The Big Island is BIG and that means that in order to explore the island you’ll want to drive around it!
There are TONS of scenic drives around the Big Island.
And with 7 days in Hawaii, it can be a perfect amount of time to drive around to see different parts of the island!
So there a few ways you can do the Big Island.
It really depends on what you want to do and your travel style!
The main things are:
- Do you prefer to base your stay in one area as much as possible, and not mind spending more time on the road with a bunch of day trips? Or…
- Do you not mind packing (and unpacking) every night or every couple of days as you make your way around the island, staying in many places around the island?
For this Big Island itinerary, it’ll be the second option.
It’ll still require driving, but just not as much back and forth on the road (which means not as much time sitting in the car).
It’ll take you around the island and you’ll stay in different places as you circle the Big Island. Instead of thinking of this as exhausting, you can think of this as getting different experiences! Each area of the island can offer you something new.
Of course, if you’re able to manage more time, it would be great to be able to stay a few days extra in any of the areas of the Big Island.
Planning less activities on each day means you can take it slowly!
Even if you don’t want to change your accommodation so much, you can still follow this general plan. Instead of moving around (almost) every night, you can instead choose 1 or 2 areas on the island suggested below. (Maybe stay in Kona as one area. And then Volcano village or Puna overlooking lava fields as the other area). Then you can make day trips to the different activities. The driving distances are reasonable enough if you want to feel like you are returning “home” at the end of the day!
You can also easily make this 7 day Hawaii itinerary into a 10 day or 2 week Hawaii itinerary for the Big Island by spending a few extra days in each part of the island! If you do have 2 weeks on the Big Island, you will still be able to find more to do! I spent around 3 weeks on the Big Island and did something new almost every day. You are also able to take things more slowly the more time you have!
So first, the quick list of things to do on the Big Island that are a part of this itinerary.
Then, a few more notes about this trip plan.
And then, a few more details about this road trip around the Big Island, including what areas of the island to stay!
Following this plan will make you LOVE the Big Island!
…I really think so anyway!
This Big Island road trip below includes black sand beaches, white sand beaches, a green sand beach, lava tube caves, waterfalls, hiking, snorkeling, Hawaiian culture, a national park, state parks, TONS of scenic drives, and TONS of amazing views!!
What a great way to spend one week in Hawaii!!
If you want to make this more of a volcano-themed vacation, then be sure to see this specific list of where to see old lava flows on the Big Island. You don’t really have to try to make volcanoes a part of your vacation on the Big Island (it will happen naturally), but those are some spots you may especially want to keep in mind if you do want a volcano vacation!
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15 places to visit in Hawaii in 7 days for your first trip to the Big Island
To see white sand beaches.
For a hike with scenic ocean views.
4. Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
To learn about Hawaiian culture with amazing views.
For another one of the best snorkeling spots on the island.
To visit 1 of 4 green sand beaches in the world (or so they say!)
7. South Point
To visit the southernmost point in the US.
To visit a black sand beach and to see turtles.
To see vast lava fields during a scenic drive.
10. Kaimu black sand beach trail
Tor a black sand beach with amazing ocean views and a walk through lava fields.
11. Red Road
For one of the best scenic drives on the island.
12. Kaumana Caves
To walk (and crawl!) through lava tubes.
13. Akaka Falls
To see one of the best waterfalls on the Big Island.
14. Waipio Valley
To see an older black sand beach by going on one of the steepest roads in the world.
15. Lapakahi State Historical Park
For a coastal trail through an ancient Hawaiian village with a good snorkeling spot.
Drive around the Big Island: Here is the map for the visual
Explore the map.
So to drive around the Big Island of Hawaii with the places on this Big Island itinerary as a guide, the driving time would be around 9 hours long. But of course, you’ll be doing more than just casually passing by these places, so it will take more time (and days!) to really experience the Big Island! 7 days on the Big Island can be perfect for this so you can really take things in at a slower pace! You might even find 5 days to be perfect too.
If you are still undecided on which Hawaiian island to visit for your 7 days in Hawaii, also see:
More on planning a trip to the Big Island below!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
- Best shoes for hiking in Hawaii
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Hawaii
- Do you need water shoes for Hawaii?
- THE top things to pack for Hawaii
The best of the Big Island:
- Things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Where to see lava fields on the Big Island
- The big list of things to do on the Big Island
Renting a car on the Big Island
For this itinerary, you’ll NEED to rent a car.
This is about maximizing the little time you have on the island, which means you’ll want the freedom of driving your own car.
This is a pretty packed schedule, or at least, there’s a lot of moving around!
You will get to see a lot of different things that the Big Island has to offer.
You still won’t be able to see it all, though! The Big Island is… BIG! 😉
And whether you NEED to rent a JEEP, that is up to you! See here on whether YOU need a 4wd.
Where to rent a car (Big Island airports)
The main Big Island airport is Kona airport (KOA), and this is where most people fly into, and it’s probably where you’ll find the best car rental prices.
There is also an airport in Hilo (ITO), and you can find car rental companies around there too.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Renting a car on the Big Island in 2021
As of spring 2021, there are reports of there being a car rental shortage on the Big Island.
If you’re planning your trip to the Big Island for later in the year, then you might consider looking up availability for a car rental FIRST before you book your flight to Kona.
And book your car sooner rather than later!
If you already have your flight to Kona booked, but not yet your car rental… book NOW!
OPTION: A few days in Kona without a car before starting your Big Island road trip if you have 10 days on the Big Island
If you want to stay a few days in Kona before you start on the “road trip” around the Big Island, then that’s an idea too! In that case, it’s possible to stay in Kona without a car.
You can use it as an opportunity to rest and relax during your first days in Hawaii, and there are a few things you can do in Kona that are in the area too.
There’s bike sharing in Kona which can get you to a few different spots on the coast.
The services aren’t all that frequent for the bus and trolley, but they are there if you want to use them!
And then once you’re ready to leave Kona, you’ll want a car!
If you’ll be staying for a few days in Kona without a car before starting the Big Island road trip, you can get an uber from the airport to Kona town. (Expect this to be around $30.)
Then on the day you’re ready to start exploring around the island, you can MAYBE head to the Kona airport by bus in the morning ($2) and then rent a car there. That’s what I did! There is car rental available in Kona town, but I found the rates to be cheaper at the airport.
The MAYBE is because in August 2020 they stopped bus service to the airport. I am not sure if this is a temporary thing. Check the hele-on Big Island bus website for current status.
Where to stay on the Big Island
Most hotels and resorts are on the Kona side of the island.
You can choose between staying closer to Kailua-Kona town where more restaurant and shopping options exist, or you can choose to stay a bit further south down the Kona coast. There is also a resort area on the Big Island that’s located to the north of Kona.
Another resort area on the Big Island is also a bit further north of Kona town, in Waikoloa on the Kohala coast.
If you are open to staying at an airbnb on the Big Island, you’ll be able to stay at some GREAT places around the island at lower prices than standard hotels. (And you can save money on food too when you stay at a place with a kitchen!)
Watch out for those cleaning fees though. There are some lower priced nightly rates with disproportional cleaning fees!
The Big Island itinerary for 7 days in Hawaii!
aka how to have the best time ever with one week in Hawaii!
Day 1: Activities on Kona coast, Stay in Kona
- Kekaha Kai state park
- Hang out at a white sand beach
- Drive to your Kona accommodation
There’s an airport in Kona so fly into Kona airport.
And you can rent a car directly from the airport by taking a free shuttle to one of the car rental companies.
Depending on how much time you have, and how much you want to move around, you may choose to pick just one of these beaches in the state park, or you can visit them all!
In order to visit them all though, you’ll need to have energy, as it’ll require a hike through lava fields to get to Makalawena Beach, although a rough drive is also an option (aka one of the Big Island drives that requires a 4-wheel drive.)
Otherwise, Kua Bay and Mahaiula Beach are relatively short walks from the parking lot. It’s a scenic paved road to Kua Bay, and it’s a bit of a bumpy road to Mahaiula Beach. There are 2 main entrances to the state park, each to leading these 2 beaches.
All 3 beaches are white sand beaches that can be a PERFECT way to start your Hawaii vacation!
If you’re looking for the easiest option, I’d say Kua Bay.
Kekaha Kai state park is located just north of Kona airport, which is another reason it can make a perfect way to start.
Or, if you won’t be arriving in Kona early enough (or you just want to check in to your hotel immediately), then start this Big Island itinerary the day after you arrive and make arrival day a chill day around where you’re staying!
Kona evening tour
Among THE most popular tours on the Big Island is snorkeling with manta rays at night along the Kona coast. There are different tour starting times that can range from a start time of 6:30pm or a start time of 9pm, or somewhere in between. So you can do your daytime Kona activity, and then in the evening go snorkeling with manta rays!
See more about snorkeling with manta rays: Here is a manta ray snorkeling tour that starts from Honokohau Harbor which is near the Kona airport.
Where to stay tonight
In Kona, there are resorts, hotels, vacation rentals, airbnb stays, and hostels.
See ideas here for where to stay on the Kona coast.
Day 2: Activities on Kona coast, Stay in Ocean View
- Captain Cook Monument Trail hike
- Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay
- Visit to Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
- Snorkeling at Two Step Beach
This is a big day!
But if you get started early and you want to do it all, it’s totally reasonable to fit everything in.
And you might even plan for a visit to a Kona coffee plantation/farm on this day too.
Kealakekua Bay and Two Step are among the top snorkeling spots on the Big Island.
The snorkeling spot at the bay isn’t accessible by car. Hiking, kayaking, or a boat tour is the way to get there.
Of course, hiking to go snorkeling is the perfect Hawaii activity! And it’s the Captain Cook Monument Trail that’s the hike to the Kealakekua Bay snorkeling spot.
Then a little bit further down the Kona coast is the Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (aka “place of refuge“) which is a nice walk in a scenic area while learning a bit about Hawaiian culture.
And then after you visit the national site, you can walk over to the Two Step snorkeling spot. It’s pretty much right there.
Kona day tour
And if you’re not interested in a hike and snorkel kind of day, another popular tour on the Big Island is a snorkeling boat tour to Kealakekua Bay.
See more about sailing to Kealakekua Bay: Here is a 3 hour snorkeling sailboat tour that starts from the Keauhou Bay Pier which is near the Sheraton.
Where to stay tonight
Well, I would have said Ocean View, but the airbnb I stayed at is no longer available. So I would say stay the extra night in Kona, or move on to Volcano village and stay an extra night there.
Day 3: Activities on south coast, Stay in Volcano
- Hike to Papakolea green sand beach
- South Point Park and southernmost tip of the US
- Punaluu black sand beach to (hopefully) see turtles
- Drive to Volcano village
It’s said that there are only 4 green sand beaches in the world, and the Big Island is home to one of them.
This likely isn’t a shade of green that will amaze you, but if you want to see a unique beach, this is a beach to visit!
The reason why the hike is the best way to get to the green sand beach is because it’s questionable whether it’s legal to drive on these roads. It’s very unlikely that you’ll get in trouble for taking the shuttle or driving yourself though as it seems as if there’s really no enforcement, and that’s why the $20 shuttle continues to exist.
Then after visiting the green sand beach, you can head to the nearby southernmost point of the United States.
This is also a well-known cliff jumping spot, but it has been deadly because of strong currents.
And then you can make your way to the black sand beach that’s known to have frequent turtle sightings!
Where to stay tonight
Move on to Volcano village so you can start your day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as soon as possible the next day so you can try to do as much as possible!
It’s possible to find accommodation just outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or even within the national park.
These are places that are like a 10 minute drive, or less, to the national park, with great atmosphere!
- Alii Kane Cottage with Loft
- Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant
- Aloha Junction Bed and Breakfast
- Hale Ohia Cottages
- Volcano Inn
- At the Crater’s Edge
- Volcano House to stay IN Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Links lead to partner website, and you can check for prices, photos, and reviews.
It’s cooler in Volcano especially in the evening so be sure to pack layers.
Day 4: Activities in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Stay in Volcano
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park day!
There is a national park entry fee. You can expect this to be around $30 for a 7 day pass. (There is no one-day pass.) If you’ll be visiting other national parks within a year, you may consider getting the Hawaii national park pass or the U.S. national park pass. These are both annual passes so you’ll get unlimited entry into the national parks for a year.
Once you have arrived at the Kilauea entrance of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, make your first stop the visitor center that’s near the park entrance.
Based on recent volcanic activity, there may be some things to do that are impacted. So it’s best to go to the visitor center so you can get a map to know what’s currently open and what’s closed. This can also help you decide how you want to plan your day too. You can talk to a park ranger and ask what’s good!
The Chain of Craters Road is one of the main roads in the national park and it’s a great scenic drive through both lava fields and also along the coast once you near the end.
At the end of the road is where you’ll find Holei Sea Arch.
If you’re super short on time, even just doing this drive down I think is worth it.
It can be fun to get out at the various scenic pullovers and walk across the lava fields.
Then after the drive through the national park, depending on how much time you have left, you can do all or part of the Kilauea iki crater hike. This is a hike into what used to be a lava lake.
What about active lava?
For something like 30 years, lava was actively flowing on the Big Island. But then, in 2018, that stopped. And it stopped for over 2 years. That means that during that time there was no chance to see active lava. Then, in December 2020, lava started flowing again. See the video that was posted to twitter by the US Geological Survey.
So will you be able to see active lava flows during your trip to the Big Island?! There’s no real way to know! As your travel date gets closer, you can check for the current updates here.
Where to stay tonight
Volcano village again so you don’t have to go far after a long day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Day 5: Activities on Puna coast, Stay in Kalapana
- Red Road
- Drive to Kalapana
This day will be a little bit of a breather!
To drive the Red Road aka route 137 aka Kapoho Kalapana Road without stopping will take around just 30 minutes or so.
You can start by going to the Kaimu black sand beach that you get to by walking on a short trail with black sand. This will take you to the coast where you can view vast lava fields too.
You can then keep driving while stopping off for pictures of the scenic coast line, and then end up at Isaac Hale beach park where the Pohoiki black sand beach is located. This is Hawaii’s newest black sand beach.
Or, you can drive Red Road in the opposite direction too.
This is also the area that was hit the hardest with lava flows in 2018 with tons of homes being lost in the neighborhood of Leilani Estates.
You can drive up to the end of Leilani Avenue to see where the lava stopped on the road.
Where to stay tonight
Stay in Kalapana at a place that’s surrounded by lava fields!
I stayed in a private room with views of lava fields from the balcony with access to a community kitchen.
This is a place you can stay to get the experience of living in a place that’s self-powered and off the grid living in Hawaii.
You can also center your airbnb search around Pahoa, and you might find some places to stay in the neighborhood of Leilani Estates in homes that were spared the lava destruction.
Day 6: Activities towards northern coast, Stay in northern region
This will also end up being a bit of a longer day as you make your way up north, so it’s best to get started early.
The Kaumana Caves can give you a fun experience where you can crawl through a cave created by lava. If you don’t want to crawl, there’s also a cave that you can walk through, making it a lava tube cave hike! Come prepared with a bright flashlight and proper footwear!
Then you can move on further north to Akaka Falls for one of the best waterfalls on the Big Island.
After the visit to the waterfalls, there will be another scenic drive to get to Waipio Valley.
At the Waipio Valley overlook, you can see the coastline from above.
You also have the option of walking or driving down to the beach. Driving requires a 4 wheel drive though, as it’s said to be one of the steepest roads in the world!
If you have time left in the day, you may also consider visiting Pololu Valley after Waipio Valley.
Where to stay tonight
Accommodation options are a little more scarce in this area, but still there are a few options, especially if you are open to airbnb.
Look at areas such as:
Otherwise, you may also consider making a loop around the top portion of the island and staying a night in Hilo. (This will require a bit of extra driving.)
Doing so will allow you to drive on the road right next to the tallest mountain on the island – Mauna Kea!
As of early September 2019, it’s not possible to go up to the Mauna Kea summit with the access road closed to an ongoing protest of a billion dollar telescope being placed at the summit.
After I did the Waipio Valley hike and Pololu Valley hike, I stayed at an airbnb in Waikoloa Village with a room that came with ocean views. Waikoloa Village may not be an ideal spot to stay if you’re looking to save time driving though!
Day 7: Activities on Kohala coast, Stay in Kona
- Pololu Valley
- Lapakahi state historical park
This can be another somewhat of a slower day.
You can start your day by going to Pololu Valley. You can go just to see the views from the lookout, or you can hike down to the kind of black sand beach in Pololu Valley!
Then on your way back you can stop by the state historical park.
The Lapakahi state historical park has a coastal trail that takes you through an ancient Hawaiian village.
Here is also a good snorkeling spot.
This state park generally doesn’t get as many visitors so it can be a quieter experience.
There will also be time to enjoy more of Kona town if there are some things you want to do in Kona.
You can also save Waipio Valley for the same day you go to Pololu Valley, and then make it a one day Big Island valley beach kind of day.
Locals living near Pololu Valley would like you to know that there are no bathrooms near the Pololu Valley Lookout. They ask that you stop by Keokea Beach Park on your way to Pololu Valley where there are bathrooms, just in case. This is around a 5 minute drive from the Pololu Valley Lookout.
Where to stay tonight
Kona!! You’ve made it back!
Or you can even consider flying out of Kona in the evening (maybe for 3 days on Oahu!), or stay a few extra days on the Big Island to explore more of the Kona coast!!
Be sure to check out the Big Island travel planning map!
More Hawaii itineraries:
HAPPY ONE WEEK IN HAWAII ON THE BIG ISLAND!
Top things to pack for your Hawaii vacation!
The ultimate beach towel for travel?!Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
Possibly among the best Big Island maps for tourists!The Franko maps of Hawaii have a high level of detail for activities and it's beachproof aka waterproof. There's an "adventure" guide map and a "snorkel/dive" guide map. Plus a wall map for home to get you excited for your upcoming trip to Kona!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phoneYou can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
Get your suitcase more organized!Packing cubes can make it so you're spending less time on your vacation looking for things! They are basically a form of drawers in your suitcase. Take a look at these packing cubes.
Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're snorkeling.
Be sure to take a look at the reviews of these amazing tours on the Big Island:
- Sailing the ocean with a sail + snorkel trip
- Kona's most popular tour: Swimming in the ocean at night with manta rays (likely to sell out)
- Star gazing at Mauna Kea volcano
- Dream Hawaii helicopter flight: Circle the Big Island to see Hawaii's volcanoes from above
- Sail the ocean in the evening on the Captain Cook historical sunset dinner cruise (likely to sell out)