Kohala Volcano

Kohala Volcano – A True Sight to Behold While Exploring the Northern Tip of the Big Island
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Do you want to marvel at the sheer power and beauty of the Big Island landscape? All you have to do is plan a trip to the Kohala Volcano. For the full experience, plan to admire its magnificence on helicopter tours and hiking trips galore.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

If you want to see a perfect example of the rugged beauty of the Big Island landscape, a Kohala Volcano visit is definitely in order. Although this volcano hasn’t erupted for over 120,000 years, its powerful aura remains, creating a true sight to behold while visiting the north side of the island. For the full viewing experience, you’ll want to see the volcano from above by taking a helicopter tour. Then, go on hiking explorations to fully admire the lush landscape up close.

Unlike the ever-popular Kilauea Volcano on the other side of the island, there is no flowing lava theatrics to see at the Kohala Volcano. Instead, you get to experience just what happens when a volcano goes dormant. The greenery grows in beautifully, for example, plus the wildlife settles into their habitats for the long-term. The space retains its much-loved characteristics, like hiking trails, too, so you always know what to expect when you go there.

Out of the five shield volcanoes on the Big Island, the Kohala Volcano is the oldest. This natural monument began forming over one million years ago, although it took half that time just to emerge from the sea. During its steady growth, the Earth’s magnetic field reversed, which geologists can see evidence of while looking at its ancient lava flows. A huge landslide changed the face of the mountain about 300,000 years ago. This catastrophic event cut 1,000 meters off the top of the volcano and created its unique foot-like shape.

By the time of its last eruption over 100,000 years ago, the volcano spread across 234 square miles in total. Thousands of years of erosion have cut through the mountainside, creating stunning valleys filled with plant and animal life. The two most popular ones to visit are the Waipio Valley and Waimanu Valley. Unlike other parts of the island, this rather isolated piece of paradise lacks invasive plant species. So, the lush vegetation you see is native to Hawaii, letting you gaze into how the landscape once looked from end to end of the island.

All along the slopes of the volcano, you can view gorgeous cloud forests. Fed by the ample 150 inches of rainfall each year, these forests have the perfect combination of tall trees, vines, bushes, and ground cover. There are even massive tree ferns, which give the forest a prehistoric feel. Since cloud forests are ultra-rare, this space serves as home to thousands of species not found anywhere else in the world, including the exquisite Hawaiian Hawk.

With so many amazing sights to see, it just makes sense to take guided tours all throughout the volcanic landscape. Whether you’re up in the air in a helicopter or on foot along the trails, your guides can point out all the rare plants and animals. They’ll also share the history and culture of the volcano, leaving you with many fun facts to share with the world.

When it comes to hiking through the Kohala area, having a guide lead the way can help you stay safe, too. The dense vegetation often obscures the trails, while all the rainfall makes all the paths super slippery. Even with a guide, you should properly prepare for your trip by wearing well-fitting hiking shoes, lots of moisture-wicking layers, and a light rain jacket. Don’t forget to gear up properly for the trip by bringing along extra water and protein-rich snacks for all in your group.

Insider Tips:
-Wear locally sourced bug spray throughout your trip through the mountain trails.
-Put on reef-safe SPF 50+ sunblock before going on your adventures, and then reapply every two hours.
-Put your camera in a waterproof case and on a strap to keep it safe and accessible all throughout your explorations.
-Go on your hikes early in the day, and then plan to get back to the trailhead by mid-afternoon at the latest.