The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering diverse landscapes from volcanic craters to lush rainforests. One of the most captivating ways to explore the island’s natural beauty is through hiking. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual wanderer, the Big Island has something for everyone. This article aims to guide you through some of the best coastal hikes on the island, carefully selected based on scenic views, difficulty level, and accessibility. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready to discover the awe-inspiring coastal trails that await you.

Why Coastal Hikes?

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

Coastal hikes offer a unique blend of land and sea, providing a refreshing and serene experience. The proximity to the ocean allows hikers to enjoy the rhythmic sound of waves crashing against the shore, the salty sea breeze, and the occasional sighting of marine wildlife like dolphins or sea turtles. These elements combine to create a therapeutic atmosphere that can help relieve stress and rejuvenate the mind.

The allure of coastal hiking goes beyond just the sensory experience. These trails often lead to secluded beaches, hidden coves, and dramatic cliffs, offering unparalleled views you won’t find on more inland routes. Whether you’re an avid photographer looking for the perfect shot or simply someone who wants to experience the Big Island’s natural beauty, coastal hikes are a must-try. And now, let’s delve into some of the best hikes, categorized by their difficulty level.

Easy Hikes

Pololū Valley

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

Located at the northern tip of the Big Island, Pololū Valley is accessible via a relatively short and easy hike. The trailhead starts at the end of Highway 270, and the hike is about 0.5 miles one way, making it suitable for beginners and families. As you descend into the valley, you’ll be greeted by panoramic views of the coastline and the lush valley below.

Once you reach the bottom, you’ll find a beautiful black sand beach perfect for picnicking and relaxation. However, swimming is not recommended due to strong currents. The hike back up is steep, but the breathtaking views make the effort worthwhile. If you’re looking for an easy yet rewarding hike, Pololū Valley should be on your list.

Waipi’o Valley

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

Another easy hike that offers a variety of scenic vistas is the Waipi’o Valley trail. The trailhead is located near the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, and the hike is approximately 1 mile each way. The trail takes you through lush landscapes, crossing streams and offering views of towering waterfalls.

The highlight of this hike is the stunning black sand beach on the valley floor, framed by cliffs and fed by freshwater streams. Like Pololū, swimming is not advised due to strong currents, but the beach is perfect for a peaceful retreat. This hike is a bit more strenuous on the way back, as the trail is steep, but the natural beauty you’ll encounter makes it a must-visit.

Moderate Hikes

Makalawena Beach

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

For those looking for a moderate level of difficulty, the hike to Makalawena Beach is a great option. Located on the western coast of the Big Island, the trailhead starts at the end of Manini’owali Drive. The hike is about 2.5 miles round trip and takes you through a fascinating landscape of lava rocks, native vegetation, and small dunes.

Upon reaching Makalawena, you’ll be rewarded with a secluded white sand beach, often less crowded than other beaches. The clear blue waters are perfect for snorkeling, and the surrounding area offers plenty of spots for a beachside picnic. This hike offers a bit of everything—challenging terrain, diverse ecosystems, and a beautiful destination.

Kiholo Bay

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

Another moderate hike that should not be missed is the trail to Kiholo Bay. Located between Waikoloa and Kona, the trailhead starts Highway 19 and is about 2 miles round trip. The hike is relatively flat but takes you through lava fields, so proper footwear is essential.

Kiholo Bay is known for its stunning turquoise waters and tide pools teeming with marine life. It’s common to spot sea turtles basking on the shore or swimming in the bay. The area is also rich in Hawaiian history and cultural significance, adding an educational element to your hiking experience. Whether interested in wildlife, history, or simply enjoying the natural beauty, Kiholo Bay offers a well-rounded experience.

Challenging Hikes

Captain Cook Monument via Ka’awaloa Trail

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

For those who seek a more challenging adventure, the hike to the Captain Cook Monument via the Ka’awaloa Trail is a must. Located near Kealakekua Bay, the trailhead starts at the end of Napo’opo’o Road. The hike is a 4-mile round trip involving steep inclines and rocky terrain. Proper hiking boots and plenty of water are essential for this trail.

Once you reach the monument, you’ll find yourself at one of the best snorkeling spots on the island. The clear waters are home to vibrant coral reefs and various marine life, making the challenging hike worthwhile. However, be cautious as the area can have strong currents. This hike is perfect for those who want to combine physical exertion with an opportunity to explore the underwater world.

Green Sand Beach (Papakōlea)

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

Another challenging hike that offers a unique destination is the trail to Green Sand Beach, also known as Papakōlea. Located near South Point, the southernmost tip of the Big Island, the trail is about 5 miles round trip. The hike takes you through open fields and along the coastline, offering panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

The beach itself sets this hike apart, which features unique olivine sand that gives it a greenish hue. The strong currents make swimming risky, but the beach is a geological wonder worth the trek. Due to its remote location and challenging trail, it’s less crowded, offering a more secluded experience. This hike is for those looking for something out of the ordinary and prepared for a challenging journey.

Safety Tips For Coastal Hiking

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

Safety should always be a top priority when embarking on any hike, and coastal hikes are no exception. One of the most important considerations is footwear. Sturdy hiking boots with good grip are essential, especially when traversing rocky or slippery terrain. Additionally, coastal trails can often be exposed to the sun, making sunscreen and hats crucial for protection.

Hydration is another key factor, especially in the Hawaiian heat. Always carry enough water for the entire hike, and consider bringing electrolyte-replenishing drinks for longer trails. Checking weather conditions before heading out is also advisable, as trails can become dangerous in wet or windy conditions. Lastly, always respect the wildlife and natural formations you encounter; remember, you are a guest in their home.

Photography Tips For Capturing The Perfect Coastal Shot

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

Capturing the perfect shot during your hike can make the experience even more memorable. The best time for photography is during the “golden hours”—shortly after sunrise or before sunset—when the lighting is soft and warm. This can add a magical touch to your coastal landscapes.

Regarding camera settings, a smaller aperture (higher f-stop number) will give you a greater depth of field, making both the foreground and background sharp. Use the rule of thirds for composition, placing points of interest at the intersections of the imaginary grid lines on your frame. Leading lines, such as trails or the coastline, can also guide the viewer’s eye through the image. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to capture the beauty of the Big Island’s coastal hikes.

Additional Resources

The Best Coastal Hikes On The Big Island

Before you set out on your hiking adventure, gathering as much information as possible is a good idea. There are several apps available that provide detailed trail maps, user reviews, and navigation assistance. Some popular options include AllTrails and Gaia GPS.

For those who prefer a guided experience, local tour companies offer hiking excursions, complete with knowledgeable guides who can enrich your hike with historical and ecological insights. Books and websites on hiking in Hawaii can also provide valuable information and tips. These resources can help you plan a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.

The Bottom Line

The Big Island of Hawaii offers an array of coastal hikes that cater to all levels of experience and interest. From the easy trails leading to Pololū and Waipi’o Valleys to the more challenging routes to Captain Cook Monument and Green Sand Beach, each hike offers unique rewards. Whether you’re in it for the exercise, the photography, or simply the awe-inspiring views, these trails offer a journey as enriching as the destinations they lead to. So go ahead, explore, and most importantly, respect the natural beauty that the Big Island has generously offered. Your perfect coastal hike awaits.

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