Best Big Island Hikes: The Top-Rated Hiking Trails & Walks

Ready for an adventure to the largest Hawaiian island? Leave plenty of room for the top Big Island hikes. The Big Island is Hawaii’s youngest and home to four of five active volcanoes in the island chain. For this reason alone, it’s one of the top hiking destinations in the United States.

Trekkers will have an envious array of trails to choose from. Hiking on the Big Island slides past anything from snow-capped volcanoes to lush rainforests cut in half by lava fields. With a vast collection of easy to challenging hikes, you’ll be able to find the right adventure for you.

Ready for the ultimate Hawaiian hiking adventure? Experience the best hiking trails on the Big Island (Hawaii) with our complete guide.

Where to go hiking on the Big Island, Hawaii

Kilauea Iki Trail

The starting point of the thrilling Kilauea Iki Trail brings you to the edge of a volcanic crater, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From here, you’ll gaze down at the crater floor where you’ll see a light path, etched by thousands of footsteps across a hardened lava lake.

Kilauea Iki Trail

Begin one of the most spectacular hiking trails on the Big Island by wandering through lush rainforests. It’s the ultimate contrast of what’s to come.

After caressing the edge of the crater, you’ll hike steeply down to the floor. As you cross the hardened lava, you’ll pass steam vents that prove the landscape around Kilauea Iki is still very much alive.

After around a mile, you’ll head back up the crater wall, into the rainforest, and back toward the trailhead,

  • Distance: 4.1 miles
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Akaka Falls State Park

Combining natural grandeur and easy access, Akaka Falls State Park presents one of the top hikes on the Big Island. From the east coast town of Hilo, enjoy a brief drive through the rugged landscape before arriving at the trailhead along the Hamakua Coast.

Akaka Falls State Park

The paved trail is less than a quarter-mile long, bringing you through resplendent upcountry forests on your way to, not just one, but two beautiful waterfalls. The bright green rainforests are a joy to wander through as the sounds of the nearby waterfalls become ever-present.

After passing Kahuna Falls, continue on for the main event. One of the coolest places to see on the Big Island, Akaka Falls tumbles down over 440 feet into the abyss. The falls are encased with verdant greenery, with only the veil of water interrupting the landscape.

  • Distance: 0.4 miles
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Makalawena Beach Trail

For a hike that rewards you with a remote white sand beach experience, complete the Makalawena Beach Trail. Pack your beach gear and get walking along the gravel trail that meanders through old lava fields. Bring a broad-brimmed hat and plenty of water, as you’ll be exposed across the short but hot 20-minute journey.

Makalawena Beach

Soon, the fields make way for palm trees and lava rock clumps at Mahai’ula Beach. Continue on to the crescent-shaped Makalawena Beach, one of the most popular beaches on the Big Island. Dive into the turquoise ocean, enjoy some snorkeling or make friends with the wild chickens that frequent the north end of the beach.

  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy

Pololu Valley Awini Trail

On the famed Kohala Coast, the Pololu Valley Awini Trail is another beach hike worth your time. Beginning at the end of Highway 270 in the remote northwest corner of the Big Island, this hiking trail rewards your effort with a stunning black sand beach.

Pololu Valley

Those driving around the island will often make a stop at the Pololu Overlook. While the views may captivate, those who tie up their shoes and go hiking will stumble upon even more impressive vistas.

A brief but beautiful 30-minute trek will take you through a forest of ironwood trees and past several opulent overlooks. At the beach, you’ll be able to admire the breathtaking coast before wandering along the lava-infused sand.

  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy  

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

When the Pu’u o Mahana cinder cone exploded out of the Pacific Ocean, it deposited olivine stone all over Papakolea Green Sand Beach. In doing so, the cinder cone created one of just four green sand beaches on earth.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

You can find this rare beach close to Big Island’s South Point. Papakolea Beach is remote and rugged, much like the 2.75-mile journey to her green-brown shore. Some can make the journey in a 4WD but as hikers will soon discover, the drive is not for the faint of heart.

Take your time and use plenty of sunscreen as you wander along the exposed trail. Pass ruins of old fishing temples before reaching the staircase that drops to the unique beach.

  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Kaumana Caves State Park 

The Big Island is no stranger to spectacular and rare geography. As the youngest island with most of the active volcanoes in Hawaii, the Big Island is in a state of constant change. The many lava tubes around the island are great examples of this. As the lava travels towards the Pacific Ocean, its exterior hardens, creating a variety of tunnels.

Kaumana Caves

Many of them aren’t open for us to explore, but the enormous tube in Kaumana Caves State Park provides the perfect opportunity. Head down the steps into the caves, which quickly become dark.

Bring a torch if you want to continue exploring, or even sign up for a guided tour to learn more about this amazing formation.

  • Distance:  >0.5 miles
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy

Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook Monument Trail)

Just south of Kailua-Kona on the island’s west coast is a trail that combines amazing nature with a splash of history: Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook Monument Trail).

Kealakekua Bay

The trailhead can be difficult to find. It begins alongside telephone pole number 4 on Napo’opo’o Road. From here, start the two-mile journey towards the historic bay where Captain Cook first made landfall.

Enjoy the switchbacks through the coastal forest before reaching the famed white sand beach after 45 minutes. While Captain Cook wasn’t protected from the wrath of the local community, Kealakekua Bay has limited fishing. It’s created one of the best snorkel spots on the Big Island.

Reward your weary legs with a refreshing dip beside tropical fish and maybe even a Hawaiian green sea turtle.

  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Napau Trail

The Napau Trail provides challenging, but ultimately rewarding, hiking on the Big Island. The trail traverses a young lava field, created after a 1974 volcanic eruption.

The first part of the Napau Trail takes you zig-zagging through the field on your way to Pu’u Huluhulu. Upon arrival, you’ll find an extensive cinder cone laden in trees in what is otherwise a barren landscape.

Continue hiking across the hardened and cooled lava with the reflective markers leading the way. After traversing multiple smaller craters, you’ll make your way to an abrupt end as you stand on the edge of the Napau Crater. From here, experience expansive views of Pu’u ‘O’o, a cinder cone that poured out lava for 35 straight years.

  • Distance: 12 miles
  • Time:   hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Mauna Loa

In sheer volume, there’s no bigger mountain on earth than Moana Loa. The challenging hike to the summit comes with 2,700 feet of elevation gain across the 6.5-mile ascent.

Mauna Loa

You can find this trail within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but don’t get it mixed up with the short and scenic Mauna Loa Lookout Trail. After an initial wooded hike, you’ll quickly find yourself above treeline with epic views along the way. The trail can be difficult to follow; keep your eye on the rock cairns.

RELATED: Top-Rated Areas to Stay on the Big Island

After your leg-burning climb, you’ll be standing at the top of the world’s largest mountain with island and ocean views everywhere you look.

  • Distance: 13 miles
  • Time: 6 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Mauna Kea

Mauna Loa may be big, but Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on earth—if you count from the bottom of the ocean, that is. Mauna Kea stands 13,800 above the sandy beaches of the Big Island, also making it the tallest mountain in Hawaii.

Mauna Kea

All adventurers should have this peak on their Big Island trip itinerary. Reaching the summit requires a steep 6-mile climb with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. As you hike well above the treeline, you’ll enjoy impressive ocean views with the colors of the dormant volcano contrasting to the blue Hawaiian sky.

As you approach the peak, don’t be surprised if you begin to walk over snow, which is known to fall upon the summit. On your way down, stop by Lake Waiau, one of the highest alpine lakes in the United States.

  • Distance: 12 miles
  • Time: 6 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Kiholo Bay

Kiholo Bay showcases all three phases of the Big Island’s natural beauty. After driving (carefully) down a winding dirt road north of Kailua-Kona, begin your trek towards the beach, switching between lush greenery and lava fields along the way.

Kiholo Bay

As you reach the coast, Kiholo Bay will be to your right. The bay is a popular spot for Hawaiian green sea turtles soaking up the heat on the lava rocks.

Later, head along the coast in the opposite direction to a flooded lava tube and, eventually, Waianali’i Lagoon, a manmade fish catchment from the 19th century. 

  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

Kalopa Nature Trail

One of the best Big Island hikes to learn about the local flora is the Kalopa Nature Trail. Tucked away on the northeast coast, the trail is a look into the wild landscapes of the Big Island, away from the crowds, and untouched by lava.

Along the short trail, you’ll explore a wet, diverse, and lush rainforest with a series of plaques providing information on the untouched landscape.

While views are in limited supply, the hike is all about admiring the towering old-growth trees, ferns, and shrubs, providing plenty of respite from the sun.

  • Distance: 0.7 miles
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy

Kalopa State Park Perimeter Trail

After enjoying the appetizer that is the Kalopa Nature Trail, you’re ready for the main course. The Kalopa State Park Perimeter Trail is the preeminent trail in the area, taking you deep into the rainforest for an unmatched experience of tranquility.

As the trail’s name suggests, hikers will traverse the edge of the park for two miles until they reach a three-way intersection. Continue along Old Jeep Road to return to the trailhead on a relatively easy 4WD road. Or take the adventurous option and join the Gulch Rim Trail.

Both add up to the same mileage, with the latter providing exceptional scenery along the precipice of the Kalopa Gulch.

  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Waimanu Valley

Arguably the most difficult of all the most popular Big Island hiking trails, Waimanu Valley is an epic journey. The valley is only accessible on foot. It’s remote, difficult, and frustrating, but ultimately breathtaking and inspiring. Far from civilization and often another soul, the 8-mile journey down into the abyss is a sight to behold.

Waimanu Valley

On the challenging hike, trekkers will cross paths with towering waterfalls that turn into surging rivers and spellbinding cliffs that make the heart skip. It’s quiet and isolated, two things rarely found in our well-discovered world.

After losing some 7,000-feet of elevation, you’ll arrive at Waimanu Beach where you can camp nearby.

  • Distance: 16 miles
  • Time: 8 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Waipio Valley

Waipio Valley sits alongside Waimanu Valley and presents hikers will a similarly epic environment. Beginning at the iconic Waipio Valley Overlook, you’ll snake through the Valley of the Kings down a steep path towards the valley floor.

Waipio Valley on Big Island

Hikers will follow a rushing stream, guiding them like a trusty companion towards the ocean. Keep your eyes and ears open for wild horses. The landscape was once home to Hawaiian kings but is now an unkempt paradise where nature reigns supreme.

Eventually, the trail will guide you down to the coast where a black sand beach will reward you will a refreshing dip on calm days and awe-inspiring views of the intimidating coast.

  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Pu’u Loa

Pu’u Loa is a culturally significant hike that’ll take you to fields of petroglyphs and a prominent place in Hawaiian spirituality. It was here that mothers would take the umbilical cords of their offspring and bury them under the pictograph hole.

Pu'u Loa

You can find the Pu’u Loa trailhead along the Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The path has minimal elevation change and is even a boardwalk in sections allowing a leisurely stroll through the captivating environment.

At the turnaround point, admire the stunning concentration of petroglyphs, the largest of its kind in Hawaii.

  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Time: 45 minutes  
  • Difficulty: Easy

The 1871 Trail

The 1871 Trail originally connected Napo’opo’o to Ho’okena to the south. In 1871, the trail was widened to allow more traffic, including horse-drawn carriages. The historic trail has since returned to its humble beginnings, leaving a fascinating path for hikers to enjoy.

The 1871 Trail

The three-mile one-way journey will take you by the remains of one of the coastal towns, Ki’ilae Village, along a quiet and underrated trail. The 1871 Trail caresses the edge of the east coast, meandering over seaside shrubbery and lava fields with the ever-present sound of waves crashing against the shore.

  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
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