The ocean has eaten away at one of the Big Island's many cinder cones. Through years of battering surf, the cinder cone has broken down into granular particles. These particles are made up of green olivine crystals that mix with white sand and black lava particles to make for a spectacularly green beach. It's one of only two green sand beaches in the United States.
This rare treat awaits you at the end of a 2.5-mile hike. You'll have to drive to the southernmost point in the United States on Highway 11. You'll find a dirt parking lot between mile markers 69 and 70 in the southeast corner of the island. Make sure to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and a few snacks as there are no facilities.
You may be greeted by some locals offering to drive you to the beach in a pickup truck. The cost is negotiable, but you can expect to pay at least $5 to $20 each way. You'll have to jump into the back of a pickup with other beach goers and endure a very bumpy road. In fact, the dirt track to the beach is so rough that holes in the road are nearly as deep as the truck itself. Hold on tight.
You can also hike to this beautiful beach. Simply hug the coast for as long as you can. It's pleasant walk, but it is exposed to the sun for the duration which can make it extremely hot. You'll meander past black sand beaches and through verdant rolling hills. It's beautiful, but it can also be devastating. Some of the small inlets that you'll walk past are littered with plastic ocean debris. It can make you wonder just how much plastic is floating out in our oceans..
The last section of the hike will take you up and over a large hill. You can follow the tracks of the truck to find your way. Just make sure the truck isn't coming up and over the hill straight at you.
You'll descend the backside of the hill to a stunning sight. The beach itself is sunken into a cove that you'll have to descend. You'll look down upon impossibly blue water washing up onto olive green sand and it's all crowned by reddish cinder cone cliffs.
You can find the trail down to the beach where the trucks drop off their passengers in front of a lone picnic table. It's steep going, and you'll have to navigate steps carved into the canyon wall, but the beach is worth the effort. Just pick some of the sand up in your hand. Examine it closely. You'll make out the flecks of green mixed with white and black. Walk around the beach to see greener sand strewn about in patches. It all depends on the particle mix.
The water is invitingly blue and can make for a good swim. The waves here are pretty powerful, and it only takes a few steps to get yourself into chest-high water, so make sure to check the surf conditions before you decide to swim. There are no lifeguards down at Green Sand Beach, and you are at least 2.5 miles away from help. But, if the conditions are right, Green Sand Beach is one of the best places in all of Hawaii for a good body surfing session.
Just drink in the beauty of the scene. You've likely left a good chunk of the tourist crowd behind because most people simply can't be bothered by the effort in getting here. But the beach can get crowded on weekends. It's best to go early in morning on a weekday to avoid the crowd and the day's heat for your coastal hike. And, if you get too worn out body surfing the green sand waves, you can always pay the locals for a truck ride out of this remote, unique, and beautiful beach.