UPDATE: Since April/May 2018 the Big Island’s active volcano, Kilauea, has been experiencing heightened geothermal activity. While the current eruption is confined to a very small part of the island, the activity is impacting some activities on the island (most notably the closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the operation of guided hikes to the lava flow). This warning is by NO MEANS to discourage you from visiting the island at this time as it’s perfectly safe. But, it’s a good idea to check current conditions on the island before planning any adventures, and as always, remain flexible as conditions can change rapidly.
If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island, you’re probably planning quite a bit of time for beach bumming and lounging around the resort pool (because that’s what a beach vacation is all about right??), but just in case you’re looking for more things to do on the Big Island, for a bigger dose of adventure, or to get out and explore all that the Big Island has to offer, here are 5 suggestions for Big Island day trips:
Hilo: Hilo just might be the prettiest town in Hawaii, and if you’re not splitting your stay on the island with a partial stay in Hilo, it deserves at least a day trip. My favorite way to reach Hilo is via the road along the north shore of the island. Starting in Waikoloa, you’ll see the Big Island’s beautiful upcountry as you pass through Waimea before getting to the Hamakua Coast where you’ll see eucalyptus forests, lush jungles, and waterfalls. Make Akaka Falls State Park your first stop. Sure, the state’s tallest waterfall is something to see, but the short hike is really stunning. Once you’re in Hilo, check out the Farmer’s Market if it’s a Wednesday or Saturday, Rainbow Falls, and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. For more things to do in Hilo, check out this list. To mix it up, don’t retrace your steps, but take Saddle Road back across the island to Kona side.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: The number one attraction on the island deserves at least a day to explore. There are two main roads you can drive through the park. I suggest following the National Park’s driving tours (Chain of Craters Road & Crater Rim Drive). If you’re keen on seeing lava, you’ve got a few options. A helicopter tour will give you an incredible aerial view. If lava is flowing into the ocean, a boat tour will take you up close to view it. Also, depending on how the lava’s flowing, sometimes you can hike to it (I recommend a guided tour). Of course, since the lava/volcanoes are a natural phenomenon, conditions can change in a moment so always be aware when planning and stay flexible. For example, as this post is being published, the national park has been closed for over a month due to a series of earthquakes and new fissures.
RELATED: Not very familiar with the Big Island? Read up on the lay of the (is)land and my favorite beach resorts, budget hotels, Airbnbs, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, luxury resorts, and boutique hotels.
Green Sand Beach & South Point: The southern most point of the Big Island also happens to be the most southern point in the US. And what you’ll find nearby is pretty special…a green sand beach! It’s definitely worth making the drive down south to check it out. Once you reach the parking lot, it’s a pretty long trek along the sunny coast to reach the beach. Tip: take cash and catch a ride from one of the locals offering shuttle service across the lava field. While you’re down this way is also a good time to check out Punalu’u (the black sand beach). It’s not uncommon to see turtles here.
Waimea & Waipio Valley: If you want to get away from the resort areas and see a bit of “real Hawaii” head up to Waimea. Waimea is paniolo (cowboy) country and home to Parker Ranch, which was once the largest ranch in the US. If you’re interested, stop by and tour the two historic homes on the property. You can do a self-guided tour and watch a 20-minute video free of charge. There are quite a few boutiques and art galleries to check out in this cute town. Don’t miss Hawaiian Style Café! While you’re in the area, head over to Waipio Valley. The overlook is stunning. I wouldn’t recommend hiking it though. You’re basically just walking down a super steep road (4WD only) and once you’re at the bottom there’s not much to see unless you’re on a guided tour back into the valley (it’s mostly private property so you can’t just go wondering around). But it’s definitely worth going to the overlook.
RELATED: Need a packing list for the Big Island? Find my best packing advice here.
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Kealakekua & Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau: Kealakekua Bay is some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii, but it’s not super easy to reach. You can hike down to Captain Cook’s Monument (where the best snorkeling is). It’s a 3.8-mile round trip hike, and while it’s not particularly challenging, it’s pretty steep coming back up in direct sunlight so it may feel harder/longer than it is. It’s about 45 minutes going down, but will probably take longer going back up. My favorite way to snorkel at Kealakekua Bay is on a kayak excursion. Read about the trip I took here. While you’re already down south, head over to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau or the City of Refuge. This sacred site is run by the National Park Service and is a must do if you’re interested in Hawaiian culture. The cost is $5/vehicle to enter the park (check your receipt form Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as it covers admission). While you’ll learn a lot about Hawaiian culture (consider doing one of the guided tours with a park ranger), this place is flat out beautiful. It’s also really common to see turtles on the north end of the park, and there’s really good snorkeling north of the park at a place called Two Step.
RELATED: 15 Things to Do on the Big Island
Also, if you’re looking for absolutely everything you could ever want to know about the Big Island, I highly recommend ordering the Hawaii Revealed guidebook (this is an affiliate link which means if you choose to purchase I’ll make a little money). It’s worth its weight in your backpack just for its directions on finding hidden beaches, waterfalls, and trail heads. Seriously, I never would’ve found half of my favorite spots on the Big Island without it.
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