Home to one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, you’d think that the Big Island of Hawaii would offer tons of hot springs. And while there used to be several hot springs on the island, most of them were consumed by lava in a recent eruption, leaving only one untouched.
Here’s everything you need to know to visit the Pohoiki Hot Springs, the only accessible hot springs on the Big Island.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission, for which we are extremely grateful, at no extra cost to you.
These hot springs on the Big Island are kind of an under-the-radar hidden gem, but, first, let’s back up and talk a little bit more about the whole “hot springs being consumed by lava” thing and other frequently asked questions about Pohoiki Hot Springs.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Hot Springs on the Big Island
What happened to the hot springs on the Big Island?
The southeastern coastline of the Big Island, referred to as the Lower Puna coastline, used to be home to three publicly-accessible hot springs- the Pohoiki Hot Springs (also called the “Pohoki Warm Springs”), the Ahalanui Warm Pond, and Kapoho Tide Pools.
In 2018, the Kīlauea Volcano had a massive eruption along its Lower East Rift Zone, which covered much of the Lower Puna coastline, including the Ahalanui Warm Pond, and Kapoho Tide Pools, in lava dozens of feet thick.
The lava flowed over the eastern portion of Isaac Hale State Park, where the Pohoiki Hot Springs are located, missing the hot springs by this much.
After the eruption, ocean currents caused sand and other sediment to accumulate along Pohoiki Bay, eventually creating a bunch of brand new tide pools with volcanically-heated water- i.e., new hot springs for you and me to enjoy!
It also formed the Big Island’s newest black sand beach here. The beach is beloved by surfers for its gnarly waves and is an alternative to some of the other black sand beaches on the Big Island, like Punalu’u Beach.
What creates hot springs on the Big Island?
If you’re a lover of natural hot springs like me, you may know that most hot springs are actually fed directly by rainwater or groundwater that is heated by magma underground- for example, this is how most of the hot springs in Iceland are heated.
The Pohoiki Hot Springs, on the other hand, are heated a bit differently- the pools are filled with rainwater that is heated as it flows through volcanic stone underground and, when it mixes with cool sea water that seeps in through the sandy earth, is cooled to the perfect hot tub-like temperature.
How to Get to Pohoiki Hot Springs
As mentioned above, Pohoiki Hot Springs are located in the Isaac Hale Park, near the town of Pāhoa in the southeastern corner of the island.
You’ll need a rental car to get here, given the park is a little over an hour south of Hilo or about two and a half hours from Kona (pssst… trying to decide where to stay on the Big Island? Be sure to check out our post about Kona vs. Hilo!). The road is well-maintained the entire way and has some really stunning views along the way, especially along the Lower Puna coastline.
While it’s a bit of a trek, the relative remoteness has allowed the hot springs to fly under the mass-tourism radar. Plus, you can combine a stop here with some other interesting destinations that are worth including on your Big Island itinerary in the southeastern section of the island, like the hippie town of Pāhoa and the Kehena Black Sand Beach.
What to Expect When Visiting Pohoiki Hot Springs
Once you park in Isaac Hale Parks’ parking lot, there’s a variety of warm to hot springs that you can choose from.
The first two pools are just a couple hundred feet away from the parking lot area and are super easy to find:
- There’s a warm and shallow pond directly adjacent to the (now solidified) lava flow, all the way on the eastern side of the beach.
- Isaac Hale used to offer the area’s only boat ramp, which has since been totally covered by sediment from the 2018 eruption. This area, to the right of the parking lot, is now completely flooded, creating a large warm pond. This was the most crowded of the hot springs when we visited.
To reach the other springs, you can follow the dirt boot trail, located between the boat ramp warm pond and the fenced off red house and leading into the jungle (you can see it in the picture above, where there’s dirt patches to the left of the fence around the red house). There’s signs here, but for the avoidance of doubt, the red house is private property- so please don’t stray into their yard!
Following the trail back, you’ll walk through a lush forest a short ways. The “trail” is flat, but it is full of stabby volcanic rocks and gnarled tree roots, so I’d suggest wearing a pair of hiking sandals, like Tevas for men or women, to protect your soles along the way. And bonus- you can wear them in the hot spring to protect your feet in there as well (volcanic rock is no joke, friends)!
In the forest, you’ll find two other pools:
- Tucked away in the forest is the only pool that existed before the 2018 eruption, which was formed from a collapsed lava tube. Since the last eruption, its water has heated up quite a bit (the temperature used to be in the upper 90s and now it usually sits around 106°) and, with its fecund surroundings, this, in my opinion, is the most stunning hot spring in the park.
- Directly across from that pool, there’s another pond, where the new beach meets up with the old coastline. While not as picturesque, this pool is quite a bit bigger than the one in the forest, so if you’re not in the mood to be squished in a hot spring with a bunch of strangers, this might be a good option.
Finally, all the way on the western side of the beach is another small pond where the new beach butts up against the old coastline.
Given that Pohoiki are the only hot springs on the Big Island, I had expected them to be packed. But while each of the pools had a few individuals enjoying them during our visit, they were surprisingly calm, especially given that we visited in the middle of the afternoon. I suspect if you showed up early, you’d probably be able to snag a pool all to yourself (keeping in mind and respecting the park’s opening hours from 9 AM to 6 PM).
What to Know When Visiting Pohoiki Hot Springs
Some things to know before you head here:
- While nudity is accepted in some hot springs in the United States, this isn’t one of them- there’s residential houses nearby, who have expressed concern with seeing random naked folks near their house. So please wear a bathing suit and cover up those genitals!
- The hot springs are in small, enclosed pools, so there usually isn’t a ton of freshwater flowing through the pools to flush out any materials that get into the water.
So don’t wear any kind of sunscreen or other types of lotion, refrain from washing in the pools (hey, I did say this was right by the biggest hippie community on the Big Island!), and don’t pee in them. Sounds nasty, but we all know that it happens!
- Speaking of unpleasant things in the water, it isn’t unheard of that the bacterial levels in the hot springs exceed the EPA and state guidelines. There are, after all, hundreds of random strangers sitting in a small pool of warm standing water here every week!
So do not go into the hot springs if you have any open cuts or sores, avoid dunking your head underwater, and take a shower after you enjoy the pools. The water here is not guaranteed to be something you’d want to get in your mouth, so I’d treat this as a “go at your own risk” kinda thing!
- Bring plenty of water (my husband, Justin and I, take our comically giant Nalgene bottles everywhere!)- the pools can be quite hot, so it’s important to stay hydrated.
Most importantly of all, the Pohoiki Hot Springs are incredibly special, so let’s be sure to treat them as such!
There’s been quite a few places around the Hawaiian Islands that have been closed to the public because people were mistreating them or otherwise negatively impacting the environment, so be sure that doesn’t happen to Pohoiki by following the leave no trace principles.
Pack it in, pack it out, be respectful of others and the surrounding neighborhood, and generally, leave it in better shape than you found it.
Where to Stay Near Pohoiki Hot Springs
As mentioned above, most travelers either stay in Kona or Hilo, but, if you’re looking for a whole vibe, staying in the funky town of Pāhoa, just 35 minutes away from the hot springs, is worth considering. Check out:
- Pāhoa Village Hostel: If you’re a budget traveler, this hostel is the cheapest private room you may find on the entire island, with an awesome location right in downtown Pāhoa, a community kitchen, and free organic coffee just waiting to fuel you for your adventures.
- Lava Tree Tropic Inn: You’ll feel like you’re at home in this family-run inn, with a beautiful tropical garden (the fruits of which you’ll literally be served for breakfast) and incredibly friendly service.
- Hawaiian Sanctuary Eco Retreat Center: If you’re looking for accommodations with a lot of character, this is it- this lodge offers everything from yoga to ecstatic dance classes (all free for guests!) to weekly community dance parties on Friday nights and a hot tub to top it all off. I said that Pāhoa was a whole vibe, right?
Enjoy the Pohoiki Hot Springs before they, too, are swallowed up by Pele. Do you have any questions about visiting these hot springs on the Big Island? Let me know in the comments below!