Hawaii and Pacific: Hawaii - Big Island | Volcanic Peaks, Hiking Trails & Lava Love

There's a lot to see on each coast of Hawaii -- the Big Island

Find the best vendors in Hawaii here!
by Virginia Wageman

Most visitors to the Big Island of Hawaii -- so named because it's the largest in the Hawaiian chain -- stick to the west coast, where there's generally less rainfall. While there's nothing wrong with that, there are a lot of other interesting things to see and do on Hawaii Island. In fact, locals recommend flying into one airport and leaving from another (Hawaii Island has two) so that you're guaranteed to see more of the incredibly diverse land.

When To Go: Hawaii Island at its best

Best weather: Mild year-round, though summer temps can reach the low 90s; slightly less rainfall between March and November.

What To Do

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: First and foremost of the Hawaii Island's attractions is this park, with its vast lava fields, tropical rainforests, alpine summits, and the most spectacular sight of all, Kilauea, the world's most active volcano. The best way to explore the park is on foot. Trail maps and information are available at the Visitor Center, just inside the park entrance.

One of the park's nicest short walks is the Thurston Lava Tube trail, a 20-minute stroll through a lush tree fern forest and a tunnel-like lava tube. The Kilauea Iki trail starts at the Lava Tube parking lot, and will let you experience what it's like to be on the floor of a crater. The trail descends 400 feet through native forest into a crater that last erupted in 1959, and across still-steaming vents. There are lots of other trails to explore, from short walks to two- and three-day treks. Be sure to bring sunscreen, something warm -- and waterproof -- to wear, a hat, and plenty of water.

Horseback riding: For a totally different experience, head 30 miles or so north of the Kohala resorts to the ranchlands of the Kohala Mountain Range. Here, Paniolo Adventures offers some of the best horseback riding on the island. Rides, on an 11,000-acre working cattle ranch, start at two-and-a-half hours. The guides offer excellent instruction, and even the most inexperienced riders have the opportunity to trot and canter if they wish. There are spectacular views across the channel to Maui in one direction and toward the often snow-covered slopes of Maunakea in the other.

Waterfall tour: See a unique side of the island on an unforgettable waterfall tour of the Big Island's east coast. Hilo Ocean Adventures offers three hour-long boat tours for a glimpse of the stunning surroundings along the coastline -- you might even spot a whale or two.

More info: GoHawaii.com

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