The Big Island is an adventurer’s paradise of volcanoes, mountain peaks, valleys, waterfalls, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails. Here are some of our favorite options for exploration.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Named to National Geographic Traveler’s Best of the World list for 2016, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world's most active volcanoes. With a volume of nearly 20,000 cubic miles, Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain on the planet and stands at 56,000 feet above the sea floor, more than 27,000 feet higher than Mount Everest. The park has over 150 miles of trails, so guests can walk along lava flows and craters or through caves full of lava tubes and volcanic sea vents. The more adventurous may enjoy an overnight visit in the park’s backcountry along the Chain of Craters road.
Mauna Kea Summit
One of the best-known astronomical sites on the planet, Mauna Kea Observatory stands at 13,796 feet above sea level and includes thirteen telescopes from eleven different countries. Guided tours to the summit offer excellent stargazing, while the Visitor Information Center at 9,200 feet offers spectacular sunset views. The winter months bring the chance to play in both snow and surf on the same day. Visitors with a four-wheel drive vehicle may choose to summit without a guide and spend the evening camping among the stars.
Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (“King’s Trail”)
This 175-mile trail weaves through many important cultural sites including heiau (temples), Hawaiian fishponds, petroglyphs and other historic sites. Along the trail, you can take short half-day or full-day hikes. Of particular note is the Pololu Valley Lookout in North Kohala, where a steep hike down to the valley floor leads to a black sand beach. Guided hikes into lush Waipi’o Valley, known as the Valley of Kings, offer some of the most spectacular panoramic views on the Big Island. The valley cuts deep into the mountain with 3,000-foot cliffs and waterfalls of up to 1,500 feet.
For a bird's-eye view of the Big Island, helicopter tours are the perfect adventure. You can fly over continuously erupting lava in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, or stunning waterfalls and dramatic jungle valleys in the Akaka Falls State Park and Waipi’o Valley. Across the Alenuihaha Channel on the neighboring island of Maui you can fly over the massive Haleakala Crater. Private charters are also available for those who wish to create their own personal itineraries.