Only on Foot: See Hawaii’s Big Island the Right Way
Okay, okay, we’re impressed. But…when it comes to hiking, where can you go to experience tropical beaches, volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls, deserts and rainforests in an area less than 75 miles across?
That’s right, the Big Island of Hawai`i. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails allow the adventurous—and not so adventurous—to get an up-close and personal look at this fascinating island that boasts one of the most diverse climates and ecosystems in the world.
Here are a few hikes on the Big Island that you might try. This list is by no means complete, but it will give you a tantalizing idea of what awaits.
For Serious Hikers Only
• Why not start big? Muliwai Trail is an 18-mile trek that takes you into the forest, past pools of cool water and waterfalls, and reveals some spectacular views of the Pacific. The trail requires hikers to cross 13 gulches and navigate nearly 10 miles of steep switchbacks. Figure two days for this one. Expert hikers only.
• Hike to the summit of Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive mountain and the largest volcano on earth. You have two choices: a 13-mile hike that takes a full day and a lot of energy, or a 30-mile odyssey that will occupy three to five days of your life. The latter requires a permit. Either is a tough hike on hard lava, but the summit is the mountain’s reward: wild, isolated and awe-inspiring.
• Why hike Mauna Kea? It’s not just Hawaii’s tallest peak, it’s the highest mountain in the entire Pacific rim. The only alpine lake in the state can be found there. The 12-mile trail isn’t the most difficult on the island, but the 4,500-foot elevation gain requires a good dose of dedication and endurance. Check for access information before setting off.
• The hike to Waimanu Valley takes you to one of the most remote and beautiful places in Hawai`i . The 16-mile trek has an elevation gain of 7,000 feet and is wet, steep and rocky. Moreover, it won’t budge an inch to appease your sore feet and tired legs. You’ll cross a river and several streams before you’re through. You can do the entire trail in a day, but it’s a long day. Get started early and check the weather and flash flood warnings before you set out. Needless to say, experienced hikers only.
For the Rest of Us
If you’re exhausted from just reading about those hikes, here are a few that are much shorter, much more doable, but still extremely rewarding.
• The otherworldly Kilauea Iki trail hike takes you through a lush forest, down to the Kilauea Iki crater, over the crater floor and past steaming fissures in the ground. It’s a moderate, four-mile hike with an elevation gain of about 400 feet.
• Venture down into the valley of the Kings on the Waipio Trail. The lush, tropical landscape looks like something out of a fairy tale; waterfalls and the beach only add to the dreaminess of the place. The 6.5-mile hike is somewhere between easy and difficult and will take a good half day to complete.
• One of the easier hikes on the island, the trail to Pololu Valley is just 2.5 miles but leads to a beautiful black-sand beach. The rugged shoreline is simply spectacular. You can even cool off with a dip in the ocean. On dry days you can do this one in tennis shoes.
• If you want to see what may be the best beach on the Big Island that’s not road accessible, you’ll have to walk 2.5 miles to get there. Makalawena Beach on the Kona coast is carved out of the shoreline, and with sparkling white sand and palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze, it is a picture-perfect tropical paradise.
• Hawai`i is famous for its waterfalls. One of the easiest to get to is the dramatic Akaka Falls. It’s a free-falling 442-foot sensation, and the half-mile trail takes you to a lookout over both Akaka and the smaller Kahuna Falls.
Hiking on the Big Island can be exhilarating, rewarding, unforgettable—and dangerous. If something goes wrong, help could be a long way away. So take proper precautions. Bring plenty of water and some high-energy food; use sunscreen and never hike with flip flops or sandals. A good pair of hiking boots is your best bet. Don’t go alone, and bring both a map and a fully charged cell phone with you.
More than 300 miles of hiking trails traverse the Big Island. Whether you choose a short trek or a multiday adventure, you’re sure to fall in love with the magnificent beauty of Hawai`i.