Top Things to Do in Hilo, Hawaii

A year ago, I was on my way to the South Pacific via Hawaii.  I spent a week on the Big Island, of which three days were on the Hilo side.  Now that visitors with a COVID check may travel to Hawaii, and it is a popular winter destination, I thought I’d write about things to do in Hilo. Find the list below:

Munch on Some Macadamias

The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center is located nine miles southeast of Hilo.  Since I absolutely LOVE macadamia nuts, I was in heaven.  Most of the center is a gift shop filled with all sorts of flavored macadamia nuts.  On its ice cream patio, however, visitors may watch a video on the macadamia nut processing and then go look through the windows at the adjacent factory to watch the sorting and packaging. Click here for more details.

mauna loa macadamia nut visitor center in hilo

Hike a Trail in Volcanoes National Park

A hike might be in order after gorging on fattening, yet mouthwatering nuts. Volcanoes National Park was established in 1916 and encompasses 323,000+ acres including two volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  The park has additionally been designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. 

It features a variety of trails from short and easy to long and hard as well as many scenic pullouts along Chain of Craters Road.  For a 4.4 mile moderate loop, consider Kīlauea Iki Overlook.  All the details of this hike along with many others in the park may be found here. To beat the heat, visit early and stay hydrated.

Kilauea Iki Overlook Trail at Volcanoes National Park

Visit a Farmers Market

Hawaii has great farmers markets, both large and small.  Hilo’s market is best visited on a Wednesday or Saturday when 200 local farmers and crafters sell their wares.  Located off Kamehameha Ave, it is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

For a smaller market, consider the Volcano Village Farmers Market.  It is close by the Volcanoes National Park, so coordinate breakfast at the market with a hike at the park thereafter.

Volcano Village Farmers Market

Check out the Lava Formations

Due to Kilauea being one of the most active volcanoes in the world, there are lava formations all around Hilo.  Check out the lava trees at the Lava Tree State Monument or the lava from the 2018 eruption just down the road from the Monument.  Additionally, tree molds may be found near the base of Mauna Loa Road.  The lava formations around Hilo are a geologist’s delight.

Lava Tree State Monument near hilo

Enjoy a Scenic Drive

Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive follows the old Mamalahoa Highway for four miles.  The narrow road weaves through lush vegetation, a portion of which is the botanic gardens mentioned below.  It’s a really pretty drive, but requires some patience for Sunday drivers.

flowers near Hilo, Hawaii

Stroll Through a Garden or Park

For a free walk through a park in Hilo, visit the Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens and Coconut Island.  The 24 acre park is the largest Edo-Style Japanese Gardens outside of Japan. 

Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens and Coconut Island in Hilo

For a much more expensive alternative, $20, visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden.  It is filled with a variety of orchids! The botanic gardens are located just 7 miles northwest of Hilo and next to the aforementioned scenic drive. Perhaps, coordinate a visit with the drive and Umauma Falls mentioned below.

orchids at Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

Go on an Adventure

There are a variety of adventures to go on around Hilo.  The Kaumana Caves are just 10 minutes southwest of downtown and they may be explored for free.  Visitors descend a metal ladder and may choose from two entrances.  The lava tubes are dark with uneven terrain, so be sure to bring a flashlight! Find more details here.

Kaumana Caves near Hilo

For a less creepy, though paid adventure, visit Umauma Falls Zipline and Rappel Experience.  The private park is 14 miles from Hilo and past the botanic gardens and scenic drive.  Visitors may choose from a walk, ziplining, horseback riding and more. Click here for more details.

Umauma Falls

In summary these are some top things to do in Hilo.

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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