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Pololū Trail: The Big Island’s Most Jaw-dropping Hike

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The beloved Pololū Valley Overlook provides panoramic views of a secluded black sand beach and impossibly lush sea cliffs along the northern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. If you’re up for a little adventure, though, you can actually get up close and personal with the aforementioned beach and the surrounding Jurassic Park-like scenery by hiking along the Pololū Trail. Here’s everything you need to know about hiking along the Pololū Trail, one of the most jaw-dropping hikes on the Big Island.

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Sea cliffs along the Pololu Valley hike along the northern coastline of the Big Island
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About the Pololū Trail

Length: 

1.2 miles

Elevation gain: 

450 feet

Difficulty: 

Moderate

Waves in the Pacific with the sea cliffs of the Pololu Valley in the background on the Big Island of Hawaii

Average time to hike: 

Just hiking the trail down and back will take about an hour, but if you’re planning on spending some time at the beach, I’d budget at least a couple of hours in your Big Island itinerary.

Are dogs allowed?: 

Yes, but please be courteous to other hikers and keep them on a leash!

Is camping allowed? 

While you may see people pitching tents here, camping is actually prohibited here.

Warning signs for the Pololu Trail on the Big Island of Hawaii

History of Pololū Valley

While the Pololū Valley Overlook is now regarded as an awesome spot to get postcard-views of the Big Island, it was once home to the Kohala Volcano, the oldest on the Big Island. Somewhere around 300,000 years ago, Kohala experienced an enormous landslide, with part of the volcano crumbling into the ocean, leaving behind those epic sea cliffs.

Over time, valleys, gorges, and gulches have been carved into this cliffside by rainwater, leaving the jaw-dropping landscape you see today.

Woman standing and looking at the Pololu Valley on the Big Island

Beyond its geological history, this valley served as home to many Native Hawaiians, up until the early 20th century, thanks to its proximity to freshwater. In fact, the modern-day Pololū Trail was once actually a government road to ʻĀwini, a cliffside where ali’i (or Hawaiian royalty) once lived. Accordingly, you might hear it called the Pololū Trail, the Pololū Valley hike or the Pololū Valley ʻĀwini trail.

How to Get to the Pololū Trail

The Pololū Valley is located here, along the Big Island’s northern shore. It isn’t exactly close to Kona or Hilo, being a one hour and 20 minute drive from Kona and a two hour drive from Hilo. That being said, given that it’s one of the best hikes on the Big Island, it’s definitely worth going on a little road trip around the island for!

For example, head north along the coastline from Kona. Along the way, consider stopping at the Pu’ukohola Heiau National historical site, to see one of the most important historical locations on the islands, which, in part, led to King Kamehameha unifying the Hawaiian Island, and Hawi, a tiny town along the north of the island with colorful plantation buildings, housing art galleries, restaurants, and coffee shops.

Woman standing in front of Pu'ukohola Heiau National historical site on the Big Island of Hawaii

From Hilo, there’s plenty of stops to enjoy the western side of the island’s lush scenery, like Akaka Falls State Park, and the rolling green hills of the ranching town of Waimea.

Whenever you get to the Pololū Valley Overlook, it’ll be super obvious, given that Highway 270 dead-ends on a cliffside. There’s a small, dirt parking lot that holds a dozen or so cars and usually Pololū Trail stewards stationed here, who help you park and are a wealth of knowledge of the history of the valley.

Pololu Stream with the Pololu Valley in the background on the Big Island

When you park at the trailhead, just double check that you’re not parking by an orange traffic cone. When my husband, Justin and I visited, we were instructed by a steward to park in an empty spot, with a cone by it. 

When we returned to the car after our hike, though, we were told by a very concerned-looking steward that he was in the process of getting our car towed, because we had parked by the cone, which was reserved for individuals with mobility issues (even though there were no signs to that effect and we were explicitly told to park there by a steward, I SWEAR!!). Considering we didn’t have any cell service here, that would have been a no good, very bad day.

Speaking of cell service, I’d recommend downloading offline maps on both Google Maps and AllTrails before heading here so you don’t get lost along the way!

Pssst… you’ll need AllTrails+ to download an offline map for hiking, but luckily, you can get a 7-day free trial, PLUS our awesome readers get a sweet 30% off discount of the annual subscription—just use the code “Uprooted30” at check out! 

If you’ve been thinking about upgrading your AllTrails account to the paid version (I know it took me, like, five years to make the jump), we wrote a whole post about whether an AllTrails+ account is worth it.
Woman walking down the stairs along the Pololu Valley hike on the Big Island

What to Expect on the Pololū Trail

Once you park, you’ll start walking towards the valley, with the Pololū Valley Lookout immediately on your left hand side. Take a second to drink in the view here of the epic sea cliffs and black sand beach below.

When you’re ready to start the hike, make your way down the trail, which consists of four switchbacks, carved into the cliffside. The trail is covered with loose rock and is incredibly steep most of the way. I absolutely would not recommend doing this trail unless you’re wearing footwear intended for hiking, that provides the appropriate traction and support. We swear by these hiking boots and these hiking sandals for men and these hiking boots and these hiking sandals for women. 

Man hiking down the Pololu Valley hike on the Big Island

Additionally, avoid the trail after it’s been raining, as the already slippery trail becomes straight-up dangerous- many people hike when they shouldn’t be, fall and injure themselves, and are required to be helicoptered out. Don’t let that be you!

Aside from the Pololū twisted ankles and other doom and gloom things, be sure to stop along the way to drink in the views of the valley below- the steeply descending switchbacks provide constantly changing perspectives of the spectacular scenery. 

View of Pololu Beach from the Pololu Valley hike on the Big Island

Eventually, you’ll reach the valley floor, with the Pololū Stream and the lush valley in front of you. Continue to follow the trail towards the left, where you’ll quickly reach the shores of the beach.

The Pololū Trail itself is straightforward and easy to follow but remember one thing about this hike- what goes down must go up! When you’re done enjoying the beach, you’ll need to retrace your steps back up the aforementioned steep, rocky terrain, which can be a bit of a butt-kicker in the best of times and can feel absolutely brutal under the hot Hawaiian sun. 

So bring plenty of water (Justin and I use these comically giant Nalgene bottles) to keep you hydrated as you’re climbing up that hill. If you can, I also recommend that you try to visit in the early morning– you’ll likely get the beach to yourself and avoid the hottest part of the day!

Woman hiking up the Pololu Valley hike on the Big Island of Hawaii

Pololū Valley Black Sand Beach

So, first things first, the sand at Pololū Beach isn’t the dramatic jet-black you’ll see at, say, Punalu’u Beach on the south side of the island and is, instead, more of an ashy gray, with lots of rocky pebbles mixed in. The rocks on the beach are quite large, stabby, and not very comfortable to walk on, so again, I’d recommend wearing sandals (like these Tevas for men or these Tevas for women) for strolling on the beach.

Woman laying on a Pololu beach on the Big Island of Hawii

Gray, stabby sand notwithstanding, Pololū Beach is STUNNING, surrounded on either side by 500-feet cliffs, covered in greenery.

The waves here are quite rough, so, while it may be okay to wade around when the waves cooperate, I wouldn’t advise swimming. There’s unfortunately been multiple drownings, due to unexpected rip currents, so again, don’t let that be you!

Woman walking along the Pololu Beach, with cairns in the foreground, on the Big Island of Hawaii

Behind the beach, you’ll find groves of ironwood trees, a few of which have rope swings tied to it, as well as a stone-lined walking path. 

This path actually extends the hike beyond the Pololū Valley beach and climbs to the ridgeline of the neighboring Honokāne Nui Valley, where you’ll climb up yet another steep and slippery trail for more spectacular coastal views. The Honokāne Nui Trail adds about three miles (roundtrip) to your hike and is an excellent option to get away from any crowds at the black sand beach!


I hope you love the Pololū Valley trail as much as I did. Do you have any questions about this hike? Let me know in the comments below!

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