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: 808/587-0300. www.hawaiistateparks.org.
Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park. A pair of 1½-mi-long unpaved roads lead to the Mahaiula Beach and Kua Bay, on opposite sides of the park. Connecting the two is the 4½-mi 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, so be sure to pack sunblock and water. Trailhead: Hwy. 19, about 2 mi 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 mi of trails provide close-up views of fern and rainforest 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 Kilauea Visitor Center. There are also daily guided hikes led by knowledgeable and friendly park rangers. Hwy. 11, 30 mi south of Hilo, 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 locally owned and operated company 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 certified guides who are experts in their fields. Try the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Birdwatching Adventure, Kilauea Volcano Adventure, Kohala Waterfall Adventure, or the fun Kona Coffee & Craters Adventure. One of the most popular tours takes you 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.
Hawaiian Walkways. With the aid of knowledgeable guides, this company conducts several tours in unique spots—a Kona Cloud Forest botanical walk, a hike on Saddle Road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, waterfall hikes and jaunts through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—as well as custom-designed trips. 45-3625 Mamane St., Honokaa, HI, 96727. PHONE: 808/775-0372 or 800/457-7759. www.hawaiianwalkways.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 $89 to $179 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 cavers (not "spelunkers") at Kula Kai Caverns, located near South Point. Braided lava tubes attract scientists from around the world, who come to study and map them (more than 30 mi have been mapped so far). Tours start at $15 and range from strolls along walkways in the lighted sections to down-and-dirty adventures lasting two to four hours. Tours are tailored to your group's interest and abilities, and all gear is provided. Knowledgeable guides provide great information about the caves. Advance reservations are required. Kula Kai Estates, Lauhala at Kona Kai, HI, 96737. PHONE: 808/929-9725. kulakaicaverns.com.