We tried to see as much of the Big Island as we could during our week-long stay.  As its name suggests, the island is BIG, so unless you plan to hotel hop around the island, there can be quite a bit of driving involved in visiting different towns around the island.  For that reason, we tried to keep our day trips as engaging as possible for the kids.  We decided to head to the North Shore and let the kids plan how we spent our time there.  We had done a short course ATV course in Cabo last year and they loved it so they enthusiastically chose to try a longer course with ATV Outfitters.  We opted for the two-hour course which would take us down to a beach, through the oldest rainforest on the Big Island,  2500 ft up the mountain, and then finally to a private waterfall and swimming hole.

Prepping For Our ATV Ride

We had two surprises as we were getting set up on our ATVs.  The first was that I assumed the five of us would be split into two ATVs (2 in one, 3 in the other).  We were split into two ATVs, however, I was assigned to a single and Mike and the kids were in a 4-seater that looked more like a jeep.  I was pretty nervous to drive it especially since the gas throttle was controlled on the handlebar (by my thumb) and not a foot pedal like I’m used to.  The second surprise was that my 13-year-old thought he would be driving his own ATV, not realizing the minimum age to drive is 16 (it never crossed my mind that he would think this so I never thought to prep him that he would just be a passenger).  So be forewarned that the minimum age to actually drive an ATV is 16!

  • Wear long pants and something you won’t mind getting covered in mud. It’s not a bad idea to bring a change of clothes for the end.
  • Wear closed toed shoes.  Even our shoes & socks were covered in mud.
  • We wore our suits under our clothes and brought a bag filled with towels for our swim.  I also recommend bringing water.  Even though they do offer drinks about halfway through the course, I felt myself getting dehydrated before then.

North Kohala Coast

After a quick lesson how to operate the ATVs and a few practice laps around a track, we traveled on narrow winding paths through pastures down to the coast and were rewarded with spectacular views!

The jagged sea cliffs and pounding waves along the north shore were mesmerizing Hawaii. Hawi. Big Island
The jagged sea cliffs and pounding waves along the north shore were mesmerizing

Admiring the North Shore of Hawaii. Big Island. Hawi
Admiring the North Shore of Hawaii
Usually there are surfers on these waves, but on this day the water was very rough. Hawi, Hawaii
Usually there are surfers on these waves, but on this day the water was very rough and there were none

Next we began our ascent to 2500′ elevation through the oldest rainforest on the Big Island.  The paths we were on were rough and uneven with some tight turns and steep climbs & descents.  Our guides, who were obviously very familiar with the paths and comfortable on ATVs sped along at a good clip.  Three of us in the group were riding single ATVs and we were the lead cars after the guide – so naturally I felt a lot of pressure to keep up a good pace so I wouldn’t hold up the group.  Regardless of how fast I went, my kids, who were riding in the ATV right behind me, yelled at me to go faster!

North Kohala Mountains

The views at the top were amazing!

Enjoying the view 2500 feet above sea level. Hawi Big Island
Hello, cow
Enjoying the view 2500 feet above sea level. Hawi Big Island
Enjoying the view 2500 feet above sea level

Our guides handed out drinks & snacks at the top and we all got a rest.  During that time, the kids had to check out what it was like behind the wheel of the ATVs.  Due to weight distribution in the 4-seater, our 7-year-old was assigned to sit shotgun while the older two sat in the back.  This may have been the highlight of his trip as he never gets to ride in the front seat!

Hang Loose! Big Island Hawaii
Hang Loose!

This was the ATV I rode on!

Spectacular views of the Pacific on our ATV tour. Hawi. Big Island
Spectacular views of the Pacific on our ATV tour
Wishing he was actually driving the ATV and not riding as a passenger. Hawi Big Island
Don’t get too comfortable….you still have 3 more years (gulp)

Secluded Waterfall

The grand finale of the tour was stopping at this secluded waterfall.  We parked at the top and then had a quick 5 minute hike to the bottom.

We had this beautiful waterfall all to ourselves. Hawaii. Hawi. Big Island
We had this beautiful waterfall all to ourselves

The water was really cold and only our 7 and 10-year-old were brave enough to go all the way in.

The very chilly water did not deter this guy from getting in. Hawi. Hawaii. Big Island
The very chilly water did not deter this guy from getting in
Hanging Loose in Hawaii. Hawi. Big Island
Hanging Loose in Hawaii

Exploring by ATV was a lot of fun!  I thought that two hours was plenty of time on an ATV and was ready to call it quits when our time was up.  My only issue was trying to keep steady pressure on the throttle with my thumb and by the end of the ride my entire hand & wrist were aching.  It’s just something to be aware of in case you want to request one type of ATV over another.

Other Activities with Kids in North Kohala

These are on our list for next time!

  • Zip lining with Hawaii Forest & Trail – This was the kids’ first choice, however they have a very strict 70 lb weight minimum.  While our 7-year-old weighs less than the minimum and has been zip lining many times with no problems getting across the lines, they weigh participants at check-in and it is up to their discretion whether someone is “close enough”. However, if they decide not to let someone go because the minimum weight is not met then there is no refund.  We decided not to chance it.
  • Flumin’ in the Kohala Ditch – this man-made ditch system brought water to the people of Kohala.  Now you can kayak through 3 miles of the ditch.  It’s a very leisurely float (no rapids, etc) so it’s perfect for kids as young as 5.  We were tempted to do this, but it sounded very similar to when we went tubing down the sugar canals in Kauai so we decided to try something different this time.  We rode next to the ditch for a bit on our ATVs and saw a group of people kayaking and it did look fun!
  • King Kamehameha – King Kamehameha was a great warrior and leader who united the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810 after years of conflict.  He is celebrated throughout the islands and the north Kohala towns of Hawi and Kapa’au are known as his birthplace.  I would have loved to spend more time here to visit the ruins of Mo’okini Heiau (just west of his actual birthplace) as well as the original King Kamehameha statue at the Kohala Visitor Center.

While on the Big Island, be sure to check out Volcanoes National Park and these amazing snorkeling opportunities! Don’t forget our entire Guide to the Big Island.

Heading to Kauai? Here are our favorite things to do there!

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