Both islands have plenty to offer, but these two distinct islands cater to different types of travelers and offer distinct coastlines.

Maui, the second largest Hawaiian island, is a well-known resort island with 30-miles of pristine beaches. Aside from a gorgeous coastline, Maui offers lush rainforests, farm-to-table dining and world-class golf. Overall, Maui offers more in the way of resorts, traditional beachfronts and nightlife compared to the Big Island. The landscapes are also a bit more predictable than the Big Island.

Per the name, the Big Island (island of Hawaii) is the largest island comprising the Hawaiian archipelago, twice the size of every other Hawaiian island put together. This huge island features about 266 miles of coastline. Its sheer size allows for a variety of climates across the island. Experience tropical weather at sea-level and freezing cold temperature at the heights of Mauna Kea volcano. It’s even possible to snowboard and ski at the top of Mauna Kea, albeit with no ski lifts to take you to the summit. As a whole, Big Island is able to offer more in the way of diverse landscapes, hikes and volcanic exploration.

Maui Beaches

Maui’s beaches are what you’d typically imagine from a tropical beach. Soft white and gold sands make up most of Maui’s best beach retreats.

On the northern coast of Maui, you’ll find Baldwin Beach Park, Ho’okipa Beach Park, and Honomanu Bay.

Baldwin Beach Park Maui Hawaii

Baldwin Beach Park is one of the most popular beaches in Maui due to its beauty and public amenities, which include a large parking area and public showers and restrooms.

Ho'okipa Beach Park Maui Hawaii

Ho’okipa Beach Park is more known for its water sport conditions, drawing crowds from surfing and kiteboarding enthusiasts.

Honomanu Bay is more difficult to access and more of a hidden local gem. But its surrounding jungles and gorgeous ocean vistas make it worth the trek.

On the southern coast of Maui, you’ll find Makena Beach State Park, Charley Young Beach and Palauea Beach.

Makena Beach State Park Big Island Hawaii

Makena Beach State Park, the most photographed beach in Hawaii, features nearly a mile of pristine white beachfront that’s perfect for snorkeling and swimming. Beware that Makena Beach State Park is divided into Big Beach and Little Beach, the latter being one of Hawaii’s nudist beaches.

Charley Young Beach Maui Hawaii

Charley Young Beach features nearly a mile of golden sand and lava formed tide pools, perfect for paddle boarding and snorkel exploration.

Palauea Beach Maui Hawaii

Palauea Beach is a medium-sized beach frequented by locals. Clear water conditions make Palauea great for diving and snorkeling, but be careful swimming alone here, as there are no lifeguards at this beach.

On the eastern coast of Maui, you’ll find Wai’anapanapa State Park, Hamoa Beach and Koki Beach.

Wai'anapanapa State Park Beach Maui Hawaii

Wai’anapanapa State Park (easy for you to say) is one of Maui’s few black sand beaches and features lush tropical surroundings, deep blue waters and public bathrooms/showers.

Hamoa Beach Maui Hawaii Hana

Hamoa Beach, a crescent silvery-colored beach adjoining the Travaasa Hotel, is a great family-friendly beach with shaded picnic spaces and crystal clear water.

Koki Beach Park Maui Hawaii

Koki Beach is a golden stretch of beach that’s popular among local surfers. Strong rip tides and a lack of lifeguards makes it a more dangerous swim, so use precaution. This beach is perfect for picnics and sunbathing.

On the western coast of Maui, you’ll find Honulua Bay, Kapulua Bay and Ka’anapali Beach.

Maui vs Big Island Beaches Honolua Bay maui

Honolua Bay is a popular surfing and snorkeling spot for more seasoned swimmers. There aren’t any public amenities available at this beach and it must be accessed via boat or by a short jungle hike. This beach is one of the most vibrant and hidden gems on Maui.

Kapalua Bay Beach Maui Hawaii

Kapulua Bay is part of Kapalua Resort, but still open to the public. It’s also a sheltered beach, making it perfect for families looking for calm tides. Watersport equipment is available for rent at the beach activities desk.

Ka'anapali Beach Maui Hawaii

Ka’anapali Beach is a public stretch of beach that runs alongside several shops, restaurants and bars. This beach is appealing to large families or groups who might want to engage in a variety of activities within a close area. This beach is also located amongst many of Maui’s top resorts like Marriott’s Maui Ocean club and The Westin Maui Resort. Lifeguards, bathrooms and showers are available at Ka’anapali Beach.

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Big Island Beaches

Many of Big Island’s beaches are colored by the island’s heightened volcanic activity, making for black and green sand. White sandy beaches can still be found in some areas of Big Island.

On the northern part of Big Island, by Kohala and Waimea, you’ll find Waipi’o Valley Beach, Kauna’oa Beach, and Hapuna White Sand Beach.

waipi'o valley beach, big island, hawaii

Waipi’o Valley, home of ancient Hawaiian kings, is also home to a gorgeous black sand beach. Getting to this beach requires a long hike and the beach is known for dangerous currents, so proceed with caution.

mauana kea beach, big island, hawaii

Kauna’oa Beach or Mauana Kea Beach is a half-mile sugar white sand beach with calm waters. But Hapuna’s most exciting time of day comes at night when the Manta Ray’s come to feed on masses of plankton. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel uses a floodlight to attract plankton for a late night Manta Ray show, thus the aptly named Manta Ray Point at Hapuna Beach State Park.

hāpuna beach state park Big Island Hawaii

Hapuna White Sand Beach is a beautiful beach, but also one of Big Island’s most crowded. An alternative activity to swimming, sunbathing or snorkeling here is to hike the Ala Kahakai coastal trail, which runs through Hapuna White Sand Beach.

On the southern tip of Big Island, you’ll find Papakolea Green Sand Beach and Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

papakōlea green sand beach Big Island Hawaii

Papakolea Green Sand Beach is more remote and require longer hikes to access. But the unusual green sand and calm swimming conditions make it worth the effort.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is another remote beach that’s popular for spectating Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and hiking. Snorkeling can also be fun in the calmer coves adjoining Punalu’u. This beach area features picnic areas and restrooms but does not have a lifeguard.

On the eastern part of Big Island, by Hilo, you’ll find Isaac Hale Beach Park, Richardson’s Beach and Ocean Park, and Carlsmith Beach Park.

Isaac Hale Beach Park Big Island Hawaii

Isaac Hale Beach Park only recently became a black sand beach after the 2018 volcanic eruption on Big Island. The eruption also created several thermal ponds, kind of like natural hot tubs! These ponds are not cleaned/treated so enter at your own risk!

Landscape with turtles in Richardon ocean park near Hilo, Big island, Hawai
Landscape with turtles in Richardon ocean park near Hilo, Big island, Hawaii

Richardson’s Beach and Ocean Park is a black sand beach that’s frequented by families due to its calm waters and tide pools. A marine conservation area within the park makes for superb snorkeling and water visibility. Richardson’s Beach has a lifeguard, shower and restrooms available.

Carlsmith beach park is one of best places to swim and snorkel close to Hilo. Lava and a reef protect the inner swimming area, making it almost like a swimming pool.

Carlsmith Beach Park, right down the road from Richardson’s Ocean Park, is protected by a surrounding lava and reef barrier making it perfect for children. There isn’t a beach exactly, but a lawn and walkway to enter the water. Think of it as one giant lava formed pool! Turtles also frequent this cove, and lifeguards, restrooms, showers and picnic areas are available.

On the western part of Big Island, by Kailua-Kona, you’ll find Manini’owali Beach and Kamakahonu Beach.

Manini’owali Beach is a white sand beach surrounded by lava rocks at the rear. Dolphin sightings are common off the coast here and the snorkeling is spectacular during calm tides. This beach requires a short walk from the parking area and does not include any public amenities.

Kailua-Kona, United States Big Island Hawaii

Kamakahonu Beach is directly next to King Kamehameha Hotel, and is a well-known children’s beach. Located in a heavily sheltered bay, there are almost no waves at Kamakahonu, making it perfect for small children learning how to swim and snorkel. Beach equipment rentals are available on site.

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Which island is right for me?

Both Maui and Big Island have an abundance of amazing beaches. What you should really consider is what type of travel you prefer, laid-back or active. Maui’s resorts, thriving nightlife, and easy access beaches will best serve travelers who like to unplug and relax on vacation. Big Island is for those seeking lots of activity. Many of Big Island’s most brilliant beaches are guarded by lush jungles and lengthy hiking trails. If you enjoy hiking and exploration, then Big Island is probably the destination for you.

Be sure to check out THIRDHOME Rentals for more Hawaii travel opportunities.


Hawaii is a land of many unique wonders and vistas. Vivid color palettes make up the landscape of this chain of Polynesian isles. Verdant green mountains, black volcanic lava fields, golden beaches and turquoise waters find their way into every outdoor Big Island excursion.

Hawaii’s marvels are best exhibited on The Big Island, Hawai’i. Keep reading for the best Big Island hikes to be found during your next Hawaiian stay.

Best big island hikes


As a general rule, the Big Island’s jungle hikes can be found on the east side of the island, whereas your beach treks will be centered around the Western Kona coast. General hiking concerns such as poison ivy and snakes are not a great concern in Hawaii. Lava, however, can make for some treacherous walking conditions. Always be sure to observe and heed all posted warning signs in park areas and respect “No Trespassing” signage in private areas.


Kilauea Iki Hike Best Big Island Hikes

Kilauea Iki and Crater Rim Hike

Starting point: Crater Rim Trail, Pāhoa, HI 96778

Distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Feel the earth bubble beneath you as you trek across the lava fields of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea Iki’s last eruption in 1959 left the crater filled with hot lava that steams to this day. The rising steam and surrounding jungle make this hike a testament to the raw strength of nature. Be sure to stay close to the marked trails to avoid breaking up the thin trail crust.


Mauna Ulu Hike Best Hikes on Big Island

Mauna Ulu Hike

Starting point: Napau Crater Trail, Pāhoa, HI 96778

Distance: 2.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Translated, Mauna Ulu means “the growing mountain” in Hawaiian. Delicately stacked rocks outline the path through the lava fields caused by the Mauna Ulu’s ongoing eruption from 1969-1974. Stay within these rocks to avoid treacherous ground while uncovering the aftermath of one of Hawaii’s most dramatic eruptions. Lava flows the size of Niagara falls dotted the landscape in the initial 7 months, leaving behind molted trees, unique surface patterns and large fissures in the ground. You’ll be in awe of mother nature after this volcanic hike.


Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hike Best Big Island Hikes

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hike

Starting point: S Point Rd, Naalehu, HI 96772

Distance: 5.6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Green beaches are a very rare geological feature. Papakolea Green Sand Beach got its emerald green hue from a mineral found in lava called olivine. Walk along the shores of the southern Big Island Coast while enjoying ocean views, ancient temples and views of the cinder cone responsible for the unique nature of the beach. Do not disturb the temples or natural features you encounter on this hike. Although this hike is longer than the aforementioned volcano hikes, you’ll be hiking at less of an incline.


Waipi'o Valley Hike Best Big Island Hikes

Waipi’o Valley Hike

Starting point: 48-5546 Waipio Rd, Waimea, HI 96743

Distance: 3.8 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Welcome to “The Valley of the Kings” otherwise known as Waipi’o Valley. This valley was once the permanent home of Hawaiian royalty until the late 18th-century. A tsunami in 1946 would erase all other signs of civilization in this lush grove, save for a few small communities that still call it home. This hike includes scenic ocean views from the cliffside, waterfalls and a hike along a black sand beach. Just below the parking area you’ll find Kaluahine Falls, a beautiful waterfall that drops directly into the ocean. This hike is perfect for travelers looking for the perfect Instagram moment.


Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail Best Big Island Hikes

Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail

Route: 62-3461 Kawaihae Rd, Waimea, HI 96743

Distance: 15 miles

Difficulty: Hard

The longest trail on this list belongs to the Ala Kahakai trail which actually covers 175 miles of Big Island, running through ancient Hawaiian sites and villages. A condensed 15-mile roundtrip trail starts at Spencer Beach Park and runs to the Mauna Kea Resort area. Pass through beautiful beachfront trails and ancient Hawaiian culture on this hike. Although, this is the longest hike, it is relatively easy to get to and requires little climbing.


These hikes barely scratch the surface of all the hiking opportunities to be found on Big Island. Be sure to visit the National Park Service website to view some maps of Volcanoes National Park and other popular Big Island hiking destinations before your trip.

Interested in discovering Hawaii from a whole new perspective and conquering a Big Island hike?


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