11 Best Hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii

At 4,000 square miles, Hawaii's Big Island is very, very big. It holds more than 60 percent of the landmass among the Hawaiian island chain and is one of the most diverse landscapes in the world. That means you'll have endless opportunities when it comes to hiking.

Path through a lava field on the Malama Trail on Hawaii's Big Island

From ancient old-growth forests to rocky coastal trails, tropical loops near waterfalls, and even a hike down into a volcano caldera, the Big Island has some truly diverse and enchantingly beautiful hikes.

The trails on the Big Island range in difficulty, as well. You may find yourself on a gentle jungle loop, or you can embark on hours-long treks to gorgeous pockets hidden well out of the public eye. Discover the plunging gorges, high mountain deserts, and even areas where you may find a bit of snow. The Big Island of Hawaii is truly a hiker's paradise.

If you're ready to hit the trails, here are the best hikes on the Big Island.

1. Kilauea Iki Trail

Keanakākoʻi Crater Overlook Trail

The best way to get to know Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is to get right up into it. That's right — you're hiking into a volcano.

The Kilauea Iki Trail is one of the best hiking trails on the Big Island, and perhaps the most famous hike within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. The 3.2-mile hike starts by skirting the rim of the crater, winding its way through the lush rainforest with plenty of opportunities to gaze out over the dormant, mile-wide crater.

From here, the trail descends down to the floor of the crater, where you'll have the opportunity to wander across the old lava bed, which was still filled with lava as of 1959. Today the lava has hardened, but you can still feel the heat rising from several steam vents along the crater floor.

After playing among the volcanic rocks and drinking in the views, the trail ascends back up to the rim of the crater and the rainforest, making for one of the most diverse hikes you can do on the island.

It takes the average person less than two hours to complete the loop and the total elevation gain is 740 feet. Afterward, drive over to the Keanakākoʻi Crater Overlook Trail for a bird's-eye view over the bubbling Kilauea volcano. Go at night for an even more impressive view. The park is open 24 hours a day.

Note: The national park charges a $30 fee per vehicle to enter the park, and the ticket is valid for seven days.

2. Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

The landscape of the Big Island is unlike anything you've probably seen before. It has one of the most diverse landscapes of all the Hawaiian islands, from volcanic lava fields to lush rainforests, and even a green beach that you can hike to.

The green beach on the Big Island is called Papakolea. It got its olive color from a lava mineral called, not surprisingly, olivine. The hike to the beach is considered to be moderate. It's a 5.6-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 370 feet.

Most people will complete the hike in about two hours. It crosses over rocky terrain with gorgeous coastal views before ending at the unusually colored beach. Swimming here is possible, but take caution because the riptides can be strong. No lifeguards are on duty here.

To find the trailhead, head on Highway 11 between the 69- and 70-mile marker. Turn onto South Point Road for about eight miles where you will find a parking lot.

3. Thurston Lava Tube Trail

Thurston Lava Tube Trail

While visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Thurston Lava Tube Trail is a must. This trail is very easy, at only half a mile long with barely a change in elevation. But the fascinating science and history behind it is what makes it so special.

The Thurston Lava Tube is one of many lava tubes on the Big Island, created by flowing lava that carved out a passageway. This tube was discovered in 1913. The tube is illuminated with orange lights so that you can find your way in the darkness. But keep in mind the lights only stay on between 8am and 8pm. If you plan on visiting before or after, you'll need to bring your own flashlight.

The lava tube is not far from the trailhead for the Kilauea Iki trail, and many hikers combine the two.

4. Pololu Trail

View from Pololu trail

The Kohala Coast is one of the oldest parts of the Big Island. The landscape here is particularly prehistoric, with deep gorges and pristine, undeveloped beaches. The majority of people are coming to this part of the island to gaze out at the view from the Pololu Overlook. But if you keep looking, you'll find the Pololu Trail that winds its way down to the beach.

The entire hike is less than a mile and takes about 40 minutes to complete. Along the way, the trail carves across switchbacks before descending down to the valley floor, offering scenic views all along the way. The hike is short, but steep, and can be slippery depending on the weather. In the winter, you can also try to spot whales from the beach.

5. Ka'Awaloa - Captain Cook Monument Trail

Captain Cook Monument on Kealakekua Bay

If you're looking for a great Big Island hike that delivers on challenges as well as views, the Captain Cook Monument Trail is definitely the hike to do. This gorgeous hike is extra special because it leads to Kealakekua Bay, which is one of the best spots on the island for snorkeling.

It's easy to find the trailhead for the Captain Cook Monument Trail. Parking is exactly where the Google Maps pinpoint says it is. When you find a sign for the Ka'Awaloa Trail, that's how you know you've found it. Keep in mind that parking is limited, so you'll have to pay close attention to the "No Parking" signs.

The trail is a four-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. It's considered to be a challenging hike and takes about two and a half hours to complete.

Along the way, you'll see the Captain Cook Monument, which was built in 1874 and is dedicated to Captain Cook, the British soldier who landed on the Hawaiian islands and was killed in 1779. Kealakekua Bay is a historical park and is thought to be the spot where Captain Cook landed.

The hike in goes much faster because it is mostly downhill. Coming back is significantly more challenging, so take advantage of the many viewpoints to stop for much-needed breaks.

6. Akaka Falls Trail

Akaka Falls Trail

Akaka Falls Trail is one of the easier hiking trails to do on the Big Island, but it comes with a considerable payout. The half-mile loop trail is located within 'Akaka Falls State Park and leads directly to a viewing platform that overlooks the impressive Akaka Falls.

The loop itself is relatively easy, with an elevation gain of 121 feet. It takes about 15 minutes to complete if you walk without stopping. But chances are you're going to want to stop to take in the beauty of the trail.

First, you have Akaka Falls, an impressive waterfall that plunges more than 440 feet down into a gorge. A bit past Akaka Falls is a second waterfall, Kahuna Falls, which is also very beautiful.

The park charges $10 per vehicle and an additional $5 per passenger for parking. It's an easy stop to make on your way to or from Hilo.

7. Malama Trail

Petroglyphs along the Malama Trail

The Malama Trail is one of the most unique hikes on the Big Island. That's because, in addition to hiking through ancient volcanic terrain, it leads to one of the best-preserved pieces of history on the island — petroglyphs.

The Malama Trailhead can be found within the Mauna Lani resort area. The trailhead starts near the beach and continues for about three-quarters of a mile into a landscape that is very unique. The trail goes from sunny, volcanic lava fields deep into a forest of gnarled branches. The path winds its way through a tunnel of overhanging branches before emerging into a field of 800-year-old petroglyphs.

The trail is relatively easy. It's a narrow path that is mostly flat. The challenge comes from navigating the roots and large volcanic stones. Parts of the trail can be a bit of a scramble.

The area contains thousands of examples of Hawaiian rock art. A footpath circles the main gallery and reveals smaller galleries along the way.

8. 1871 Trail

1871 Trail

One of the best attractions on the Big Island is the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park — a true glimpse into the history and culture of Hawaii. Within the national park are several hiking trails, the best of which is the 1871 Trail.

Also known as the "Two Horse Trail," the path gets its name from its renovation in the year 1871. Along the way, hikers will have the opportunity to discover archaeological remains, structures, temples, and views of the Keanae'e Cliffs.

The trailhead is located within the historical park, which requires an entrance fee of $35. If you are planning to visit other Hawaiian national parks, you can purchase the Tri-Park Hawaiian pass for $55.

Much of the trail is exposed, so be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection. The path will intersect with the Coastal Trail, which can lead down to Alahaka Bay. If you continue on the 1871 trail, you'll come around to the beautiful cliffs.

9. Kaulana Manu Nature Trail

Kaulana Manu Nature Trail

While driving the Saddle Road at the foot of Mauna Kea, you may be tempted to hop out of the car and get up close and personal with the lunar-like landscape all around you. Fortunately, you'll find many trailheads along Saddle Road, and the Kaulana Manu Nature Trail is one of them.

This easy out-and-back hike is less than a mile and covers some of the most unique and mesmerizing landscapes on the island. It's a combination of rainforest and lava rock, all set at about 5,500 feet above sea level. In the distance, you'll see Mauna Kea's massive mound.

The region is known for its ohia and koa trees and a beautiful array of different types of ferns and shrubs. It's a very fascinating walk for bird watchers.

10. Kalopa Nature Trail

Kalopa Native Forest Trail

After you've experienced the volcanic landscape, the coastal walks, and the rainforest, you may want to try a different type of Big Island landscape. The Kalopa Native Forest Trail may be exactly what you're looking for.

This loop is about a mile long and winds its way through the ancient forests within the Kalopa State Recreation Area. It's nothing short of enchanted to wind your way down the dirt path through groves of old-growth trees. The trail is covered with roots in certain places, but the lack of elevation gain makes this a fairly easy hike.

Address: 44-3480 Kalaniai Road, Honokaa, Hawaii

11. Makalawena Beach Hike

Makalawena Beach

The Makalawena Beach hike is two great things in one. Not only is it one of the best hikes on the Big Island, but it also leads to one of the best beaches in Kona. The 2.7-mile out-and-back trail takes less than an hour to complete, but when you reach the end of the trailhead, you come across a stunning white-sand beach.

The beach is only accessible on foot, so you may be lucky enough to have this pristine stretch of sand to yourself. You may even need a high-clearance vehicle to get to the trailhead. The other option is to park along the road and walk into the trailhead.

The trail is exposed the entire way, so you'll want to bring sunscreen and plenty of water. Because the beach is fairly remote, you won't find any services here, so be sure to bring in everything you'll need for the day.

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