Hawaii Island has produced some of the state’s most secluded hiking trails, immersing adventure-seekers of all levels through rugged landscapes, unique environments, and even the world’s largest volcano. Don’t plan a Hawaii Island vacation without saving time for at least one of these stunning hikes.
An experience more about the destination than the journey, the hike to Papakolea Beach will take you 2.5 miles each way to one of the world’s only green sand beaches. Drive along South Point Road and look for “Green Sand Beach” signs, then follow the road by foot to the beach below. You will most likely see people trying to accomplish the hike in sandals and bathing suits, but don’t be fooled. The hike will take at least one hour each way with no shade, so don’t forget your water, hiking footwear, and sunscreen!
Akaka Falls Loop
Find Akaka Falls State Park on the northeastern end of the Hamakua Coast. From the short, paved path, visitors can view the 100-foot Kahuna Falls as well as the 440-foot Akaka Falls, with plenty of wild orchids, native flora, and bamboo along the way. The footpath here is only about a half-mile in length, making these falls arguably one of the most accessible on the island.
Kilauea Iki Trail
This moderate hike will bring you past forests of native Ohia trees and volcanic terrain into the Kilauea'iki crater, which formed from a volcanic eruption more than 60 years ago. Hikers will have to enter the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to access the trailhead, parking outside the Thurston Lava Tubes about 9 miles in from the entrance to the park. While the hike is on the shorter side (about 4 miles round trip), the most difficult part is climbing in and out of the crater. Most visitors who only have time for one hike choose this one, as it's a unique experience. Beat the heat and the crowds by getting there early in the morning, especially considering that there isn’t much shade on this hike.
Located along the North Kohala Coast, home to the island’s most picturesque sandy beaches and incredible weather, the Pololu Valley was formed by the Kohala volcano hundreds of thousands of years ago. Head east on the Akoni Pule Highway and drive to the end of the road before parking at the Pololu Valley Overlook where the trail begins. The hike is short at 2.5 miles round-trip, but it has a couple of very steep sections that will get your heart working.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
This is a no-brainer for families traveling with small children, even those needing strollers or wagons, because the trail is mostly paved and level. Take the self-guided hike through the gardens for a mile or two, passing by more than 2,000 different species of native Hawaiian plants, flowers, and trees. Be advised that the gardens are only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with admission ending at 4 p,m. Also, entry costs $20 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 16, and free for children under six.
Mauna Loa Lookout
Just west of Volcano Village, the Mauna Loa Scenic Strip road will take you up to an elevation of more than 6,500 feet over 10 miles. At the end of the road, the Mauna Loa Trail begins an 18-mile ascent to the summit of the volcano—but don’t worry, you’ll only need to hike a couple of miles to get a feel for the majestic mountainous terrain. This is the largest volcano on earth, so if you’re a very experienced hiker, you may want to cross the full hike off your bucket list. If so, find out more information about the excursion and start planning on the National Parks website.
Also known as Captain Cook Monument Trail, this intermediate hike in South Kona promises some pretty epic rewards at the end. The base of the Captain Cook Monument has incredible snorkeling, and the bay below has been known as a favorite spot for spinner dolphins since becoming a Marine Life Conservation District in 1969. The pathway is steep and continues for about 2 miles each way, so the way there will be a lot easier than the way back. Keep in mind that the loose rocks may present a dangerous situation when slippery, so don’t try to tackle this hike without the appropriate footwear and plenty of water to combat the intense sun.
Waipio Valley Trail
Famed Waipio Valley, the former home of King Kamehameha, shouldn’t be missed by nature lovers. The serene and secluded hike begins at the Waipio Valley Lookout and gains 800 feet in less than a mile, passing the black sands of Waipio Beach and the cascading Kuluahine Falls. Be sure to catch a glimpse of nearby Hiilawe Falls from here, flowing 1,300 feet at the back of the valley. About 6.5 miles round-trip, this adventure will most likely be too difficult for beginner hikers due to the sleep inclines and length.
Mauna Kea Summit
The hike to the summit of Mauna Kea is not for the faint of heart. Six miles each way and climbing from 9,200 feet up to 13,000 feet, most hikers give themselves eight to 10 hours to finish the journey. Don’t forget to register at the Mauna Kea Visitors Center before setting out, and plan on being back before sunset. The weather here is unpredictable and completely unique to the rest of the island; it sees snow in the wintertime and chilly temperatures for the rest of the year. This area is pure wilderness, and altitude sickness is a definite risk, so researching the hike beforehand on the Mauna Kea website is a must.
Onomea Bay Trail
Onomea Bay offers two different hikes from the Mamalahoa Highway in Papaikou. The first, dubbed the Donkey Trail, follows a stream through the Hawaiian rainforest past a small waterfall and to the ocean. The second, Onomea Trail, goes just to the right of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and past the Alakahi stream. Many choose to combine the trails or pair the hike with the botanical garden for added adventure, and you’ll often see people with their dogs on leashes enjoying the path.