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Keaukaha Beach Park near Hilo Hawaii

Hawaii Big Island Itinerary: 3 Incredible Days on The Big Island

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Are you captivated by volcanoes? Mesmerised by nature? Looking for a laidback, yet exciting vacation? If you answered yes, then you’ll love this Big Island itinerary!

Although you could spend a full week here and still have plenty more to see, you might wish to tack on a short trip to The Big Island as part of a longer Hawaii itinerary or multi-destination trip (like we did).

If so, you can still see some fantastic highlights on The Big Island in just three days.

So, sit back, grab a drink and read on to see how you can plan a 3 day Big Island itinerary…

Getting To The Big Island

The Big Island from above
Views of The Big Island from our little propellor plane

First things first, you’ll need to work out how to get to The Big Island.

As The Big Island is one of Hawaii’s most popular islands, it’s fairly easy to get to from many of the other islands, as well as destinations on mainland USA.

You can fly to The Big Island from various destinations on the USA’s west coast, for example, which is ideal if you want to expand your trip to include multiple destinations (just like we did!)

We flew out to Hawaii from Los Angeles and then onto San Francisco, which was an amazing trip. You can see our full itinerary here.

Alternatively, you could island hop around Hawaii to see what each of the islands have to offer. This is fairly easy to do since the main islands usually offer multiple domestic flights per day.

Sadly, there are no direct flights to The Big Island from the UK. You’d need to connect at a major US hub such as LA or Seattle. Again, this is okay if you’re happy to extend your vacation to make it a multi-city trip.

You can fly into either Hilo or Kona, which are on opposite sides of The Big Island. Both have their merits, but we personally chose to stay in Hilo during our trip.

We wanted the more laidback vibe this town offered – and it was in a great location for exploring some of the island’s most incredible places.

Here’s how to follow in our footsteps…

Epic 3 Day Big Island Itinerary

Day 1: Volcanoes National Park

Kilauea's infamous night glow
Kilauea’s infamous night glow

Since the Hawaiian islands were likely created by volcanic eruptions, one of the best Hawaii bucket list items today is to see active volcanoes bubbling, boiling and churning away.

And it’s on The Big Island where you can see just that!

Spend just one day at Volcanoes National Park on The Big Island and you’ll be able to:

  • Explore the visitor center to learn more about volcanoes
  • Hike through an active crater at Kīlauea Iki
  • Wander through the Thurston lava tunnel
  • Marvel at the glow of lava coming from the Kilauea volcano at night

Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983 and its night glow event is an absolute wonder to see!

Whether you decide to drive yourself around each of these locations, or embark on a tour, you can easily see all of the above (without rushing) in about six to eight hours.

Here are some great tour options from Get Your Guide:

 

RELATED: 22 Incredible Hawaii Tours You Must Do!

Day 2: Rainbow Falls & Mauna Kea

Admiring the sunset atop Mauna Kea on The Big Island
Admiring the sunset atop Mauna Kea on The Big Island

Did you think you were finished with volcanoes? Think again!

On day two, why not admire the incredible views from the top of Mauna Kea.

Although this particular volcano hasn’t erupted for over 4,500 years, it’s still considered a dormant volcano.

Not only can you see the most epic and romantic sunset from the top, but you’ll also be treated to some of the best night sky views in the world.

You’ll probably even see the Milky Way!

There’s a reason why Mauna Kea is home to the world’s largest astronomical observatory.

Mauna Kea Observatory
Mauna Kea Observatory

You’re allowed to watch the sunset from 13,000 feet up the mountain, but you’ll be asked to descend to 9,000 feet to see the stars.

This is so that the astronomers can go about their work without interruptions.

You’ll need a 4×4 to get to the top of Mauna Kea, but there are also plenty of tour options available – just like this one.

Most tours also include a stop at Rainbow Falls on the way, which is a lovely waterfall and top attraction near Hilo.

Here are some example tours from Get Your Guide: 

 

You might also like to read our full guide to stargazing on Mauna Kea for our top tips on visiting. We’ve also shared how we scored a discount on tours to both Volcanoes National Park and Mauna Kea.

RELATED: A Guide To Stargazing On Mauna Kea in Hawaii

Day 3: Hilo

Keaukaha Beach Park near Hilo Hawaii
Beautiful Keaukaha Beach Park near Hilo

If you chose to fly into Hilo like we did, then there are a couple of places that are well worth visiting in or close to the town.

You could head to Keaukaha Beach Park, which is a stunning beach park that looks like it’s made up of lots of mini tropical islands.

Keaukaha Beach Park on The Big Island
Relaxing at Keaukaha Beach Park

Or you could wander around Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, which is a Japanese-inspired zen garden and a very relaxing place to visit.

RELATED: 29 Incredible Hawaii Bucket List Ideas & Things To Do

Where to eat in (and near) Hilo

Mango cheesecake at Hilo Bay Cafe
Mango cheesecake at Hilo Bay Cafe

As part of our 3 day Big Island itinerary, we stayed at Arnott’s Lodge in Hilo.

Not only do they operate tours to Mauna Kea and Volcanoes National Park (very handy!), but when we stayed there, they also had bikes to rent for just $20 for a full day.

We used these to get to downtown Hilo where we found a splendid place for lunch called Hilo Bay Cafe.

Here, we tucked into burgers and delicious desserts while sitting outside with views across the bay. Perfect!

Chocolate lava cake at Hilo Bay Cafe
Chocolate lava cake with Kona coffee ice cream at Hilo Bay Cafe

Note: We opted for a late lunch at Hilo Bay Cafe as part of their afternoon menu, which may have explained why it was so quiet when we were there. I expect this restaurant fills up for the evenings, especially with how many hotels are nearby, so you may want to book ahead just in case.

Alternatively, if you’re after traditional Hawaiian food (and you have a healthy appetite), then take a trip out to Verna’s III Drive Inn to either eat there or takeaway.

There are lots of options available. When we visited, we shared the Hawaiian Platter between us for $11, which included seaweed wrapped pork, special rice and loads more. Simply scrumptious!

RELATED: A Mini Travel Guide For Hilo In Hawaii


We hope you found our 3 day Big Island itinerary helpful and full of inspiration ahead of your trip. Where are you most excited to see first? Let us know in the comments below…

Need help planning your trip to Hawaii? We also offer custom travel planning services!

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Hawaii Big Island Itinerary: 3 Incredible Days on The Big Island
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