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Ecologically diverse, Hawaii Island has four of the five major climate zones and 8 of 13 sub-climate zones—a lot of variation for one island—and you can experience them all by foot. The ancient Hawaiians cut trails across the lava plains, through the rain forests, and up along the mountain heights. Many of these paths are still in use today. Part of the King's Trail at Anaehoomalu winds through a field of lava rocks covered with ancient carvings called petroglyphs. Many other trails, historic and modern, crisscross the huge Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and other parts of the island. Plus, the serenity of remote beaches, such as Papakolea Beach (Green Sands Beach), is accessible only to hikers.
Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks Division. The division provides information on all the Big Island's state parks. 75 Aupuni St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/961–9544. www.hawaiistateparks.org.
To get to some of the best trails and places, it's worth going with a skilled guide. Costs range from $95 to $165, and some hikes include picnic meals or refreshments, and gear, such as binoculars, ponchos, and walking sticks. The outfitters mentioned here also offer customized adventure tours.
Hawaiian Walkways. With knowledgeable guides, this company conducts tours in unique spots—a botanical walk in a Kona cloud forest, a hike on Saddle Road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, waterfall hikes, and jaunts through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—as well as custom-designed trips. 45-3625 Mamane St., Honokaa, HI, 96727. 808/775–0372 or 800/457–7759. www.hawaiianwalkways.com.
Hawaii Forest & Trail. Since 1993, this locally owned and operated outfit has had a reputation for high-quality nature tours and eco-adventures. The company has access to thousands of acres of restricted or private lands and employs expert, certified guides. Its variety of programs includes a Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge birdwatching tour, Kilauea Volcano excursion, Kohala waterfall trip, and the super-fun Kona Coffee & Craters adventure. The Twilight Volcano Adventure stays in the national park after dark to see the glowing red stuff. 74-5035B Queen Kaahahumanu Hwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/331–8505 or 800/464–1993. www.hawaii-forest.com.
Kapoho Kine Adventures. This outfitter offers several hiking adventures in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and surrounding areas, including a 12-hour tour that explores the region by day and sees the lava at night, a shorter day tour, and an evening tour complete with Hawaiian-style barbecue dinner. The Gold Coast/Cloud Forest Tour contrasts a hot day at a historic beach with misty hikes in a cool and endangered cloud forest teeming with birds. Tours depart from both Hilo and Kona. 224 Kamehameha Ave. #106, next to Palace Theatre, on Haili St., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/964–1000 or 866/965–9552. www.kapohokine.com. From $99 per person.