There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click on any of these links, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you (which I really appreciate, thank you!) The full disclosure policy can be found here.
The best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii
Thank you for stopping by. I originally wrote this post in 2016 as my first-ever Hawaii travel post, and it quickly went viral. 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.
The top things to do on the Big Island
Commonly referred to 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 many times, but I have spent the most time on the Big Island. It was my favorite for a long time (Kauai has taken over, sorry, Big Island!)
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 seven things to do on the Big Island
1. The Ultimate Big Island Adventure: Volcanoes National Park
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the best things to do on the Big Island. Many visitors choose the Big Island just to see its active volcano, Kilauea. There are many trails that you can hike, and I recommend the Kīlauea Iki Trail.
This trail is about 4 miles and relatively steep, but it is entirely worthwhile. Ahu (stacked rocks) guide the trail across the floor of the crater. It is like being in another world. While the park was closed shortly after the 2018 eruption, it is back open to visitors. There is no active lava, and it’s very safe if you take common-sense precautions.
If you aren’t into hiking, you can choose a fantastic 2-hour helicopter tour that flies directly over Kilauea. It’s pricey, but it’s a tremendous experience that you’ll never forget.
Make sure to bring plenty of water and either reef-safe sunscreen or a hat and a rash guard. The entrance to the park is about $15 per vehicle.
2. The best waterfalls on the Big Island
Hawaii Island has many beautiful waterfalls, but Akaka Falls is one of the easiest to access. Akaka Falls State Park is 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 about $5, or you can pay $2/person entry by parking outside and taking a short walk. There are two massive waterfalls visible on the trail, and it’s only 1/2 mile hike round trip. Akaka Falls is a perfect hike for families or older adults since it is shorter and safer than many other trails.
If you’re looking for more inexpensive or free things to do check out 15 free things to do on the Big Island.
3. The best snorkeling on the Big Island
I’m not listing these 7 things to do on the Big Island in order. If I were, Kealakekua Bay would be number one. It is an absolute must! 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.)
One way to visit the Bay is by kayak. I recommend a tour, although you can go out on your own. You can almost always see pods of dolphins in the area, and in the winter, you can even see whales! I have seen dolphins every time I have visited the bay except for one time.
You can always ask if the kayak companies if dolphins have were 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.
Another way to snorkel at Kealakekua Bay is a boat tour. Snorkel tours to Kealakekua is one of my top Big Island adventure recommendations. I highly recommend the Kealakekua Deluxe Snorkel tour, which includes breakfast and lunch. Body Glove also offers an incredible sunset dinner cruise if you prefer a historical dinner cruise.
For more fun Big Island tours, check out the 10 best tours on the Big Island.
4. The best adventures on the Big Island
If you’re up for an adventure, and you have a 4-wheel drive, driving up Mauna Kea is one of the most exciting 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 visitor’s center and acclimate to the altitude, and the trip is not advisable 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. Black Sand Beaches on the Big Island
Punalu’u Beach (commonly referred to simply as Black Sand Beach) is something that you have to see to appreciate fully. The black sand is so unique, and you can often see honu (turtles) sunning themselves on the rocks.
Keep in mind that this isn’t the only black sand beach on Hawaii Island, but it is one of the easiest to access.
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. Waipi’o Valley and Pololū Valley
You’re 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. Hiking down the valley is optional but not recommended.
If you don’t have access to a 4-wheel drive, don’t want to walk, or don’t want to break your rental car agreement, I recommend taking a Small Group Waipio Valley Tour.
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 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 entirely different and unique. Instead of driving into the valley, you will be able to park and walk down. The hike is moderate but short. You’ll find another black sand beach in the valley.
7. The best beaches on the Big Island
If you’re looking for a fantastic beach, Kekaha Kai state park is the best one that we found. There are excellent beaches all over the island, but this one is my favorite since it’s relatively quiet compared to the more popular beaches.
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. There are several trails, and the water is fantastic. 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, several local companies offer tours of some of the harder-to-reach areas.
Big Island Travel Tips
- 25 things to do in Kona.
- 7 best Big Island Resorts.
- The 7 Best Happy Hours in Kona.
- 7 day Big Island Itinerary.
- 4-day Big Island Itinerary
- How to plan a Big Island Vacation
- 15 free things to do on the Big Island
- Where to find sea turtles on the Big Island of Hawaii
You might also enjoy:
- The 7 best things to do on Maui.
- The 10 best things to do on Oahu.
- The 10 best things to do on Kauai.
Hawaii vacations with a Hawaii Travel Agent
One of the best parts about working with a travel agent is that I know the best resorts, tours, and things to do. 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!
If you’re ready to plan the perfect Hawaii vacation, make sure to contact me or go ahead and fill out a custom travel request, and I’ll get back to you ASAP. We can figure out if it makes more sense to cruise or book a traditional vacation.
If you prefer to DIY your vacation, I understand that too! I wrote a post about the 7 best resorts on the Big Island. If you’re planning your trip or don’t want to stay at a resort, you can use my link to save $55 off your first booking at Airbnb.
Dreaming of Hawaii, but not ready to travel just yet? Sign up for my newsletter! You will receive a weekly email with travel tips, Hawaii deals, and more. I’ll be there whenever you’re ready to plan your vacation. Sign up below. If you love these posts and want to support my blog but aren’t ready to travel yet, you can buy me a coffee to show your support. I ❤️coffee!
Pin it for later: