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The Big Island of Hawaii is an outdoor playground for hikers and nature-lovers. In fact, The Big Island is one of the most ecologically diverse locates on the planet, where you can find nearly every climate (4 of the 5 major climate zones) – from tropical monsoon and ice tundra, to desert to temperate, all within an hour drive of one another. It’s a truly remarkable place, especially considering it’s only 4,028 square miles. So, with so many types of land to explore, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. With that, let’s take a look at some of the best hiking trails, tours, and preparations for the trip ahead of you.
Best Big Island of Hawaii Hiking Trails
1. Waipi’o Valley
Round-trip is 6.5 miles with a medium to hard difficulty level, this trail is located in Kohala on the Northern part of the Big Island.
Waipi’o Valley is one of the most scenic locations in the world, giving hikers the feeling of walking through the solitude of Jurassic Park. There is a large elevation change as you hike down 800 feet into the Valley of Kings, and once at the bottom, you’re welcomed by a tropical fairytale and a pristine black sand beach. It’s worth noting however, that there are no shops at the bottom of the valley, so be sure to pack plenty of water and any food you wish to bring. Be mindful to hike out with all of your trash. Also, there are 4-wheel transports that you can hire to bring you in or out if you’re only wanting to go for the views and not the challenge.
2.Hawaii Botanical Gardens
At 1.5 miles round-trip, this is a very easy hike located in Hilo on the East side of the Big Island.
Hosting more than 2,000 different plant and tree species, this is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens on Earth. With very little elevation changes, this is less of a hike and more of a leisurely stroll through nature at its best. For those wanting a little more of a hike, travelers can do a 2.5 mile round-trip through the donkey trail down to Onomea Bay and Turtle Cove, which are both located just outside the gardens.
3. Mauna Loa
Another easy 1.5 mile round-trip hike, the Mauna Loa Lookout is located on in the Southeast of the island in Volcano Village.
The drive to this trail is a beautiful scenic journey passing past Kilauea Crater, through a bird park, koa forests, and old lava flows – all with plenty of turn-out points where you can park your car and get some stellar selfies with you and your friends. The trail is a short journey, but highly rewarding at the end, where hikers are greeted by unique red lava rock, and rugged surroundings that provide amazing views of the island and coast.
4. Pololu Valley Hike
An easy 2.5 round-trip hike, this is a great beginner hike also located on the Kohala Coast.
The initial hike at Pololu Valley is a bit steep, though being a short 3 to 45 minutes down, it’s a great morning hike. Once at the bottom, travelers are welcomed by a beautiful black sand beach juxtaposed against lush greenery and crystal blue oceans waters. It’s highly recommended to make a lunch picnic of this trip and to definitely bring a swimsuit to enjoy a relaxing dip in the Pacific before climbing out.
5. Kilauea’iki Trail
At 4 miles round-trip, and medium skill-level/difficulty, this hike located in Hawaii Volcano National Park is a great one to take if you only have time for one during your stay.
The Kilauea’iki Trail first leads you through the tropical and luch ohia forest, descending into the Kilauea creater, and across the crater floor. Once on the floor, hikers pass steaming volcanic fissures (depending on the state of activity of the volcano), and see the first growths of ohia shrubs rising from the hard volcanic rock – a distinct reminder of how new this earth is, having only been formed less than a century ago.
For those wanting local guides to various spots, there are plenty of paid hiking tours available all around the Big Island. Many of these guided tours also include food and drinks, so that you don’t have to think about any planning whatsoever, and need only enjoy the splendor of Hawaii.
Planning & Safety
As always, the main rule here is to “be prepared.” Always be sure to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water – Hawaii is a very warm, sunny climate, and the humidity can really take it out of you. It’s always good to go on these hikes with at least one partner for safety, and bring a cell phone in case of emergency. Do note that there is no cell phone service at the bottom of Waipi’o Valley, so for those wanting to make sure they’re connected, please be advised that satellite phones are required to call out.
Be sure to dress in appropriate gear as well. While the easy hikes and walks can easily be done in flip-flops (or “slippahs” as the locals call them), the harder trails and hikes require hiking boots. Regardless of what protective gear you’re wearing, never take unnecessary risks – especially in hard-to-reach locations such as Volcano Crater and Waipi’o Valley. A sat phone can be especially handy if you’re planning on camping overnight in Waipi’o as well. Some sat phones we favor include the BlueCosmo Inmarsat IsatPhone 2, and the Iridium 9555. More satellite phone consumer comparisons are available here.
When hiring hiking tours, there are plenty of legitimate companies, but there are also not-so-legitimate companies. While you will normally be required to sign indemnification paperwork in case of injury, if you are you or anyone in your party is injured as a result of a third-party’s wrongdoing, you should contact the local authorities or a Big Island injury lawyer. In fact, we went on a hike with an injury lawyer at Pacific States Legal Group, based in Kona on the West side of the Big Island. Pacific States Legal Group can be contacted at www.konalawyer.com – though we certainly hope you have no reason to!
The Big Island of Hawaii has a LOT to offer, and honestly, it would be hard for you to see everything on a single trip. But this welcoming paradise certainly encourages repeat visits, so even if you’re only able to explore one or two of the above trails [or the hundreds of others available on the island], that will just give you all the more reason to come back. As always, safe travels, and safe hiking.