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Things to do in Big Island of Hawaii

Itineraries for Your Trip to Big Island of Hawaii

Big Island of Hawaii locals share their perfect days.
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3 Days in Big Island of Hawaii for First Timers

Curated by Jacqueline Kehoea travel writer who’s been covering the Big Island for years.

Oahu, Maui, and Kauai are all stunning, but to my mind, the glowing lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the “Big Island,” is the most captivating sight in the state. Hawaii Island (which is bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined) has a distinct character all its own, and its mountains and shores offer sights you won’t find anywhere else in the country, including flowing lava, volcano-edged farms, and black-sand beaches.

You’ve made a good choice by giving this island your time. Here’s how to spend three days on one of the world’s most active volcanic islands (and one of the most beautiful).

Be prepared for varied temps at different destinations and elevations.

If you only have time for one thing, make it Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Day 1

Start at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can drive the Chain of Craters Road, walk into the Thurston Lava Tube, or hike Kilauea’s rim. You could also opt to see the park from above on a helicopter tour. If the lava is bubbling, try to come at either sunrise or sunset to truly see it glow.

While you’re on the eastern side of the island, you can also stop in the town of Hilo, visit a black-sand beach, or chase waterfalls at Akaka Falls State Park or Wailuku River State Park.

Day 2

Today, dive into Hawaiian culture and history with a cruise around Kealakekua Bay. This is where Captain Cook was killed and is just a few miles from King Kamehameha III’s birthplace. You’ll also get great views of the volcanic Kona coast, and some excursions provide snorkeling gear and lunch. In winter, you might even see humpbacks.

In the afternoon, explore the farm-fresh food and local coffee in Kona. You can tour a coffee plantation, like Mountain Thunder or visit the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, then dive into fresh seafood and other local specialties at a spot like L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.

Day 3

On your last day on Hawaii, head to the summit of Mauna Kea, which is technically the tallest mountain on Earth (if it weren’t for the Pacific Ocean). It’s best to go with a guide at sunset, where you can catch views of golden hour and enjoy some of the best stargazing around.

The summit of Mauna Kea can get very cold—there may even be snow—so dress accordingly.

Finish your trip with a night adventure: snorkeling with manta rays. A guide can help you get up close with these majestic creatures, and the boat’s neon lights give the moment an ethereal vibe. It’s a heck of a way to top off a Big Island vacation!

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