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7 best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii
Thank you for stopping by. I originally wrote this post in 2016, and it quickly became very popular. I am keeping it updated with current information. If you’re looking for the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, you’re in the right place.
If you’re a little overwhelmed trying to plan your Hawaiian adventure, you’re not alone! It can be difficult to plan a trip to somewhere you’ve never been. All of the islands are different, and it’s hard to choose! I specialize in planning Hawaii vacations, and I’d love to help with yours too!
7 best things do on the Big Island
Also known as the Big Island, the island of Hawaii is both the largest and most diverse of all of the Hawaiian islands. I’ve visited all of the major islands but I have spent the most time on the Big Island. It’s my favorite, and I think you’ll love it too.
In this post, I am going to talk about the 7 best things to do on the Big Island. There are so many amazing activities, but these seven are my top picks. If you’re planning a trip to the island of Hawaii, you don’t want to miss my posts in this series!
The 7 best things to do on the Big Island
1. Hike at Volcanoes National Park
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is definitely one of the best things to do on the Big Island. There are many trails that you can hike, and I recommend the Kīlauea Iki trail. It is about 4 miles and fairly steep, but it is completely worthwhile. Ahu (stacked rocks) guide the trail across the floor of the crater. It is like being in another world.
The media has done a terrible job of letting everyone know that the park is open again. There is no active lava, and it’s very safe if you take common-sense precautions.
Make sure to bring plenty of water and either reef-safe sunscreen or a hat and a rash guard. Entrance to the park is priced at $15 per vehicle. I’ve been several times and it has never been very busy.
2. Visit Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls state park is located on the eastern (also referred to as the windward or Hilo) side of the Big Island. The park is approximately 10 miles north of Hilo, so if you’re on the windward side of the island, visiting the park is a must.
Parking is $5, or you can pay $2/person entry by parking outside and taking a short walk. There are two larger waterfalls visible on the trail, and it’s only 1/2 mile hike round trip. This is a perfect hike for families or older adults since it is shorter and safer than many other trails.
3. Kayak the Kealakekua Bay
I’m not listing these 7 things to do on the Big Island in order. If I was, Kealakekua Bay would be number one. It is an absolute must! This was my favorite part of our trip. If you enjoy kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, or dolphins, I can’t recommend this enough. A monument for Captain Cook is located at Ka’awaloa Flat (across the bay.)
Only three kayaking companies are authorized to land across the bay, but several others are authorized to issue permits to kayak the bay. We have rented kayaks from Kona Kayak Rental (who I highly recommend!) every time. Our kayak rental was around $60 for a double kayak for the day. If you brought or rented snorkeling gear, you definitely need to bring it with you.
If you’re interested in a tour of Ka’awaloa Flat, the cost will be slightly higher. You can almost always see pods of dolphins in the area, and in the winter you can even see whales! We have been lucky enough to get a close up look at dolphins a few times. You can always ask if the kayak companies if dolphins have been spotted that day. They will most likely know! Seeing dolphins in the wild is so much better than the dolphin encounters offered at the resorts.
4. Summit Mauna Kea
If you’re up for an adventure, and you have a 4-wheel drive, driving up Mauna Kea is one of the most interesting things that you can do on the Big Island. This mountain is almost 14,000 feet at the summit and measured from the ocean floor it is the highest mountain on earth.
You will need to stop at the visitors center and acclimate to the altitude, and the drive isn’t recommended for those with health problems or pregnant women. I said that the Volcanos National Park feels like another world, and so does Mauna Kea. It’s so amazing that you can experience all of these different landscapes and climates all in one place.
5. Take a trip to Punalu’u (Black Sand) Beach
Punalu’u Beach (commonly referred to as Black Sand Beach) is something that you have to see to fully appreciate. The black sand is so unique, and you can often see honu (turtles) sunning themselves on the rocks.
Remember not to touch or go too close to the turtles if you do encounter them. Punalu’u Beach is a great stop to make if you’re going from Kona to the Volcano National Park. This beach is completely free to visit thanks to free parking.
6. Visit Waipi’o Valley OR Pololū Valley
You’re definitely going to need a 4-wheel drive for the trip to Waipi’o Valley. The road to Waipi’o Valley is public, but only 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed. There are many hikers as well, but the thought of hiking down this road with all the vehicles on it didn’t appeal to me at all. If you don’t have access to a 4-wheel drive, there are also tours that go down into the valley.
Waipi’o Valley is 2000 feet below the surrounding areas, located at sea level. The drive has a 25% grade and is steeper in some places. It is the steepest road of its length in the United States, and one of the steepest in the world.
It’s definitely an adventure and one that is worth taking. Some of the most beautiful waterfalls can be seen in the valley, rivaling the waterfalls on the Road to Hana in Maui. There are also wild horses and some of the most spectacular scenery that I have ever seen. Please remember to respect the locals if you do take this trip, drive carefully and be respectful of the ‘āina (land) and the people who live there.
If you want another option, Pololū Valley is another option that is completely different and unique. Instead of driving into the valley, you will be able to park and walk down. The hike is moderate but pretty short. You’ll find another black sand beach in the valley. I have only been here once but plan to spend more time in Pololū Valley during my next trip to the Big Island.
7. Kekaha Kai State Park
If you’re looking for an amazing beach, Kekaha Kai state park is the best one that we found. There are fantastic beaches all over the island, but this one was our favorite and it was pretty quiet. It’s quite a drive through the lava rocks on a very rough road, but it’s well worth it. You don’t need a 4-wheel drive to go down this road, but you should drive very slowly as it’s very rough terrain.
Once you reach the beach, you will know that the drive was worth it. We found this beach by accident after one of our trips was delayed an extra day, and we spent most of our final day there. There are several trails, and the water is absolutely amazing. We have found honu (turtles) here at times but remember not to touch or disturb them.
These are my top 7 best things to do on the Big Island, but there are so many other places to explore. I do recommend renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you can. If you don’t have access to a 4-wheel drive, there are several local companies who will do tours of some of the harder-to-reach areas.
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Why work with a travel agent?
One of the best parts about working with a travel agent is that I know the best companies to work with. You don’t have to go through the hassle of reading reviews and hoping they are legit! Of course, the great deals and overall lack of hassle of working with a travel agent are also huge bonuses!
Trying to figure out where to stay? I wrote a post about the 7 best resorts on the Big Island. If you’re planning your own trip or just don’t want to stay at a resort, I recommend staying in a vacation rental for affordability, and the comforts of home. You can use my link to save $55 off your first booking at Airbnb, the only company vacation rental company that I recommend!
I hope this list of the 7 best things to do on the Big Island will help you choose some awesome things to do on your trip. If you haven’t started booking yet, make sure to reach out and let’s work together to make your Hawaii adventure amazing!