts. lightening and every kind of geological excitement you can imagine, located at the end of an extremely short hike along a trail that is accessible to almost everyone. See a video here.
Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: An amazing, wonderful walk through lovely fern and ohi’a forest down the sides and onto the still-steaming floor of an enormous volcanic crater that was, only a few short decades ago, the hellish cauldron of a frothing, liquid lava lake of fire. A fascinating, 4 mile/2 ½ hour loop hike of only moderate difficulty, most people in only fair shape can easily complete it in a couple hours. See a video here.
Mahana Green Sand Beach at South Point: One of a handful of true green sand beaches in the world, the Mahana Green Sand Beach near South Point is not to be missed. Beautiful, haunting, intriguing. Although the hike is 2 ¼ miles each way, the trail is relatively flat and easily followed. Swimming and snorkeling in the bay is fabulously weird due to the water color, just be wary of currents out from the mouth of the bay.
Mauna Kea Summit: Whether you struggle up the 6-mile climb from the Visitor’s Information Station, or take the 20 minute short hop hike from the end of the road, visiting the summit of Mauna Kea should be on every visitor’s wish list of things to do. Simultaneously the highest point in the state of Hawaii and the tallest mountain from base to summit on earth, Mauna Kea is an otherworldly, unique, starkly beautiful place. The hiker is reminded to be wary of changeable weather, severe snow storms that can strand you, altitude sickness, dehydration and sunburn. See a video here.
Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent, beach backed by palms and iron wood trees with morning-glory-draped sand dunes. A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect, camping here is so wonderful we don’t know why it’s not mandatory.
Captain Cook Monument on Kealakekua Bay: Accessed by a steep trail this 2.5-mile hike takes about 1-1 1/2 hours to descend, somewhat more time to come back up. The snorkeling at the monument is second to none and the hike is a fabulous walk back in time, through fruit groves, cattle pastures, lava flows and an abandoned Hawaiian village. Take water, a lot of water, there is none to drink anywhere along the trail or at the bay, once you are there or on the all-uphill hike out. See a video here.
Waipi’o Valley: An amazing hike into the Waipi’o fastness, down a steep narrow road to the largest black sand beach on the island. If vast open spaces, scenery, wild tropical flowers, waterfalls and amazing beaches are your thing, this is your hike. Once on the valley floor, exploring along the beach or farther on to subsequent valleys can take hours, or days, depending on your level of energy and interest.
Honomalino Beach: Starting in the Old Hawaiian Fishing Village of Miloli’i, the hike wanders along the coast in and out of the surf line to the wild and untamed Honomalino Bay—a wonderful place to picnic, snorkel or kayak. Exploring on foot in the area of the bay provides many wonders and archeological treasures, from abandoned temples and villages to the largest holua, or sledding track, in Hawaii. Remember to respect the Hawaiian natives, their culture and their sacred sites.
For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general or exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. Information about the author can be found here.
All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan, except where otherwise noted.