Best Excursions on the Big Island of Hawaii: Discover Volcanoes to Waterfalls

Ready to explore the Big Island of Hawaii beyond the beach? You’re in for a treat! From the fiery paths of volcanoes to the deep blues of the Pacific, adventure awaits at every turn.

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Whether you’re itching for a hike through lush rainforests or a dive with manta rays, the Big Island’s diverse excursions promise unforgettable experiences. Let’s dive into the best the island has to offer and find the perfect adventure for you!

Get your sunscreen and water bottles ready; it’s time to create memories that’ll last a lifetime. Ready to find out which excursions should top your Big Island bucket list?

Volcano National Park: Witness the Power of Pele

Discovering the Volcano National Park is like stepping into a new world where the earth’s core meets the sky. You’ll be amazed at how the landscape changes from lush rainforests to barren, moon-like terrains. As your guide through this mesmerizing geological wonder, I’ll make sure you experience the awe-inspiring power of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.

Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the most active volcanoes in the world, command attention within the park. You might witness them spewing molten lava into the sea, creating new land right before your eyes. The sight is not just breathtaking; it’s a powerful reminder of nature’s might.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • Halema’uma’u Crater: Renowned for its recent eruption, this crater offers an up-close look at a boiling lava lake.
  • Thurston Lava Tube: Walk through a natural tunnel formed by flowing lava.
  • Devastation Trail: A stark reminder of the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption, you’ll see the impact of the volcanic ash on the landscape.

For adventurers seeking a deeper understanding of the park, the Volcano Art Center showcases works inspired by the surrounding landscape and culture, providing cultural context to the park’s natural majesty.

Remember to pack sturdy boots and layers—the weather can be fickle and the terrains, challenging. It’s also essential to bring a camera with a good zoom; you’ll want to capture the drama of the earth’s raw creation without getting too close to danger zones.

Engaging with the Volcano National Park is more than just sightseeing; it’s about respecting and admiring the forces that shaped these islands. Soak in the stories, the myths, and the science that make this place unique. As the day comes to an end and you gaze out over the calderas and steam vents, the memories forged here among the echoes of Pele’s fury will stay with you long after your visit.

Hike to the Summit of Mauna Kea, the Tallest Mountain in the World

When you’ve marveled at the fiery energy of the Big Island’s volcanoes, your adventure continues upward—to the skies. Mauna Kea isn’t just the highest point in Hawaii; measured from its oceanic base, it’s the tallest mountain on the planet, dwarfing even Mount Everest. The summit, reaching a staggering 13,803 feet above sea level, presents an otherworldly landscape and an experience you’ll carry with you forever.

Your trek to the summit will take you through different climate zones, each with unique flora and fauna. The lower slopes are home to subalpine grasslands and shrubs while the upper regions give way to an arid, lunar-like terrain. Since you’re ascending to high elevations quickly, it’s critical to acclimate to prevent altitude sickness.

Before embarking on this journey, check with the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station to ensure conditions are optimal for your hike. Remember, the top can be chilly, even snowy, contrasting sharply with the tropical warmth at sea level. Here’s what to bring to ensure you’re prepared for the temperature drop:

  • Warm clothing
  • Sunscreen
  • Water and snacks
  • A camera for the surreal vistas

At the summit, if your timing is right, you’ll witness a sunset that rivals any across the globe. The sun dips below the cloud layer, setting the sky ablaze with colors that seem to dance across the vast canvas above you. Then, as the night settles in, a new show begins. Mauna Kea’s skies are among the clearest in the world, making it an ideal spot for stargazing. Telescopes dot the landscape, a testament to the mountain’s significance in both ancient navigation and modern astronomy.

Mauna Kea is more than a scenic spot; it’s a sacred place for native Hawaiians. Respect for the land, or ‘aina, is paramount. As you traverse the trails and explore the depths of the Hawaiian sky, take a moment to appreciate the cultural heritage and the delicate environment. Your efforts to preserve the beauty and sanctity of this place ensure that it remains an enduring symbol of Hawaii’s natural grandeur and cultural richness.

Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay: Swim with Colorful Marine Life

Imagine floating in crystal-clear waters surrounded by vibrant coral and schools of tropical fish. That’s exactly what awaits you in Kealakekua Bay, a marine sanctuary that’s not just breathtaking but also steeped in history. As you dip beneath the surface, you’ll find yourself swimming alongside a myriad of marine species in what can only be described as an underwater luau of colors.

Kealakekua Bay, situated on the Kona Coast, is accessible via a kayak tour or a guided boat trip. Opting for a guide can enhance your snorkeling experience as they’ll take you to the spots where marine life is most abundant. Don’t miss the opportunity to spot spinner dolphins that frequent the bay, adding a playful twist to your adventure.

Here’s what you should remember for your snorkeling trip:

  • Water Conditions: Typically calm with excellent visibility.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Expect to see angelfish, parrotfish, and perhaps the elusive moray eel.
  • Cultural Significance: The bay overlooks the site where Captain James Cook first made contact with Hawaiians in 1779.

Safety is always a priority, so ensure you’re using reef-safe sunscreen and staying aware of your surroundings. Kealakekua Bay serves as a natural monument not only for its underwater marvels but also for its place in Hawaii’s storied past. It’s a sanctuary for wildlife and a sacred site that requires the utmost respect.

While you explore, take a moment to float, look up at the sky, and take in the grandeur of the cliffs that guard the bay. These waters are alive with tales of the past and the thrum of the Pacific. And when you emerge, salty and sun-kissed, you’ll carry with you memories of one of the Big Island’s most cherished treasures, bringing you a step closer to the heart of Hawaii.

Explore the Lush Valleys and Waterfalls of Waipio Valley

As you journey through the Big Island’s tapestry of wonders, there’s a paradise that beckons with an enchanting siren call: Waipio Valley. Known to locals as the “Valley of the Kings,” it’s a place where history whispers through the towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls.

Imagine the sights that await as you stand at the valley’s lookout. Your eyes are met with an expanse of verdant foliage, cut through by a meandering river that leads to the mighty Pacific. It’s a view that’s not only a feast for your eyes but also a balm for your soul.

For the adventurous at heart, the valley beckons you to explore its depths. A hike down to the valley floor reveals a world where ancient Hawaiians once walked. Lush tropical vegetation surrounds you, and the sound of waterfalls is never far from earshot. A popular stop is Hi’ilawe Falls, one of the tallest and most impressive waterfalls on the island, dropping over 1,300 feet in a mesmerizing display of natural power and beauty.

To truly soak in the valley’s splendor:

  • Take a guided tour to learn about the local flora, fauna, and legends.
  • Capture photos of the dramatic cliff sides framing the sky.
  • Listen to the stories of the valley passed down through generations.

Remember, while the journey can be steep and the terrain challenging, the rewards are infinite. Hiking boots are your best friends here, and make sure you’re stocked up with water and snacks.

Keep in mind, Waipio Valley is not just a spectacle to be admired but a sacred space that commands respect. The valley floor is private property, so adhere to pathways and respect the land. It’s crucial to remember your role as a guest in this majestic landscape.

Embrace the raw beauty of Waipio’s powerful falls and verdant cliffs. Allow the valley to etch its grandeur into your travel memories, just as it has impressed itself upon countless adventurers before you.

Discover the Beauty of Akaka Falls State Park

After soaking up the rich history of Waipio Valley, it’s time to turn your sights to an equally captivating destination – Akaka Falls State Park. Nestled just a short drive from Hilo, this gem offers an easy yet rewarding escape into Hawaii’s natural splendor.

The park’s star attraction, Akaka Falls, plummets 442 feet into a gorge, creating a misty veil that feeds the lush surroundings. As you approach, you’ll be serenaded by the sounds of nature, with the fall’s roar growing louder with each step. This is a sight that captures the heart of Hawaii – powerful, serene, and absolutely stunning.

Take the self-guided .4-mile loop trail that leads you through a verdant rainforest. You’ll feel the gentle give of the earth beneath your shoes as you step along the well-maintained path. Flora unique to the islands, from massive ferns to brightly colored wildflowers, lines your journey. Don’t forget your camera; the photo opportunities are as abundant as the natural beauty that surrounds you.

As you wander, you’ll also encounter Kahuna Falls, a secondary cascade within the park. Though smaller than its towering cousin, this 100-foot waterfall has a charm all its own, offering a quieter moment to appreciate the tranquility of nature.

Remember to wear comfortable shoes and bring along some water – staying hydrated keeps the adventure enjoyable. For those with a passion for bird-watching, keep an eye out for native Hawaiian birds flitting about the canopy.

Embrace this opportunity to weave another thread into your Hawaii vacation tapestry. With every step and every new discovery, Akaka Falls State Park illustrates just how diverse and vibrant the Big Island’s ecosystems truly are.


You’ve just glimpsed the incredible variety of excursions the Big Island has to offer. From the fiery landscapes of Volcano National Park to the serene heights of Mauna Kea and the vibrant marine life of Kealakekua Bay, there’s no shortage of adventures awaiting you. Whether you’re trekking through the verdant Waipio Valley or capturing the majesty of Akaka Falls, each moment is a chance to weave your own unique memories into the rich fabric of Hawaii. So pack your spirit of adventure and get ready to explore the natural wonders that make the Big Island a destination like no other.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can you do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

You can explore the craters, hike across old lava flows, visit the Jaggar Museum, and witness the active lava lake at the summit of Kīlauea volcano.

Is it possible to hike to the summit of Mauna Kea?

Yes, it is possible to hike to the summit of Mauna Kea, but it is a challenging trek that should only be undertaken by experienced hikers with proper equipment due to the altitude.

Where is the best place to snorkel on the Big Island?

Kealakekua Bay offers some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island, famous for its clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life.

What can visitors see in Waipio Valley?

Visitors to Waipio Valley can enjoy stunning vistas of lush tropical vegetation, towering cliffs, and beautiful waterfalls, as well as explore historic sites.

What are the highlights of Akaka Falls State Park?

The highlights of Akaka Falls State Park are the breathtaking Akaka Falls, the scenic Kahuna Falls, and a self-guided walk through a lush rainforest.

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