5 Day ULTIMATE Hilo Hawaii Adventure Guide by @whitwithgrit
Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo - a DoubleTree by Hilton

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Sep. 2023



Sep. 2023





At the foot of Mauna Loa, Hawaii’s largest volcano, and only 45 minutes away from Volcanoes National Park, Hilo is a region unlike any other. Rivers cascade over lava rock, lush fields are dotted with rows of sweet potatoes and wild orchids, and miles ever-evolving black sand beaches line the coast. Here at the heart of it all is the Grand Naniloa, Hilton’s DoubleTree perched right on the shores of Hilo Bay. Here is our suggested five-day itinerary for mainlanders or locals alike who want to uncover the best experiences this magical place has to offer.



Rise from your ocean view room early, thanks to a few hours of convenient jet lag from the mainland, to a glimpse of Mauna Loa peeking above the clouds. Coffee is served strong in the lobby. Grab a cup to go and walk around the property, keeping an eye out for sea turtles and early morning paddleboarders enjoying the quiet beginnings of another glorious day in Hawaii. Then, fuel up with an avocado toast or aloha buffet before departing for the day’s plans: riding an ATV. You’ll spend the day zooming through figure-eight patterns on muddy terrain and enjoying an authentic Hawaiian barbecue and snacks like freshly cracked macadamia nuts. Wash it all down (and rinse the mud off) with a cold one and a dip in another private waterfall, a staple of any adventure on the “wet side” of the island!

Next, borrow a snorkel setup from the front desk and head to Carlsmith Beach Park,

a favorite spot for resident sea turtles. It won’t take you long to jump flippers-first into the aquamarine water and explore the shoreline teeming with fish.

You’ll be ready for taste of Hilo after your aquatic adventures;

Kula Shave Ice serves organic masterpieces like the “Tropical Vibes” shave ice with strawberry, matcha, and mochi bites as well as cold brew coffee, smoothies, and acai bowls.

Right across the street is the world-famous Hilo Farmers Market (open seven days a week),

where you can pick up local fruit delicacies like white pineapple and apple bananas. You might also consider swinging by the Pacific Tsunami Museum to learn more about Hilo’s exciting, although sobering, past. That afternoon, enjoy an afternoon relaxing at the pool of the Grand Naniloa, Hilo Mai Tai and beach read in hand.



The following day, enjoy a journey north to Waipi’o Valley.

A verdant valley hemmed in by nearly 2,000-foot cliffs, the area is reminiscent of Kaua’i’s famous Na Pali Coast and is of considerable cultural importance to Hawaii (this is where many Hawaiian Ali’i, or kings, resided up until the fifteenth century).

But today’s adventure is all in the journey.

On your way to Waipi’o Valley from the Grand Naniloa, don’t miss the turnoff for Onomea Bay Scenic Drive.

This 4-mile stretch of road meanders in and out of a tropical junglescape, offering incredible ocean views throughout—perfect for driving with the top down. We recommend fueling up with a papaya smoothie from the Low Store where the resident cat, Pickles, makes for a friendly mid road-trip reprieve. Then, it’s back in the rental. ‘Akaka Falls State Park is a mere 13 minutes away and a wonderful place to stretch your legs. A half-mile paved hiking loop takes you to an overlook where your photos will make it seem as if you viewed the staggering 442-foot falls from a helicopter.

It’s time for more snacks as you continue on.

Enjoy a malasada—a Portuguese donut filled with delectable flavors like guava and coconut—at the famous Tex Drive In. Once again properly nourished, you’ll be ready to descend into Waipi’o Valley on foot (4x4 vehicles welcome too).

The half-mile long road has a grade of 25 percent and is the steepest road of its length in the United States.

Every step becomes worth it when you arrive at sea level. (Pro tip: we recommend zig-zagging to alleviate next-day soreness!) A gorgeous black sand beach, and on most days a few of the valley’s resident wild horses, greet you. Dig your toes into the sand and soak it all in, or hike further to one of many waterfalls before ascending the road back to your car. One of the BBQ Kilauea burgers from Hula Hulas will pair nicely with a local Hawaiian lager after a full day adventuring on the Hilo side of the island!



On day four, you have a few options to experience the power of Mother Nature on the Big Island. Visit Volcanoes National Park or stay coastal, where just an hour from the Grand Naniloa you can see the incredible aftermath of the historic 2018 eruption at Isaac Hale Beach Park. Here, a brand new black sand beach called Pohoiki was created almost overnight. Then, journey along one of Hawaii's most scenic drives on Kalapana Kapoho Road to Hot Foot Photography, where a volcano-obsessed man named Gary will provide background on different flow events and regale you with tales of losing his home to lava only to rebuild in the exact same spot. For those looking for a midday bite, stop by Uncle Robert's Awa Bar and Farmers Market. Even if the market isn’t on, the grocery store here stocks great picnic options, including cold beer. When it’s time to return to Hilo, make sure you have updated driving directions—lava still blocks many of the local roadways in this area!