One of the best ways to see Hawaii’s stunning islands is by taking a stroll—from Maui to Kauai you’re never far from a scenic view in the Aloha State. Some of our favorite trails of all are to be found on the Big Island. If you’re wondering what to do on the Big Island other than snorkeling, diving, or laying on the beach, we’ve answered your question here with some of the island’s best hiking trails.
As the consensus favorite for hiking in Hawaii among travelers, if you only have time for one hike on Big Island, make it Kilauea’iki. The four-mile round-trip leads you down into the Kilauea’iki crater. First, you’ll hike through a native rainforest with views of the crater below, then you’ll descend 150 feet to the base of the crater where you’ll walk across solidified lava. It’s a good idea to start early in the morning before the crowds pick up and the heat kicks in, but also to hear the birds at their most active and to get the best photo opportunities.
Pro Tip: This is considered a medium difficulty hike and starts at the Thurston Lava Tube parking lot, 9.3 miles from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance.
If you don’t have more than half a day to spare but still want to discover some of the best hiking on Big Island, head to the far north side of the Kohala Mountains. Pololu Valley boasts one of the island’s best hiking trails. In the ancient Hawaiian language, the word Pololu means “a long spear,” and the valley is shaped appropriately. Prepare to walk 30-45 minutes each way with dramatic views of the coast, a long black sand beach, and the ocean.
Pro Tip: The Pololu Valley Lookout is where most people go for their photo-op, but a better idea is to hike one or two bends further down towards the beach. Views here are even better—but you didn’t hear it from us!
Where to stay on Big Island? See our tropical villas.
Akaka Falls Loop
Akaka Falls State Park is a popular tourist attraction loved for its majestic waterfall. It’s rare that a waterfall this high is so accessible, which is what makes the 0.4-mile footpath up to the 442-foot peak of Akaka Falls so popular. And it’s not just tourist attraction—locals have been known to visit the falls too. As its name suggests, the hiking trail is shaped like a circle and it takes you through the lush rainforest as you head towards the falls. Look out for wild orchids, bamboo groves, draping ferns, and a view of Kahuna Falls at 100 feet before reaching Akaka—all in less than an hour.
Pro Tip: The walk is easy for families and is open all year round.
When it comes to hiking in Hawaii, the Waimanu Valley hike is one of the most challenging trails you’ll find. Over your 16-mile long, 7,300-foot high, roughly 10-hour journey you’ll cross at least 14 streams, fend off nippy mosquitoes, bake under the beating sun, and navigate uneven footing, big drops, and deep rainforest—it’s punishing, to say the least. But the effort will all be worth it when you reach the peak’s ravishing view of cascading waterfalls and clear blue waters. Sturdy boots are a must on Waimanu’s terrain and shorts are a good idea to deal with the heat. Most people see Waimanu Valley from a helicopter but trust us, it will be so much more rewarding on foot.
Pro Tip: There are visitor campsites if you need to split the walk over two days, but it can be done in one.
Mauna Kea Summit
The Mauna Kea Summit is a bucket list item for many travelers. The 9,200-foot climb takes you to a summit of 13,800 feet, which makes it the highest mountain in the Pacific Rim. More than half of Mauna Kea is submerged in the Pacific Ocean, but when measured from the ocean floor to its summit, it is actually the tallest mountain on earth! Yes, even taller than Mount Everest. In roughly eight hours, you can achieve bragging rights over all your friends who thought they had climbed the world’s tallest mountain. You’ll wind up with a few new Instagram-worthy, no-filter-needed snapshots too.
Pro Tip: Climbing Mauna Kea feels like being on another planet, but it’s the panoramic sky view at night that will leave you speechless.