Hawaii for Active Travelers: Where to Hike on The Big Island

hiking in hawaii

One of the best parts about traveling to Hawaii is getting out into nature. The Big Island of Hawaiʻi has over 4,000 square miles of land area with various terrain types and up to 13,796 feet of possible elevation gain. Hawaii also has eight of the 13 types of global climate zones, so each hike on the island can offer a very different experience. 

If you’re an active traveler, you’ll love all of the hiking options you have in Hawaii. This list is your ultimate guide to the top hikes on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. And we even ranked them in order of difficulty for you! 

1. Mauna Loa Lookout

Distance: 1.5-miles

Difficulty: Easy

The Mauna Loa Lookout gives you an excellent view of the big island’s sprawling greenery. You’ll drive along the Mauna Loa Road up the mountain, park your car at the end of the road, and start the short hike to the Mauna Loa Lookout. From the very start of the trail, you’ll notice the ground is made of dried, smooth red lava, which will gradually turn into black a’a lava as you get closer to the top. The views from the top – at 6662 feet – are remarkable, and the entire loop can be done in under an hour. 

The drive to the Lookout is an adventure itself, as you get closer and closer to Mauna Loa – the world’s largest active volcano. 

Pro Tip: Make sure you don’t confuse the Mauna Loa Lookout trail with the more challenging, 13-mile Mauna Loa Trail. 

Hiking in Hawaii

2. Kilauea Iki and Crater Rim Trail

Distance: 4-miles

Difficulty: Moderate

The Kilauea Iki is one of the more popular hikes on the big island for both tourists and locals. This trail starts in the rain forest on the edge of a volcano crater. As you begin your hike, you’ll pass the crater floor, which is continuously steaming. You can even peer into the crater vent that erupted in 1959, shooting lava up to 1900 feet before calming down 36 days later. 

This trail leads you down into a solid lava lake, which you then get to cross. During your hike, you’ll see plenty of fascinating rainforest birds! 

Note that the Kilauea Iki Trail is in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, so you’ll have to pay an entry fee of $15 per person or $30 per vehicle. 

The Kilauea Iki volcano on the big island, Hawaii

3. Ka’awaloa Trail (Captain Cook Monument)

Distance: 4-miles

Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

The Ka’awaloa trail is a popular hike on the big island as you don’t have to be an expert hiker, but it still provides a challenge. This trail takes you to the Captain Cook Monument and back. This monument was built in 1874 to honor the British explorer Captain James Cook who was killed in on the island in 1779. 

The hike up is somewhat strenuous, but the trek back down will be easy and quick.

This is a popular trail, so you’ll typically find it quite busy on a nice day. You’ll pass gorgeous wildflowers along the path and be rewarded with a fantastic view at the top.

Aerial view from the Ka'awaloa trail, the big island of Hawaii

4. Waipi’O Valley Trail

Distance: 4.72-miles

Difficulty: Moderate

The Waipi’O Valley Trail is a moderately difficult hike near Honokaa, Hawaii. To being this trail, you’ll drive to the Waipi’o Overlook and try to find parking in the small parking area. Next, follow the trail down towards the black sand Waipi’o beach.

If you’re looking to see some waterfalls on the big island, the Waipi’O Valley Trail can deliver. Walk along the eastern coastal borders from Waipi’o beach for about half a mile, and you’ll come across the Kaluahine Falls. You’ll also be able to see the Hi’ilawe Falls on the trail. The most picturesque view of the Hi’ilawe Falls is about halfway up the sea cliffs on the other side of the Valley. 

The best part about this hike is witnessing the wild horses that are roaming free in the area. These horses are calm as long as you don’t approach them. 

The Waipi’O Valley Trail is an “in and out” trail, so you’ll need to return the way you came.

The Waipi'O Valley Trail on the big island

5. Waimanu Valley

Distance: 16-miles

Difficulty: Hard

If you’re ready for an extreme, all-day hike, then Waimanu Valley is perfect. As this hike is so challenging, you’re less likely to run into crowds. This allows for a much more peaceful experience, but also means you should be aware of your surroundings. 

Along with its long distance, this hike presents many challenges for hikers: more than a vertical mile of elevation gain, areas with rockfall warnings, and a river-crossing that should only be attempted when the tide is low. 

Still, the benefits make it clear why this hike is so popular. Start at Waipi’o and hike to the other side to view several stunning waterfalls and the thick rainforest. The trail ends close to the gorgeous Waimanu Valley beach. After exploring the beach, you’ll need to turn around and go back. 

Waterfalls in Hawaii

So, now the only question is – which hike on the big island will you do first?

travel magazine logo