Best Big Island road trips: Experience the fun and cool places and attractions around the island to explore (updated 2023)
There are so many wonderful places to discover on the Big Island of Hawaii and taking a scenic road trip around the island is a great way to explore and see the beautiful scenery, historic and cultural attractions and other fun places to enjoy on a discovery road trip.
If you’re looking for taking a day trip or a longer stay in between cities and other popular sites, check out the best scenic drive of the Big Island here to inspire you to visit these wonderful parts of the island that are amazing and the trip getting this is also part of the fun and experience to visiting the Big Island.
Weather and best time to visit the Big Island
Certainly, Noel Morata, the weather on the Big Island of Hawaii can vary depending on the time of year and the specific regions you plan to visit. Here’s an overview of the weather patterns and the best times to visit for your travel content:
1. Seasons on the Big Island:
- Dry Season (May to October): This period is characterized by warm and sunny weather. It’s an ideal time for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking. The beaches are great for swimming and snorkeling.
- Wet Season (November to April): During these months, the Big Island experiences more rainfall, especially on the windward (eastern) side. While it can still be a good time to visit, you may encounter occasional rain showers.
- The Big Island generally has pleasant temperatures year-round, with daytime highs ranging from 78°F to 88°F (25°C to 31°C).
3. Regions and Microclimates:
- It’s important to note that the Big Island has diverse microclimates due to its varying landscapes. The eastern side (Hilo) tends to be wetter, while the western side (Kona) is drier. The higher elevations, like Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, can be cooler and even experience snow in winter.
Best Time to Visit:
- If you prefer dry and sunny weather for outdoor adventures and photography, plan your trip between May and October.
- For whale watching, visit from December to April when humpback whales migrate to Hawaiian waters.
- Keep in mind that prices for accommodations and activities might be higher during peak tourist season.
- Dry season offers excellent weather for outdoor activities.
- Whale watching is a unique experience during the winter months.
- Diverse microclimates provide opportunities for various types of experiences.
- Peak tourist season means higher prices and more crowded attractions.
- Wet season can bring occasional rain, particularly on the east side.
In conclusion, Noel Morata, the best time to visit the Big Island depends on your preferences and the activities you plan to engage in. Be mindful of the microclimates, and consider your budget when deciding when to travel. Enjoy your adventures in Hawaii!
The Mountain road between Waimea and Hawi (19.3 Miles)
Where to start – at Waimea
You’ll be climbing up the oldest volcanic mountain on the island at the Kohala mountain through Highway 250 on the flanks of the mountain with hairpins and winding turns going uphill. One the drive up, there are a few areas for lookout points so that you can see the entire area around Waimea and the Kohala coastline.
At the crest of the highway, it starts turning very green with grassy hills and cinder cones and even foggy skies that are typical in this area until they burn off later in the day. The road reaches abut 3200 feet in elevation so you definitely get some nice views to the areas below. The road gently starts its decline with little peak a boo views to the west side and coast of the island and before you know it, you are on the outskirts of Hawi town that you can spend time exploring or drive to the end at Polulu Lookout point.
The scenic Red Road or Kapoho – Kalapana Drive (approx. 7 miles one way)
Where to start – dead end road in Kaimu at Uncle Roberts
This scenic drive feels like old Hawaii on Hwy 137 from Kalapana and driving the old Red Road which used to be a very narrow red asphalt road but was widened and paved with black asphalt and still called the Red Road by locals. This gorgeous drive has so many amazing tree tunnels, windy roads with coastal views and drop-dead vista points everywhere you turn, the drive is just breath taking to do all the way to the new black sand beach at Pohoiki beach and dramatic MacKenzie State Park.
What to see along the drive?
Explore Kaimu beach with a short hike to the cliffside and Kaimu Bay and then check out Uncle Roberts for some kava, local snacks or an impromptu music jam on the stage. Next check out the Kehena beach – an alternative black sand beach in the Kehena area. Further down is MacKenzie State Park and walk along the striking cliffs on the coastal trail. Drive through the lava rock area to the end of the road at Pohoiki which is the new black sand beach on the island with some hidden hot pond areas to soak in.
Where to start – at either Hilo (Hwy 19 49 miles) or in Kona (61.2 miles)
You can do this as a day trip from either Hilo or Kona locations and enjoy the trip to the viewing area of Waipio Valley below. From Hilo town the drive to Waipio valley goes through scenic roads and three major gulches you actually drive around and the views from the road is breath taking. The Hilo route is more breathtaking through the gulches and coastal road directly to Honokaa.
What to see on the drive?
Recommended Fun places to stop along the way include the town of Honoka’a, Akaka Falls and Honomu and further down at Lapahoehoe point to drive down and check out the views of the cliffs from below and the sweet little park grounds and rugged coastline areas.
Continue back up to Hwy 19 where eventually you’ll see the signs for Honokaa, the gateway town to Waipio Valley. If you’re hungry or just want a snack and window shop at the same time, you can grab a bite at some of the bakeries along the way or have a bigger meal and enjoy the western charms of this paniolo styled town. Honokaa is fun to walk the main strip and check out all the boutique stores, eateries and snack shops in town.
Continue on the main road Hwy 240 and drive to the end of Waipio and follow signs that will lead you to the parking area. The viewing spots are a short downhill walk to the platform to see these jaw dropping scenes of Waipio valley. Some might try walking or dare we say driving the very steep road down to the valley floor but this is not recommended. We suggest taking a tour with a local outfitter that can do a better job and security for your safe travels around the valley area and beach at Waipio.
From Kona the route is more direct on Hwy 190 and stops at Waimea which is fun for lunch or some quick shopping at Parkers Ranch or some other spots in town. Continue on to from Hwy 19 to Honokaa and make a left in town to Hwy 240 and follow to the end.
Scenic Onomeo (Pepe’ekeo about 4 miles one way)
Where to start – Follow Hwy 19 north from downtown Hilo and between mile marker 7-8, make a right turn marked ‘scenic drive’ on the road.
This old scenic road that used to be the main road going to Waimea from Hilo is narrow with one lane bridges, lush forests that run down the cliffs to the ocean. There is a nice vista point where the coastline appears with a short hike to the bottom of the bay and you’ll get gorgeous views at the bottom. The old scenic road called the Mamalahoa highway is slow and easy going where you can stop anywhere to soak in the views, check out little waterfalls and even visit a botanical garden with over 2000 species of plants. Just make sure to bring some bug spray because this is dense jungle with lots of plantings in the area.
What to see along the drive?
Recommended stop at the short hike to the bottom of Onomea
Visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Enjoy a fresh fruit smoothie at the What’s Shakin’ (they are the best)
The roadway is very narrow with one lane bridges so take your time and enjoy the ride.
South Kona scenic drive and Coffee Plantations about 12 miles one way
Where to Start – From Kona area drive down Highway 11 south to the Junction at Highway 160 South of Captain Cook town. There are a few little towns you can also drop by along the way to window show, find antiques or grab a bite to eat. Follow the road to Napo’opo’o and make a right going downhill going towards Kealakekua Bay and look for the signs to the Painted church as a first stop and continue back downhill to Kealakekua Bay and the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau national park and Two Step area.
What to see along the drive?
Recommended stops: St Benedict Painted church, Kealakekua Bay, and Honaunau Bay for snorkeling at Two Step and Pu’uhonua o Honaunau national park
The drive from Kona is dry and hot and quickly transitions into cooler and lush countryside with coffee farms on both sides of the road. The elevation is higher here so there are fantastic coffee farms and coffee bars along the road to stop and soak in the gorgeous views from above and looking down into Kealakekua Bay. Take the turn off right at Napo’opo’o road and follow it down to Two Step and Pu’u honua which is the national park you can visit and tour the fantastic grounds. Two step next door is a very popular snorkeling spot with lava rocks you step into the bay and enjoy some of the best snorkeling on the island.
Chain of Craters Road – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Approx. 20 miles one way)
From the Visitors center inside the Park
From the Volcanoes National Park visitors center drive towards the exit and make a left at the signs for the Chain of Craters road which takes you to the left side of the park and caldera and drives downhill towards the ocean.
What to see along the drive?
Recommended stops: Observation point at the Rim Trail overlook, Kilauea Iki or devastation trail, Pu’uloa for Petroglyphs and end of road with the Holei Sea Arch is quite spectacular
There are many lookout points to stop along the way on the Chain of Craters with many landmarks. You can get a map at the entrance and it will show you highlights to visit on the Chain of Craters road to include various trails, look out points and other natural attractions worth visiting. There is no gas or services along the road so make sure you have gas and plenty of provisions and water if you plan on being outdoors in the park.
New road from Pahoa to Hawaiian beaches loop
(approximately 20 miles round trip from Pahoa town to Hawaiian Beaches on Government Beach road)
Where to start – Pahoa town
The area south of Pahoa was inundated recently in 2018 with the Lerz eruption pouring lava downhill to the ocean and devastating the lush forest area and communities downhill. The Hwy 132 traverses over the lava fields towards the ocean and curves to a scenic area that was not destroyed with old growth mango trees, dense forest and winding roads around the coastline that is quite spectacular on the way through Government Beach road to Hawaiian Shores Subdivisions. There is a hike from the main curve into a new Kapoho black sand beach with no name around Kapoho that is over an hour hike and rarely does anyone hike to this beach, so if you are looking for privacy and seeing something hardly anyone sees, this is the hike to the new beach with no name to it is a fun place to explore.
Continue on Government Beach road where the road narrow and winds around old growth trees like mangoes in a dense forest area and driving slow in the main way to travel here and enjoy the views and ride along the way to the Hawaiian Shore subdivision and loops back to Pahoa town. This segment definitely feels like Old Hawaii and at a slower time and place than today. You can see the typical types of small homes locals live in the Hawaiian Shores and Beaches subdivision, one of the oldest in the Puna district.
What to see along the drive?
Recommended stops, fruit stands, Mermaid ponds and the Sand dunes on Government Beach Road and the lush drive along the coast and into one of the oldest subdivision areas of the Puna District at Hawaiian Shores and Beaches.
Where to start – from Hilo or Waimea area
Akaka Falls on the Hamakua coastline is a wonderful botanical garden and state park to explore with two waterfalls on the park grounds. After you park and pay your admission fees, go down the flight of stairs to a paved walkway that loops around beautiful bamboo groves, lush tropical plants and trees and the highlight of the visit to the tall and majestic Akaka Falls surrounded by dense vegetation, sweet smelling ginger blossoms and other native plants.
What to see along the drive
Visit the small town of Honomu along the way and try some of the bake goods, window shop or even have a nice meal from the local mom and pop eateries. Also along the way up to the waterfalls are a few fruit stands to refresh yourself with ice cold coconuts or fresh fruit tropical shakes for a delicious experience before or after your waterfall hike.
Scenic Saddle road to Waimea
Although the new Daniel K. Inouye Saddle Road Highway is fast and sleek, the small two lane original highway leading towards Waimea is slow with big hills to drive over, winding roads and gorgeous ocean views or pastures with friendly horses or cows looking for a nice treat if you stop along the way. The route feels like old Hawaii and when you enter the Waimea section, you feel and see the islands ranching past with large tracts of ranch and grasslands, rolling hills and cinder cones that bring you to another era until you hit the outskirts of town.
What to see along the way
There are many lookout points that you can stop and admire the views and take pictures. At the top of the road areas at Wai’iki Ranch is an old ranch to the right with gorgeous horses that love to hang out and take pictures for you.
More inside tips to doing a road trip around the Big Island of Hawaii
Ready for doing a road trip in Hawaii? Here are some inside tips for a memorable road trip around the Big Island of Hawaii:
1. Start in Kona or Hilo:
- Depending on your preferences, you can start your road trip in either Kona (west) or Hilo (east). Kona is known for its sunny weather and Kailua-Kona’s lively atmosphere, while Hilo offers a more laid-back experience.
2. Rent a Reliable Vehicle:
- Choose a reliable and sturdy vehicle, preferably an SUV or 4×4, especially if you plan to explore off-the-beaten-path areas like Waipio Valley or the southern coast.
3. Visit Volcanoes National Park:
- Don’t miss Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Check for updates on volcanic activity, as conditions can change. Explore the fascinating landscapes, lava tubes, and take a hike to see active lava flows if it’s safe.
4. Sample Local Cuisine:
- Savor local Hawaiian cuisine. Try traditional dishes like poke (raw fish salad), loco moco (rice, hamburger patty, egg, and gravy), and malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts).
5. Explore Waipio Valley:
- If you’re up for adventure, drive into Waipio Valley (4×4 recommended). It’s a lush, secluded valley with stunning waterfalls and black sand beaches.
6. Take the Saddle Road:
- Drive the Saddle Road (Hwy 200) to cross the island between Hilo and Kona. It offers breathtaking views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Stop at the Mauna Kea Visitor Center for stargazing.
7. Embrace the Scenic Byways:
- Explore the scenic byways like the Hamakua Heritage Corridor and the Red Road (Hwy 137). These routes offer stunning coastal views, waterfalls, and historic sites.
8. Snorkeling and Diving:
- Bring your snorkeling gear. The Big Island boasts excellent snorkeling spots, including Kealakekua Bay, Honaunau Bay, and Kapoho Tide Pools.
9. Respect Nature and Culture:
- Hawaii has a rich cultural heritage. Show respect for sacred sites (heiau), and follow the “Leave No Trace” principles while exploring nature.
10. Check Weather and Road Conditions:
– Weather can change rapidly in Hawaii. Check road conditions and weather forecasts regularly, especially if you plan to drive through remote areas.
- The Big Island offers diverse landscapes and experiences.
- You can tailor your trip to your interests, whether it’s outdoor adventures, cultural exploration, or relaxation.
- The island’s relatively small size makes it easy to explore in a road trip.
- Some areas may require permits or guided tours for access, so plan accordingly.
- Traffic can be congested in popular tourist areas during peak seasons.
In conclusion, a road trip around the Big Island of Hawaii is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in its natural beauty and culture. Keep these tips in mind to make the most of your journey. Safe travels, Noel Morata!
Check out these other posts on Visiting the Big Island of Hawaii
A family friendly visit to the Big Island – a guide to family adventure and activities on the island
A gorgeous hike and beach time at Makalawena Beach
Enjoyed the post – Pin it for Later!
Conclusion to Big Island road trips
Although there are plenty of roads and destinations to drive through, these are some of the most scenic drives around the island with cool places to visit along the and a nice ending spot to explore. Did you do another road trip that should be included in this post, please share it in the comments below.
Hope that this inspired you to try some of this road trips the next time you planning on visiting the Big Island soon.
Thanks for visiting today and checking out this post on Big Island road trips. I hope you are inspired to plan a visit and enjoy these wonderful attractions. If you enjoyed the images and post, could you please share it with any of the social media buttons located around the post.