The Big Island 3 Day Itinerary: Beaches, Waterfalls, and Volcano

The Big Island is home to pristine black sand beaches, beautiful waterfalls, and Kilauea (one of the most active volcanoes in the world). It’s one of my favorite islands to visit and if you’re planning a trip to the island, check out this The Big Island Itinerary for unique things to do in 3 days.

  • Big Island Itinerary: Day 1 – Visit the Volcano
  • Day 2 – Exploring Chain of Craters Road
  • Day 3 – Beaches and Waterfalls

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Camping on the Big Island

I visited Volcanoes National Park and camped at Namakanipaio Campground, 3 miles from the park.  Stop by Volcano House soak in the views of the Halema‘uma‘u Crater. You can also book reservations on site.

It was cold, raining and honestly one of the best experiences of my life. Once it stopped raining, the stars were so bright we decided to drive back into Volcanoes National Park to get a view of the lave at night. The park is located only a few minutes away by car and you can visit 24/7.

Bring warm clothes, because you’ll be sleeping 4,000 feet above sea level in a beautiful eucalyptus grove. We brought our tent and picked up other supplies at Volcano Village, a small town located 3.1 miles (6-minute drive) from the park.

The Campground also has cabins and tents available for rent.  

  • Make reservations at Volcano House.
  • Camping with your own gear is $15/night.
  • Cabins start at $80/night.
  • Explore Backcountry camping.
Big Island camping

The Big Island: Where to stay

Volcano House – Located on the edge of the volcano in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this hotel offers rooms with views of the Halema‘uma‘u Crater or the lush rainforest.

Lava Lodge at Hale Kilauea – Located 3 km away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, these holiday homes are 38 km from Hilo Airport.

Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant – Only 1.6 km from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this Volcano historical lodge features a hot tub.

Kilauea House – A beautiful bed and breakfast located 3.7 km from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

unique things to do in the Big Island


The Big Island Itinerary – Day 1

Arrive in Hilo and head straight to Volcanoes National Park. Start your tour at the Kilauea Visitor Center. Take a walk to the Steam Vents, Steaming Bluff, and Ha‘akulamanu – Sulphur Banks.

Hike the Kilauea Iki trail through a forest and across the crater floor.  After that take a walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500-year old cave.

Big Island Itinerary 3 days

Day 2 – Chain of Craters Road

Drive down Chain of Craters Road to the see the sea arch in the ocean, and see lava forming new land. Don’t miss the short walk to the petroglyphs, and step back in history.

You can also walk, ride a bike or take a boat tour to see the lava flowing into the ocean.

Chain of Crater Road Stops

Distance From the Beginning of Chain of Craters RoadDistance From Kīlauea Visitor Center
Stop #1Lua Manu Crater0.5 mi / 0.8 km3.8 mi / 6.1 km
Stop #2Hilina Pali Road2.3 mi / 3.7 km5.6 mi / 9.0 km
Stop #3Pauahi Crater3.3 mi / 5.3 km6.6 mi / 10.6 km
Stop #4Mauna Ulu3.7 mi / 6.0 km7.0 mi / 11.3 km
Stop #5Mauna Ulu Flow Across Chain of Craters Road4.1 mi / 6.6 km7.4 mi / 11.9 km
Stop #6Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu6.4 mi / 10.3 km9.7 mi / 15.6 km
Stop #7Kealakomo Overlook9.9 mi / 15.9 km13.2 mi / 21.2 km
Stop #8Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs16.3 mi / 26.2 km19.6 mi / 31.5 km
Stop #9Hōlei Sea Arch18.8 mi / 30.3 km22.1 mi / 35.6 km
Stop #10End of Chain of Craters Road18.8 mi / 30.3 km22.1 mi / 35.6 km


Day 3 – Waterfalls and Beaches

If you have time, drive up to Mauna Loa Lookout, it’s one narrow lane in each direction and you’ll want to bundle up because temperatures change at this elevation.

After Mauna Loa Lookout, head to Rainbow Falls. There is a car park and you can walk up to the waterfall. OK Farms, located alongside the Wailuku River in Hilo offers Waterfall and Farm Tours.  There is a private overlook deck on the 1000-acre farm, and you’ll get an incredible view of the waterfall. It’s located only five minutes from downtown Hilo.


If you skip the drive to Mauna Loa, you can spend more time at the beach. An hour and a 15-minute drive from Hilo, Punalu’u Beach Park is a black sand beach where you’ll likely see Hawksbill and Giant Sea Turtles. If you prefer to stay closer to Hilo, visit Richardson Ocean Park for black sand and snorkeling.

Mauna Loa

Which island of Hawaii to visit?






Planning on visiting Kona on the Big Island? You’ll likely need a few more days since it’s located on the other side of the island. We hope you enjoyed this big island itinerary. Aloha!