A Sightseer’s Itinerary for the Big Island of Hawaii
Famous for its natural wonders and stunning scenic beauty, the Big Island of Hawaii offers innumerable opportunities for sightseeing throughout its vast 4,000+ square miles. But with so much to do and see with such limited time, it’s best to prioritize your Big Island sightseeing experience and hit some of the major attractions – that way you can explore on your own during your next visit, of course!
Our favorite natural sightseeing hotspots are listed below. While each will take you to a different corner of the Big Island, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to hit each destination during a 3-4 day period.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Geographically diverse and one of the few places on Earth where visitors can see active lava flows up close, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a sprawling, gorgeous adventure unto itself. Desolate deserts, massive volcanic craters, tropical rainforests, and newly-formed (or still forming) lava rocks are just a few of the things you’re likely to see at the park. Camping is available and the visitor’s center at Mauna Kea (our next highlight) makes for stellar stargazing at night.
Home to over 13 telescopes, Mauna Kea is both the tallest mountain in Hawaii and one of the few summits perfectly suited to astronomical observations. While the telescopes themselves aren’t open to the public, the aforementioned stargazing tour at the visitor’s center is a unique and memorable opportunity to see a near-uninhibited view of the heavens above.
With Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls, and Kahuna Falls all within a short drive north of Hilo, there’s no reason why tourists shouldn’t take some time to explore this gorgeous part of the Big Island. Your roads will take you through incredible tropical rainforests, botanical gardens, and along amazing scenic views of the coastline – and the waterfalls aren’t too shabby, either.
About 50 miles north of Hilo lies the so-called “valley of the kings,” a sacred area with black sand beaches, vast cliffs, and beautiful flora and fauna. The Waipio Valley isn’t easy to get to – it requires a 4WD vehicle or some hearty hiking boots to enter, but the views from the valley floor are as photogenic as it gets.
An important historical and cultural area, the area now called Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park was once a place of refuge and sanctuary for ancient Hawaiians. Visitors today can see restored traditional carvings, buildings, and other structures as well as the original foundations of many more.
There’s a reason there’s a Beach Boys song about the Big Island’s western coast. Eternally sunny and warm, these beaches don’t just inspire images of surfing and bikinis, but the calm, tropical waters along the Western Coast are breathtaking sights to behold. Just don’t get too caught up in the view to forget to swim, snorkel, and surf.