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7 best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii
Aloha! 🙂 Thank you for stopping by. I wrote this post in 2016, and it quickly became very popular. I am keeping it updated with current information. If you’re looking for more posts about a Hawaii vacation, they are linked throughout this one!
Also known as the Big Island, the island is both the largest and most diverse of all of the Hawaiian islands. This was my third trip to the island, but I had several new experiences. We had a wonderful time, and are already planning our Hawaiian adventure. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing more of our trip, along with tips and tricks about Hawaii travel.
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.
Make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Entrance to the park is priced at $15 per vehicle, we were fortunate enough that we visited on a week where all national parks had free entry.
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
If you have limited time on the Big Island, Kealakekua Bay is an absolute must. This was my favorite part of our trip. If you enjoy kayaking, swimming, 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. Since we were less interested in a guided tour, we rented a kayak from Kona Kayak Rental (who I highly recommend!) since they saw us looking lost and asked if we needed directions. Our kayak rental was $60 for a double kayak for the day. If you have or rent snorkeling gear, you definitely need to bring it with you. Many vacation rental condos (including ours) provide snorkeling gear. Check out my post for other reasons why to stay in a vacation rental condo.
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 were lucky enough to get very close to the dolphins, one of them even swam under our kayak. Seeing dolphins in the wild is so much better than the dolphin encounters offered at the resorts. It’s also much cheaper.
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 do 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.
We actually didn’t see any turtles here (keep reading for the location where we found them!) but there was a designated area for them. 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, so it had to make my 7 best things to do on the Big Island list.
6. Visit Waipi’o Valley
You’re definitely going to need a 4-wheel drive for this trip. 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, even better than Akaka falls in my opinion. 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.
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 our trip 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 did find some honu (turtles) here 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 am so excited to go back and find more. I do recommend renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you can. Our rental car company had a “deal” going on for the week, so we got a Jeep Wrangler. 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.
If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, I highly recommend staying in a vacation rental for affordability, and the comforts of home. You can use my link to save $40 off your first booking at Airbnb, the only company that I recommend! If you want more tips on how to save on a Hawaii vacation, one of my most popular posts talks about just that!
If you have any tips for the best things to do on the Big Island, I’d love it if you would share them in the comments. I can’t wait to return to Hawaii and keep exploring.