Choose from a wealth of outdoor family activities on Hawaii’s Big Island, from hiking to horseback riding to helicopter rides.
The Big Island of Hawaii boasts numerous activities and adventures that are perfect for families. Whether your family members are all out thrill seekers or laid-back casual observers, they’ll find a variety of fun and memorable activities around the island. Here are the best of the Big Island’s family friendly activities, with a little something for everyone.
Few adventures can compare to seeing an active lava flow. You can hike to the current lava flow lookout area at the end of Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see lava flow into the ocean, or head to the Kalapana area of the Puna district on a road access maintained by the County of Hawaii. Lava flows and hikes are constantly changing, so check with National Park staff and security personnel on site for the latest viewing and safety information. Hikers must be prepared for long walks over rough lava rock terrain and carry water, food and flashlights (for night hikes). Also check the National Park Web site or call for the latest eruption update at 808-985-6000. Another source to get eruption updates is the County of Hawaii Web site.
If you’re not quite up to a strenuous hike to see the current lava flow, you might want to opt for an easier hike across the floor of the steaming Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You’ll be able to gain insight into the immensity of volcanic craters and the natural history of eruptions. The park also has several easy to moderate day hikes.
Take a horseback trail ride or mule-drawn wagon through the historic and majestic Waipi’o Valley or around its upper rim. See working taro farms, lush jungle, cascading streams and waterfalls and the famed Waipi’o Valley Black Sand Beach. For information on horseback trail rides in and around Waipi’o, check with outfitter Waipi’o Ridge Stables. For a leisurely wagon ride through the valley, check with Waipi’o Valley Wagon Tours.
The history buffs in your group can take a step back in time at the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park at Honaunau, Kona, to learn about ancient Hawaiian history and culture. The park has one of the best preserved heiau (temples) and other historic ruins dating from early Hawaii.
The Akaka Falls State Park nature trail walk above Honomu on the Hamakua Coast (off Highway 19), is perhaps the Big Island’s best natural rain forest walk. See lush tropical jungle, tumbling streams and magnificent 420-foot Akaka Falls. This is the tropical paradise that everyone imagines as the real Hawaii.
Enjoy the splendor of nature while strolling among the tropical flowers and plants at Hilo Tropical Botanical Gardens, five miles north of Hilo on Highway 19. Nani Mau Gardens in Hilo (21 Makalika St.), just two miles south off Highway 11, has acres of beautiful tropical flowers including orchids, jasmine, ginger, anthuriums and more.
Coffee enthusiasts in your group should stop at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, 12 miles south of Kailua-Kona near Captain Cook. It’s an original 5.5-acre working farm dating from 1900 and provides a close look at the Kona coffee industry with historic buildings, artifacts, working machinery, live animals, coffee orchards and costumed docents who relate the production cycle of Kona’s famous brew.
You can be a bit more adventurous and take a self-guided cultural walking tour through Lapakahi State Park, off Highway 270 on the north Kohala coast. On this site of an old Hawaiian fishing village see interesting artifacts, historic ruins, and displays recounting the old Hawaiian culture and lifestyle.
Adventure-minded thrill seekers in your group will find excitement in a four-wheel drive on the Mana Road. The rugged road winds some 40-plus miles around Mauna Kea’s upper flanks through forest and ranch country from the mid-island Saddle Road to Waimea. This full-day excursion takes you through backcountry wilderness and pristine rolling countryside. Chances are good you’ll see wild cattle, pigs, sheep, turkey, pheasants and Nene geese (the Hawaiian state bird). Check with any major car rental agency in Hilo or Kona for the necessary four-wheel drive vehicles.
Youngsters of all ages will thrill to the delights of a helicopter air tour over the Big Island. And while air tours are pricey, the lifetime memories gained on your family vacation will be worth it. If the volcano is erupting and producing lava flows, the views will be spectacular, and even if it’s not, they’ll still be awesome. Big Island air tours take in the volcano area, plus mountains, gorges, waterfalls, streams, beaches, rain forest and desert landscapes. Check out air tours with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters or Safari Helicopters.
Dreams! I've always wanted to go to the Big Island