Top 10 Big Island Hiking Trails

Flying to Hawaii is quite the experience. After hours upon hours of flying over nothing but deep blue oceans, a few green dots appear on the horizon. As you fly closer and closer, those green dots explode with detail and you can start to see the true idyllic beauty of the Hawaiian islands. The sweeping coastlines, the deep valleys, and if you’re lucky, a glimpse of water crashing down cliffsides.

For many, flying into Hawaii is a true test of patience as many just want to hit the ground running as soon as the doors open; going off the explore the many wonders that locations like the Big Island have to offer. Start planning for that first big adventure upon touchdown with the following list of premier Big Island hikes:

Top 10 Big Island Hiking Trails

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hike

Formed by a unique lava-borne mineral, there are only a couple of green sand beaches in the world, and the Papakolea Beach in South Hawaii is one of them. The hike to the beach is considered of moderate difficulty with hiking shoes recommended and plenty of sun protection as there isn’t any shade at the beach itself. From the trailhead to Papakolea Green Sand Beach is about two and a half miles. 

Kilauea Iki Trail

weathered lava rocks in hawaii

This is another moderate hiking trail but instead of a green sand beach, the Kilauea Iki Trail leads hikers into the depths of a volcanic crater. You will find this well-marked hiking trail within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with a full estimated walking distance of four miles. The trail begins within a lush rainforest setting and slowly takes hikers to and along the crater’s rim and then down to its floor. 

Kipuka Puaulu “Bird Park” Trail

This easy hiking trail is a must for birders and those looking to see more of Hawaii’s indigenous feathered species. The Kipuka Puaulu Trail is a 1.2-mile looped trail with very gentle inclines and declines. As its nickname suggests, this jungle-esque trail leads under canopies full of singing birds.

Akaka Falls Trail

At just 0.5-miles, this is a very short and easy hike with an elevation gain of just 121 feet. But don’t let its brevity put you off as you may find yourself lingering here longer than other, longer trails. That’s because where this short trail takes you is along with a lush rainforest setting that opens up onto a viewing platform overlooking the towering Akaka Falls. Akaka Falls plunges an incredible 442 feet from the very top of a massive cliff down deep into a steam-eroded gorge. The view is quite spectacular if a little dizzying. 

Kalopa Perimeter Forest Trail

Also called the Kalopa Perimeter Horse Trail, this is a 3.8-mile looped trail located within the Hamakua Forest Reserve near Honokaa. We love this hiking trail because it is significantly less crowded than most of those on our list, making it easy to feel like you’re along, venturing into the rainforest with just your group. Overall this hike lies between easy and moderate, but avoid going after rainfall as it can get too muddy real fast.

Napua Hiking Trail

The Napua Trail is among the most challenging hikes on this list due to its length and large exposed sections where dehydration is a real concern. Also called the Napua Crater Trail, you can either continue it from where the Puu Huluhulu Trail leaves off (for a total of 6.2 miles to the crater) or from its start near the Naulu Trail Rest Area (a total of 5.2 miles). This is a top Big Island trail because while challenging, it treks over fascinating lava formations, including lava rivers and channels. You will find a primitive campground near its end at the Napau Crater overlook and enjoy an evening beneath the stars. 

Lapakahi State Historical Park Loop

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This is a great one for the history buff. Lapakahi State Historical Park Loop is easily located just off of Highway 270. This easy one-mile loop hike takes you along the rugged Kohala coastline. Of special interest here are ancient Hawaiian artifacts including home sites. 

Pololu Valley to Honokane Nui Lookout

This is a challenging hike located in the northern part of the Big Island starting just where Highway 270 ends. Here, the trail starts at the top of a coastal cliff where you can choose to simply enjoy the view or opt for a more picturesque experience and take the full 3.2-mile round-trip hike down into the valley, across the coastline, and up to the Honokane Nui Lookout.

Nahuku-Thurston Lava Tube Hike

Massive, hollow underground volcano tubes criss-cross the Big Island’s subterranean landscape like natural subways. There are some pretty fascinating spots where you can hike, crawl, and rappel twenty miles or more all underground. But best to start small and check out this easy 1.5-mile lava tube trail located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. What’s really cool about this hike is that during the day, the cave is illuminated with installed lights, but the trial is open 24/hours and if you go at night, you can journey its depths just by your headlamp.

Kaawaloa Trail to Kealakeua Bay

For some of us, the best hikes are those hikes with a swimming pay-off! If you agree, check out Kaawaloa Trail (also called the Captain Cook Mountain Trail) in West Hawaii. This is a moderate 3.8-mile round-trip trail due to some big inclines (total elevation gain of 1300) but most will find it overall manageable. At its end, you will find a wonderful swimming and snorkeling spot along with the interesting historical obelisk erected in memoriam to Captain James Cook. 

Learn More About These Hikes & the Adventures Awaiting You on the Big Island

While we hope this list did a good job of outlining ten of the best hikes the Big Island of Hawaii has to offer, there is so much more to learn about each of these hikes as well as other exciting outdoor opportunities waiting for you here. Be sure to check out our more detailed pages of these hikes to learn more about what to expect and to find the perfect activities for you and your travel group.