Meteorologists classify the world's weather into 13 climates. Ten are here on the Big Island, and you can experience them all by foot on the many trails that lace the island. The ancient Hawaiians cut trails across the lava plains, through the rain forests, and up along the mountain heights. Many of these paths can still be used today. Part of the King's Trail at Anaehoomalu winds through a field of lava rocks covered with prehistoric carvings called petroglyphs. Many other trails, historic and modern, criss-cross the huge Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and other parts of the island. Plus, the serenity of remote beaches, such as Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach), is accessible only to hikers.
Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks Division. For information on all the Big Island's state parks, contact the Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks Division. 75 Aupuni St., Hilo, HI, 96720. PHONE: 808/961-9544. www.hawaiistateparks.org.
Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park. A pair of 1½-mile-long unpaved roads lead to Mahaiula Beach and Kua Bay, on opposite sides of the park. Connecting the two is the 4½-mile Ala Kahakai historic coastal trail. At Mahaiula, you'll find picnic tables and luas. Midway between the two white sand beaches you can hike to the summit of Puu Kuili, a 342-foot-high cinder cone with an excellent view of the coastline. It's dry and hot with no drinking water available, so be sure to pack sunblock and water. Gates close 7 pm sharp. Trailhead: Hwy. 19, about 2 miles north of Keahole-Kona International Airport, HI, 96740.
Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument Trail. This trail is one of South Kona's more popular moderately difficult hikes. About 100 yards from the turnoff, the steep, loose gravel and dirt trail descends several hundred feet across old lava flows. There are some steep switchbacks. Shade along the upper section gives way to sun where the trail opens to lava fields. Nearer to the bay, the trail passes through ancient Hawaiian village ruins and by the Captain Cook Monument, a tall white obelisk on the spot where the famed navigator was killed in 1779 in a dispute with native Hawaiians. The bay, a protected Marine Life Conservation District, is popular with divers and snorkelers. The 2½-mi hike is about a three-hour round trip. The hike back up is steep and tiring, so allow plenty of time. Park along the road. Bring sunscreen, a hat, water, and food. Trailhead on Napoopoo Rd., just off Hwy. 11, Captain Cook, HI, 96740. hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/coral/mlcd_kealakekua.html.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is perhaps the Big Island's premier area for hikers. The 150 miles of trails provide close-up views of fern and rain-forest environments, cinder cones, steam vents, lava fields, rugged coastline, and current lava flow activity. Day hikes range from easy to moderately difficult, and from one or two hours to a full day. For a bigger challenge, consider an overnight or multiday backcountry hike with a stay in a park cabin (available by a remote coast, in a lush forest, or atop frigid Mauna Loa). To do so, you must first obtain a free permit at the backcountry permit office in the Visitor Emergency Operations Center. There are also daily guided hikes led by knowledgeable, friendly park rangers. Check the bulletin board outside the visitor center in the morning to see the day's schedule. Hwy. 11, 30 miles south of Hilo, Volcanoes National Park, HI, 96785. PHONE: 808/985-6000. www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm.
Muliwai Trail. On the western side of mystical Waipio Valley, the Muliwai Trail leads to the back of the valley, then switchbacks up through a series of gulches, and finally emerges at Waimanu Valley. Only very experienced hikers should attempt the entire 18-mi trail. Completing the trail can take two to three days of backpacking and camping, which requires camping permits from the Division of Forestry and Wildlife in Hilo. Trailhead is at the end of Hwy. 240, HI, 96727. PHONE: 808/974-4221. hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov.
Onomea Bay Trail. Onomea Bay Trail is a short but beautiful trail packed with stunning views of the cliffs, bays, and gulches of the Hamakua coast on the east side of the island. The trail is just under a mile and fairly easy, with access down to the shore if you want to dip your feet in, although we don't recommend trying to swim in the rough waters. Unless you pay the $15 entry fee to the nearby Botanical Garden, entering its gates (even by accident) will send one of the guards running after you to nicely but firmly point you back to the trail. Trailhead on Old Hawaiian Belt Rd., just before Botanical Garden, HI, 96781. hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov.
Going with a Guide
To get to some of the best trails and places, it's worth going with a skilled guide. Costs range from $95 to $165, and some hikes include picnic meals or refreshments, and gear, such as binoculars, ponchos, and walking sticks. The outfitters mentioned here also offer customized adventure tours.
Hawaii Forest & Trail. This premium, locally owned and operated outfit has a reputation for great nature tours and eco-adventures of all kinds. The company has access to thousands of acres of restricted or private lands and employs expert, certified guides. Choose from a variety of programs, including the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Birdwatching tour, Kilauea Volcano excursion, Kohala Waterfall trip, or the super fun Kona Coffee & Craters adventure. The Twilight Volcano Adventure stays in the national park after dark to see the glowing red stuff. Or journey to the top of Hawaii's tallest volcano for a sunset you'll never forget— as well as dinner and stargazing. 74-5035B Queen Kaahahumanu Hwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. PHONE: 808/331-8505 or 800/464-1993. www.hawaii-forest.com.
Kapoho Kine Adventures. This outfitter offers several interesting tours of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and surrounding areas, including a 14-hour tour that allows you to explore the region by day and see the lava at night. There is also a shorter day tour and a separate evening tour complete with a Hawaiian-style barbecue dinner. Prices range from $99 to $189 per person. 25 Waianuinui Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. PHONE: 808/964-1000 or 866/965-9552. kapohokine.com.
Kula Kai Caverns. Embark on a fantastic adventure with expert cave guides at Kula Kai Caverns, located near South Point. This braided lava tube system attracts serious scientists from around the world, who come to study and map them (more than 30 miles have been mapped so far). Tours start at $20 and range from strolls along lighted walkways to deep-down-under spelunking adventures lasting two to four hours. Programs are tailored to your group's interest and abilities, and all gear is provided. You start the tour at their Indiana Jones-style expedition tent, where you'll hear fascinating details about the caves' geologic and cultural history. Advance reservations are required. Kula Kai Estates, Lauhala Dr. at Kona Kai Blvd., HI, 96737. PHONE: 808/929-9725. kulakaicaverns.com.