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17 Nov 2021
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Big Island Activities

Hawaii Big Island Hiking Trails

In between time spent lounging on picturesque beaches and partaking in the abundant available aquatic activities on Hawaii's Big Island, you'll also want to add some hikes to your itinerary. The hiking trails on the Big Island are near-overwhelming in their scenic splendor, and the landscapes they span across are more diverse than you might think. 

Before we get into the trails, there are some across-the-board things we need to say. First, for each hiking trail you visit be sure to bring plenty of water, a good set of hiking shoes, and sun protection. Also, be mindful and practice "Leave No Trace" principles so that others can continue enjoying this incredible place. Now, let's lace up our boots and step into the first of these outstanding Big Island hiking trails!

Pololū Valley Trail

Our on-foot adventure begins with a quintessential Hawaiian hike: the Pololū trail. Starting at the Pololū Valley lookout, you'll descend a few zigs and zags down the rocky trail to the aforementioned valley. Along the way, you'll be graced with beautiful ocean views framed through lush greenery until you reach the black sand beach on the valley floor. For a complete detailed look at this stunning trail, be sure to take a look at our Pololū Valley Hike blog.

The main Pololū trail is a short 0.9-mile loop hike to the beach and back, but there is a 2.8-mile route for those seeking a longer adventure. Once down the switchback trail, cross the beach to the other side of Pololū Valley where you'll find the Awini trail to the Honokāne Nui lookout. On this extended trail you'll trek through more greenery up the eastern side of Pololū Valley and ascend until you reach a bench overlooking the Honokāne Nui Valley.

Top tip from here on out: bring a camera or at least make sure your smartphone is fully charged with storage available. It goes without saying, but the scenery across the Big Island practically demands to be photographed. Especially so at these valleys.

Kilauea Iki Trail Overlooking Volcanic Crater  

Kilauea Iki Hike

If there's one hike first-time visitors MUST TAKE while on the Big Island, it'd have to be the Kilauea Ike hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This 3-mile loop trail has you trekking through lush rainforest and across a volcanic crater left over from a 1959 eruption.

Though the rainforest is stunning, the real jaw-dropper has to be to the crater with its other-worldly blackened ground and cracks venting with steam. On that note, you'll also come across the vent which formed the Pu'u Pua'i cinder cone while hiking across the crater. So, if you've ever wanted to visit an alien planet but can't afford a ticket to space, this is the next best option for you!

Because of this trail's astounding features and beauty, it can get a little crowded, especially on weekends. Avoid large crowds on the Kilauea Iki trail by starting early and hiking on a weekday.

Overlooking Waipio Valley On Sunny Day On Hawaii Big Island

Waipi'o Valley Trail

Next up we have the Waipi'o Valley out-and-back trail located on the northeast side of the Big Island. Upon arrival at the trailhead, be prepared for the steep valley hillsides and ocean views to immediately take your breath away. Then remember to recover your breath to get you through the actual hike.

Unlike our previous contestants, this trail actually starts off on the paved Waipi'o Valley Rd. Don't attempt driving down it to shave walking time though, as this road is one of the steepest in the US with an average gradient of 25 degrees, and a near 40-degree gradient at it steepest point. Seriously, there's even a sign warning cars not to drive this road.

However, hiking down the road is both accepted and encouraged. Once you reach the bottom, turn right and walk for about half a mile to the beach. If you want a mellow short hike, then just walk to the point where the river (yes, there's a river) meets the ocean at the beach.

If you're into something a little more strenuous, then you can cross the river and continue on to the opposite side of the valley. There you'll find more trail ascending up the steep winding cliffs, eventually reaching a waterfall called Kuluahine Falls. If you do try this extended route, be sure to wait and cross the river when it's passable at low tide. Whatever you choose to do, just save some energy for the hike back up Waipi'o Valley Rd as it feels much steeper going up than down.

Pu’u Wa’awa’a Cinder Cone Trail On Sunny Day On Hawaii Big Island

Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone Trail 

If you're looking for top-tier 360-degree island views, Pu'u Wa'awa'a is definitely your trail. At the top of the Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone you can spot four of the five volcanoes on the Big Island, and you can even see the neighboring Maui island on extra clear days.

To reach the cinder cone summit, you'll start by ascending an old paved path called Vulcanite Road. Some of the land this trail cuts through is still used for livestock, so you're likely to see plenty of cattle, goats, and sheep. These guys are used to seeing hikers, so as long as you keep a respectful distance you shouldn't have a problem. 

In addition to the main route on Vulcanite Road, there is a short side trail called the O'hia trail. This side hike goes through more pretty foliage for just under a mile before looping back to the main path. If you have the time, we recommend taking the O'hia trail on either the way up or down to get the full Pu'u Wa'awa'a trail experience.

One last thing is that this trail in particular benefits from an earlier start. The trailhead parking lot has limited space, so try to arrive around 8:00 - 9:00 AM to beat the crowds. The other benefit to starting early is that mornings are typically clearer at the top of the Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone, so you'll have much better views of those volcanoes!

Sea Arch Long Exposure Photo On Hawaii's Big Island

Puna Coast Trail

Finally, we have the Puna Coast trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Puna Coast trail stands out from the rest of this list with its unique lava flow landscape that makes up most of the trail. And, as a trail near-entirely consisting of coastline lava flows with little-to-no shade, you'll want to come prepared to handle the elements. Sturdy hiking shoes, extra water, and sun and wind protection are a must for this trail.

That said, once you've assembled your gear, you'll find the Puna Coast trail to be perhaps the most fascinating environment to explore on the Big Island. The lava flows you hike mimic a frozen turbulent sea, and the actual sea to the south will often throw crashing waves at the coastline to create stunning misty towers. On that note, don't get too close to the coastline as the constant spray makes the terrain quite slippy. The best practice is to just follow the cairn path the whole way out and back.

On the Puna Coast trail, you can hike as far as 10.7 miles out and back. However, we recommend hiking the 6.6 miles to the beaches at Āpua Point. Not only is this spot particularly beautiful, but you'll also be able to spot two glorious lava sea arches nearby the point. And who wouldn't want to take a good long gander at some lava-formed sea arches?

The last thing we'll add is that the Puna Coast trailhead sits close to the fascinating Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs; centuries-old rock art carved right into the lava flows. These sacred petroglyphs are the perfect last stop to visit before or after your day's hike at the Puna Coast. Just remember to treat them and the area with respect as you take in the historical art.


At the end of a long day hiking and exploring Hawaii's Big Island, you're going to need a comfortable place to rest and recharge. Our South Kohala vacation rentals make for the perfect home away from home with their luxurious amenities and ideal locations on the Big Island. Click the button below to browse our extensive list of quality South Kohala vacation homes.

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