The perfect Big Island road trip itinerary

When most people think of Hawaii, the image that comes to mind is of laying on the beach, relaxing while the sun sets over the ocean. You can do this on the Big Island of Hawaii, but if that’s all you do, you will miss out on so much more that the island has to offer.

We went to Hawaii on a spur of the moment week-long holiday to celebrate my nonexistent leap day birthday (as has become the tradition!).The following is our Big Island road trip itinerary, which covered some of the best sights and gave us a great introduction to this idyllic isle.

Guest post and photos by Karilyn Owen of No Back Home 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosure policy

Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
Exploring the beautiful coastline of the Big Island on a road trip


The largest of the Hawaiian islands has it all, from active volcanoes and lush rain forests to sandy beaches and snow capped peaks. The Big Island offers something for everyone, making it a great destination for families who love to get out and explore.

Given that we were on a Big Island road trip, spending little time at our hotels, we opted to mix our accommodation up with more traditional Hawaiian motels, glamping and a few luxury rooms thrown in for pampering.


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A road trip around Big Island, Hawaii

Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
The coastline on Hawaii’s Big Island is spectacular


[author] [author_info]Our Big Island road trip itinerary:

  • Captain Cook
  • South Point
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Hilo
  • Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel

*If you have more time, you can head north from Hilo and explore the following destinations:

  • The Hamakua Coast
  • The Kohala Coast
  • Akaka Falls State Park
  • Waipio Valley

[/author_info] [/author]


Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
Hawaiian shaved ice is a must when you visit the Big Island

Captain Cook

Flying into Kona we rented a car at the airport and made our way to Captain Cook for two nights at theManago Hotel.While basic, it met our needs and served some of the best food we had on the island.

Number one on our list was a visit to the City of Refuge (Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park) where my son earned his 9th Junior Park Ranger badge.

A visit to Kona is not complete without snorkelling. We tested the waters at Two-Step and Kahalu’u Bay. Kahalu’u being the better option for kids and beginners. It is shallow, has a lifeguard, and is full of colorful fish, corals and turtles.

Our real reason for visiting Kahalu’u – the Hawaiian shaved ice. Massive and oh so delicious.


Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
Getting ready to dive off the edge in South Point, Hawaii

South Point

Heading out from Kona on our family trip to Hawaii, we drove to South Point, the most southern point in the United States. Here the adventurous dive off the edge of a cliff and climb their way back up a rickety ladder.

No thank you! Just watching the other jumpers was enough adrenaline for me.

Down the road a bit further, you dead end to a parking lot where you can hike three miles (no shade) or pay locals for a hair-raising ride down dirt roads to hang out at Papakōlea Beach. Green sand beach, as it’s known, is one of the most famous beaches on the Big Island. It’s one of only four green sand beaches in the world. It was torture abiding by the rules of not taking any home with us.


Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
There is so much to see and do on the Big Island

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Moving on, we finished up our day with an awesome night time hike at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Seeing the red glow of lava lighting up the night sky was a highlight for all of us.

Volcanoes National Park is a must visit if you’re planning a family vacation on the Big Island in Hawaii.

The park itself has so much to offer visitors. Where else can you hike through a volcanic crater with steam vents lining your path?

Hiking the four mile Kīlauea Iki Trail through lush rainforest to the inside of the still steaming crater lava lake was out of this world. Knowing that there was lava flowing under our feet as evidenced by the numerous steam vents made this trail extra exciting. It’s not often that you can tell people you hiked inside a volcano!

We absolutely loved glamping in the rustic, but plush Namakanipaio Cabins at the park. The fun and feel of camping without the hassle and discomfort.

Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island


Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
Walking through tunnels in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


Hilo was the next stop on our Hawaii road trip. To really do this area justice, you need a few days in this cute rainy town. We stayed outside of town at the beautiful Inn at Kulaniapia Falls overlooking a gorgeous waterfall. It was hard to leave this fabulous property, but snorkelling at Richardson’s Beach, tide pools in Kapoho and more beautiful waterfalls were calling us to keep on moving.


Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
A turtle swimming in the ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island

Hapuna Beach

After a day of chasing rainbows along the coast and hiking at Pololu Valley we ended our road trip at the beautiful white sand beaches of The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort for a few days of luxury and relaxation.

Soaking up the rays, playing in the sand and watching classic Hawaiian sunsets was a perfect end to an amazing holiday touring a fascinating island.


Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
A classic Hawaiian sunset on the Big Island


The best time to visit Hawaii

Hawaii Big Island Road trip itinerary
A waterfall on Hawaii’s Big Island


Temperatures on the Big Island remain relatively constant throughout the year, making this an ideal year round destination. However, the best time to visit is between September and November when lodging is the least expensive. Peak season of December to March is when hotels can be pricy.


Three things you should definitely do

Big Island road trip Itinerary
The coastline on Hawaii’s Big Island

1) Exploring ancient forests, volcanic craters and searching for hot lava flows make Hawaii Volcanoes National Park a must do on any visit to the Big Island.

2) Snorkelling with sea turtles and in the technicolor world underwater is an experience everyone will go home raving about. Another underwater experience that you should try (and we definitely will when we next go to Hawaii) is swimming with wild dolphins in Oahu.

3) Don’t miss hiking to Pololu Beach where you can swing on a log swing, help build a tree fort and play in the black sand before making the short but steep trek back up a gorgeous foggy trail.

About The Author

25 thoughts on “The perfect Big Island road trip itinerary”

  1. Wow! The scenery there looks absolutely amazing and it looks like it’s got all types of landscape you can imagine, cliffs, sand beaches, snow capped mountains and thick forests! What a lovely place to visit, not only with children!

    1. We didn’t get any clear photos of the snow capped volcano, but it was pretty awesome to see over the island as we toured around hot beaches!
      And yes, you are correct, a perfect vacation even without children! – Karilyn

  2. Well you definitely picked out all of the wonderful places to see and visit on the island, yup all my favorites and I know because I live there!

  3. What is it with kids and shaved ice? Doesn’t matter where you go, if it’s there they’ll find it, and they’ll be creative with their flavours. And of course, Hawaii is such a great place to find it!

    1. Big and small kids alike! I grew up in Texas and shaved ice was a summer tradition. I have passed this down to my child already it seems as he was constantly on the lookout for shaved ice stands in Hawaii!- Karilyn

  4. We didn’t get to the big island when we were there but it’s where I’ll be heading to if we get back there. It looks so beautiful and less crowded and commercial.

    1. It is definitely much less crowded. Outside of Kona it didn’t feel like the US hardly at all. My son kept asking how everyone was speaking English. He was certain we were in another country! Other benefits are you can find cheaper accommodation even at the last minute which does not seem possible on the more popular Maui. – Karilyn

  5. Thank you for encouraging people to travel with their children. I would definitely recommend this post to anybody going to Hawaii 🙂

    1. Travel with children opens up a whole new world when you see places through their eyes. Hawaii probably wouldn’t have been so high on my radar if it wasn’t for my son’s love of hiking and volcanos. I’m so thankful for his inspiration that often propels our adventures! – Karilyn

  6. I lived in Hawaii for 10 years, on Kauai and Oahu. Visited the Big Island a few times, but never got to see so much of it. People forget how huge it is, and how remote so much of it is. My favorite experience there was scuba diving in the sea caves of South Point. Jumping off the cliff in full scuba gear was a trip.

    1. Now I need to visit Kauai and Oahu- those are next on my list. I can’t believe you jumped off in scuba gear and had to climb back up that ladder with all the extra weight of your gear. I was nervous just watching people jump!! – Karilyn

  7. Jolanta | Casual Travelers

    Hm, I have to figure out how to take time off in November then… I really want to go to Hawai’i next year!

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