Our trip to Hawaii ended up being more hiking days than beach days, which was actually great. We were able to do three amazing hikes on different parts of the island to see some really cool things. The hikes varied in length from less than a mile to 6 miles round trip and allowed us to see some of the most beautiful places on the island. While I do enjoy my time in nature, my health and other obligations have kept me away from hiking for a bit. In fact, the last real hiking trip I did was in August 2012 when I spent 8 days hiking in Olympic National Park. This trip reminded me that I do enjoy a bit of nature in my life, but that my body is not always on board with spending time outdoors. Between my ability to sunburn almost instantly, my insect allergies and the arthritis I have in my knees, I struggled through parts of these hikes, but they are still 100% worth your time if you find yourself on the Big Island. Without further ado, these are the three amazing hikes we went on during our trip and my thoughts on each!
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Round Trip mileage: 0.5 miles
Elevation change: 300 feet
This was actually the easiest of the three hikes we completed, even considering the significant elevation change over such a short distance. You start your hike at the Pololū Valley overlook where you get your first glimpse at the breathtaking views you will enjoy throughout your hike down to the valley. The way down isn’t too terrible and is essentially like walking down a quarter-mile long staircase. On the way down, be sure to stop even now and then to take in the scenery! The way down is the easy part, but you still need to watch for loose rocks and slippery patches of sand because a fall on this trail could be risky.
The payoff of this hike is the gorgeous valley from which it got its name and the amazing black sand beach at the border between the valley and the ocean. The lush green grass and trees are breathtaking and the black sand and lava rock beach is unlike anything I have seen outside this trip. The trek back up from the valley is no joke so keep that in mind. We did this hike at the end of a day and I definitely felt that on the way up. I would recommend this as a starting point for your day rather than the end point. I also want to say that if you have issues with going up or down hill, this may not be the hike for you. It is short, but the steep slope of the hike can make it a bit difficult. The valley is breathtaking though, so if you can squeeze this hike into your trip, you won’t be disappointed.
Roundtrip mileage: 3 miles
Elevation Change: 975 feet
This hike is no joke y’all. That almost 1000 foot elevation change? It’s all concentrated in the first mile of the hike down. It is very steep and it is not exactly a walk in the park. Of the three hikes we did, Waipi’o Valley was the hardest, even without being the longest. If you are in a vehicle with 4 wheel drive, and comfortable driving, you can get down to the valley in your vehicle and save yourself the hassle of the hike. Our Nissan Rouge rental? Yah it was not 4WD and more importantly, none of us would have been comfortable driving it down the mountain even if it was. Alas, we began our trek down the hill. The steep downhill trek means that from the start this hike is quite challenging. Once you reach the valley though, it is breathtaking!
The Waipi’o Valley is considered a sacred place and its beauty is indescribable. The lush valley and the view down the coastline of waterfalls are mesmerizing. We even saw a few wild horses wandering the valley! We spent a bit of time wandering the beach at the edge of the valley, but did not wander far. Many people try to hike to the waterfall you can see from the beach, but they are actually on private property so these hikes are in fact illegal. We opted to stick to the official areas and then began our walk back up.
Thoughts on the hike
I swear I am not exaggerating when I say this: the hike up was the most painful thing I have experienced since having my gallbladder removed. It was HARD. And it hurt muscles I didn’t know I had. Even worse was thinking I was getting close to the top and seeing a sign on the guard rail that said “Halfway there! Don’t give up!” Even with the painful hike back up, I don’t regret the hike at all! The views were amazing and unlike anything I had seen before. Would I do the hike again? Probably not. Next time, I would likely opt to rent an appropriate vehicle and drive down to the valley so I can enjoy it a bit more without worrying about the climb back up.
Round Trip Mileage: 6 miles
Elevation Change: 200 feet
One of the coolest parts of Hawaii is the different colored sand found on different beaches. The most common of these are the black sand beaches that come from eroded lava rocks. Papakōlea Beach is another type: a green sand beach! Now if you are expecting a vibrant Kelly green, you are going to be disappointed. The sand is more of an olive-green color, but it is still worth the hike. Now what creates this greenish hue? It’s a mineral called olivine, which is heavier than the other components of the lava. This keeps the green sand on the beach while the black sands wash out with the tides.
This hike still wouldn’t be filed under “easy” in my opinion, but it was a bit less challenging than Waipi’o Valley was. The distance of the hike is longer, but there isn’t any major elevation changes except the final steep descent to the beach itself. The challenge from this hike comes not from the elevation change, but from the distance and the terrain. If you aren’t an avid hiker, 6 miles roundtrip can be a bit rough. Now complete that 6 miles on uneven dusty terrain with no tree cover on a hot day. I applied sunscreen before we began, about halfway t the beach, on the beach, and halfway back. I still got a sunburn (I am super pale naturally though). This was a great hike even with the sunburn and the green sand beach was pretty awesome to see up close because it doesn’t translate as well in photos.
My Advice for Hiking these Trails
I want to preface these tips with a disclaimer: ***I am not a professional hiker or professional of any kind. These are just things that helped me***.
Tip #1: Bring lots of water!
I knew ahead of time that our trip would include at least some hiking, so I invested in this amazing Camelbak Hydration Backpack. It holds 3 liters of water and has space in the backpack for some things you may need along the way(I will mention those below). This was enough water for each of these hikes and it was easier to carry. If you are the kind of person who can’t carry a backpack, my sister bought this great Camelbak Fannypack that holds 1.5 liters of water and is quite stylish. No matter what you choose, be sure to carry plenty of water on your hikes!
Tip #2: Dress Appropriately
For hiking in warm weather, I prefer to wear longer shorts (just above the knee), a comfy sports bra, and a tank top. Everyone has their own preferences, but definitely lean more towards comfort than cute for hiking because this will make it a more enjoyable experience for you. Shoes are also very important. Be sure you are wearing comfortable and appropriate shoes. I really loved hiking in my Nike Free Runs. They were supportive and comfortable, while still being lightweight. Whatever shoes you wear, be sure to break them in before you go! Be sure to check out my full packing list for details of everything I packed for the trip!
Tip #3: Be prepared
There are some things I always carry with me on a hike to ensure I am prepared for what I encounter. The first thing I always carry are bandaids because I am injury prone. I also pack a protein bar or snack of some sort in case I get hungry or light-headed. As I am prone to sunburns, I also have sunscreen in my bag to reapply along the hike. Other things to consider bringing include, chapstick, deodorant, a towel(if hiking to a beach and backpack space permits), a rain jacket(this Patagonia one is great and folds down to fit neatly in its own pocket), and any other items that will make the hike easier for you. But don’t pack too much and weigh down your pack! You have to find the happy medium!
Overall, I loved getting to see the different parts of the Big Island on these hikes and I also did enjoy the physical challenge they presented me with. They were each challenging in their own way, but the payoff at the end was incredible. I highly recommend these 3 hikes if you are visiting the Big Island in the future!
From one Misguided Millennial to the world, this has been my thoughts on 3 of the Big Island’s best hikes!