The Big Island is for those who want it all, and who aren’t afraid of driving a bit to see it all. After all, Big Island is big. In fact, the island still grows by 40 acres per year as the ever-erupting Kileau continues to pour molten rock into the cooling ocean on the island’s southeast coast.
The Big Island shares the name of the state -- Hawaii -- and it boasts twin 13,000-foot volcanic peaks. The massiveness of the island, coupled with the myriad of elevations provided by the mountains, allows The Big Island to contain 10 of the world’s 14 different climate zones. On a sunny January day, you may be able to sled atop Mauna Kea before heading down to the dry, hot west coast for a refreshing swim in the sparkling Pacific.
Now, we always recommend staying at least seven days on each island to make for a fulfilling Hawaiian vacation, but the Big Island might demand even more time. After traversing the volcanic rock fields of the west coast, the green sand of the south coast and the chilly inland temperatures of Mauna Kea, it’s time to explore The Big Island’s wet jungles.
Perhaps the easiest way to do that is with the Akaka Falls Trail. This paved trail is easy and accessible, so the whole family can enjoy the flora and fauna of the Hawaiian jungle. The paved trail takes you through thick forest to different lookouts over rivers and a 422-foot waterfall.
The massive Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa cut the island into two very distinct sides. On the west, you’ll find dry desert anchored by the city of Kona. Meanwhile, the east is a wet jungle. In the middle of the dense greenery, you’ll find the small city of Hilo.
Akaka Falls is an easy and rewarding pit stop when exploring the Hilo side of the island. Simply drive north of the city along Highway 19 before turning inland on Akaka Falls Road. The road will ride uphill for about three miles before hitting a dead end. You’ll find a parking lot for the public park at the end of the road, and the paved trail is easily accessible.
It costs $5 to park your car at the Akaka Falls Trail, and pedestrians are required to pay $1 at a kiosk at the beginning of the trail. And be careful exactly where you park your car. Towering avocado trees like to drop their fruit onto rental cars throughout the day.
This side of the island is famous for its rain, so you might want to check the weather and pack a light coat if the skies are grey. And you can beat the crowds to this popular spot by visiting during weekdays between the hours of 9:00 am and 11:00 am. Otherwise, you might be contending with tour buses and small crowds. You can also time your visit just after a rain to ensure that the waterfalls are full and at peak gorgeousness. In fact, you shouldn’t be afraid to visit the park while it’s raining because it adds to the beauty of the misty rainforest.
The trail is completely paved, and the short hike takes you through thick vegetation. It can feel like you’re on the set of Jurassic Park when you’re enveloped by giant ferns, towering bamboo and trickling streams. As you tour the property, you continually catch glimpses of the two 400-foot waterfalls.
If you go clockwise, you’ll hit the 400-foot Kahuna Falls first. The trail will bring you to the edge of a cliff with roaring waters below, and you’ll be able to see the powerful breadth of Kahuna Falls off to your left. You don’t get the best views of this waterfall, but you certainly get incredible views of the next waterfall.
Continue along the trail, and you’ll emerge from the vegetation at the bottom of the trail’s payoff -- the thunderous 422-foot Akaka Falls. There’s plenty of pavement from the viewing platform, and, if the waterfall is especially powerful that day, there’s even a covered awning for protection from the mist.