Big Island one day itinerary suggestions for 2023
Looking for the perfect Big Island one day itinerary?
Big Island is the largest of all Hawaiian islands and has a lot of amazing and unique sights, activities, and experiences that cannot be found on other Hawaiian Islands.
I have been to Big Island, Oahu, and Maui and Big Island felt really unique among all of them, less touristy and full of amazing things.
With just one day in Big Island, you have to stick to the highlights and the most unique experiences on the island. Maybe you are doing a day trip or overnight trip from Oahu or Maui, or are looking for a day excursion from Hilo, as many cruise ships dock in Hilo for a day.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and snorkeling with the manta rays are the most unique and popular things to do on Big Island and I think that is what you should focus on if you have just one day in Big Island.
Other popular attractions on Big Island are a visit to a black sand beach, Kona coffee farm, Hilo waterfalls, and the sacred Waipio valley.
In a hurry and want to know the top suggestions for Big Island 1 day itinerary:
Itinerary Suggestion 1: Take a Big Island Circle Tour and cover major highlights like Volcanoes park, waterfalls, black sand beach, etc.
Itinerary Suggestion 2: Explore more of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Check out this Volcano and Stargazing Tour from Kona or Volcano and waterfall tour from Hilo
Itinerary Suggestion 3: Helicopter tour of Volcanoes + Snorkeling with the Manta rays in the evening.
Itinerary Suggestion 4: Hilo Shore Excursion: Volcanoes Park, waterfall, and highlights for cruise ship passengers
Itinerary Suggestion 5: Explore Big Island yourself by renting a car – See the Volcanoes park and maybe a couple more attractions like black sand beach, and Hilo waterfalls.
Big Island 1 day itinerary options
In this post, I will outline a few itinerary suggestions to spend one day in Big Island. These itineraries try to hit the main highlights in Big Island and all of them include a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is the most popular attraction on Big Island.
Pick the itinerary option that best suits your interest and budget. If you would like to experience snorkeling with the manta rays which is an evening activity in Kona, then in the morning you might want to stick with a half-day activity or tour.
The itinerary option you pick also depends on whether your starting and ending point is from Kona or Hilo.
Most passengers coming from the mainland arrive at Kona international airport which is in the western region of the Big Island. Kona is where the top snorkeling spots and the legendary manta ray snorkeling is. There are a lot of popular things to do in Kona for tourists like beaches, snorkeling, and historic sites.
Visitors from Oahu or Maui can also land at Hilo airport, and Hilo is closer to the Volcanoes Park. Cruise ship passengers also arrive in Hilo and the Hilo shore excursion itinerary option below is perfect for them.
There are two ways you can explore Big island in a day:
- Take a tour
- Do it on your own by renting a car
With just one day in Big Island, time is more important than money as seeing Big Island’s main attractions is a bucket list experience. I highly recommend taking a tour, as tours cover a lot more than you do possibly do on your own.
Itinerary Option 1: Big Island circle tour to cover all the highlights
If you want to hit all the highlights of Big Island and want to see everything (I am like that!) then taking a circle tour of Big Island is the way to go. Leave the driving to the experts and the tour guides will make sure you do not miss out on any attraction.
Most circle island tours cover all the main attractions in Big Island like Hawaii Volcanes National Park, Kona Coffee farm, black sand beach, Hilo waterfalls, and much more.
Big Island in a Day tour (Volcanoes, Waterfalls, Sightseeing, History) –
This small group, highly rated Big Island circle tour picks up from most hotels in Kona and Kohala coast and is a full-day tour.
This full-day tour (11 hours) from Kona and covers Volcanoes park, Kona coffee farm, black sand beach, Hilo waterfalls, and Waipio valley. If you want to see it all, this is the best Big Island in a day tour in my opinion.
Note that the tour does not pick up or drop off from Kona airport, so if you are arriving early morning in Kona, then you would need to take a cab to the tour meeting point. If you are staying overnight in Kona, then this tour picks up from most Kona hotels.
➡ Check rates and availability of this Big Island in a day circle tour
Itinerary Option 2: Explore more of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This itinerary option is perfect for you if you want to focus more on the Volcanoes Park in your Big Island one day itinerary instead of doing all sights of the Big Island.
Hawaii Volcanoes Park is one of the most unique things about the Big Island and can take a whole day to explore its highlights. In this Big Island itinerary, you focus more on the Volcanoes park and just fit in one or two additional attractions.
You can take a full-day volcano tour from Kona or a half-day volcano tour from Hilo.
Small Group Volcano and Stargazing Tour from Kona –
This small group Volcanoes tour from Kona is a full-day tour and covers the top highlights in Volcanoes park like the active Kilauea crater, the Thurston lava tube, steam vents, and other attractions on the Crater Rim drive.
The tour also includes a visit to a Kona coffee farm and the famous Punaluu black sand beach. You will also enjoy sunset and stargazing in the night sky of Big Island. The tour includes lunch and dinner and has a maximum of 13 passengers.
The tour has a late start of between 10 and 11 am from Kona, which gives enough time for inter-island visitors to reach Kona.
➡ Check rates and availability of this highly rated, small group Volcano and Stargazing Tour from Kona
Small group Volcano and waterfall tour from Hilo –
This Small group Volcanoes and waterfall tour from Hilo is a half-day tour and will take you to the top sights in Volcanoes park like the active Kilauea volcano, Halema’uma’u crater, steam vents, and the impressive Thurston lava tube. It will also take you to the Chain of Craters Road to see historic lava flows.
The tour also includes a visit to the Rainbow Falls and the Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo. You will also get to stop at a store where you can sample and buy homegrown goodies like chocolate, island-grown macadamia nuts, and Kona coffee!
This tour picks up from the Hilo cruise port as well as Hilo airport and has a maximum of 12 passengers.
➡ Check rates and availability of this highly rated, small-group Volcano and waterfall tour from Hilo
Itinerary Option 3: Helicopter tour of Volcanoes + Snorkeling with the Manta rays in the evening
This itinerary option allows you to experience snorkeling with the Manta rays in Kona which is the most unique thing in Big Island other than the Volcanoes Park.
As manta ray snorkeling is an evening activity and can only be done in Kona which is in the western region of the Big Island, the only way to do Volcanoes Park in the morning from Kona is by doing a helicopter tour.
Volcanoes park is 2 hours away from Kona each way and doing a road tour and being back in time for manta ray snorkeling might be a little hard logistically. Taking a helicopter tour of the volcanoes during the day is the best option.
Of course, if manta ray snorkeling is the top thing on your Big Island bucket list, and a helicopter tour is out of budget, there is always the option of spending the morning in Kona checking out the historic sites or relaxing on a beach in Kona.
If taking a helicopter tour has been on your bucket list, then Big Island is one of the best places to splurge on a helicopter tour where you can witness the massive volcanoes, stunning coastlines, rainforests, and waterfalls!
Volcanoes and Big Island Helicopter tour from Kona
One of the best ways to marvel at the stunning aerial vistas of Volcanoes National Park, as well as the Big Island’s waterfalls and valleys, is by taking this highly-rated 2-hour Volcanoes helicopter tour from Kona.
During this helicopter ride from Kona, you’ll get to see all three main volcanoes present in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Kilauea, Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa.
You will also enjoy breathtaking views of the incredibly picturesque Waipio Valley and the Hamakua coast, which features numerous waterfalls and rainforests.
➡ Check rates and availability of this popular Volcanoes and Big Island Helicopter tour from Kona
Volcanoes Helicopter tour from Hilo
In this highly-rated 1-hour Volcanoes tour departing from Hilo airport, experience the awe-inspiring aerial scenery of Volcanoes Park, including the active Kilauea crater. If there happens to be volcanic activity occurring during your excursion, you may even have the chance to witness lava flow firsthand.
Admire the rainforests and valleys of Hilo from above, taking in breathtaking views of cascading waterfalls and gaining insights into the island’s rich history from your knowledgeable pilot.
➡ Check rates and availability of this highly-rated Volcanoes Helicopter tour from Hilo
Night Manta Ray snorkel adventure in Kona
Snorkeling with the Manta rays is a bucket list experience on Big Island to see the majestic manta rays up close! This Manta Ray snorkel adventure tour from Kona comes highly rated and is 2 and a half hours in total duration.
You must know swimming and should be comfortable floating in the ocean holding onto a flotation device. Nonswimmers can ride along on the boat and watch the manta rays from the boat.
In this tour, they shine neon lights in the water, which attracts planktons which in turn attracts manta rays to feed on the planktons. It is really awesome to see manta rays up close!
➡ Check rates and availability of this highly-rated Night Manta Ray snorkel adventure in Kona
Itinerary Option 4: Hilo shore excursions for cruise ship passengers
Most cruise ships dock at Hilo port which is in the eastern region of Big Island in Hilo town. Cruise ship passengers coming to Big Island for a day can take a 5-6 hour tour to see the Volcanoes National Park and other highlights on the east Big Island like Hilo waterfalls, black sand beach, and Hilo town.
Hilo Shore Excursion: Volcanoes Park, waterfall, and highlights
This half-day Hilo Shore excursion tour includes the main sights of the Volcanoes Park as well as highlights of Hilo town, a visit to Rainbow Falls, and also includes a visit to a black sand beach.
This tour stops at the main sights of Volcanoes park like the active Kilauea Volcano, Thurston lava tube, steam vents, and vista points.
This tour spends less time at Volcanoes park as it includes other stops like the black sand beach. If you want more time at Volcanoes park then check out this Hilo Shore excursion Volcano tour instead.
➡ Check rates and availability of this popular Hilo Shore Excursion: Volcanoes Park, waterfall, and highlights
Itinerary Option 5: Explore Big Island yourself by renting a car
If you do not want to go the tour route, you can explore Big Island yourself by renting a car.
I recommend Discover cars as they check top car rental brands and provide the best rates.
If driving yourself, other than visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you might only be able to fit in one or two more things in your Big Island 1 day itinerary like the Punaluu black sand beach.
Note that it takes around 2 hours one way to drive from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and 45 minutes to drive from Hilo to Volcanoes park.
Top things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
You must plan for at least 3 hours for exploring Volcanoes Park. Below are some top things to do in the park:
Active Kilauea volcano in Halema’uma’u crater – The active Kilauea volcano erupting within the Halema’uma’u crater is the top attraction in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You can witness the Kilauea volcano from several viewpoints on the Crater Rim drive. The overlook at Volcano house is a great spot for watching the steam coming out of the Halema’uma’u crater.
Crater Rim Drive – Crater Rim Drive is the main road that circles the Halema’uma’u crater and a drive along this road will bring to several vista points and sights like sulfur banks and steam vents. A must to experience the Volcanoes park.
Thurston Lava Tube – Doing the half-mile walk inside the 500-year-old Thurston Lava Tube is a very cool attraction and not to be missed. The cave is really huge and impressive to explore.
Kilauea Iki crater hike – Kilauea Iki crater hike is one of the best hikes in Volcanoes Park as you can walk through a solidified lava lake inside the Kilauea Iki crater. You also get to walk through a rainforest on this hike. The hike takes around 2 hours to complete.
There are several other attractions in Volcanoes park like driving the Chain of Craters Road to sea level and Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs, but it might not be possible in a one day Big Island itinerary as the drive itself takes around 2 hours through historic lava rocks.
Punaluu black sand beach
Punaluu black sand beach is a very unique and beautiful stretch of black sand beach in the southeast region of the Big Island and around 45 minutes south of Volcanoes Park. You can spot Hawaiian sea turtles at this beach!
You should plan for an hour at Punaluu black sand beach.
Depending on the time you have, Akaka falls is the tallest waterfall on Big Island with a 422 feet drop inside Akaka State Park. The easy half-mile paved hike to reach the falls overlook is inside a lush rainforest.
You should plan for 30 minutes to an hour at Hilo waterfalls.
Where to stay in Big Island overnight
In case you are landing in Kona or Hilo the night before your excursion, or are planning to stay overnight after your one day in Big Island, below are a couple of hotel recommendations in downtown Hilo and Kona.
Where to stay in Kona overnight
Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is a great hotel at a prime location on Alii drive in Kona and has a nice beach in front of the hotel. 15 minutes from Kona International airport.
Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa is an oceanfront property 30 minutes from Kona airport. This is a popular hotel for manta ray viewing.
Where to stay in Hilo overnight
Hilo Hawaiian Hotel on Banyan drive is a great oceanfront property around 10 minutes from Hilo airport and 5 minutes from Hilo port.
Grand Naniloa Hotel, a Doubletree by Hilton is also on Banyan drive next to the Hilo Hawaiian hotel and is oceanfront as well.
Final takeaways: One day in Big Island itinerary
One day in Big Island is short but it is possible to experience the main sights of the Big Island like the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, snorkeling with the manta rays, visiting a black sand beach and Kona Coffee farm, with the help of a tour.
Below is a summary of the top suggestions for Big Island 1 day itinerary:
Below is a summary of the top suggestions for Big Island 1 day itinerary:
Option 1: Take a Big Island Circle Tour and cover major highlights like Volcanoes park, waterfalls, black sand beach, etc.
Option 2: Explore more of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Check out this Volcano and Stargazing Tour from Kona or Volcano and waterfall tour from Hilo
Option 3: Helicopter tour of Volcanoes + Snorkeling with the Manta rays in the evening.
Option 4: Hilo Shore Excursion: Volcanoes Park, waterfall, and highlights for cruise ship passengers
Option 5: Explore Big Island yourself by renting a car – See the Volcanoes park and maybe a couple more attractions like black sand beach, and Hilo waterfalls.
Pick a Big Island one day itinerary option that best suits your group’s interests and fits within your available time and schedule.
Planning a trip to Big Island, Hawaii? Check out my other posts from the Big Island series: