Hawaii's Big Island is brimming with adventure. Just steps from the shore, you'll discover ten of the world's 14 microclimates in a pristine environment encompassed by lush rainforest, white-sand beaches, and clear waters. This expansive island is awe-inspiring in size alone; it's large enough to fit all of the other islands combined, providing ample space to spread out and savor every minute. The power of nature truly takes hold here, from snow-capped mountains to tropical forests and eye-catching volcanoes. Diverse adventures abound for travelers of every interest, so prepare to experience the trip of a lifetime.
Two of the world's most active volcanoes are alive and well at this national park, protecting some of Earth's most unique geological and cultural landscapes. Stretching from sea level to an elevation of 13,6777 feet, you'll ascend into the heavens as you view Kīlauea and Mauna Loa up close and personal; you can even view eruptions as they happen! With over 123,000 acres to explore, there's ample space for hiking. On the slopes of Mauna Loa, the world's most massive shield volcano, you'll discover the pastoral beauty of Kahuku Unit, the previous home of one of Hawaii's biggest cattle ranches. The Thurston Lava Tube, a subterranean cave formed by a river of molten lava, is another don't-miss.
Black sand beaches are truly eye-catching, and Punaluʻu is one of the most famous on Earth. The black sands were created from lava flowing toward the ocean, a direct result of activity from Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. You can often catch views of endangered Hawksbill and green turtles crawling directly across the sand, and swimming and snorkeling opportunities are plentiful.
Discover bubbling streams and waterfalls flowing into the ocean at this lush tropical paradise. This 20-acre living classroom is home to over 2,000 species that represent over 125 families and 750 genera, giving you personal access to plants, animals, and wildlife that you'd never come into contact with otherwise. Panoramic nature trails wind throughout the valley, so you can fully immerse yourself into the rainforest setting at the edge of the Pacific Coast.
Meet marine species up close by hitting the seas with spinner dolphins. As social mammals that bond and communicate constantly, you'll be just another part of the crew. They won't just swim alongside you but make you feel like you're a part of the family. By swimming with dolphins in their natural environment, you'll learn to appreciate their intelligence and abilities in an entirely new way. Dolphins have historically looked forward to coming into contact with humans, allowing you to get close and personal. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is something to finally check off your bucket list.
Get a true taste of the tropical rainforest at this enticing state park, where you'll encounter two cascading waterfalls in one short trip. The hike to the namesake Akaka Falls is just 0.4 miles, but you'll be immersed in the lush forest every step of the way. Discover bamboo groves, verdant ferns, and bamboo groves along the path, or take a peek at the wildlife once you hit the water; you might just catch globefish and shrimp swimming upstream or suctioning their way up the rocks behind them. Akaka Falls plummets an astonishing 442 feet into the gorge below, while Kahuna Halls cascades 100 feet into the waters below.
Experience the seas in an entirely new way during a nighttime swim with manta rays. This after-dark excursion results in adventurous nights out on the water. You'll embark in snorkeling boats that place lighted flotation devices into the water, helping bring these late-night dwellers more toward the surface. Explore the waters as you watch these gentle creatures swim around and underneath you. Seeing and interacting with the rays in person is an elevating experience that everyone should sample at least once.
Add an adrenaline rush to the itinerary with a jump off of famous South Point. An unmistakable spot, you'll notice ladders set against the ocean cliffs. Jumping into the sea from here is a 40-foot drop, so it's not for the faint of heart, but the waters below are only around 20 feet deep with no obstructions or rocks around the ladders, making it one of the safest, most populous areas to try diving. Many rocks are easily climbable, and there's a picturesque cave you can swim directly up to. If jumping's not your thing, watch others experiment as you explore the crystal clear waters; the area is also popular for swimming, snorkeling, and picnicking.
Get a personal lesson in stargazing from an expert with a summit and stargazing tour. Tours last an average of eight hours, so this can easily become an all-day affair. Seven tour operators bring travelers up to the summit, so you have your choice of adventures. Along the way, you'll learn little-known facts about the history and cultural importance of the mountain, the stars, and the science of stargazing itself. You'll view the stars from some of the world's best telescopes, and tours supply parkas and gloves to keep you warm throughout the trip. Some even include dinner! The on-site visitor center features educational materials and videos on astronomy paired with a gift shop selling souvenirs, snacks, and hot beverages.
Explore the island in a riveting way with ATV tours that guide you past its most mesmerizing attractions. On an ATV, wild forests and cliffs on the coast become much more accessible, so you can explore many areas that would be inaccessible otherwise. Tours range in length and duration, but the majority take you on 10+ mile drives to private lands and scenic hotspots.
Connect with the land in an innovative new way that gives you unparalleled access to local honey, chocolate, coffee, macadamia nuts, tea, and much more. You'll learn the history and process behind their cultivation and production, and, best of all, you'll get a solid sample along the way. Hawaii is, in fact, the only state that can produce chocolate with 100% locally sourced ingredients, making it one of the state's biggest exports.