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Big Island’s Most Scenic Drives

The Big Island of Hawaii is a paradise for road trip enthusiasts, offering some of the most scenic drives in the world. From lush rainforests and dramatic waterfalls to volcanic landscapes and coastal vistas, each route provides a unique glimpse into the island’s diverse beauty. Whether you’re an adventurer, a nature lover, or simply seeking a peaceful escape, these drives promise unforgettable experiences and countless photo opportunities.

Key Takeaways

  • The Hamakua Coast drive features lush landscapes, dramatic cliffs, waterfalls, rainforests, and historic towns.
  • Mauna Loa Road offers scenic views of the world’s largest volcano, hiking trails, lookout points, and unique flora and fauna.
  • Chain of Craters Road takes you through volcanic landscapes, petroglyphs, historical sites, coastal views, and sea arches.
  • The Kona Coast drive is known for its coffee plantations, beautiful beaches, bays, and cultural and historical landmarks.
  • Saddle Road provides high-altitude views, stargazing opportunities, and diverse ecosystems between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Hamakua Coast: A Journey Through Lush Landscapes

Our road trip adventure begins with the Hāmākua Coast Scenic Drive on the northeastern coast of the Island of Hawaii. Starting in Hilo, the capital of Hawaii County, this route takes you along the lush and verdant Hamakua Coast. You’ll pass through charming small towns like Papaikou and Honoka’a, where you can stop for a taste of local cuisine. The highlight of this drive is the Akaka Falls, a stunning 442-foot waterfall nestled in a beautiful state park.

Exploring the Dramatic Cliffs

The Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii is a picturesque drive that winds along the coastline, with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and winding through the lush tropical forest. This scenic route is a must-do for visitors who want to see the area north of Hilo and check some waterfalls off their Hawaii bucket list.

Waterfalls and Rainforests

The scenic drive along the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii is a must-do for any visitor to the island. With its beautiful ocean views, lush rainforests, fascinating historical sites, and delicious cacao farms, there is something for everyone to enjoy, no matter your level of adventure, along this beautiful stretch of coastline.

Historic Towns Along the Way

Leaving the volcanic landscapes behind, the Kona Coffee Belt drive immerses you in the tranquil beauty of the island’s western coast. As you wind through the coffee plantations of Kona, you’ll be treated to picturesque views of emerald hills and sparkling ocean. Take a break to visit one of the many coffee farms along the way, where you can sample some of the world’s finest coffee and learn about the art of coffee cultivation. The scent of freshly roasted beans fills the air, making this drive a sensory delight.

Mauna Loa Road: A Drive to the World’s Largest Volcano

The Mauna Loa Road is a scenic drive that winds its way up the slopes of Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world. This drive offers visitors an opportunity to experience the stunning beauty of what becomes of a volcanic landscape over time, while also providing opportunities for short hikes and wildlife viewing. A journey to the slopes of Mauna Loa promises a unique perspective of The Big Island’s volcanic terrain. The Mauna Loa Scenic Drive takes you through the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home to otherworldly landscapes, volcanic craters, and lush rainforests. Make stops along the way to explore the Thurston Lava Tube, Devastation Trail, and the Sulphur Banks. This drive offers a deep dive into the island’s geological history and is a must-visit for nature and science enthusiasts.

Chain of Craters Road: From Lava Fields to the Sea

a piece of ice floating on top of a body of water

The Chain of Craters Road takes you from an elevation of 4000 ft. all the way down to sea level over the lava-covered flanks of the Kilauea volcano. The drive itself leads past many trails, old craters, scenic spots, a large petroglyph field, and ends where 1996 lava flows covered the road. Of all the named roadways on the Big Island, Chain of Craters lives up to its namesake, delivering absolutely incredible views of volcanic craters along its nearly 20-mile stretch. When the road is fully open, drivers can witness the massive craters throughout the southern end of the Big Island, scenic lookouts that stretch as far as the eye can see, a breathtaking sea arch, and finally, the end of the road where the previous pavement was overtaken by lava and ultimately closed.

Kona Coast: Coffee Country and Coastal Vistas

white clouds

Leaving the volcanic landscapes behind, the Kona Coffee Belt drive immerses you in the tranquil beauty of the island’s western coast. As you wind through the coffee plantations of Kona, you’ll be treated to picturesque views of emerald hills and sparkling ocean. Take a break to visit one of the many coffee farms along the way, where you can sample some of the world’s finest coffee and learn about the art of coffee cultivation. The scent of freshly roasted beans fills the air, making this drive a sensory delight.

Coffee Plantations and Tastings

Exploring the coffee farms of Hawaii’s Big Island is a must for any visitor. Discover unique microclimates, volcanic soil impact, and traditional Kona coffee farms. The Kona Coffee Living History Farm and the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation are two of the best coffee farms open to the public. Here, you can get a glimpse into the area’s coffee farming history and enjoy some of the freshest brews.

Beaches and Bays

The drive from Kona is dry and hot and quickly transitions into cooler and lush countryside with coffee farms on both sides of the road. The elevation is higher here, so there are fantastic coffee farms and coffee bars along the road to stop and soak in the gorgeous views from above and looking down into Kealakekua Bay. Take the turn off right at Napo’opo’o road and follow it down to Two Step and Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, where you can tour the fantastic grounds.

Cultural and Historical Landmarks

In addition to its natural beauty and historical sites, the Kona Coast is also known for its coffee farms. Two of the best coffee farms that are open to the public are the Kona Coffee Living History Farm and the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation. The Kona Coffee Living History Farm is located south of Kailua-Kona and offers visitors a glimpse into the area’s coffee farming history.

Saddle Road: Between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa

the sun is shining above the clouds in the sky

For a drive that feels like you’re traversing another planet, venture onto the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as the Saddle Road. This scenic drive takes you through the center of the island, connecting Hilo on the east coast to Kailua-Kona on the west coast. Along the way, you’ll pass through the otherworldly lava fields of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two of the world’s tallest mountains.

Red Road: The Untamed Beauty of Puna

people swimming near shore with waves during daytime

The Red Road, also known as Hawaii Route 137, is a gorgeous scenic drive that stretches for 14 miles through the Puna district. This winding coastal road offers a voyage of contrasts, from dense jungle to barren lava fields, providing a serene and contemplative conclusion to your scenic road trip. Along the way, you’ll encounter tree tunnels, beach parks, hot ponds, and amazing lava formations.

Lava Tree State Monument

This unique park features the remains of a lava flow that swept through a forest, leaving behind lava molds of tree trunks. It’s a fascinating stop that showcases the destructive nature of living in an active volcanic area.

Kehena Black Sand Beach

A hidden gem along the Red Road, Kehena Black Sand Beach is a stunning spot where you can relax and take in the dramatic coastline. The beach is known for its striking black sand, which was formed from volcanic activity.

Hot Springs and Tide Pools

Pause at Pohoiki Beach, where you can soak in the geothermally heated pools created by the 2018 lava flows. These hot springs and tide pools offer a unique way to experience the natural geothermal activity of the island.

The Red Road is a brief but loaded experience, offering a glimpse into the untamed beauty of Puna. From lush rainforests to stark lava fields, this drive is a must-do for anyone looking to explore Hawaii’s diverse landscapes.

Discover the untamed beauty of Puna on the Red Road, a journey that promises breathtaking landscapes and unforgettable experiences. Ready to explore more? Visit our website for exclusive travel packages and detailed itineraries that will make your adventure truly remarkable.

Conclusion

Exploring the Big Island’s most scenic drives offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the island’s diverse landscapes and natural wonders. From the lush rainforests and dramatic waterfalls to volcanic craters and rugged coastlines, each route provides a distinct perspective on the island’s beauty. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking a peaceful escape, these drives promise unforgettable experiences and countless photo opportunities. So, pack your bags, fill up your gas tank, and set out on a road trip adventure that will leave you with lasting memories of Hawaii’s enchanting Big Island.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any safety concerns while driving on the Big Island?

While driving on the Big Island is generally safe, it’s important to be cautious on winding and narrow roads, especially in rural areas. Make sure your vehicle is in good condition, keep an eye on road signs, and be aware of changing weather conditions.

What is the best time of year to take a scenic drive on the Big Island?

The Big Island offers beautiful drives year-round, but the best time is during the dry season from April to October. During this time, you are more likely to encounter clear skies and pleasant driving conditions.

Do I need a 4×4 vehicle for these scenic drives?

Most of the scenic drives on the Big Island can be done with a regular car. However, for certain areas like Mauna Loa Road or remote trails, a 4×4 vehicle is recommended.

Are there any guided tours available for these scenic routes?

Yes, there are several guided tours available that cover the scenic routes on the Big Island. These tours can provide valuable insights and ensure you don’t miss any key highlights.

Can I find rest stops and amenities along these scenic drives?

Yes, many of the scenic routes have rest stops, lookout points, and amenities such as restrooms and picnic areas. It’s always a good idea to carry some water and snacks, especially on longer drives.

Is it possible to see wildlife during these drives?

Absolutely! The Big Island is home to diverse flora and fauna. You might spot native birds, wild goats, and even sea turtles along coastal routes. Always keep a safe distance from wildlife and respect their natural habitats.

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