The Top 5 Big Island Hawaii Tours
Once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Kailua-Kona—the hubbub of all things fun in the sun on the Big Island—is a visitor’s Shangri-La. Balmy weather, first-rate snorkeling, world-class resorts, a historic village brimming with lively shops and restaurants—the enclave is as entertaining as it is stunning.
Located on the southern slope of the Hualalai volcano, it’s the perfect spot to revive in style—and the perfect starting point for some of Hawaii Island’s coolest tours. We’ve rounded up our choices for the top five of these expeditions; here they are:
Volcano Unveiled/Hawaii Forest & Trail
One of the largest draws of the Big Island is the volcanos it boasts. (After all, where else in the world can you see steam rising as lava pours into the ocean?) As the youngest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, it’s home to four active giants—Mauna Loa, Kilauea, Hualalai, and the offshore, underwater volcano, Loihi—which Hawaii Forest & Trail gives you a taste of on their Volcano Unveiled tour. The 12-hour excursion places you under the care of a National Park certified guide, who will provide you with an in-depth understanding of the Big Island’s wildly beautiful, ever-evolving landscape while taking you on hikes through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You’ll also drive off-road to get an up-close-and-personal glimpse of a private lava tube that’s only accessible to Hawaii Forest & Trail’s guests. Groups max out at 14 people, thus allowing for a terrific, intimate experience.
Know Before You Go:
- Comfortable—and able—to hike across rocky, uneven terrain? Good, as Volcano Unveiled will guide you across just such an environment. Be sure to pack shoes to accommodate this.
- No need to pack eats: Hawaii Forest & Trail provides breakfast snacks, lunch, non-alcoholic drinks, and afternoon pupu—or appetizers—that are served on a gorgeous farm near that aforementioned lava tube.
- Lava conditions change daily, even hourly. To get a sense of what to expect on the day of your tour, contact Hawaii Forest & Trail’s office staff or visit the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s Eruption Update page.
Kohala Waterfalls Adventure/Hawaii Forest & Trail
Arrive on the Big Island and your immediate thought may be that the entire 4,028 square miles are comprised of lava fields. And yet, one of the boons of the place is its diversity. This is emphasized on Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Kohala Waterfalls Adventure. Departing from their headquarters and Waikoloa’s Queen Marketplace, the 8-hour roundtrip jaunt will take you away from the lava—beautiful as it may be—and into the lush country, where you’ll have the chance to experience several waterfalls along the historic Kohala Ditch trail. Ideal for all ages, the day trip is accompanied by certified guides who’ll provide you and your crew with fascinating information about Hawaii and steer you through a private nature preserve. You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to cool off in pools, shop in historic (and super-eclectic) Hawi town, and dine amid soaring sea cliffs.
Know Before You Go:
- Pack wisely: Hawaii is prone to dramatic shifts in weather, and you may encounter cool, wet, and muddy conditions. Bring a pair of shoes that can withstand the vagaries of nature, as well as a swimsuit and a light jacket.
- Keep in mind that a small amount of hiking is involved: roughly 1.5 miles (covered over 1-2 hours). You’ll also experience a slight elevation gain of 200 feet.
- Do some good for the world on any of your excursions with Hawaii Forest & Trail: The company donates $1 for each guest on tour to the I’iwi Fund, which goes to the continued preservation and advocacy of Hawaii’s native ecosystem, culture, and natural wonders. Guests are encouraged to match that amount—or give more.
Maunakea Summit & Stars Adventure/Hawaii Forest & Trail
There are only a few places on Earth where one can go from sea level to a 14,000-foot summit in roughly two hours—and the Big Island is one of them. That peak, the dormant volcano Maunakea, goes down as the highest point in Hawaii (and, when measured underwater, the tallest mountain in the world). It also hosts the biggest astronomical observatory on the globe. For a good reason, too: Stargazing at this lightless, clear-aired spot is one for the record books, providing people with indelible images of the night sky and all of its activity. Hawaii Forest & Trail facilitates the thrill on their Maunakea Summit & Stars Adventure. Following a magnificent sunset at the volcano’s summit, guides will take you to a lower elevation (9,000 feet) to sip on hot cocoa and see a star show with an 11” Celestron telescope. Information on native islanders’ star navigation and a (warm!) picnic dinner round out the incredible night, leaving you that much more awed by Hawaii.
Know Before You Go:
- Maunakea’s height renders it the coldest place in Hawaii, with an average temperature of 32 degrees and a tendency to dip below freezing. As such, pack some warm clothes. (Hooded parkas and gloves are provided by Hawaii Forest & Trail.)
- Happen to be in your early years of high school? You’ll have to hold off on this tour: The adventure is only available to those aged 16 and older, due to the altitude it encounters.
- Plan on scuba diving while on the Big Island? Ensure it doesn’t conflict with your journey to the Maunakea summit: Due to the altitude, do not plan to dive within 24 hours of your trip.
Kohala Canopy Adventure/Hawaii Forest & Trail
The Big Island is a haven for adrenaline junkies, offering everything from the chance to dive with sharks to zip line across jungle floors. The latter can be found on Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Kohala Canopy Adventure, where 9 lines, 5 sky bridges, and a rappel allow you to get your thrills while delighting in Hawaii’s beauty. Created by the owners and operators of Hawaii Forest & Trail, Rob and Cindy Pacheco, the course has won dozens of awards, including shout-outs from USA Today, TripAdvisor, and Hawai’i Magazine; it was also featured on Wheel of Fortune and Good Morning America. It’s no wonder, either: Kohala is noted as one of the greenest, lushest parts of Hawaii, while the team over at Hawaii Forest & Trail gives guests a fun and safe experience.
Know Before You Go:
- The adventure lasts for about four hours from start to finish, making it an ideal escape for days when you have evening plans (hello, luau).
- Never zipped before? Not to worry: Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Kohala Canopy Adventure has the best guide-to-guest ratio (1:4) on Hawaii Island. They’ll instruct you well on speed, control, and direction—and make your safety (and pleasure) their top priority.
- Children must be at least eight years of age—and visitors must weigh between 70 and 270 pounds.
Hawaii Grand Circle Island Tour with Volcanoes National Park/Polynesian Adventure
The Big Island is larger than all of the other Hawaiian islands combined—meaning, it’s a behemoth of a beauty whose gems are difficult to cram in on a single visit. Polynesian Adventure, however, endeavors to give you as big of a bite as possible on their Hawaii Grand Circle Island Tour with Volcanoes National Park. Stopping at a number of jewels—from lava fields that call the moon to mind, to a black sand beach frequented by Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles—the 10-hour adventure immerses guests in the island’s diversity. Some may argue that the volcanos are the pinnacle of the trip—just think of steam vents, volcanic craters, and awesome lookouts—while others may say it’s the trip to Rainbow Falls State Park, where a myriad of colors can be seen in the cascades’ mist. Others still assert it’s the stop at Royal Kona Coffee, an aromatic farm that offers panoramic views. The greatest part? You don’t have to choose. All you have to do is kick back as Polynesian Adventure’s friendly, knowledgeable crew shows you the best of the best of Hawaii Island.
Know Before You Go:
- Comfortable shoes are a must: Moderate walking is involved throughout the tour.
- Given that volcanic fumes can be hazardous, the Hawaii Grand Circle Island Tour with Volcanoes National Park is not recommended for infants, young children, the elderly, or those with cardiovascular or respiratory problems.
- Go into the tour with the right frame of mind: Polynesian Adventure can’t guarantee lava flow sightings. Surface lava flows may be present but their visibility depends on environmental conditions (and time constraints). Besides, there’s an abundance to see, regardless: It’s called the Big Island for a reason.