The Big Island of Hawaii has many nature trails and hiking paths. One hiking path on the Big Island (also called Hawaii Island) is the most child-friendly leg of the Ala Kahakai Trail. This mile-and-a-half part of the trail connects two oceanfront hotels on the Kohala coast, the Hapuna Beach Prince and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, both managed by Prince Resorts Hawaii. They are also close enough to each other (with no other hotels in between) that it’s possible to walk on the beach path from one to the other. This is a good thing: Both hotels are lovely, and share signing privileges. Being able to walk along the gorgeous Kohala Coast, enjoy a different hotel beach and property, and sign for any meals, gift shop purchases, snorkel equipment rentals (even spa treatments) is a luxury. The walk itself is part of the Ala Kahakai pathway, a 175-mile US National Historic Trail. The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail covers 3/4 of the entire coastline of Hawaii Island, i.e. the Big Island. From Waha’ula Heiau in the southeast, to Upolu Point, the northernmost point of the island in North Kohala, the trail takes hikers past all except the rainforest coast of the Hilo side of Hawaii Island.
Hiking the entire Ala Kahakai Trail is a multi-day adventure; 175 miles is a lot and the southeastern third takes intrepid hikers past active lava flows from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The entirety of Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is not recommended for family travel with young children. (And not all parts of the trail are technically open for tourists to hike, either.) However, the two points of the trail that connect the Prince hotels mark the easiest part of the hike, and our family hiked back and forth between the Hapuna Beach Prince and Mauna Kea Beach hotels pretty easily.
The elevation changes are only moderate; this is an easy hiking trail for able-bodied adults. I’d recommend that only kids over the age of 6 hike this part of the Ala Kahakai trail, unless your child is exceptionally agile and sure-footed. Also, learn from our mistakes: While casual beach flip-flops are fine for the path approaching Mauna Kai Beach Hotel, the southern half (leading from Hapuna Beach) has some thorny branches on and off the trail. Those long thorns pierced right though our flip flops, poking our feet. Now, this isn’t the kind of hike path with huge elevation changes, and you won’t need serious hiking boots. But shoes that are a bit hardier than cheap flip flops are recommended.
The Ala Kahakai trail passes through hundreds of historic Hawaiian sites, including ancient settlements, loko ‘ia (fish ponds), petroglyphs, and wahi pana (sacred places). The easy Kohala Coast part of the hiking trail from Hapuna Beach to the Mauna Kai Beach hotel traverses through ‘Ouli Ahupua’a, the ruins of an ancient settlement. Archeological remains indicate that the settlement was merely the oceanside terminus of a frequent path the ‘Ouli took from their permanent homes in upland, fertile Waimea to the sea. Fishermen would spend time on the coast, hunting and gathering, before rejoining their farming brethren up in Waimea. Carbon dating estimates that these early Hawaiians lived here some time around the mid- to late 1600′s to the early 1800′s.
Hawaii’s Big Island has one coastline most known for its calmer waves and more family-friendly, accessible beaches; the Kohala Coast, north of Kona on the west side of the island, is also most reliably sunny and the most sought-after stretch of beach for high-end hotels and resorts. Both Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and Mauna Kea Hotel are wonderful, and they offer different enough Hawaii vacation experiences that it’s fun to spend time relaxing at each of them. The Mauna Kea is definitely more luxurious, with the accoutrements that you’d expect at a resort of its caliber. The restaurant offerings are more high-end as well. The Hapuna Beach Prince is significantly larger, and its coastline along with Hapuna Beach itself is around three times the length of its sister property.
Hawaii travelers staying at Hapuna Beach Prince often come to the Mauna Kea for its spa and dining, and Mauna Kea guests often come to Hapuna Beach for the wider variety of ocean activities. Instead of driving between the two, hiking the Ala Kahakai trail makes for an interesting part of a vacation day. Expanding our knowledge of the historic and cultural significance of popular tourist destinations enhances our appreciation of our vacations there. The relatively easy, kid-friendly hike along Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is recommended for rounding out a Hawaiian vacation on the Big Island.