You are currently viewing Big Island’s Most Challenging Hiking Trails

Big Island’s Most Challenging Hiking Trails

  • Post category:Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is a hiker’s paradise, offering a diverse range of trails that challenge even the most experienced adventurers. From lush valleys to rugged coastlines and historical landmarks, the island’s hiking trails promise breathtaking views and unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re seeking a strenuous climb or a leisurely walk, the Big Island has something for everyone.

Key Takeaways

  • Pololū Valley and Awini Trail offers sweeping ocean and valley views, making it a must-visit for any hiking enthusiast.
  • Waipi’o Valley and Muliwai Trail is steeped in historical significance and features diverse flora and fauna, adding educational value to your hike.
  • Kīholo Bay Coastal Hike provides unique wildlife encounters and is best visited during specific times of the year for optimal experience.
  • Kealakekua Bay Historical Hike combines stunning bay views with opportunities for snorkeling and exploring historical landmarks.
  • Kaʻū Desert Footprints Trail showcases unique geological features and requires careful preparation for a safe hiking experience.

Pololū Valley and Awini Trail

a street sign that reads evergreen on it

Trail Overview

Pololū Valley is one of the most photographed lookout points in Hawaii. This moderate hike features switchbacks that descend 420 feet to the valley floor, where you will find Pololū Beach, a stunning black sand beach. The trail starts at the Lookout, located at the end of the road 15 minutes past Hawi and the area of Puakea. Pololū is the last of a chain of valleys carved out of the island’s northern Hamakua Coast.

What to Expect

The trail is less than a mile long but can be perilously steep in some sections. As you descend, you’ll pass through a sprawling forest of ironwood trees. A stream flows through the valley and widens as it meets the ocean at a beach of large black lava boulders. Swimming is possible here, but only at low tide when patches of sand are exposed, making it safe to get in and out.

Tips for Hikers

  • Wear sturdy hiking shoes for the steep and uneven terrain.
  • Bring plenty of water and sun protection.
  • Be cautious of the tide if you plan to swim.
  • Start early to avoid the heat and crowds.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find an unattractive hike on the Big Island, so whichever one(s) you decide on, you’re guaranteed to have a blast and be rewarded with stunning views and amazing beaches.

Waipi’o Valley and Muliwai Trail

Waipi’o Valley and Muliwai Trail is a challenging hike with some of the most famous valley views on Hawai’i. The trail spans approximately 18 km with an ascent and descent of 1.1 km each. Located about 20 minutes from Waimea, the hike starts from the parking lot at the top of Waipi’o Valley and involves steep terrain.

The Waipi’o Valley holds great historical significance as it was once home to Hawaiian royalty. The valley is rich in cultural heritage, with ancient taro fields and historical sites that tell the story of the island’s past.

Hikers will encounter a diverse range of flora and fauna along the trail. The valley is lush with tropical plants, and you may spot native birds and other wildlife. The trail offers a unique opportunity to explore Molokai’s adventure trails, combining natural beauty with a touch of history.

Important: Always respect the natural environment and stay on designated paths to preserve the area’s ecological balance.

Kīholo Bay Coastal Hike

an aerial view of a path leading to the ocean

The Kīholo Bay Coastal Hike is a rugged, beautiful coastal hike to a turquoise lagoon filled with green sea turtles. This moderate hike covers a distance of 3.2 km with minimal ascent and descent, making it accessible for most hikers. Exploring this trail offers a unique blend of natural beauty and wildlife encounters.

Kealakekua Bay Historical Hike

Kealakekua Bay Historical Hike offers a unique blend of natural beauty and rich history. This trail is not just a hike but a journey through time, where you can explore ancient Hawaiian culture and enjoy breathtaking views of the bay. Hikers will be rewarded with stunning panoramas and a chance to snorkel in crystal-clear waters.

Kaʻū Desert Footprints Trail

brown animal walking on dirt field

The Kaʻū Desert Footprints Trail offers a unique hiking experience reminiscent of the rocky desert trails of the American Southwest. This nearly 20-mile-long footpath starts at Kilauea Volcano’s crater rim within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and descends through swaths of old lava fields and dry shrubland toward the ocean. Volcanic gases escaping from the crater mix with the arid landscape, creating an otherworldly atmosphere.

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach Hike

a woman sitting on a bench on a foggy day

Trail Overview

The Papakōlea Green Sand Beach Hike is a 6-mile roundtrip adventure that takes you across windswept coastal terrain. The trailhead is located near the Big Island’s southern tip, leading to one of the world’s rarest beaches. The beach was formed after the collapse of a 50,000-year-old volcanic cinder cone, releasing olivine minerals that give the sand its unique green color. This geological oddity makes Papakōlea one of only four green sand beaches globally.

Unique Sand Composition

Papakōlea’s sand is primarily composed of olivine, a green mineral that originates from the volcanic activity in the area. The mineral’s density allows it to accumulate on the beach while lighter volcanic materials are washed away by the ocean. This unique composition not only gives the beach its striking color but also makes it a fascinating destination for geology enthusiasts.

Visitor Guidelines

  • Preparation: Ensure you have adequate water and sun protection, as the trail offers no shade.
  • Footwear: Wear sturdy hiking shoes to navigate the sometimes-rutted 4-wheel-drive roads.
  • Respect the Environment: Avoid taking sand or rocks as souvenirs to preserve the beach’s natural beauty.
  • Safety: Be cautious during the steep descent to the beach and stay aware of your surroundings.

One of only four green sand beaches in the world, Papakōlea offers a unique and memorable hiking experience. Make sure to explore historic sites of Molokai: Halawa Valley with waterfalls and taro farming, Papohaku Beach with white sand and camping facilities, and Molokai Museum and Cultural Center.

Manukā State Wayside Park Trails

Trail Overview

Manukā State Wayside Park offers a variety of trails that cater to different skill levels. The park is known for its lush landscapes and diverse ecosystems, making it one of the top hiking trails on the Big Island. Hikers can expect to traverse through dense forests, open meadows, and volcanic terrains.

Picnic Spots

The park features several designated picnic areas where visitors can relax and enjoy the natural surroundings. These spots are equipped with tables and benches, providing a comfortable setting for a meal or a break during your hike. Don’t forget to bring your own food and water, as there are no facilities to purchase these items within the park.

Flora and Fauna

Manukā State Wayside Park is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species. Hikers will encounter native Hawaiian plants, colorful birds, and perhaps even some of the island’s unique insects. The park’s diverse flora and fauna make it a fascinating destination for nature enthusiasts.

For those seeking a blend of adventure and tranquility, Manukā State Wayside Park is a must-visit. Its trails offer both challenges and serene beauty, making it a perfect spot for hikers of all levels.

Discover the breathtaking trails of Manukā State Wayside Park, where adventure awaits at every turn. Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking for a serene escape, our trails offer something for everyone. Ready to explore? Visit our website for more details and start planning your next adventure today!


Exploring the Big Island’s most challenging hiking trails offers an unparalleled adventure for those seeking both physical exertion and breathtaking natural beauty. From the rugged coastal paths to the lush valley trails, each hike presents its own unique set of challenges and rewards. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a passionate nature enthusiast, these trails promise an unforgettable journey through some of Hawaii’s most stunning landscapes. So lace up your hiking boots, prepare for an adventure of a lifetime, and immerse yourself in the diverse and awe-inspiring terrains of the Big Island.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I bring on a hiking trip to the Big Island?

Guests are recommended to wear comfortable appropriate attire including shoes (walking, water, or hiking as needed), sun protection (cream, hat, and rash guard), insect repellent, sunglasses, and bring a bottle of water.

Are the hiking trails on the Big Island suitable for beginners?

While some trails are suitable for beginners, many of the challenging trails on the Big Island, such as the Waipi’o Valley and Muliwai Trail, require a good level of fitness and experience due to their rugged and uneven terrain.

Can I book guided hiking tours on the Big Island?

Yes, there are several guided hiking tours available on the Big Island. Experienced local guides can provide valuable insights into the natural environment, history, and safety measures.

What wildlife might I encounter on the Big Island hiking trails?

Hikers may encounter a variety of wildlife including green sea turtles at Kīholo Bay, various bird species, and native plants. However, wildlife sightings are likely but never guaranteed.

Is it safe to hike alone on the Big Island?

While hiking alone can be safe, it is recommended to hike with a partner or group, especially on more challenging trails. Always inform someone of your hiking plans and estimated return time.

What is the best time of year to hike on the Big Island?

The best time to hike on the Big Island is during the dry season, which typically runs from April to October. However, weather conditions can vary, so it is always good to check the local forecast before heading out.