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If you’re planning a visit to Hawaii and wanna know the best things to do on the Big Island, this article will give you many epic ideas!
The Big Island has the most volcanic action, tons of different landscapes to explore, beaches galore, and a rich history that is so interesting to learn about.
On top of all that, there are unlimited activities for you to choose from!
Whether you’re a nature nut, a history buff, or a science fan, the Big Island has plenty for you to get into.
From swimming with sea life to zip-lining through the rain forest, you can put together the perfect Big Island itinerary for you or your family.
Let’s check out some of the most exciting activities that the Big Island has to offer!
Favorite Big Island Activities
- Manta ray night snorkeling – this is hands-down the one activity you can’t miss in Hawaii! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see giant manta rays feeding at night, and especially because it’s dark, the neon lights together with the graceful gliding of the manta rays make it such a magical moment! Seriously, if you’re visiting Hawaii, you must do a manta ray night snorkel! Click here for more info.
- Big Island Spectacular Helicopter Tour – this 2-hour helicopter tour will take you above the most spectacular valleys, volcanoes, peaks, and rain forests of the Big Island! The pilots, which are certified tour guides, will narrate and share their knowledge with you about the places you’re seeing from the helicopter. This is a must-do with unique photo opportunities! Click here to check availability.
27 Fun Things to Do on Big Island, Hawaii
Here are our favorite things to do on Big Island, Hawaii, in no particular order.
See Glowing Lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This National Park is home to two of the most impressive volcanoes in the world!
Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on earth based on volume and area covered, and Kīlauea is relatively young compared to the other volcanoes and very active.
If you’re looking to see scorching hot lava, Kīlauea won’t disappoint! You can see the molten lava lake glow at the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater by checking out the overlook point.
If you’re really lucky, you might even be able to catch lava flowing into the ocean.
Another unique thing to check out here is the Thurston Lava Tube. The cave is open both day and night, with night visits with no lights, so you can experience it in its pitch-black natural state.
Make sure to bring your headlamp! Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also has a visitor center, the Chain of Carters Road, the Mauna Loa Road, an arts center, and plenty of hikes.
Take An Evening Dip with Manta Rays
There is no shortage of incredible marine life sightings here! One of the most unique and exciting things to do on the Big Island is snorkeling or diving with Manta rays.
Just off the coast of Kona is one of the best feeding grounds in the world where you can swim alongside these majestic creatures.
An abundance of plankton keeps them coming back night after night to eat. They glide through the water ever so gracefully while flipping and feeding.
If you prefer to snorkel, we recommend this tour operator. It’s a 2h30 min-tour, affordable, and memorable! What’s not to love?
Take In The Breath-Taking Akaka Falls
Stroll through the rain forest to reach one of Big Island’s most famous waterfalls.
The paved trail is slightly less than half a mile and will have you walking among orchids, ferns, and bamboo groves. This hike is relatively easy but does have a decent amount of steps, so be sure to wear comfy shoes.
Once you reach Akaka Falls in Akaka Falls State Park, you’ll see the powerful waterfall dropping 442 feet!
This waterfall is always flowing, but of course, is extra special shortly after heavy rain.
While you’re visiting Akaka Falls, you’ll get to catch a peek of a bonus waterfall in the park as well, Kahuna Falls. You can complete the whole park trail in about an hour.
Pssst: Some other waterfalls worth seeing are Umauma Falls, Kailuka River Falls, and Peepee Falls.
Star Gaze at Mauna Kea
Although this volcano is dormant unlike the ones at Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Kea (literally white mountain in the Hawaiian language) is still one of the best things to do on the Big Island.
As the tallest point in Hawaii and high above the clouds, it makes it the perfect place for stargazing.
This is no secret, there are quite a few telescopes at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s dormant volcano, run by various groups and universities.
To visit, you can either take a tour with a knowledgeable guide or drive yourself if you have 4WD.
The road occasionally closes due to weather, so make sure to plan ahead if you’re making the trip yourself.
As the summit is at 13,796 ft, it does get quite cold up there so bring a jacket (and your camera, of course)!
Tackle A Portion of the Ala Kahakai Historic Trail
This 175-mile coastal trail is actually a collection of many smaller Big Island trails, not a continuous trail.
That being said, the hikes that make up the Ala Kahakai Trail have some epic views of the coast.
The trails traverse a variety of terrain. Sandy beaches, volcanic rock, and caves are some of the protected ecosystems along this trail.
This trail also represents a culturally significant part of Hawaiian history and connects local communities.
The trail includes four national parks, six states parks, cultural and historic sites, and natural resources.
The goal is to preserve and protect the combination of ancient, historic, and modern trails.
Hit The Southernmost Point of the United States
With endless views of the ocean, Kalae, or South Point, is as far south as you can possibly go in the United States.
These windy cliffs have been named a National Historic Landmark for their historic and cultural importance.
Historians believe that this is where the first Polynesian settlers landed and you can see remnants of their existence at the temples, fishing shrines, and notches in the rock used to tie fishing boats.
This isn’t the best place for a swim, but you can stand on the cliffs and soak up the views.
There is also a restaurant nearby, the southernmost restaurant in the United States, where you can stop for lunch and a cliff jump available for those seeking to push the limits.
Catch a Luau
To fully experience the Hawaiian culture, you will definitely want to check out a luau while you’re on the Big Island.
Originally the traditional music, dance, food, and drink were meant to unite the community and celebrate life.
Your belly will be happy and there will be joy in the air as you chow down on traditional foods such as kalua pig and laulau and sip on the famous mai tai.
Sit back and enjoy the show as the locals demonstrate the traditional music and dance.
This 3-hour excursion to Royal Kona Resort Luau will be a blast for you and your family!
It’s a cultural experience, with traditional ceremonies, complimentary dinner, and lots of unique memories!
Marvel At the Lava Trees
When you come to check out this forest, you might think you’re looking at petrified wood, but you’re in fact looking at the casts of trees that were around back in 1790.
That’s when lava poured through the area, hardening around the trees before burning them away.
These casts remain today as the forest remerges all around them, with new growth of ferns, orchids, and flowers.
The trail is relatively short, a paved 0.7-mile trek that loops through the park and offers views of the eerie lava trees.
After you enjoy the remnants of eruptions from the past, you can stop by the Pahoa Lava Zone Museum to learn more about the positive and negative effects that the eruptions have had on local communities.
Descend Into the Kaumana Caves
Absolutely dwarfing the Thurston Lava Tube, the Kaumana Caves are a “skylight” of a 25-mile long lava tube.
This one was formed in 1881 by an eruption of the nearby Mauna Loa. The entrance of the cave is exploding with lush, tropical foliage.
Visitors can descend down the metal ladder and explore the two entrances of the lava tube.
Most people just view the entrances which are lit up by the sun. If you’re looking for a bit more of an adventure, bring some headlamps and explore a bit deeper into the caves.
Swim With Dolphins
We’re jumping back in the water, this time with dolphins. We’re not talking about dolphins in captivity, you can swim with dolphins where they should be, in their natural environment, wild and free.
Take a 4-hour snorkel trip with an ethical local operator to see spinner dolphins that love to jump and spin inside and out of the water.
While snorkeling or swimming with the dolphins, make sure not to disturb their natural behaviors.
This tour operator takes you to snorkel with dolphins on an animal-friendly trip. Tour includes snorkeling gear too.
Get Historical At Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
If you’re looking for an ancient Hawaii history lesson, check out the Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.
Hundreds of years ago, lawbreakers would often be punished by death, but they could save themselves by making it to “pu’uhonua,” their sacred place of refuge.
If they arrived here, they would take part in a sacred ceremony of absolution and be allowed to return to society.
Check out one of the park ranger talks to learn more about the history of the park if you have a chance to visit this part of Kona Coast.
There is plenty to see on your visit here but be sure to visit the Pu’uhonua and the Royal Grounds.
The Royal Grounds are the resting site for many of the chiefs throughout Hawaiian history.
You might want to combine this Big Island activity with a visit to the Two Step Beach, which is a popular snorkeling spot.
Explore the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo
This is the only zoo in the United States that’s located in a rainforest. That means you can check out rainforest animals in their natural ecosystem.
They have spider monkeys, lemurs, giant anteaters, a huge variety of bird species, and a white and orange tiger.
Receiving plenty of rain, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden/Zoo has a lush landscape loaded with local plants.
There is a petting zoo and playground for the kids, making this the perfect thing to do on the Big Island for families.
Increase Your Awareness at the Pacific Tsunami Museum
Whether you’re fascinated or terrified, tsunamis are very interesting phenomena that can have devastating effects on a local population.
The Pacific Tsunami Museum set out to improve education and awareness in order to help save lives in future events.
On top of that, they aim to be a memorial for those who have lost their lives in the past.
As the most deadly natural disaster in Hawaii, proper planning and education can go a long way in preventing catastrophic loss of life in the future.
The museum provides exhibits and educational programs using a combination of scientific facts and personal testimonies from those who have lived through a tsunami. The museum is currently closed due to Covid.
Go Back in Time at the Pu’u loa Petroglyphs
Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Pu’u loa Petroglyphs are a large field of petroglyphs from the 16th century.
These are rock carvings in lava that were made by the original inhabitants of Hawaii. You can reach these beautiful carvings by a 0.7-mile hike along lava bedrock.
Scientists are still studying the meaning behind these ancient petroglyphs, but it is thought they were used as a way to communicate events and mark boundaries or trails.
Take In the Rainbow Falls
Located in Hilo, Rainbow Falls are perhaps the most famous ones after Akaka Falls. Towering 80 ft and sprawling almost 100 ft in diameter, these falls are literally breathtaking.
The beautiful falls are surrounded by the lush tropical rainforest of Wailuku River State Park and are best seen from the park’s viewing platform.
One interesting thing about the Rainbow Falls is that they flow over a natural lava cave, home to Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess.
Either way, if you visit in the morning of a sunny day, you will understand this falls’ name.
Pssst: This 11-hour Big Island tour is a comprehensive experience that takes you to visit volcanoes, waterfalls, including the Rainbow Falls, coffee farms, black sand beaches, and more!
It’s the best way to learn and see a lot of Hawaii in a day with a local! Click here for more info!
Gaze at the Papakōlea Green Sand Beach
You’ve heard of black sand, pink sand, and white sand beaches. But green sand?!
This incredible beach in Hawaii gets its color, and name, from olivine crystals that get washed out of the olivine-rich lava.
Since these crystals are heavier than other sand, they tend to stay on the beach while the rest of it gets washed out to sea.
Green Sand Beach is one of the most unique things to do on the Big Island. To get there, you can drive to a nearby parking lot or challenge yourself to a hike.
The 2.5-mile trail will pass by ancient temples before arriving at the cliffs above Green Sand Beach.
Pssst: You can also find another popular black sand beach, and Big Island’s tallest waterfalls, Hiilawe Waterfall, in Waipio Valley on the north side of Hawaii Island. You can combine it with a trip to Pololu Valley!
Go Nude at Kehena Black Sand Beach
It’s not just the black sand that makes this beach unique. Rumor has it, this beach is clothing optional.
The gorgeous black sand was created by lava flow from an eruption in 1955. People flock here to see the thin stretch of shady black sand beach.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to spot spinner dolphins out in the water.
This beach is open to the ocean, so be cautious when swimming. There have been rip currents in the area. Be especially careful when the surf is high.
Be Wowed While Whale Watching
No trip to Hawaii is complete with some whale watching. Every winter and spring, tons of humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii to mate, birth, and raise their young in the warmer waters.
From November to April, you have the chance to see these giants who love to put on a show.
Humpback whales will breach, surface, tail slap, and blow spouts of air. It’s possible to see them from the shore, but if you want to increase your odds, it’s best to join a whale-watching tour.
Visit the Kona Coffee Living History Farm
The Kona Coffee Living History Farm is an excellent place to learn what life was like in coffee plantations in the 1920s and 30s.
Here, costumed interpreters joyfully go about planting and harvesting to cooking and crafting coffee on the Kona coast.
You’re free to explore this coffee farm in Captain Cook by yourself as well as to sample the delicious coffee. Just don’t forget to buy some to bring back home!
Fly Through the Sky While Zip Lining
Get your adrenaline pumping with one of the most action-packed things to do on the Big Island.
You get to experience views of the rainforest while feeling the wind rushing through your hair.
Zip from point to point through a series of rides at different speeds and lengths.
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or conquering your fears, a zip-lining tour will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.
There are quite a few options for you to choose from. Depending on which side of the island you’re on, but the zipline over KoleKole Falls is simply breathtaking!
Try Your Hand at Surfing
When in Hawaii, why not join in on the favorite local sport, surfing! You can take classes or rent a board and do your best on your own.
While this isn’t the most well-known Hawaiian island for surfing, it is still one of the common things to do on the Big Island.
There are plenty of schools or trainers in both Hilo and Kona. The conditions are always changing, so it’s great to ask a local to get the most up-to-date scoop on surf spots. Some favorites are Kahalu’u or Honoli’i.
Drive Along the Scenic Red Road
If you’re fortunate enough to have a car while visiting Hawaii, driving the scenic Red Road would be one of the nicest things to do on the Big Island.
This winding coastline route will take you to the hot ponds plus there are plenty of beaches you can stop at along the way.
Unfortunately, in 2018 a decent portion of the road was covered by lava. You can still take the scenic drive along the southeastern coast.
Now, this drive does a great job of showing the damage that volcanoes can cause.
More scenic drives worth checking out:
- Coffee Country
- Mauna Loa road
- Chain of Craters Road
Bounce From Beach To Beach
This should go without saying, but visiting some of the many beaches is one of the most common things to do on the Big Island!
We touch on a few of the more unique beaches, but there are so many more to choose from.
You could visit a new beach every day and it would take you months to see them all.
If you’re looking for the best that the Big Island has to offer, check out our list with the best Big Island beaches.
We list some of the favorite beaches, what makes them special, and what you need to know before visiting so that you can make the most out of your beach days.
Hike The Circuit at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historic Park
Enjoy a circuit hike through the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historic Park is a lovely way to spend a day.
This hiking trail will take you through all the major attractions in the park. This includes two Hawaiian fishponds, petroglyphs, fish traps, an ancient canoe house, several ruins, and a beautiful beach that attracts green sea turtles.
The fish traps were used by the early civilizations to catch fish easily during low tide.
They would transfer the fish to fishponds to store for later use. This trail is the perfect combination of ancient culture, history, and nature.
Visit the Hōlei Sea Arch
Another marvel of mother nature created about 550 years ago out of a lava flow, this 90-foot arch won’t likely last forever. The arch was created thanks to “differential erosion,” as the softer layers of lava eroded away first.
Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can get a view of the Hōlei Sea Arch from the new lookout point located at the end of Chain of Craters Road.
The old viewpoint has to be shut down after cracks were reported and due to the unstable nature of the cliffs nearby. When visiting, it’s recommended to stay away from the edges of the cliffs for this reason.
Explore All The Volcanoes
The Big Island is known as the youngest of the Hawaiian islands at somewhere between 400,000 and 800,000 years old.
That’s nothing compared to the fact dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago!
Located on a geologic hotspot, the tectonic plates under the Big Island continue to move, causing volcanic eruptions that continue to expand the island.
There are five main volcanoes on the Big Island. There are Mauna Loa and Kilauea, two of the active volcanoes that make up Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Hualālai is also active but has not erupted in over 200 years. It is known for creating delicious Kona coffee but you can also hike around the area.
Kohala is the oldest volcano on the island and is currently shrinking as large pieces break off and fall into the ocean.
Mauna Kea is the tallest sea mountain in the world, even taller than Everest if you measure all the way to the base underwater.
As we mentioned previously, Mauna Kea offers some of the best stargazing in the entire island, let alone in the world.
If you have time, you can explore each of these unique volcanoes while staying on the Big Island.
Pssst: We mentioned this 11-hour Big Island tour above, but we’re adding it here again to say it also includes a one and a half hour stop at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Stroll Around Liliuokalani Gardens
The Liliuokalani Gardens, which were named after Hawaii’s last queen, are a 24-acre park with Japanese gardens.
The gardens are made up of gorgeous arches bridges, Japanese stone lanterns, and sculptures and are meant to be a tribute to the Japanese immigrants.
You can spend the afternoon strolling through the park, reflecting by the tide pools, or relaxing under the gazebos.
Admission is free and it is open all year, so no matter when you visit the Liliuokalani Gardens is one of the most relaxing and zen things to do on the Big Island.