Pololū Valley: Hiking, the Lookout, and Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii


Nestled on the majestic Big Island of Hawaii, the Pololū Valley Lookout offers a gateway to an awe-inspiring landscape that is as mysterious as it is breathtaking. A steep hike down the Nui Valley (Nui Trail), leading adventurers to a hidden gem – a lush, black sand beach cradled in the heart of the valley.

As you embark on this journey, you’ll witness the powerful Pololū Stream carving its way through the landscape, while the ancient trees stand guard, protecting this sacred piece of paradise. This is not just another spot on the map; it’s a journey to the leeward side of the Kohala Mountain, a place that whispers tales of the earth’s fiery heart and the cool embrace of the Pacific.

Here, at the edge of the Kohala volcano, you’re not just a visitor; you’re a part of something larger than life. So, park your car, take a deep breath, and prepare to step into a world where every path leads to discovery and every view is a masterpiece painted by nature.

Pololu Valley History

It’s not just about the views and the hike; it’s also about stepping back in time. Kohala Volcano, which last erupted about 120,000 years ago, is an integral part of the volcano system on the Big Island of Hawaii. This volcano has a rich geological history that sets the backdrop for Pololū Valley, a notable feature in the Hawaiian Islands.

Imagine this: between 250,000 and 300,000 years ago, a massive landslide caused a chunk of the volcano to fall into the ocean, creating those iconic sea cliffs and triggering a colossal tsunami. This event formed part of the island and is northernmost of a series of such events in the region.

The effects of this event were felt even on other islands, with marine deposits found hundreds of feet high! Even today, remnants of this landslide lie submerged, some 81 miles off the current coastline, showcasing a dramatic chapter in the series of erosional valleys that shape the Hawaiian landscape.

Visiting Pololū Valley

When it comes to experiencing Pololū Valley, you’ve got options galore! Want to stay comfy in your car? No problem! Craving an adrenaline rush? You’re covered! Whatever your pace, there’s a level of adventure waiting just for you.

  • The Easy Breezy – Pololu Valley Lookout: For those looking for a quick dose of awe, driving up to the Pololū Valley Lookout is a treat. You don’t have to break a sweat to enjoy some of the most jaw-dropping views of your life. Think of it as a teaser trailer for the blockbuster that is Pololū Valley. While you’re there, take a moment to benefit from more pleasant temperatures and savor the breathtaking views of the cliffs.
  • The Moderate Challenge – Hike to the Valley Floor: Feeling a little more adventurous? Put on those hiking boots and get ready for an invigorating but somewhat steep descent to the valley floor. The effort is more than worth it. The moment your feet touch that unique black sand beach, you’ll forget all about the hike down. Once there, spend some time on the beach, but be wary of the strong currents and high surf and rough waves. It’s a perfect opportunity to try and see humpback whales and capture what’s easily one of the most spectacular sights on the island.
  • The Ultimate Thrill – Hike to the Next Valley: And for the exercise enthusiasts among us, why stop at just one valley? Strap on a backpack filled with water and snacks, and venture to the next valley. It’s a challenge, yes, but one that rewards you with unmatched isolation and beauty. This is ideal for those visiting Pololu Valley looking for an extended journey and an up-close experience with nature.

Before you embark on any of these adventures, there’s one crucial thing to note: the absence of public restrooms. Nature calls at the most inconvenient times, right? Your best bet is to take a pit stop at Keokea Beach Park, about 10 minutes from the lookout, or visit the restrooms just behind the King Kamehameha Statue in Kapaʻau, which you’ll pass en route to the overlook from Hawi.

Pololū Valley Lookout

Perched high above the valley, the Pololū Valley Lookout is where you’ll first catch sight of the majesty that awaits. The sea cliffs standing tall against the azure ocean create a picture-perfect backdrop on the Kohala Coast. And here’s a pro-tip: if you’re visiting between December and March, you might even spot humpback whales making their annual journey along the North Kohala region.

You could easily spend just 10 minutes here, snapping pictures and soaking in the views of the valley. But remember, the real adventure lies in the descent. From this vantage point, you’re 490ft (150m) above the valley floor, which beckons with its irresistible black sand beach. This is truly the end of the road, where the journey to the heart of nature begins.

Hike Down to the Valley

Known by two names, the Pololū Trail and the ʻĀwini Trail, this pathway was once an old government road leading to Āwini. This makes the hike not just a physical endeavor but also a walk through history.

Descending approximately 420ft in just 0.6 miles, the trail offers breathtaking cliffside views, and the promise of black sand between your toes keeps you going. On average, it takes about 20 to 25 minutes to hike this steep descent. But don’t worry; the beach offers the perfect spot to catch your breath.

The trail’s grade averages at 13%, which we’d classify as moderate in terms of difficulty. Add to this the slipperiness during or after rains, and you’ve got yourself an exciting challenge.

Follow the trail and you might find unexpected delights, like rope swings along the way, adding a playful element to your adventure. The area is also under the trail steward program, ensuring that the path remains safe and enjoyable for all visitors while preserving its natural beauty.

Black Sand Beach of Pololū Valley

When you reach the valley floor, it’s like you’ve stepped into a different world. Imagine a black sand beach hugged by towering cliffs that rise almost 500 ft, all framed by the relentless, roaring ocean at Pololu Valley. This isn’t just a beach; it’s an awe-inspiring panorama of nature’s might and beauty.

The texture of the beach is a fascinating combination of fine black sand and larger boulders. And these aren’t just ordinary boulders; they’re the kind that makes you ponder how each one got there, adding to the beach on the valley floor’s dramatic allure. If you’re thinking of venturing into the water, though, you might want to bring water-friendly shoes.

The ocean here is not your average swimming spot. With high surf, undertow, and rip tides often present, this is no place for a leisurely swim. Only the experienced should venture in, and even then, not too deep. Pololū Valley beach and Pololū beach provide a unique experience but demand respect for their natural forces.

If the ocean’s too rough, no worries! Behind the beach are large dunes and towering ironwood trees that act as natural barriers, protecting the valley from floodwaters. It’s a perfect backdrop for that Instagram-perfect shot or a quiet moment of solitude.

With a bit of time and energy, you can wander along the trails parallel to the beach. They’re your ticket to exploring the other side of the valley and potentially hiking to the black sand in other valleys. But—and this is a big but—remember that the land further inland is privately owned and contains sacred burial sites. Don’t wander too far; respect the boundaries and the sacredness of the land.

A Cautionary Note: Unfortunately, the trail is a bit of a cliffhanger—literally. Due to a landslide during the 2006 Kiholo Bay earthquake, it’s not safe to go any further. So, while you can’t complete the full trail, you can still savor the views from your lofty perch.

Directions to Pololū Valley

Pololū Valley is situated at the northernmost tip of the Big Island, nestled in the eastern slope of the extinct Kohala Mountain. All you need to do is follow the Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270) until it ends—8 miles east of Hawi town, along the Big Island’s northern coast.

Parking: The parking at the lookout is not a sprawling lot; it’s pretty limited. So you might have to engage in a delicate ballet of turning your car around and finding a spot on the shoulder of the road, especially if you arrive in Pololu Valley early in the day.

The lush valley and green pastures, visible from the parking area, are a prelude to the stunning vistas you’ll encounter on the Valley trail.

Remember, the valley forms a deep cut in the landscape, marked by the serene Pololu stream and dotted with ironwood trees that protect the area. A hike down the Awini trail will reveal the full splendor of this location on the Island of Hawaii.


As our journey through the Pololū Valley comes to an end, we are left with more than just photographs and memories. This place, a spectacular blend of Hawaii’s raw natural beauty, has imprinted itself in our hearts.

Whether it was the stunning views from the Pololū Valley overlook, the tranquil moments spent on the black sand beach, or the exhilarating hike that challenged and rewarded us in equal measure, Pololū Valley is a testament to the island’s diverse and dynamic spirit. It stands not just as a destination, but as a reminder of the earth’s timeless beauty.