A Guide To Hiking Trails On The Big Island Of Hawaii

Are you ready to embark on a breathtaking adventure amidst the lush greenery and stunning landscapes of the Big Island of Hawaii? Look no further, as this comprehensive guide will take you through the most magnificent hiking trails that this tropical paradise has to offer. From the awe-inspiring beauty of Akaka Falls State Park to the mesmerizing volcanic landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you’ll discover the hidden gems and natural wonders that await you on this enchanting island. Lace up your hiking boots, pack your camera, and get ready to experience the magic of Hawaii’s hiking trails.

Table of Contents

1. Hiking Essentials

1.1 Proper Footwear

When going on a hike, it is important to have the right footwear to ensure comfort and safety. Choose sturdy hiking boots or shoes that provide good traction and ankle support. Make sure they are well broken-in to prevent blisters. Avoid wearing flip-flops or sandals as they offer little protection and stability on rugged trails.

1.2 Weather-appropriate Clothing

Hawaii’s weather can be unpredictable, so it’s crucial to dress appropriately for your hike. Lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing is ideal, as it helps keep you cool and dry. Layering is key, as temperatures can vary throughout the day. Don’t forget a waterproof jacket or poncho to protect yourself from sudden rain showers. Also, consider wearing a hat and sunglasses to shield yourself from the sun.

1.3 Water and Snacks

Staying hydrated and fueled during your hike is essential. Always carry an adequate supply of water, as the tropical climate can quickly lead to dehydration. It is recommended to drink at least one liter of water per hour of hiking. Additionally, pack lightweight and nutritious snacks such as energy bars, nuts, and dried fruits to keep your energy levels up.

1.4 Navigation Tools

To navigate the trails successfully, it’s important to have the right tools. Carry a detailed map of the trail you’ll be hiking, as well as a compass or GPS device. Familiarize yourself with the trail markings and signs to avoid getting lost. It’s also a good idea to download trail maps or GPS apps on your phone, but be aware that cell service may not always be reliable in remote areas.

1.5 Sun Protection

Hiking in Hawaii means being exposed to intense sunlight. Protect yourself from harmful UV rays by applying sunscreen with a high SPF before starting your hike. Don’t forget to reapply it every few hours, especially if you are sweating. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and lightweight, long-sleeved clothing can also help prevent sunburn and heat exhaustion.

2. Popular Hiking Trails

2.1 Akaka Falls Loop Trail

The Akaka Falls Loop Trail is a must-visit hiking trail on the Big Island. This scenic 0.4-mile loop takes you through lush rainforest, where you’ll encounter beautiful flora and fauna. The highlight of the trail is the stunning Akaka Falls, a 442-foot waterfall that is truly a sight to behold. Be prepared for some uphill hiking, but the breathtaking views make it all worth it.

2.2 Mauna Kea Summit

For experienced hikers looking for a challenge, the Mauna Kea Summit trail is an excellent choice. This strenuous hike takes you to the summit of Mauna Kea, one of the tallest mountains in the world when measured from its base on the ocean floor. With an elevation gain of over 13,000 feet, this hike is not for the faint of heart. Make sure to acclimatize yourself to the altitude and dress warmly, as temperatures at the top can be below freezing.

2.3 Pololu Valley Trail

The Pololu Valley Trail offers a beautiful coastal hike on the northern tip of the Big Island. This moderately difficult 1-mile trail takes you down to Pololu Valley, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of rugged cliffs, black sand beaches, and crashing waves. Take your time to explore the valley and soak in the natural beauty of this secluded paradise.

2.4 Kilauea Iki Trail

For a unique hiking experience, head to Kilauea Iki Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This 4-mile loop trail takes you across a recently erupted volcanic crater, offering a surreal landscape unlike any other. Hikers will encounter steam vents, lava formations, and even the opportunity to walk across a still-warm lava lake. It’s important to check for current volcanic activity and follow park regulations for a safe and enjoyable hike.

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2.5 Waipio Valley Trail

The Waipio Valley Trail showcases the majestic beauty of Hawaii’s valleys and waterfalls. This challenging hike begins with a steep descent into the valley and takes you through thick vegetation, across rivers, and along the coastline. The reward at the end is an awe-inspiring view of Hi’ilawe Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls on the Big Island. Be prepared for a strenuous uphill climb on the way back, but the breathtaking scenery makes it worthwhile.

3. Off-the-Beaten-Path Trails

3.1 Waimanu Valley Trail

If you’re looking to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in nature, the Waimanu Valley Trail is a hidden gem. This difficult 9-mile trail takes you through dense rainforest, across streams, and to the remote Waimanu Valley. Along the way, you’ll encounter stunning waterfalls, vibrant flora, and the peaceful beauty of untouched wilderness. It’s important to note that a permit is required to access the Waimanu Valley campground, so be sure to plan ahead.

3.2 Green Sands Beach Trail

The Green Sands Beach Trail, also known as Papakolea Beach, offers a unique hiking experience on the Big Island. This 5-mile round trip hike takes you to a secluded beach with striking green sand, a result of olivine mineral deposits. The trail itself is relatively flat and winds through dramatic coastal cliffs and desert-like terrain. Remember to pack plenty of water and sunscreen, as there is no shade along the trail.

3.3 Puu Huluhulu Trail

For panoramic views of the Big Island’s volcanic landscapes, take a hike on the Puu Huluhulu Trail. This moderate 2.5-mile loop trail takes you to the top of Puu Huluhulu, a cinder cone with sweeping vistas of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and the surrounding lava fields. Keep an eye out for native plants and wildlife, as the trail passes through a unique ecosystem that is home to many endemic species.

3.4 Mauna Loa Summit Trail

For those seeking a multi-day hiking adventure, the Mauna Loa Summit Trail offers an unforgettable experience. This challenging trail takes you to the summit of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano. The hike spans approximately 18 miles, with stunning views along the way. Due to the high elevation, it is important to acclimatize yourself and be prepared for changes in weather. A permit is required to access the trail, and it is recommended to hike with a knowledgeable guide.

3.5 Manuka Nature Trail

The Manuka Nature Trail is a hidden gem that offers a peaceful and educational hiking experience. This short 1-mile loop trail is located in Manuka State Wayside Park and takes you through a diverse range of Hawaiian ecosystems, including dryland forest, wetland, and coastal shrubland. Interpretive signs along the trail provide information about the flora, fauna, and cultural significance of the area, making it a perfect trail for nature enthusiasts and families.

4. Safety and Preparation

4.1 Trail Conditions and Difficulty

Before embarking on a hike, it’s vital to assess the trail conditions and difficulty level. Check for recent weather conditions, trail closures, and any potential hazards such as landslides or rockfalls. Be realistic about your fitness level and choose a trail that matches your abilities. It’s always better to start with easier trails and gradually progress to more challenging ones as you gain experience.

4.2 Leave No Trace Principles

Practicing Leave No Trace principles is crucial to minimize our impact on the environment and preserve the natural beauty of hiking trails. Follow these principles by packing out your trash, staying on designated trails, respecting wildlife and vegetation, and minimizing noise pollution. By leaving the trails as you found them, you contribute to the sustainability of these beautiful natural areas.

4.3 Emergency Preparedness

Being prepared for emergencies is essential when hiking in remote areas. Carry a first aid kit, emergency whistle, flashlight, and a fully charged cell phone. Let someone know your hiking plans, including the expected duration and route, and check-in with them after your hike. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with basic wilderness survival skills and know how to navigate using a map and compass.

4.4 Hiking with a Group

Consider hiking with a group, especially on more challenging trails or in unfamiliar terrain. Hiking with others increases safety, as there is strength in numbers. It also allows for shared experiences and can enhance the enjoyment of the hike. If hiking alone, let someone know your plans and expected return time.

4.5 Local Regulations

Respect local regulations and guidelines when hiking on the Big Island. Some trails may require permits or have specific rules for camping or access. Familiarize yourself with any restrictions or recommendations provided by park authorities or local communities. This ensures that you have a positive hiking experience while preserving the natural and cultural resources of the area.

5. Best Time to Hike

5.1 Weather Considerations

When planning your hike, take into account the weather conditions of the Big Island. Hawaii has a tropical climate, with warm temperatures year-round. However, it’s important to note that rainfall and temperature can vary significantly depending on the region and elevation. Check the weather forecast before heading out and be prepared for sudden changes in weather, especially in higher elevations.

5.2 Peak Seasons

The Big Island’s peak hiking season typically coincides with the drier months of May to September. During this time, the trails tend to be less muddy, and the weather is generally more predictable. However, it’s worth noting that popular trails can still be crowded during these months, especially on weekends and holidays. If you prefer a quieter hiking experience, consider visiting outside of peak season.

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5.3 Weekdays vs. Weekends

If possible, plan your hikes for weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends tend to be busier on popular trails, and parking can be limited. By choosing weekdays, you can enjoy a more peaceful and less crowded hiking experience. Additionally, early mornings and late afternoons tend to be less busy times of the day, allowing you to enjoy the trails with fewer hikers around.

5.4 Sunrise and Sunset Hikes

For a truly magical hiking experience, consider embarking on a sunrise or sunset hike. The Big Island offers stunning sunrise and sunset views, and watching the sky change colors over the dramatic landscapes is truly awe-inspiring. Be sure to check the specific trail regulations and any permits required for sunrise or sunset hikes, as some trails may have restricted access during these hours.

5.5 Wildlife Viewing Opportunities

Hiking on the Big Island provides abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing. From colorful birds and endemic plants to sea turtles and spinner dolphins, the island is teeming with biodiversity. To increase your chances of spotting wildlife, be aware of the best times of day for sightings. Early mornings and late afternoons are often the most active times for many species. Remember to observe wildlife from a distance and avoid disturbing their natural behaviors.

6. Planning Your Hike

6.1 Researching Trails

Before heading out on a hike, it’s important to research the trails thoroughly. Look for detailed trail descriptions, maps, and reviews from other hikers. This will give you a good understanding of the trail’s difficulty level, length, and terrain. Additionally, research any potential hazards, such as steep cliffs or river crossings, to ensure you are well-prepared for the hike.

6.2 Trail Permits

For some hiking trails on the Big Island, a permit is required to access certain areas or campsites. It’s important to check if the trail you plan to hike requires a permit and obtain one in advance if necessary. Permit requirements are in place to protect the fragile ecosystems and ensure a sustainable hiking experience. Check with the relevant authorities or park websites for information on obtaining permits.

6.3 Guided Tour Options

If you prefer a hassle-free hiking experience or want to learn more about the local flora, fauna, and culture, consider booking a guided tour. There are numerous tour operators on the Big Island that offer guided hikes led by experienced guides. This can be a great option for those who want to enjoy the beauty of the trails without the stress of navigation or planning.

6.4 Transportation and Parking

Before heading out on your hike, consider how you will get to the trailhead and where you will park. Some trails have limited parking spaces, especially popular ones. Arriving early in the day or choosing less crowded times can help secure a parking spot. If you don’t have your own transportation, research local transportation options or consider joining a guided tour that provides transportation.

6.5 Packing and Preparing a Backpack

When preparing for your hike, make sure to pack the essentials in your backpack. This includes proper footwear, weather-appropriate clothing, enough water, snacks, navigation tools, sun protection, and emergency supplies. Additionally, pack a small first aid kit, a multi-tool, and a lightweight rain jacket. Remember to pack light and only carry what you truly need to avoid unnecessary strain on your body.

7. Hiking Etiquette

7.1 Yielding on the Trails

When hiking, it’s important to be aware of trail etiquette to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all hikers. Uphill hikers generally have the right of way, so yield and step aside for them to pass. When encountering other hikers, slow down and communicate to determine the best way to pass each other. Remember to stay on the designated trail and avoid creating new paths or shortcutting switchbacks.

7.2 Trail Courtesy

Being courteous to fellow hikers and other trail users is essential. Be kind and respectful to everyone you encounter on the trail, including hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. Keep noise levels to a minimum to preserve the tranquility of the environment. If you are hiking with a group, walk in single file to allow others to pass easily. Finally, be mindful of your impact on the environment and refrain from littering or damaging vegetation.

7.3 Respect for Nature and Local Culture

When hiking on the Big Island, it’s important to show respect for the natural environment and local culture. Stay on designated trails to protect fragile ecosystems and avoid damaging vegetation. Be aware of any cultural sites or sacred areas along the trail and treat them with the utmost respect. It is also important to refrain from taking any natural souvenirs, as removing items from the trails can disrupt the balance of the ecosystem.

7.4 Proper Trash Disposal

Leave No Trace principles also include proper trash disposal. Pack out all your trash and dispose of it in designated trash cans or recycling bins. Do not leave any garbage on the trails or in nature, as it not only spoils the beauty of the environment but can also harm wildlife. Be a responsible hiker and leave the trails cleaner than you found them.

7.5 Reporting Trail Maintenance Issues

If you encounter any trail maintenance issues, such as fallen trees, erosion, or vandalism, it’s important to report them to the appropriate authorities or local organizations. This helps ensure the safety and maintenance of the trails for future hikers. Look for contact information or reporting procedures on official park or trail websites, and provide as much detail as possible about the issue you encountered.

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8. Hiking with Children

8.1 Family-friendly Trails

Hiking with children is a great way to introduce them to the wonders of the outdoors. Choose family-friendly trails that are suitable for their age and abilities. Look for trails that are relatively short, have minimal elevation gain, and offer interesting features such as waterfalls or wildlife sightings. It’s important to pace the hike according to your child’s energy levels and take plenty of breaks to avoid fatigue.

8.2 Safety Considerations

When hiking with children, prioritize their safety at all times. Ensure they are wearing proper footwear and appropriate clothing for the weather. Pack sufficient water and snacks to keep them hydrated and energized. Stay close to your child and keep an eye on them throughout the hike. Teach them basic trail etiquette and explain potential hazards, such as steep drop-offs or slippery rocks.

8.3 Engaging Activities on the Trails

To keep children engaged and interested in the hike, incorporate fun activities along the way. Encourage them to spot different types of birds or plants, or challenge them to find specific features such as animal tracks or unique rocks. Bring along a nature guidebook or app to help identify local flora and fauna. These interactive activities make the hike educational and enjoyable for children.

8.4 Educational Opportunities

Hiking with children offers numerous educational opportunities. Use the hike as a chance to teach them about the native plants and animals, geology, and cultural significance of the area. Point out interesting features and explain their importance. Encourage them to ask questions and foster their curiosity about the natural world. Engaging children in the educational aspects of hiking fosters a deeper appreciation for nature and conservation.

8.5 Packing Essentials

When hiking with children, make sure to pack the essential items they may need. This includes extra clothing, sunscreen, bug repellent, hats, and sunglasses. It’s also a good idea to bring along a small first aid kit, wet wipes, and extra snacks. Consider giving each child their own lightweight backpack to carry their personal items or small treasures they may collect along the trail.

9. Special Hiking Highlights

9.1 Lava Viewing Hikes

Exploring the volcanic landscapes of the Big Island offers a unique and unforgettable hiking experience. Plan a hike to witness the extraordinary sight of glowing lava flows. Check with local authorities or park websites for current volcanic activity and any restrictions or safety guidelines. It’s important to hike with caution and respect for the volcanic environment.

9.2 Waterfall Excursions

The Big Island is famous for its stunning waterfalls, and several hiking trails offer the opportunity to experience their beauty up close. Research the trails leading to popular waterfalls such as Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, or Hi’ilawe Falls. Be prepared for varying trail conditions, swimming restrictions, and potential slippery surfaces around the waterfalls. Swimming or jumping from waterfalls can be extremely dangerous and is not recommended.

9.3 Volcano National Park Trails

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a hiker’s paradise, with numerous trails that showcase the dynamic volcanic landscapes. From the impressive Kilauea Iki Trail to the scenic Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Trail, there is something for every hiking enthusiast. Check the park’s official website for trail updates, safety information, and any closures or restrictions due to volcanic activity.

9.4 Scenic Coastal Routes

The Big Island’s diverse coastline offers breathtaking vistas and unique hiking opportunities. Explore trails that take you along dramatic sea cliffs, secluded beaches, or coastal lava fields. Keep in mind that some coastal areas can be rugged and challenging, so check the current conditions and heed any warning signs. Enjoy the beauty of the coastline from a safe distance and be cautious of changing tides and surf.

9.5 Botanical Garden Trails

The Big Island is home to several beautiful botanical gardens that offer not only stunning landscapes but also informative trails. Take a leisurely stroll through lush gardens, learning about the diverse plant species that thrive in Hawaii’s unique environment. Some botanical gardens also offer guided tours or educational programs, providing a deeper understanding of the local flora and conservation efforts.

10. Trail Maintenance and Updates

10.1 Volunteer Opportunities

If you are passionate about hiking and want to give back to the trails, consider volunteering for trail maintenance projects. Many organizations and local communities offer opportunities to help maintain and preserve hiking trails. These projects can include clearing debris, improving signage, or repairing erosion damage. Volunteering is a rewarding way to contribute to the hiking community and ensure the sustainability of the trails.

10.2 Trail Closure Notifications

Stay informed about trail closures and updates by checking official park websites or signing up for email or text notifications. Trail closures may occur due to weather events, maintenance work, or sensitive ecological conditions. By remaining aware of any closures, you can avoid disappointment and plan alternate hiking routes in advance.

10.3 Working with Local Organizations

Support local organizations dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of hiking trails on the Big Island. These organizations often rely on volunteers and donations to carry out their work. Consider joining or donating to these organizations to help fund trail maintenance projects, promote conservation efforts, and preserve the natural beauty of the hiking trails.

10.4 Reporting Trail Damage or Hazards

If you come across any trail damage or hazards during your hike, it’s important to report them to the relevant authorities or local organizations. Fallen trees, eroded sections, or damaged signage can pose safety risks to hikers. By reporting these issues promptly, you contribute to the safety and maintenance of the trails for future hikers.

10.5 Conservation and Restoration Efforts

Learn about and support conservation and restoration efforts focused on the Big Island’s hiking trails. From reforestation projects to invasive species removal, there are various initiatives aimed at preserving the unique ecosystems of the island. Educate yourself about these efforts and consider donating to organizations that work to protect the natural resources and biodiversity of the trails.

In conclusion, the Big Island of Hawaii offers a wide range of hiking trails that cater to all skill levels and interests. By being prepared, respecting nature and local regulations, and practicing good trail etiquette, you can have a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. Whether you choose popular trails, off-the-beaten-path adventures, or family-friendly hikes, the beauty of Hawaii’s landscapes and the warm aloha spirit will make your hiking journey unforgettable.