Salt & Wind Travel

The Most Stunning Trails for Big Island Hiking (2024)

If you’re traveling to the island of Hawai’i, chances are you’re into adventures and some part of the outdoors. As in pristine Pacific Ocean beaches, tons of water-based activities, and great Big Island hiking.

Whether on Hilo’s Eastern side or in Kona’s Western parts, there are many opportunities to hike through lava fields, lush rainforests, the island’s coastline, and more. Plus, some of these Big Island hiking trails were created by Hawaiians before Western contact and have been preserved under the statewide Nā Ala Hele Trail program.

Big Island Hiking

Six Best Trail For Big Island Hiking

As a travel writer and editor, I’ve spent over a decade researching and writing about travel. I was born and raised in Hawai’i and have traveled there extensively. I love the islands’ culture but encourage you to go outdoors too when visiting.

So let’s get into it. Here are six great easy- and medium-level hikes around the Island of Hawai’i, plus a note about one of its most popular (difficult) trails. Consider these some of the best Big Island hikes:

Three Easy Hikes

If you’re looking for easy hikes, Big Island has options. As a travel writer and editor, I’ve spent over a decade researching and writing about travel. I was born and raised in Hawai’i and have traveled there extensively. I love the islands’ culture but encourage you to stay and buy local when visiting. These are our picks for when you want to move your body but not as intensely or you’re pressed for time. 

‘Akaka Falls Trail (Honomū)

Head to ‘Akaka Falls State Park, about 15 miles north of Hilo for easy Big Island hiking that also packs in two waterfalls. Bamboo, wild orchids, and ferns surround this paved, forested half-mile loop. The footpath includes multiple steps at some points.

The first waterfall encounter is the 100-foot Kahuna Falls. Around a bend is the famous ʻAkaka Falls, where water plunges 400-plus feet into a gorge. There is a parking fee for this Big Island waterfall hike, and no pets are allowed, though bathrooms and water fountains are available.

Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (Hāpuna Beach to Mauna Kea Beach, Waimea)

This easy-ish section of the 175-mile coastal trail is like a triple threat. It’s bookended by two of the best white sand beaches along the Kohala coast and follows a path Hawaiians used before Western contact. This part of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is relatively flat, though uneven in parts due to loose rocks. 

Start at Hāpuna Beach and follow the signs to Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. It’s about two miles to Mauna Kea Beach and back or less than an hour round-trip. If you go, cover up—the trail is shadeless. 

Other access points to the historic Ala Kahakai trail network (FYI, it’s not a contiguous trail) include Big Island’s state parks like Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

Makalawena Beach (Kailua-Kona) 

Another easy trail for Big Island hiking with a beachy payoff is the hike to Makalawena Beach near Kona. The crowds are smaller here because you either need to hike in or take a four-wheel drive with good clearance to navigate the rocky, uneven road to Makalawena.

One way to get there on foot is to park at Mahai’ula Beach (drive slow to get here) and take the trail north across lava fields until you hit dunes and Makalawena Beach. The trail to Makalawena and back (five miles or so) is flat yet uneven at times and exposed with little shade. These beaches are located within Kekaha Kai State Park.

Hiking Lava Hawaii

Three Medium Difficulty Hikes

These three Big Island hikes are considered medium-level due to their longer mileage, steeper elevation gain, and varying terrain. 

Kīlauea Iki Trail (Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park)

Hike through green fern and flowering o’hia tree rainforest and across Kīlauea Iki’s solidified lava lake on the Kīlauea Iki Trail. The three-mile loop is located within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and was the site of a short eruption in 1959. 

Find the trailhead at Kīlauea Iki lookout on Crater Rim Drive, and note that there is a steep 400-foot descent and ascent to and from the crater floor. We love this Big Island hiking trail for the landscape’s stark contrast between bright, verdant forest and dark, barren crater floor. Stop at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitors center for more options, including which trail to see ancient petroglyphs and pass through lava tubes.

Pu’uwa’awa’a Cinder Cone Trail (Kona)

If you head inland from the resorts in Waikōloa, a hike takes you around and up to the top of one of Hualālai volcano’s cinder cones. A cinder cone is a mound of volcanic material that forms after a volcanic vent explodes. This one was created about 110,000 years ago during a series of eruptions.

The hike is about a 6.5-mile loop from the O’hia Trail or Halapepe Trail and is at an 800-foot elevation. Its summit rewards you with views of Kona Coast, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualālai. 

Years of rainfall created the cinder cone’s deep grooves that inspired its name and is a unique feature for Big Island hiking trails. Translated, puʻu waʻawaʻa means “many-furrowed hill.” 

Part of the area includes a working ranch and private property. In addition to native plants, trees, and grassland, hikers may spot wild boars, sheep, and donkeys. Shade is also minimal.

Puna Trail (Kea’au)

Puna Trail near Kea’au is a flat yet, at times, uneven, five-mile out-and-back trail. It traces parts of the old Government Road from the mid-1800s. Before that, it was part of an old Hawaiian route that linked communities in the Puna district to other districts and natural resources. 

The trail ends at Hā’ena Beach, where you might spot the state’s endangered monk seal or honu (green sea turtles.) Other historic sites along this hike include a WWII-era concrete “pillbox” bunker, the private Shipman Estate, and the site of the world’s oldest nēnē (Hawaiian goose) breeding program.

Responsible Hiking Tips

There’s a Hawaiian expression called mālama ‘āina, meaning to care for the land, and there are several ways to do this when hiking trails on the Big Island, elsewhere in Hawaiʻi, and beyond. Please do:

  • Stay on marked trails
  • Pack out whatever you bring in
  • Respect private property
  • Don’t disturb wildlife like honu (sea turtles) and monk seals
  • Read and heed official signage along the trail to avoid walking onto sacred sites or restoration areas

Frequently Asked Questions

From hiking shoes to moisture-wicking tanks and more, read our complete guide for what to pack when hiking in Hawaiʻi.

Whether hiking in the Big Island or one of its neighboring islands, the statewide Nā Ala Hele Trail program is a great resource to discover and search for hiking trails by features, amenities, activities, and more.

The internet offers a bunch of Big Island hiking tips for Waipi’o Valley. But, the thing is, as of early 2022, the county closed road access to Waipi'o Valley—except for Hawaiʻi Island residents, Native Hawaiians, and licensed tour operators.

Hawaii Travel Tips

Essential Hawai’i Travel Tips

Want to travel to Hawai’i responsibly? Check out these essential tips for traveling to Hawai’i that we share with our travel clients before they head to the Aloha state.

Have Us Plan Your Hawaiʻi Trip

Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency specializing in Hawaiʻi vacation planning? If you’re looking to plan a trip to Hawaiʻi, our Hawai’i trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.

Photo Credit: Kilauea Iki Crater and Akaka Falls with people photo by Maridav; Waipio Valley photo by Radoslaw Lecyk 

Hawaiian Diacritical Marks: In an effort to be accurate and respectful of the Hawaiian language, we use diacritical marks in our articles on the region. For more about which marks are used in the language and how to find proper spelling, refer to this Hawai’i Magazine article.  

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