When we started planning our Hawaii trip, my sister was constantly reminding me to not be shocked by the cost of everything. We may have found a great deal on our flights(read more here), but the rest of the trip could be pricey. I was sure that everything we did on the trip would make my bank account cry. Man was I wrong! Granted, groceries and other essentials we had to purchase on the trip were expensive, but we were able to find a bunch of free activities to occupy our time without breaking the bank. From hiking and snorkeling to mountaintop stargazing, there are some amazing things you can do on the island without killing your savings.
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As I talked about in my post of three great hikes on the big island, we spent a good chunk of our trip hiking. We covered a wide variety of terrain and saw some amazing areas of the island. All of the hikes we did were completely free(no cost to enter, park, etc.). We went on 3 amazing hikes that varied in length from half a mile to almost 6 miles in length. Whether you want to see beaches with abnormally colored sand, waterfalls, or gorgeous valleys, there is a hike for you on the Big island!
The hikes we chose to go on were a hike to a green sand beach and two hikes to different valleys. The weather on the island is great for hiking in that it’s usually not too hot or too cold. Another great part of hiking is that you really just need a great pair of shoes and a good amount of water! For those things, I recommend Nike Free Run sneakers for being both comfortable and lightweight and a Camelbak backpack so you have plenty of water and its easy to carry! You can find great hikes all over the island to go see everything from lava flows to waterfalls and from beaches to beautiful valleys. The island has some amazing scenery and a good amount requires a hike to see. So pack your comfy shoes and get hiking!
One of the coolest things I discovered on this trip was how amazing the snorkeling is in Hawaii. You can find pretty much any piece of coastline, hop in the water and see amazing things. We snorkeled in 2 places on the island that were both easy to access and completely free. The first place we went was Carlsmith Beach Park right near Hilo. We didn’t have the best snorkeling conditions here, but we still saw some cool fish and coral. There was a weird mixing of different types of water that reduced our visibility at points, but seeing that was interesting.
The second place we went snorkeling was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The place we went was called Two Step, named for the 2 steps down into the water. You go down these steps in the lava rock and hop right in to the water. There are hundreds of fish to see and the water is crystal clear. We saw yellow tang, sea urchins, parrotfish, a turtle and even dolphins! We were in the water snorkeling when my sister suddenly surfaced and goes “I HEARD A DOLPHIN!” I thought she was crazy, but when we got out, we saw a group of probably 50 dolphins about 20 yards from where we had just been! We ended up going back in and swimming with them. It was the first time I have done anything like that and I will never forget it!
Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station
Located at 9,200 feet the Visitor Information Station is the furthest you can get up Mauna Kea without a 4 wheel drive vehicle. The station itself is unassuming and houses a small gift shop, but a few nights a week they roll out some amazing telescopes for stargazing! Being that far up the volcano, there is no light pollution so you can see an insane amount of stars! You have to get to the station early because parking is limited, but its all free! A bonus of needing to be there early: You get to see the sunset from the top of sunset hill(if you are willing to walk up to the top of it).
If you decide to make this a part of your trip, there are some things you need to keep in mind. First off, be sure to bring some warm clothes! It can drop below freezing at night and the altitude makes it feel even colder. I recommend bringing a warm jacket(I personally recommend anything by Northface for the warmth and durability) and wearing plenty of layers. The Visitor station sells ramen and hot drinks at a reasonable price and I recommend buying these to help keep yourself warm and better adjust to the altitude. If you are prone to altitude sickness, this may not be the activity for you, though. My sister started to feel quite sick towards the end and we actually left a bit early because of it. Overall, this was really cool to see and I loved that it didn’t cost a penny!
Places to stop for quick photos and scenery
As we were driving around the island, I loved the number of places off to the side that you could stop for a quick visit to something amazing. These are places right off the road that offer amazing scenery without a difficult hike to see them. One such place was Rainbow Falls. I was really excited to see this because the one thing I really wanted to see in Hawaii was some amazing waterfalls. Rainbow falls is right off the road and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s the perfect place for a quick photo stop on your way past it!
Another not-as-quick stop was Kaumana Caves. This is a set of two caves that are formed from old lava tubes. They are absolutely huge and unlike anything I have seen before. We actually didn’t realize how deep they were at first. Then, half our group disappeared in one of the caves for a solid 20 minutes. My sister and I went in looking for them and discovered an entirely different world. I also discovered that spelunking(the act of exploring caves) is not for me. Coming out of the first cave, I lost my footing in a tight spot and slammed my knee into a rock. This meant I was pretty sore the rest of the trip. If you are a klutz like me maybe stay near the mouth of the caves.
Another cool stop we made was at South Point. As the name indicates, it’s the southernmost point of the island(and also the United States as a whole). South Point has an amazing coastline where lava rock meets beautiful blue oceans. The water stretches as far as the eye can see. For the more adventurous out there, there is even a cliff jump right near there(not officially at South Point but right near it). This is definitely worth a stop just to say you have been to the southernmost point in the USA!
I was pleasantly surprised by all the great free activities we found on the Big Island for our Hawaii trip. I hope this list can help more budget conscious travelers get the most out of their trip to Hawaii! Be sure to comment below with which of these activities you think you would enjoy the most!
From one Misguided Millennial to the world, this has been my list of free things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!