3 Day Big Island Itinerary

Three Days on the Big Island of Hawaii

Big Island Three Day Itinerary

Explore the Big Island in 3 Days

Big Island of Hawaii 3-Day Itinerary Suggestions

At some point in planning your vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii, it’s probably going to hit you, “Wow, this is a lot harder than I thought it’d be... there’s so much to do.”  Welcome to the state where the possibilities for activities and adventures are limitless, to where you’ll likely never find yourself bored unless you refuse to leave your hotel room. This portion of our website is here to help you focus on planning your trip and should allow you to organize what you want to do into simple itineraries.  Planning your vacation doesn’t have to be a chore, and hopefully, our recommendations will be of assistance in your preparation.

We’ve designed our Big Island of Hawaii itineraries around a set number of on-island Big Island days: offering one, three, five, seven, and even ten-day itineraries for exploring the island, soaking in the best sights, and ensuring your precious time (and potentially money) on the Big Island of Hawaii is utilized wisely. We’ve tried to balance our itineraries between those who seek adventure and those looking to find a good beach and relax. Overall, we want your experience to be exactly what you’ve dreamed of when planning your Big Island of Hawaii trip.

We’ve provided all Big Island of Hawaii directions via Google Maps when possible, as Google Maps works on all platforms and across all devices. You should be able to pop the directions into your phone or tablet and go. To help you visualize each day’s itinerary, we’ve also provided overview maps that help you get your bearings.

Our three-day Big Island itinerary attempts to cover the top attractions on the Big Island over the course of just three days. We believe the interests and activities outlined in this Big Island itinerary will provide a memorable and enjoyable experience while visiting the ‘Big Island.’ We want to let you know in advance there will be a bit more driving in our three-day itinerary than we would typically recommend. Still, we want you to experience these must-see attractions on the island while you’re here. Ideally, we’d honestly recommend at least 5-7 days on the Big Island if you can make it work with your Hawaii trip schedule. Skip ahead to the 3-day itinerary now →

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Overview of Hawaii Island - the “Big Island”

Often called the "Big Island" to help distinguish it from the 1,500-mile-long archipelago with which it shares its name, Hawaii, the Big Island has certainly earned its nickname. Sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the landmass of the Big Island is approximately the same size as the state of Connecticut, about 4,050 sq. miles and still growing daily thanks to Kilauea Volcano on the eastern coast of the island. Composed of five major volcanoes, the island is the youngest in the Hawaiian chain with origins dating back some 800,000 years to the present day.

The Big Island of Hawaii, of course, is the largest landmass in the Hawaiian island chain- which consists of eight major islands and 124 islets. The archipelago is made up of numerous volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean stretching in a 1,500-mile crescent from Kure Island in the northwest to the Big Island of Hawaii in the east, encompassing an area of 6,459 square miles. The eight major islands at the eastern end of the chain are, from west to east, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii.

The vast majority of the Big Island's visitors stay in the western-sided Kailua-Kona area with its fantastic weather, abundant shopping, and vast array of dining options. This region also features a wide variety of accommodations, from high-end resorts and condominiums to quaint B&Bs and inns. The ocean off the Kona coast is clear and great for both snorkeling and diving. To the north of Kona is the Gold Coast of Kohala. While drier and more barren than Kona, the region offers amazing beaches, great weather conditions, and several luxury accommodations to choose from.

On the other (eastern) side of the island, you'll discover Hilo and the Puna region. These are good locations to base from if you're interested in exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This part of the island receives an abundance of rainfall that creates lush and green surroundings.

The Big Island of Hawaii seems determined to break the norm; the stereotype of the average tropical island, that is. Here you'll find the ongoing battle between green forests, black lava fields, the ocean, and the rain almost incomprehensible; the diversity is simply stunning. You may find yourself wondering, "Is this an ancient landscape or a future one?"

Hikers, horseback riders, and land lovers, in general, will find a wide variety of stunning peaks, valleys, forests, and lava fields to explore. Water lovers will find a plethora of water activities awaiting them, especially on the leeward side where the two giant volcanoes create near-pristine water and wave conditions year-round. Snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, SCUBA diving, and much more are superb here. In our daily itineraries, we’ll attempt to guide you to the very best the Big Island of Hawaii has to offer.

Those who prefer to stay on dry land will also enjoy a myriad of land activities. Golfers, beach lovers, and bird watchers can also take pleasure in knowing there are unmatched locations for each of their passions.

Accommodations on the Big Island of Hawaii & Where to Stay Summary

On the Big Island, you’re probably considering splitting your stay between the Kona side and Hilo side of the island, that’s smart - it will make visiting each respective side of the island’s attractions easier, because after all, the big island is, well, BIG. The last thing you want to do most days is to spend hours in the car driving to a destination on the other side of the island. If you haven’t yet decided where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii, we can help with that too, be sure to check out our Where to Stay on the Big Island of Hawaii article for the best tips and suggestions on where to book your stay. Don’t worry if you’ve already booked your trip on just the Kona or Hilo side, or if your lodging isn’t even in Kone or Hilo, as there are a number of accommodations, b&bs, inns, etc scattered across the island. Regardless of where you’re staying, we’ll still help you plan accordingly.

Be sure to also read our Best time to Visit the Big Island article for an in-depth look at which time of year is best to visit the Big Island for your travel party.

Getting Around the Big Island of Hawaii

On Hawaii island, a rental car is definitely the best option for getting around the island and viewing all the sights we detail in our itineraries. This is especially true because of how spread out some of the various attractions are located geographically speaking. The rental rates in Hawaii are often some of the cheapest anywhere in the world because the competition is usually fierce.

There is no reliable bus service on the island and taxi services are both expensive and illogical for sight-seeing purposes.

Summary of what to pack on your Big Island of Hawaii trip

Regardless of how much you’ve traveled in the past and where you’ve been, there is one good rule to follow when coming to Hawaii, leave as much as you can at home. Seriously, bring only what you’ll need during your stay and nothing more. For starters, schlepping around three suitcases is NOT what you want to be doing after getting off a long plane ride. Next, consider that long pants, dress clothes, and anything else formal really have no use in Hawai‘i (unless you are staying in a very exclusive resort). Chances are a pair of shorts and an old Aloha shirt are all you’ll need for even some fine dining.

As far as clothing goes, that’s usually a few pairs of shorts, several T-shirts, sandals or flip-flops (slippahs as Hawaii residents call them), and a good visor or hat, anything made of a cotton blend is usually good. A light jacket might also be nice for those visits to higher elevations.

With the motto, “less is more” in mind, here are a few other items to bring. Sunblock (the UV on Hawai‘i is typically 10+ in the spring, summer, and fall), a backpack (for any hikes) and a water bottle, slippers (flip flops, shower shoes, zoris), mask, snorkel, and fins (or rent locally instead), two bathing suits (one to wear while the other dries) and a cover-up, your phone or a camera, lightweight raincoat or poncho (for mountain/rain forest hiking), bug spray with DEET (for any forest hikes), flashlight (if the sun goes down before your hike ends or for night walks on the beach), hiking boots and hiking rods, and most importantly a list of all your troubles to leave behind.  For more information on what to pack, seeing our What to Pack When Visiting Hawaii article.

Three Day Itinerary for the Big Island

3-Day Big Island Wayfinder Guide

We'll officially kick off our itinerary suggestions by quickly covering the days you both arrive and depart. While they are not completely a wash in terms of planning something to actively do or participate in those days, we like to keep them open and use them for relaxing after we arrive and before we depart.

Arrival Day on the Big Island

Let the first day you arrive be a day to adjust to the islands. Grab a bite to eat, pick up supplies and/or groceries, enjoy your first Hawaiian sunset that evening, and get to bed early as it has likely been a long day. If you’re flying in from another island, as we often do, then some light sightseeing probably won’t be a problem once you’re set up with your new rental, etc. But generally, we advise people to take it easy the first day, soak in their local surroundings, and acclimate to Hawaiian time.

Departure Day from the Big Island

Like your arrival day, this day is meant to wind down from your trip and prepare for your jump to another island or for the journey home. We suggest grabbing a bite to eat from one of your favorite local restaurants near your accommodation and maybe some final souvenir shopping at some of the many stores and local shops around the island. Undoubtedly, the local community would appreciate your business. In Hawaii there are no “Goodbye’s” - so we’ll say A Hui Hou, which in Hawaiian means ‘Until we meet again.’ Aloha!

Big Island 3-Day Essentials Itinerary 

We're working on our more advanced modular itinerary for the Big Island, similar to how we've set up our Maui ItinerariesUntil we have that ready, check out our essentials Big Island of Hawaii itinerary to get you started.

For finding local food, which we recommend as many nights as you can do so, check out our recommended best local dining articles; look for the Big Island section in each article.

You may want to split your time and accommodations in this suggested itinerary between Kailua-Kona and Hilo; but given the short duration of your stay, it may be better to pick one side of the island to explore vs. trying to do both. We've provided suggestions for doing them together and separately below.


Kailua-Kona & Hilo

Day 1: Kona Coast and Kailua-Kona

Day 2: Volcano Adventure

  • Early drive to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
  • Spend the day exploring the park: see  Kilauea's Overlook(s), the Nahuku (Thurston) Lava Tube, and hike the Crater Rim trail. If you're feeling adventurous, hike the highly recommended Kilauea Iki trail (which includes part of the Crater Rim trail but also switch-backs down into the Kilauea Iki crater before climbing back into the surrounding fern forest above the crater.
  • Dinner at Volcano House overlooking the crater.

Day 3: North Kohala and Waimea

  • Drive north to Waimea, and explore the town.
  • Continue to North Kohala, and visit the Pololu Valley Lookout.
  • Stop in Hawi town for shopping and dinner.
  • Visit Waipio Valley on the other end of the Kohala Coastline.
  • Return to Kailua-Kona.

Day 3 Alternate: Hilo and the East Side

Kailua-Kona Side Only

Day 1: Kona Coast and Kailua-Kona

  • Spend the morning at the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park.
  • Afternoon at the Kua Bay (Manini'owali Beach).
  • Explore downtown Kailua-Kona: visit the Hulihe'e Palace, Mokuaikaua Church, and walk along the Ali'i Drive.
  • Dinner in Kailua-Kona.

Day 2: Coffee and History

Day 2 Alternative: Beach Relaxation

Day 3: North Kohala and Waimea

  • Drive north to Waimea, and explore the town.
  • Continue to North Kohala, and visit the Pololu Valley Lookout.
  • Stop in Hawi town for shopping and dinner.
  • Return to Kailua-Kona.

Hilo Side Only

Day 1: Volcano Adventure

  • Early drive to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. We recommend spending the remainder of your trip on the Hilo side (or in Volcano Village).
  • Spend the day exploring the park: see Kilauea Caldera Overlook(s), the Nahuku (Thurston) Lava Tube, and hike the Crater Rim trail. If you're feeling adventurous, hike the highly recommended Kilauea Iki trail (which includes part of the Crater Rim trail but also switch-backs down into the Kilauea Iki crater before climbing back into the surrounding fern forest above the crater.
  • Dinner at Volcano House overlooking the crater.

Day 2: Hilo and the East Side

Day 3: North Kohala and Waimea

  • Drive north to Waimea Town, and explore the town.
  • Continue to North Kohala, and visit the Pololu Valley Lookout.
  • Stop in Hawi town for shopping and dinner.
  • If time allows, drive to the Waipio Valley Overlook for another unique view of the wild Kohala coastline.
  • Return to Kailua-Kona.

With this itinerary, you'll be able to visit the highlights across the Big Island, from historical sites to volcanoes and beautiful beaches. Please remember this is just a suggested itinerary, and you might want to adjust it based on your preferences and local weather conditions.

Be sure also to check out our onefiveseven, and ten-day Essentials Itineraries for the Big Island of Hawaii. Enjoy your trip to the Big Island!

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