The Big Island of Hawaii is not the island to go to if you envision relaxing on a white sand beach with a pina colada in hand all day. Rather, it is the Adventurous Travelers Paradise. If you are looking for an unparalleled adventurous tropical vacation, the Big Island is the perfect destination. It’s the largest and youngest Hawaiian Island, with a wide range of unique climates found nowhere else in the state. Enjoy exploring lava tubes, an active volcano, spelunking through waterfalls, experiencing some of the best snorkeling in the world, and more. Below is a customizable 7 Day Big Island Itinerary.
Certain activities will be best on days with lots of sun while others can be done on cloudy days, so plan to be flexible in accordance with the weather. You may not have enough time to do everything listed for one day. They are separated geographically so you can hopefully see all the best spots all around the island! Click here to download the printable checklist.
Getting to the Big Island
Many people are unclear on which island is “The Big Island”. It’s the big one circled here:
Honolulu is on Oahu, not the Big Island. You can read all about Oahu in my other post here, but if you’re trying to get to the Big Island, be sure to book flights to the correct airport!
You can fly directly to the Big Island by way of Kailua Kona International Airport (KOA) or Hilo International Airport (ITO). They are on opposite sides of the island, so select whichever has the better price. Flights seem to be cheaper going into Kailua Kona, at least from our home airport which is Phoenix. Scott’s Cheap Flights always sends out great deals to all the Hawaiian Islands. I suggest getting on their email list or purchasing one of their premium/elite plans.
Where to Stay
We flew into & stayed in Kailua Kona for our full 7-day trip. But, my best advice for making your visit to the Big Island more enjoyable is to split your stay between Kailua Kona and Hilo. Otherwise, you will be spending 1-3 hours driving each way to get to some of the best spots on the island. If you split your week up between 2 stays on opposing sides of the island, you will minimize driving time and capitalize your vacationing time. I use Priceline for almost all vacations we book, I suggest looking there for the best deals.
We stayed at the Kona Coast Resort which we booked on Priceline for a great price. The resort is situated on a gorgeous golf course along the coast which you can see from the pool & jacuzzi. We admired the incredible sunsets on the golf course as well as from the balcony of our room. They had a full gym and tennis/pickleball courts.
The biggest downside about staying there is that there isn’t a beach at the resort. We had to drive off-site to find a sandy beach. This was difficult because we were with our 5-month-old baby who didn’t do well in the car. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with most resorts on the Big Island unless you have a pretty big budget. The Big Island is more of a high adventure vacation, which is why I think you should visit the Big Island without kids.
7 Day Big Island Itinerary
Day 1: Mauna Kea Beach, Kalahuipua’a Historic Park, Malasada Truck, Queens Bath, Kailua Kona
Mauna Kea Beach
This beach is the classic Hawaiian beach you’d imagine with white sand and perfectly blue water. If you are looking for somewhere to relax and enjoy the tropical sun, this beach is open to the public. You will need to bring your own chairs or blanket to sit on and a shade umbrella because the ones on the beach are only for guests staying at the nearby resort. Here is my favorite Beach Blanket. It is waterproof and easy to carry.
Hot Malasadas Truck
After the beach, visit this food truck parked on the side of the freeway. It is only open from 9am-12:30pm so be sure to catch it before it closes! If you haven’t had a malasada, it is essentially a Hawaiian filled donut. They are made fresh to order by the woman running the stand. There was a long wait when we got them, but it was well worth it.
Kalahuipua’a Historic Park
Before you head back to Kailua Kona, stop by this incredible historic park featuring lava fields leading to the ocean. Walk the path and explore the hardened lava flow and interesting formations that have resulted. If you leave the path, carefully explore at your own risk and wear good shoes. Eventually the trail will lead you through the lava fields, out to fishponds along the coast. The full loop is 1.8 miles.
If you do bring your children, note that the path is not stroller friendly. You will want to wear your baby in a carrier or hiking backpack. Wear sunscreen and a hat because there is no shade on the trail.
Queen’s Bath near Kiholo Bay
Then you can stop by a unique adventure spot if you are interested in swimming through a lava tube. This is not a baby or kid-friendly activity. Bring a waterproof flashlight/headlamp and wear water shoes. The water is colder than the ocean, so it is recommended that you visit during the day rather than in the evening. Know your limits as to how good of a swimmer you are, turn back if you are uncomfortable at all swimming in the dark lava cavern.
Downtown Kailua Kona
End your day in downtown Kailua Kona. Here you can see Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark, walk the pier, eat at any of the countless restaurants, and shop around for souvenirs. We ate at Quinn’s Almost by the Sea which was really good. I suggest the Reuben Sandwich or the Fish n’ Chips. Seriously one of the best Reubens I have ever had. We also tried the fish tacos, but were not impressed.
Day 2: Ponoholo Ranch Overlook, Pololu Valley, Waipio’o Valley
Ponoholo Ranch Overlook
If your day starts in Kailua Kona, you will pass through the Ponoholo Ranch on the way to Pololu Valley. There isn’t an official pull-off to see the view, but you can pull onto the side of the road when it’s safe to admire the vibrantly green pastures that overlook the lower part of the island and coastline.
This is a must-see spot on the island. From the lookout, you will see the remarkable valleyed sea cliffs formed by the Kohala Volcano. Although the lookout point is impressive, it’s worth the switch-back hike down into the valley. It is rated as a moderate hike because of the steepness. You descend 344 ft and it is just under 1 mile round trip if you cross over the river to complete the loop. It is absolutely stunning. The freshwater river that rushes through the lush valley meets the strong waves of the ocean. The incredibly lush valley deserves time for admiration. You can find a spot to sit and watch the waves and take in nature’s beautiful creation.
Next on the itinerary is another impressive, must-see spot on the island. Waipio’o Valley is a sacred place to many native Hawaiian people. Natives still live in this lush valley harvesting crops and raising livestock. However, it is difficult to get down to the actual valley, you will need a 4×4 vehicle or determination to hike the extremely steep road down and out. Pololu Valley is gorgeous, but Waipio’o Valley is even more impressive. If you are not up for going down into the valley, you can see its majesty from the lookout spot.
Day 3: Kona Farmers Market, Alopio Fish Trap, Magic Sands, Kahalu’u Beach Park
Kona Farmer’s Market
Start day 3 of your trip at the Kona Farmer’s Market. Farmer’s markets on the island are a great place to find local eats and the freshest produce. You might even find some fun souvenirs as well. We tried some fruits there that we had never heard of before! It is a little more pricey than going to a normal grocery store, but you are supporting local farmers.
Alopio Fish Trap
After grabbing fresh fruit & veggies at the farmers market, you can visit the Alopio Fish Trap. To get there you will have to walk about a quarter-mile from the parking lot on an unpaved path. We mistakenly thought we could bring a stroller but ended up having to carry it the whole way. This was a hidden gem, hardly anyone else was there with us. The reason we really liked this spot was that it had a structure to protect us from the sun and the light rain we experienced while there.
We also enjoyed the fish trap because we saw several turtles! Some even were swimming right up to the shore and we could see them from outside the water. The snorkeling here was okay, but there are better spots on the island for sure.
Parking for Magic Sands is wherever you can find it along the road. This is another beautiful white sand beach on the Big Island, but only during certain times of the year. If you are visiting during the winter, you will have a hard time finding the white sand, or the beach in general. The high tides during winter cause the sand to wash away and only the black lava rock is apparent. It is pretty rocky when the white sand is visible, like many beaches on the island. This is going to be a more popular spot in the Kailua Kona area, but that is also a perk if you are wanting a beach that’s conveniently located.
Kahalu’u Beach Park
This is one of the top snorkeling locations on the island, you will definitely want to make a stop here. If you didn’t bring your own Reef Safe Sunscreen, they have it in dispensers at the welcome center near the bathrooms & picnic tables. Please be respectful of the sea life and only swim in the ocean with reef-safe sunscreen.
This shields the ecosystem from being damaged and ensures it will continue to flourish for our enjoyment (and the sea creatures’ survival)! The sun is very intense in Hawaii because it is right on the equator, so make sure your back is lathered before getting in the water.
The variety of fish you can see here is incredible. I have snorkeled in a lot of destinations, and this is high on the list. You need to be very careful entering the water to get into the lagoon to snorkel. The rocks are sharp and slippery. My husband gashed his foot open pretty bad as we were going out. Luckily, there is a lifeguard on duty who was able to help disinfect it and bandage it up for him. I advise wearing water shoes or Tevas Sandals to protect your feet.
Day 4: Captain Cook Monument & Snorkel 2 Step
Captain Cook Monument
British explorer Captain Cook holds a big place in Hawaiian history. Read about it here*. The obelisk monument memorializing his death is hard to get to but is a beautiful spot to explore. The bay surrounding it is one of the top snorkeling spots on the island.
If you choose to hike down, be prepared for 4 miles round trip with over 1200 feet of elevation change and little to no shade. This is definitely something for the more adventurous traveler. The other option is to kayak or take a boat tour to the monument. You can rent kayaks nearby from Kona Kayaks, Hawaiian Hydrofois, or Adventures in Paradise. You can also find several different boat tour companies leaving from Keauhou Bay, Honokohau Harbor or the Kailua-Kona Pier.
Next, for the best snorkeling on the island, spend some time at 2 Step. It is called 2 Step because you take two steps down the edge and plunge into the colorful ocean. The flourishing coral is painted shades of yellow, red, and purple and there are species of fish you won’t see anywhere else. We saw eel, parrotfish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a (the Hawaii state fish), yellow tang, and huge sea urchins. If you are lucky, you might even see turtles and dolphins! This makes the top 3 best places I have ever snorkeled in the world. There is a lot of space to explore here, I highly recommend this being part of your itinerary on the Big Island.
Day 5: Hilo Farmers Market, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls & Boiling Pots, Kaumana Caves, Mauna Kea Observatory
Hilo Farmers Market
Stop by the farmers market to purchase locally grown fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers. There are always food vendors & artisan crafts to peruse as well!
Then, if you are looking for the most impressive waterfall on the island, Akaka Falls should be next on your itinerary. In the middle of the vibrant rainforest stands this 42 foot cascade. It is only a .4 mile walk from the parking area, but it does have stairs the whole way. It costs $10 per car and $5 per person to enter. This is the wet side of the island so check the weather before going to make sure you won’t be soaked by the end of this hike.
Rainbow Falls & Boiling Pots
Nearby are many more awe-inspiring waterfalls. Rainbow falls get their name because of the rainbow that is formed in the mist of the crashing water. The best time to see this will be on a sunny morning. Legend says that the cave behind the waterfall is home to Hina, mother of the demigod Maui. It is free to visit Rainbow Falls. You will easily be able to see the falls from the parking lot or you can walk a short few minutes to the upper lookout.
Just down the road are the Boiling Pots. These are a succession of large pools of water that pour into each other, as if boiling into the next. There are tons of other waterfalls in this area! Some you can safely swim in while others are very dangerous. More information here on the state park website: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/hawaii/wailuku-river-state-park/
This is an impressive, free lava tube that you can explore. Check out this blog for more specifics in exploring it! https://bigislandhikes.com/kaumana-caves-state-park/
Mauna Kea Observatory
As one of the only places in Hawaii that has snowfall and the tallest mountain in the world when measured from base to peak, Mauna Kea should be on your list of things to see on the Big Island, Hawaii. During the right time of year you can play in the snow and see the breathtaking views during the day.
Although, the best reason to make the drive up is for the stars at night. You’ll stand at about 13,000 feet elevation with the universe sparkling right above you. Pictures don’t do it justice, it is a serene experience you have to have for yourself. If you have the energy one night, then I encourage you to visit Mauna Kea to stargaze.
Day 6: Volcanoes National Park, Punalu’u Beach
Volcanoes National Park
This is an absolute, must-see. Since it is a National Park, there is an entrance fee of $25 per car. As you drive along, there are countless pull offs and hikes worth stopping for. You don’t want to miss the Steam Vents, Thurston Lava Tube, Halemaumau Crater, Kilauea Overlook, and the Holei Sea Arch.
Driving down to the Sea Arch was one of the highlights of our entire trip because while we were there we saw a mother whale & her baby breaching along the coast for about 30 minutes. We were so close, it was such an exciting surprise.
Depending on how long you spend at each of the pull-offs or hikes, you could spend an entire day at Volcanoes National Park. But if you want to see other nearby spots in the same day, get an early start to your day and only stop at your top picks.
We heard that there are places in the park where you can see the steam from hot lava pouring into the ocean, but we were not able to see that while there. If you go at sunrise, there might be spots where you can see the orange glow of lava. Be careful if you go looking for these places in the park, it can be very dangerous!
Next up is one of the most famous black sand beaches of the island. It is on the road heading back to Kailua Kona from Volcanoes Park, making it a great spot to spend the rest of the day after exploring Volcanoes. There is a small snack & souvenir shop near the parking lot of the beach.
Day 7: Papakolea Green Sand Beach, Kula Kai Caverns
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
One of only four green sand beaches in the world, this is an extremely unique place to visit. The challenge is getting there. When you arrive to the parking lot, some locals in small pickup trucks will offer a shuttle service for $20 round trip. You can opt in to do that or walk down to the beach which takes a little under 1 hour. You can always take the shuttle back to the car for just $10. This isn’t a licensed shuttle service, so just be aware.
Kula Kai Caverns
If you are wanting something very adventurous and different for your visit to the Big Island, you can book a tour at Kula Kai Caverns. Explore lava tubes deep in the earth with a personal guide. Price will depend on the tour you select, ranging from $18-$95 per person.
Hope you enjoy your adventurous tropical vacation on the Big Island, Hawaii! To find more adventurous destinations, to do lists, and packing lists, click here.