Hiking in Big Island

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Hiking

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Meteorologists classify the world's weather into 13 climates. Ten are here on the Big Island, and you can experience them all by foot on the many trails that lace the island. The ancient Hawaiians cut trails across the lava plains, through the rain forests, and up along the mountain heights. Many of these paths can still be used today. Part of the King's Trail at ‘Anaeho‘omalu winds through a field of lava rocks covered with prehistoric carvings called petroglyphs. Many other trails, historic and modern, criss-cross the huge Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and other parts of the island. Plus, the serenity of remote beaches, such as Papakolea Beach (Green Sand 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.

Best Spots

Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park. A pair of 1½-mile-long unpaved roads lead to Mahaiula Beach and Kua Bay, on opposite sides of the park. Connecting the two is the 4½-mile Ala Kahakai historic coastal trail. At Mahaiula, you'll find picnic tables and luas. Midway between the two white sand beaches you can hike to the summit of Puu Kuili, a 342-foot-high cinder cone with an excellent view of the coastline. It's dry and hot with no drinking water available, so be sure to pack sunblock and water. Gates close 7 pm sharp. Trailhead: Hwy. 19, about 2 miles north of Keahole–Kona International Airport, HI, 96740.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Perhaps the Big Island's premier area for hikers, the park has 150 miles of trails providing close-up views of fern and rain-forest environments, cinder cones, steam vents, lava fields, rugged coastline, and current lava-flow activity. Day hikes range from easy to moderately difficult, and from one or two hours to a full day. For a bigger challenge, consider an overnight or multiday backcountry hike with a stay in a park cabin (available by a remote coast, in a lush forest, or atop frigid Mauna Loa). To do so, you must first obtain a free permit at the backcountry permit office in the Visitor Emergency Operations Center. Daily guided hikes are led by knowledgeable, friendly park rangers. The bulletin board outside the visitor center has the day's schedule. Hwy. 11, 30 miles south of Hilo, Volcanoes National Park, HI, 96785. 808/985–6000. www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm.

Muliwai Trail. On the western side of mystical Waipio Valley, this trail leads to the back of the valley, then switchbacks up through a series of gulches, and finally emerges at Waimanu Valley. Only very experienced hikers should attempt the entire 18-mile trail, the hike of a lifetime. It can take two to three days of backpacking and camping, which requires camping permits from the Division of Forestry and Wildlife in Hilo. Trailhead at end of Hwy. 240, HI, 96727. 808/974–4221. hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov.

Onomea Bay Trail. This short but beautiful trail is packed with stunning views of the cliffs, bays, and gulches of the Hamakua Coast, on the east side of the island. The trail is just under a mile and fairly easy, with access down to the shore if you want to dip your feet in, although we don't recommend swimming in the rough waters. Unless you pay the $15 entry fee to the nearby botanical garden, entering its gates (even by accident) will send one of the guards running after you to nicely but firmly point you back to the trail. Trailhead on Old Hawaiian Belt Rd., just before botanical garden, HI, 96781. hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov.

Going with a Guide

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.

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.

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.

Kapoho Kine Adventures. This outfitter offers several interesting tours of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and surrounding areas, including a 14-hour tour that allows you to explore the region by day and see the lava at night. There is also a shorter day tour and a separate evening tour complete with a Hawaiian-style barbecue dinner. Prices range from $99 to $189 per person. 25 Waianuinui Ave., Hilo, HI, 96720. 808/964–1000 or 866/965–9552. kapohokine.com.

Kula Kai Caverns. Expert cave guides lead groups into the fantastic underworld of these caverns near South Point. The braided lava-tube system attracts scientists from around the world, who come to study and map them (almost 40 miles so far). Tours start at $20 and range from The Crawl ($60) to the Two Hour, a deep-down-under spelunking adventure for $95. (Longer, customized tours are also available.) Programs are tailored to each group's interest and abilities, and all gear is provided. Tours start at an Indiana Jones-style expedition tent and divulge fascinating details about the caves' geologic and cultural history. Reservations are required. Kula Kai Estates, Lauhala Dr. at Kona Kai Blvd., HI, 96737. 808/929–9725. www.kulakaicaverns.com.

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