Hawaii Island’s top post-hike dips | Where to go swimming after hiking

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Hawaii Island’s top post-hike dips

Here’s how to pair a morning hike with an afternoon swim on the Island of Hawaii.

Hawaii Island offers a number of places to cool off after a hike, like Carlsmith Beach Park near Hilo.

Forget your gym routine — Hawaii has the best outdoor playground. Plus, these Islands offer the ultimate cool-down for a good workout: refreshing salt waters to wash off all the sweat. For the ideal exercise pairing, set your sights on the big hikes and beaches of Hawaii Island, the star of this year’s Holoholo Challenge. Here, you’ll find plenty of places to get active outdoors, on land and in the ocean. Try these five favorite combinations below.

Kekaha Kai State Park, formerly known as Kona Coast State Park, has a collection of sandy beaches.

Hike between beaches and bays

Just minutes from Kona International Airport, Kekaha Kai State Park is home to a scenic stretch of secluded bays and beaches. Here, you can hike part of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail along the rocky shoreline. Begin at the sparkling Kua Bay, also known as Maniniowali Beach, and consider detours to the Puu Kuili Cinder Cone or the tidepools at Kahoiawa Bay. It's some 2.5 miles before reaching the white sands and shaded picnic tables at Mahaiula Beach, a worthy resting point. You can also continue south to Makoleaa Beach, famously the only black sand beach near Kona. Note that no lifeguards are on duty at these beaches and there can be dangerous rip currents and shore breaks during high surf. If you spot Hawaiian monk seals, remember to stay safe by keeping a distance of least 50 feet or 150+ feet if there's a mother with a pup.

Hapuna Beach is the largest white sand beach on Hawaii Island.

Big views and big coastline

To really appreciate the grandeur of Hawaii Island, you just might need to go a little higher. We suggest trying the 8-mile loop trail of Puu Waa Waa cinder cone, where the summit affords incredible views of volcanoes Maunakea, Maunaloa and Hualalai. Sure, there’s 1,900 feet of elevation gain, but the view from the top is worth it. Plus, the 100,000-year-old cinder cone is part of a protected forest reserve that includes a bird sanctuary. Opt to go in the morning before peak heat and remember to bring water and sun protection. Afterwards, you’ll have time to rest on the 30-mile drive to Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, the largest white sand beach on the Island — it’s a fitting finale for a day of majestic landscapes. Note that non-resident parking is $5 per vehicle.

Double dose of Hawaiian history

Take a walk through time at Lapakahi State Historical Park, where you can see the restored remains of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village. As you enter the park on the Kohala Coast, be sure to pick up a trail guide at the trailhead’s interpretive kiosk. It’ll show the way to 19 landmarks that include historic house sites, a fishing shrine and even an authentic konane game board. Admire all the artifacts along the 1-mile loop but don’t touch — these are sacred grounds. The swimming is better 12 miles south at Spencer Beach Park, where an offshore reef ensures calmer waters with great snorkeling and a shallow kid-friendly shoreline. The park also serves as an entry point to Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, home to one of the Islands’ largest restored heiau (temples), first built in 1790. Kamehameha I dedicated the stone temple to the war god Kukailimoku in hopes of uniting the Hawaiian Islands, which he would accomplish just two decades later.

The spring-fed ocean waters of Carlsmith Beach Park make for a refreshing cool-down after a hike.

From rainforest to lagoons

The network of trails at Hawaii Tropical Reserve & Garden in Papaikou make for a picturesque walk through a unique tropical rainforest. For an entrance fee, you gain access to view more than 2,000 plant species, some cultivated from as far as Madagascar, now thriving in Onomea Valley. You’ll want to bring your camera for this excursion, as well as snorkeling gear for the next: Carlsmith Beach Park, also known as Four Mile, a dreamy stretch of lagoons near Hilo. What it lacks in sandy shoreline — you’ll lay your blanket on flat rocks or grass — it makes up for with swimming. The cool waters, fed by freshwater springs, remain relatively calm thanks to a protective reef, making it feel like a family-friendly swimming pool at times. Amenities include restrooms, showers, picnic tables and lifeguards on weekends.

Punaluu Beach is the most famous black sand beach in the state.

Lava lands and black sands

There’s no shortage of fun day hikes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — take your pick of calderas, caves and lava fields. Devastation Trail is less scary than the name suggests, with just a mile of paved trail that’s also wheelchair accessible. The boardwalk path to Puuloa Petroglyphs traces a 500-year-old lava field that contains some 23,000 ancient etchings, while Halemaumau Trail descends 425 feet through a rainforest to the Kilauea caldera floor. After feeling the heat from the hikes (and any active eruption viewing), head 17 miles south to Punaluu Beach, the state’s most famous black sand beach. Come to this Kau Coast destination equipped with footwear for the hot sand and hidden rocks in the water. It’s common to see honu (turtles) lazing on these shores; remember it’s required by law that you stay at least 10 feet away.

Story By Sachie Yorck

August 16, 2022