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The best things to do on the Big Island
Thank you for stopping by! If you’re looking for the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii, you’re in the right place. I know you’re going to love the Big Island as much as I do.
The Big Island is… well, very big! You’ll definitely need a rental car, I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You’ll find the best prices on rental cars in Hawaii. Trust me, you don’t want to wait until you arrive and pay “tourist prices” at the airport. Or even worse, arrive and realize there are no rental cars.
There are some people out there saying you don’t need a rental car in Hawaii, but you do. The worst scenario would be realizing you need one, but due to the shortage, not having one! Discount Hawaii Car Rental allows you to reserve a car now, but no payment is required until you pick it up.
top things to do on the Big Island
Commonly referred to as “The Big Island,” the island of Hawaii is both the largest and most diverse of all of the Hawaiian islands.
I’ve visited all of the major islands many times, but I have spent the most time on the Big Island. It was my favorite for a long time (Kauai has taken over, but the Big Island is a very close second.)
In this post, I am going to talk about the 7 best things to do on the Big Island. There are so many amazing activities, but these seven are my top seven things to do on the Big Island.
You can also check out 25 things to do in Kona for even more Big Island activities.
1. Volcanoes National Park
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the best things to do on the Big Island. Many visitors choose the Big Island just to see its active volcano, Kilauea. There are many trails that you can hike, and I recommend the Kīlauea Iki Trail.
This trail is about 4 miles and relatively steep, but it is entirely worthwhile. Ahu (stacked rocks) guide the trail across the floor of the crater. It is like being in another world.
While the park was closed shortly after the 2018 eruption, it is back open to visitors. As of 2022, there is active lava again, but it’s very safe if you take common-sense precautions.
If you aren’t into hiking, you can choose a fantastic Circle of Fire and Waterfalls helicopter tour that flies directly over Kilauea. It’s a splurge, but it’s also tremendous experience that you’ll never forget.
Make sure to bring plenty of water and either reef-safe sunscreen or a hat and a rash guard. The entrance to the park is about $15 per vehicle.
2. The best waterfalls on the Big Island
Hawaii Island has many beautiful waterfalls, but Akaka Falls is one of the easiest to access. Akaka Falls State Park is on the eastern (also referred to as the windward or Hilo) side of the Big Island.
The park is approximately 10 miles north of Hilo, so if you’re on the windward side of the island, visiting the park is a must.
Parking is about $5, or you can pay $2/person entry by parking outside and taking a short walk. There are two massive waterfalls visible on the trail, and it’s only 1/2 mile hike round trip.
Akaka Falls is a perfect hike for families or older adults since it is shorter and safer than many other trails.
If you’re looking for more inexpensive or free things to do check out 15 free things to do on the Big Island.
3. The best snorkeling on the Big Island
I’m not listing these 7 things to do on the Big Island in order. If I were, Kealakekua Bay would be number one. It is an absolute must! If you enjoy kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, or dolphins,
I can’t recommend this enough. A monument for Captain Cook is located at Ka’awaloa Flat (across the bay.)
One way to visit the Bay is by kayak. I recommend a tour, although you can go out on your own. You can almost always see pods of dolphins in the area, and in the winter, you can even see whales!
I have seen dolphins every time I have visited the bay except for one time.
You can always ask if the kayak companies if dolphins have were spotted that day. They will most likely know. Seeing dolphins in the wild is so much better than the dolphin encounters offered at the resorts.
Another way to snorkel at Kealakekua Bay is a boat tour. Snorkel tours to Kealakekua are one of my top Big Island adventure recommendations. I highly recommend the Kealakekua Deluxe Snorkel tour, which includes breakfast and lunch.
Body Glove also offers an incredible sunset dinner cruise if you prefer a historical dinner cruise.
For more fun Big Island tours, check out the 10 best tours on the Big Island.
4. Visit the animals at the Big Island Farm Sanctuary
If you’re an animal lover like I am, you’ll enjoy visiting Big Island Farm Sanctuary. Located in South Point, the sanctuary provides a safe, loving, forever home for animals who have been orphaned, abandoned, injured, abused, or exploited.
Big Island Farm Sanctuary offers a guided tour on Saturdays. The cost is only $15 per person and children 4 and under are free. You can also book a private tour on any other day for a very reasonable price.
If you’re an animal lover who wants to give back during your trip to the Big Island, make sure to check out the sanctuary.
Photo Courtesy of Big Island Farm Sanctuary and used with permission.
5. Visit a Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Beach (commonly referred to simply as Black Sand Beach) is something that you have to see to appreciate fully. The black sand is so unique, and you can often see honu (turtles) sunning themselves on the rocks.
Keep in mind that this isn’t the only black sand beach on Hawaii Island, but it is one of the easiest to access. Other black sand beaches on Hawaii include:
- Waipio Beach, in Waipio Valley which is a difficult and requires a 4-wheel drive, but very worth it! Please be respectful of those who live in the valley.
- Kaima Beach Park in Kalapana
- Pololu Valley (the sand is more of a grey, also very pretty!) is a hike-in valley and easier to access than Waipio Valley. You’ll need to arrive early as parking is limited.
- Richardson’s Beach. The newest black sand beach on the Big Island, located near the town of Hilo.
You can also find black sand beaches on Maui.
Remember not to touch or go too close to the turtles if you do encounter them.
Punalu’u Beach is a great stop to make if you’re going from Kona to the Volcano National Park or Big Island Farm Sanctuary. This beach is completely free to visit thanks to free parking.
If you want more tips on how to see everything on the Big Island, check out my 7-day Big Island itinerary and my 4-day Big Island itinerary.
6. Waipi’o Valley and Pololū Valley
You’re going to need a 4-wheel drive for the trip to Waipi’o Valley. The road to Waipi’o Valley is public, but only 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed. Hiking down the valley is allowed but not recommended.
If you don’t have access to a 4-wheel drive, don’t want to walk, or don’t want to break your rental car agreement, I recommend taking a Small Group Waipio Valley Tour.
Waipi’o Valley is 2000 feet below the surrounding areas, located at sea level. The drive has a 25% grade and is steeper in some places.
Fun Fact: The road into Waipio Valley is the steepest road of its length in the United States, and one of the steepest in the world.
Waipio Valley is an adventure and one that is worth taking. Some of the most beautiful waterfalls can be seen in the valley, rivaling the waterfalls on the Road to Hana in Maui.
There are also wild horses and some of the most spectacular scenery that I have ever seen.
Please remember to respect the locals if you do take this trip, drive carefully and be respectful of the ‘āina (land) and the people who live there. The backside of the valley and the waterfall is private property. DO NOT TRESPASS. I don’t care if someone on Instagram did it, it is illegal and disrespectful.
If you want another option, Pololū Valley is another option that is entirely different and unique. Instead of driving into the valley, you will be able to park and walk down.
The hike is moderate but short. If you decide to hike into Pololu Valley, arrive early as parking is limited.
7. Snorkel with Manta Rays at night
Snorkeling or scuba diving at night with manta rays is such a unique experience; it’s one of the best things to do on the Big Island.
This experience is unique to Hawaii island, so don’t miss it during your trip.
The best things to do on the Big Island
These are my top 7 best things to do on the Big Island, but there are so many other places to explore.
I do recommend renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you can. If you don’t have access to a 4-wheel drive, several local companies offer tours of some of the harder-to-reach areas.
Big Island Travel Tips
- 7 best Big Island Resorts.
- The Best Luxury Resorts Big Island
- The 7 Best Happy Hours in Kona.
- 7 day Big Island Itinerary.
- 4-day Big Island Itinerary
- How to plan a Big Island Vacation
- 15 free things to do on the Big Island
- Where to find sea turtles on the Big Island of Hawaii
You might also enjoy:
- The 7 best things to do on Maui.
- The 10 best things to do on Oahu.
- The 10 best things to do on Kauai.
Things to do on the Big Island
If you’re still planning your Big Island vacation, here are the 7 best resorts on the Big Island.
If you’d like to plan your trip with a Hawaii Travel Agent, contact me! I know that planning a Hawaii vacation can be challenging. I only take on a select number of clients but fill out the form to check my availability.
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Not So Put Together Mommy
Sounds amazing! I hope I can visit someday!
Great Blog! I see that it was written in 2016. Just need to update it a little. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closed indefinitely (until all the seismic activity subside). I live in the area and we’re having lots of earthquakes daily, but we’re used to it.
The other places are still great to visit!
Mahalo for coming to visit our island and writing this blog!
Hey Stacy! This blog post is so popular, I do need to update it! I have many friends in the area and they all say they are used to the effects of everything too! I will add an update ASAP just in case anyone is unaware of what is going on. A lava tour would be another fun thing to do in the meantime. 🙂
Super information!!! I apreeciated to redaction for ech place in Big island.