I’ve been traveling to Hawaii all my life: as a kid with my parents, as a collegiate with my friends, as a pre-kid couple, and with my own kids when they were babies, toddlers, little kids, tweens, and now teens. It’s a perfect vacation spot whether you prefer to park yourself at the beach/pool or be active and adventurous. If you’re traveling to Hawaii with teens, you are most likely looking for some adventure – and there is no shortage of adventurous things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!

Below are some of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii with teens, from biking through Volcanoes National Park and ziplining through the rainforest to snorkeling with Manta Rays and hiking to a green sand beach. These Big Island activities are sure to thrill your teens!

Things to do on the Big Island Hawaii with Teens

You’ve booked your trip to the Big Island – now what? We’ve made multiple trips to the Big Island with our teens and this list of things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii has been hit with the whole family!

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Volcanoes National Park

Exploring Volcanoes National Park is one of the top things to do on the Big Island! The best way to tour Volcanoes National Park is by bike! The park is covered in trails making it easy and fun to cover a lot of ground and enjoy the scenery. Plus, it’s so much easier to hop on/off a bike rather than trying to park a car at each point of interest. We were able to walk on an active volcano and through a lava tube, climb on lava rocks, and see flowing lava, steam vents, and a steaming crater! What better way to learn about volcanoes than to actually explore one? 

There are a couple of options for biking through the park:

We did this volcano tour when our oldest was a teen and our youngest was 7. We pedaled our own bikes and had a guide, but now they offer self-guided tours on e-bikes! My teens are all about e-bikes so this would make the tour even better! Note the minimum age for e-bikes is usually 13 so this tour may not be suitable for younger kids. For more details read all about our Big Island Volcano Bike Tour.

Big Island Snorkeling

Some of our best snorkeling has been on the Big Island! We’ve booked some Big Island snorkeling tours and we’ve also rented equipment and gone snorkeling on our own.

Some of the best snorkeling is on the Kohala coast, right off the beach at the Mauna Lani Beach Club in Makaiwa Bay, and also at 49 Black Sand Beach. We also took our gear to Hapuna Beach & Mauna Kea.

There are a lot of snorkeling tours offered on the Big Island. It can be overwhelming to know which ones to pick. These snorkeling tours were a huge hit with our entire family!

Night Snorkel with Manta Rays

Arriving at Kona Ocean Adventures for our manta ray snorkel
Arriving at Kona Ocean Adventures for our manta ray snorkel

One of the most unique things to do on the Big Island is a Night Snorkel with Manta Rays in Kona. We did this when our kids were a bit younger (7, 10 & 12), and at the time it felt WAY out of our comfort zone. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get my 7yo out of the boat and into the water. Looking back on this now, years later, the kids still talk about how much they loved this adventure.

We met our guide with Kona Ocean Adventures, got fitted with wetsuits, and then rode about 30 minutes by boat to the manta ray feeding area. We hopped into the water, hung on to a floatation device with lights illuminating the water below us, and then waited for the manta rays. These giant creatures came straight at us with mouths (as big as footballs) wide open – just when we thought they’d hit us, they glided back down. What an amazing show!

Prior to booking, I debated whether this would be something the kids would like or if they might be scared or intimidated. I’m glad we decided to give it a try as it was easily the highlight of our trip! This snorkel adventure is a must-do on the Big Island with teens!

Book your Manta Ray Night Snorkel Adventure Here!

Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay

Ready to snorkel! GoPro in hand
Ready to snorkel! GoPro in hand

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to snorkel in an aquarium? The snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay by the Captain Cook Monument was fantastic. It’s a perfect place to take kids because of the calm clear water and abundance of colorful fish and coral. There’s nothing that makes our kids lose interest in snorkeling faster than swimming in choppy murky water and hoping for a glimpse of a fish here or there.  No matter which way we swam in Kealakekua Bay we always had an incredible view.

Book a Snorkeling Tour:

Kealakekua Bay is a popular place to snorkel
Kealakekua Bay is a popular place to snorkel

We booked the Morning Ocean Cruise with Fair Wind Cruises. The entire excursion was executed exceptionally well. We made two snorkeling stops on this cruise and a detour to look for whales, but Kealakekua Bay was our favorite! More about our Big Island Snorkeling Adventures here.

Other Kealakekua Bay snorkeling tours to consider:

  • This snorkel tour is similar to the one we did with meals included, plus paddle boarding & a waterslide off the boat. Book it here
  • This snorkel adventure is on a smaller boat (similar to a zodiac). Meals are not included but this tour also checks out sea caves. Book it here

Hike to Kealakekua Bay:

Kealakekua Bay is not accessible by car, however, you can reach it via the 3.7 mile Captain Cook Monument Trail. It’s considered a relatively challenging hike with a steep 1200′ descent and is only recommended for experienced hikers. You’d need to pack in/out your snorkel gear, but would be a fun (and less expensive) option with older kids & teens.

Kayak to Kealakekua Bay:

Kayaking on your own requires a permit, but you can book through an authorized kayak company offering tours to the bay, such as Big Island Kayak. Because these tours go into the open ocean, they are not recommended for beginners. If you’re a comfortable kayaker this would be a fun Hawaiian adventure with teens.

Rent your own Snorkel Gear

If you’re lucky, your hotel or rental may provide complimentary snorkel gear. On our most recent trip, we had to rent our own gear. We found the prices to be reasonable and the upside was we were able to get appropriately sized gear for each person.

We did a 6-day rental from Hawai’i Beach Gear Delivered. They delivered (and picked up) our gear for free (with a $120 minimum order).

We paid:

  • $38/snorkel set (~$6/day)
  • $28/boogie board (~5/day)

Big Island ATV Tour with Teens

Hang Loose! Big Island Hawaii
Hang Loose!

There are many Big Island ATV tours to choose from. We went with ATV Outfitters in the quaint town of Hawi in North Kohala. We chose the 2-hour Waterfall & Rainforest Adventure with trails that took us all the way from the beach, through a rainforest, up to 2500 feet above sea level.  We ended the adventure with a swim in a private waterfall and swimming hole!

ATV Outfitters has since closed their doors, but there are still a lot of fabulous ATV tours on the Big Island. This tour with Kohala UTV Adventure, located in North Kohala, is pretty similar to the one we went on. You can find Big Island ATV tours located across the island (from Hawi to Kona to Hilo) ranging from casual tours aimed at families to more adventurous off-roading options for teens, and even tours that include a waterfall visit or sprinkle in some Polynesian cultural highlights like this one you can book here.

NOTE: Different ATV Tour companies have different rules regarding the minimum driving age. While some will allow a 16-year-old with a valid driver’s license to drive, like The Umauma Experience, others require the driver to be 18, or even 21 years old (like Kohala UTV Adventure). Be sure you know the driving rules so you don’t have a disappointed teen! My 16-yo was excited to ride ATVs on our last trip to Hawaii until she learned she wouldn’t be able to drive because she didn’t have her license yet.

Read more about our ATV & waterfall adventure here: Exploring the Big Island by ATV

Zipline Big Island

Mom & son race each other on the duel zip line through the Hawaiian rainforest! Kohala Zipline. Big Island Hawaii
Racing each other on the duel zip line!

We love ziplining! One of the first things we booked on our 2023 trip was a Big Island zipline tour with Kohala Zipline. We chose the Kohala Canopy Adventure which includes 8 ziplines, 6 sky bridges, and a rappel within a private nature reserve. We had views of the forest, Kohala Coast, and all the way to Maui!

Our guides were enthusiastic & fun and most importantly made us feel safe on the course. There were a couple of nervous people in our group and our guides did a fantastic job encouraging them and making them feel comfortable.

The entire course took about 2.5-3 hours beginning with our safety briefing, the drive to the course which included a little off-roading, and ziplining!

NOTE: To complete this course, participants must be at least 8 years old and 70lbs. The maximum weight limit is 270lbs. We originally looked into doing this course when our youngest was just shy of meeting those requirements. So when we returned in 2023 I booked the course for the 2 of us, as he was 13 years old and well over the weight minimum!

Book this exact Big Island Zipline Canopy Adventure Tour with Kohala Zipline

Feeling even more adventurous? Book an all-day Zipline & Waterfall tour with Kohala Zipline!

Big Island Helicopter Tours

I’ve been in a helicopter 4 times – 3 of those times have been in Hawaii. Flying through deep valleys & lush rainforests, and along the coast in a helicopter is a spectacular way to see Hawaii! Because the Big Island is so big, it’s also a very efficient way to see the island. Be forewarned, it’s also expensive so we saved this adventure for when our kids were teens and would appreciate it more.

Volcanoes National Park Helicopter Tour

To get a bird’s eye view of Volcanoes National Park and to truly grasp the reach of decades of lava flow, a Big Island helicopter volcano tour is the way to go.  I booked this Doors Off Helicopter Tour over Kilaeua, which left from Hilo Airport, for just my husband and me when we were on the Big Island without the kids. Our youngest was 7 at the time, and while there is no age minimum, I did not think this was the best first helicopter experience for the kids. We flew over 2000 degree lava and could feel the heat 500 feet above in the air, we flew through clouds and rain, and saw rainbows, waterfalls, and lava fields that went on & on. We were hoping to see the lava flowing into the ocean which we heard is quite a show, but we were at the mercy of Mother Nature and there was no show that day. We did this tour in 2017.

Book this exact Doors-Off Lava Tour here

Kohala Coast Helicopter Tour with Waterfall Stop

Big Island Helicopter Tour: Family of 6 gives the shaka sign in front of a Blue Hawaiian helicopter situated at the bottom of a 900 foot waterfall in Hawaii
Waterfall landing on our Kohala Coast helicopter tour!

In April 2023, we booked another helicopter tour for the whole family, this time over the Kohala Coast with a waterfall stop. We departed from Waikaloa which is conveniently located close to many of the resorts on the Kohala Coast. We flew deep into the valleys on the north side of the island and saw waterfalls that were 1200′ tall!

The highlight of this trip was landing next to a 900′ waterfall and having it all to ourselves. It was stunning and such a memorable experience.

Book the same helicopter tour here

Big Island Hikes

Hiking is one of the best ways to experience a destination, especially Hawaii as the landscape and views are such a big draw. Plus it’s so easy to hike as a way to get up close & personal to something else: a waterfall, a beach, a volcanic crater, a rainforest, etc. There is no shortage of Big Island hikes, but here are a few of our favorite hikes in Hawaii with teens:

Pololu Valley

The hike to Pololu Valley begins where the road ends near Kapaau on the north side of the island. The trail is about a mile roundtrip. It quickly descends 350 feet down a rocky trail with stunning vistas around every turn and ends at a gorgeous black sand beach. The water isn’t swimmable due to high surf & rip currents, but the beach stretches about 900 yards – so plenty of space to explore. The climb back up is not too strenuous – I found it easier to go up than down.

Big Island Hike: Top of Pololu Valley Hike - looking out over lush greenery & palm trees towards the blue ocean and black sand beach below. Hawaii
Top of Pololu Valley Hike – beginning the climb down to the black sand beach

There are no facilities. There was a parking lot with only a few spots for hikers. It was full when we arrived but we were able to easily park along the side of the road.

Because this hike is relatively short and remote, I’d pair this with another activity in the area. We did this hike after ziplining & lunch.

Big Island Hike: boy stands on a washed up log in the middle of black lava rocks making up a black sand beach on the Pololu Valley Hike. Tall cliffs covered in greenery are in the background. Hawaii
Admiring the ocean from the black sand beach at the bottom of Pololu Valley hike.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Big Island Hike - View of Papakolea Beach from the trail. Green sand beach. Hawaii.
View of Papakolea Beach from the trail

The hike to Papakolea Green Sand Beach checked 2 things off my list:

  • Visiting a green sand beach
  • Visiting the southernmost point in the 50 US states

Is the sand really green? YES! Don’t expect bright green though. I found it to be more of an olive color. My 13yo claimed this is not actually green and we debated this for much of the hike.

Teen girls enjoying the green sand at Papakolea Beach on the Big Island, Hawaii.
Enjoying the green sand at Papakolea Beach

Things to know:

  • From the Kohala Coast, it is approximately a 2-2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. Reduce the drive time by about 45 minutes if coming from Kona.
  • The weather can be very different at the southern tip of the island. Notably, it is much windier.
  • The hike to Green Sand Beach is 5.5 miles roundtrip (do not go and think you are parking right at the beach!)
  • There is a large parking lot at the trailhead. There were portapotties when we were there, but apparently, these are hit or miss. There were vendors selling snacks, water & Gatorade – they are not always there either.
  • There are often locals with 4×4 jeeps who will offer rides from the parking lot to the beach. They were charging $20/person roundtrip for this service. I read some info that advised against this, but honestly, I think this is how most of the people got to the beach. We wanted to hike anyway.
  • The trail is not exactly a trail, but rather lots of jeep tracks. Tracks split and then came back together. It was confusing to know which one to follow, but as long as you hug the coastline you’ll get there. I downloaded the hike from Alltrails and could keep track of our progress that way.
  • The trail is exposed the entire way – no shade. I was grateful for the wind which helped keep us cool.
  • It’s a steep climb to get down to the beach.
  • The beach is in a cove and is a moderate size, but not huge.
  • There were quite a few people swimming in the water, but I wouldn’t let my kids (teens) go in. The waves were big, there were no lifeguards, and this beach is isolated. If there are any issues, help is a long way away.
  • I would not recommend this hike for young kids. Not because it’s a difficult hike, but because it’s a long drive and a decent distance with no shade. Younger kids may be expecting “bright green” sand and the subdued olive may be a disappointment. My youngest was 13 when we did this hike. I think he would have been fine to do it as young as 9. We were traveling with my sister and her two kids (ages 4 & 7) who opted out of this hike which I think was a good call.

More Big Island Hikes to Try

These hikes have been recommended to us but we haven’t had a chance to try them yet:

  • Kilauea Iki Trail (Volcanoes National Park) – a 3.2 mile loop within Volcanoes National Park. This trail starts in the rainforest on the crater’s rim and descends through the rainforest to the crater floor. What an amazing experience to hike in a crater!
  • Akaka Falls (near Hilo) – This is an extremely popular hike leading to Akaka Falls which plunges 442 feet into a gorge. The hike is an easy .5 miles roundtrip though you will likely encounter crowds – so go early! And note that there is an entrance fee to Akaka Falls State Park.
  • Makalawena Beach (near Kona) – Our concierge recommended this hike to us and said it’s where he takes family/friends when they come to visit. This is a 2.7 mile out-and-back hike to a gorgeous beach. Hiking to this beach is the only way to get there which naturally limits the crowds. He suggested we hike in with snorkel gear to take advantage of the amazing water.
  • Captain Cook Trail (Kona) – see above. Kealakekua Bay.

Beaches

With 300 miles of coastline, the Big Island has a lot of beaches! Here are some great Hawaiian beaches to visit with kids & teens!

Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach is the biggest beach on the island, stretching nearly a half mile of white sand, and is exactly how you’d picture a tropical beach.  There was lots of parking in the lot and while it’s possibly free at certain points in the year, we had to pay $5.  This is a popular beach and we were not the only ones there, but it’s big enough that we had plenty of space to set up our chairs & umbrellas on our own patch of beach.  It’s a great beach for kids – the waves were big enough for them to boogie board & body surf, but not so big where I felt nervous.

Mauna Kea Beach

Big Island Hawaii: Mauna Kea Beach. Looking towards the Mauna Kea Hotel and beach with lots of lounge chairs & umbrellas set up.
Mauna Kea Beach – hotel chairs to the left, public chairs to the right

We went here because we heard it’s a good place to see sea turtles and it didn’t disappoint! We enjoy exploring different beaches, but if you only have time to go to Hapuna or Mauna Kea, I would choose Hapuna as getting to Mauna Kea is a bit more of a hassle (if you aren’t staying at the hotel). Beaches are public access in Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to get there.

You have to stop at the Guard House at the Mauna Kea and ask for a public pass to the beach. There are limited passes available so IF they have one they’ll give it to you. These passes turnover throughout the day, so even though there was a sign that said “public beach full”, we asked the guard and he had a pass for us. The pass gets you into the gated public beach parking lot down the road. From the parking lot, it was about a .25 mile walk to the beach (carrying all our gear). The beach is not as big as Hapuna and half of the beach has chairs reserved for guests of the Mauna Kea Hotel while the other half is for the public.

Makalawena Beach

Mauna Lani Beach Club

49 Black Sand Beach

Where to Stay on the Big Island

There are a lot of amazing places to stay on the Big Island. We have enjoyed staying at both resorts and residences and will probably continue to go back & forth between the two depending on how we’re feeling. We love resorts because of all the amenities on site: pool, restaurants, activities, beach clubs, and daily cleaning services. Residences give us more space (which is great with teens), a kitchen, laundry, often our own yard/outdoor space and sometimes even a pool! We also like to book residences that are part of a hotel so we get access to the hotel’s amenities.

Fairmont Orchid

The Orchid is a great Big Island resort for families. It has a very calm beach, cabanas for shade, and equipment rentals (boogie boards, Stand Up Paddle Boards, kayaks, and snorkel gear) – of course, it would be even better if these rentals were included in your stay!  There are plenty of restaurants on site and it’s walking distance to the shops at Mauna Lani for even more dining options, plus a grocery store and some shops.

The Orchid has a wonderful “Spa Without Walls”.  You can choose to have a massage in a hut by the waterfall (above) or by the ocean.

Mauna Lani

The Mauna Lani is in the same neighborhood as the Fairmont Orchid and is also walkable to the shops at Mauna Lani. We haven’t stayed at the hotel but stayed at a vacation residence on Mauna Lani’s property. We stayed in another Inspirato residence with a pool overlooking the golf course and out towards the ocean. We also had a golf cart so we could easily access the Mauna Lani Beach Club & restaurants. Also, make sure to check out the Kalahuipua’a Fishponds near the beach club – there’s even a spot where the fish will come up and nibble on your feet!

Pauoa Beach Neighborhood

Enjoying our private pool. Pauoa Beach Neighborhood. Big Island, Hawaii
Enjoying our private pool

We stayed in a residence (booked through Inspirato) in the Pauoa Beach Neighborhood.  It was a great 3-bedroom house with a kitchen, living room and a large outdoor space with lawn and pool overlooking the golf course at the Fairmont Orchid.  The residence came with a golf cart to get around, boogie boards, ice chests, pool toys etc.  The neighborhood had its own beach club with a fitness center, pool, and bbq area and was right next door to the Fairmont Orchid.  This was hands down one of our favorite places to stay (ever)!

View from our backyard overlooking the golf course and mountains at sunset. Pauoa Beach Club Neighborhood. Big Island Hawaii
View from our backyard overlooking the golf course and mountains at sunset

Four Seasons Hualalai

We’ve never stayed here, but it’s next on my list.  It consistently ranks as one of the best hotels in the Hawaiian Islands and everyone I know who has stayed here raves about it.

Where to Eat on the Big Island with Teens

Breakfast/Coffee

  • Juice 101 – Located in the shops at Mauna Lani – we’d drive our golf cart down in the morning and pick up their amazing açai bowls! We loved the OG Açai Bowl with blueberries, granola, banana & coconut. Some of the kids preferred the Waipio Mudslide Açai Bowl with graham crackers, coconut, chocolate chips & mac-nut Nutella. They also have smoothies, bagels, wraps & paninis.
  • Mauna Lani Coffee Co – while we’d wait for our made-to-order açai bowls at Juice 101, we’d head next door to the Mauna Lani Coffee Co to get caffeinated.

Lunch/Dinner

  • King’s View Cafe (Kapaau) – Our ziplining guide recommended this place and truthfully we almost skipped it because it didn’t look like much from the outside. But so glad we decided to try it because it was delicious! I got the Kalua Pork Pizza and ate the whole thing because it was that good! My 13yo got a Hot Pastrami Sandwich and a smoothie. We ate on the front porch which looks out to the King Kamehameha statue across the street.
  • Hau Tree at Manua Kea – This restaurant is on the beach and super casual. We ate dinner here and watched the sunset. Kids can run out and play on the beach too. Our group loved the Crispy Gyoza starter and then enjoyed a variety of main dishes from the Burger to the Poke Bowl to Fish Tacos. Make sure to try their signature cocktail, Fredrico
  • Knead & Bake – We ordered pizza online and then picked it up and enjoyed it on our lanai. We got a variety of pizzas – they were all 12″ and averaged about $20/each.
  • Tommy Bahama’s – Located in the shops at Mauna Lani – we ate dinner out on the lanai with great sunset views.
  • Napua Beach Club – At the Mauna Lani Beach Club – right on the ocean with a large lawn for the kids to run around!
  • Lava Lava Beach Club – Right on the sand – great atmosphere for lunch, dinner or drinks! They do not take advance reservations – only call ahead seating.

Traditional Hawaiian Luau

Luau at Marriott Waikaloa – This is a great Hawaiian luau for kids and is offered every Monday and Wednesday evening. The kids had never been to a luau and this was a great one!  It includes unearthing the imu (underground oven) to reveal the Kalua Pig, crafts for kids, open bar, conch shell blowing contest, and live music with Polynesian dancing & storytelling – culminating in an exciting fire dance. Prices have increased since we went: Adults (13+): $160, Children (6-12): $80. We paid for an upgraded seating option which guarantees reserved seating in the first row (now the first 3 center rows). I was glad we did this as we showed up late from our day trip to Hawi and 5 seats had been saved together at a front table for us.  If we hadn’t done this we would have had to take whatever seating was left and likely wouldn’t have been seated together! We also had a front row view of the dancing so the kids were able to enjoy the show even more.

Hawaii for Thanksgiving

  • Fairmont Orchid Thanksgiving Dinner Buffet – We ate here for Thanksgiving. Traditional Thanksgiving dinner plus sushi & seafood, prime rib, a kids’ buffet with pizza, chicken fingers, etc, a candy display and so many desserts!  We ate outside overlooking the pool & ocean and watched the sunset.  Plus there was a huge lawn for the kids to run around on.  We reserved this about a month in advance.
Thanksgiving dinner at the Fairmont Orchid. Big Island Hawaii
Thanksgiving dinner at the Fairmont Orchid

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