Hiking to Makalawena Beach on the Big Island

Makalawena Beach: A Complete Guide


The Big Island of Hawaii is a beautiful place filled with so many amazing hikes. If you’re into hiking and love adventures, then the Makalawena Beach hike is a great place to explore.

Makalawena is one of my favorite beaches because it’s secluded and quiet. It takes a long hike to get to the beach, but you’ll feel like you’re in your own private little beach cove with few tourists around!

Makalawena Beach is worth visiting if you’re planning a trip to the big island of Hawaii. This beach has everything you could want from your perfect Hawaiian beach day — clear waters and soft white sand.

Makalawena Beach in a Nutshell

Makalawena Beach is one of the best beaches to visit on the Big Island. This is a beautiful white sand beach with clear water, perfect for swimming and snorkeling. I mean, just look at the photo below for proof!

Me on the perfect white sand beach at Makalawena Beach with gorgeous blue water

Makalawena is part of the Kekaha Kai State Park, formerly known as Kona Coast State Park, located north of Kailua Kona. The park is extensive and has multiple trails that you can take.

So what is the history of Makalawena?

The history of Makalawena leads back to 1946, when the wetland area behind Makalawena was wiped out in a tsunami. In 1972, the area was then designated as a National Natural Landmark. You can visit this website to learn more about the history of Makalawena.

Kekaha Kai State Park

As mentioned before, Makalawena is part of the Kekaha Kai State Park.

This state park includes Manini’owali Beach, also known as Kua Bay to the north, Makalawena Beach in the middle, and Mahai’ula Beach to the south.

How do I get to Makalawena?

You have two options to get to Makalawena Beach: you can hike from the north or hike from the south.

Driving our Jeep rental on the dirt road with views of Lava Rocks  to get to Makalawena Beach

Option #1: Access through the Kua Bay parking lot

You can take Hwy 19, located between mile markers 88 and 89. It’s a dirt road that leads to the coast. You will need to drive to the Kua Bay parking lot and find the Pu’u Ku’ili trailhead. To get to this entrance, you’ll access via Manini’owali Beach.

Driving through lava fields to get to Makalawena

The hike to Makalawena should take about 25-35 minutes, depending on how fast you walk.

Cody hiking through beautiful lava fields to get to the beach

Option #2: Access the trail through Mahai’ula Bay

To get to the trail you will need to take highway 19, then turn towards the ocean between mile marker 90 and 91 on the road to Mahai’ula Bay.

This is the most popular way to get to the beach and the route we chose to get to Makalawena.

Parking at Makalawena Beach near lava fields at the Mahai'ula Beach parking lo

We drove to the Mahai’ula Beach parking lot. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended if you decide to use this route. However, I did see some people drive the road with normal-sized, non-4WD vehicles.

I could also see that they were struggling to drive through parts of the rough road. If I were you, I would consider renting a four-wheel drive to be on the safe side. Plus, you wouldn’t want to damage the vehicle while trying to navigate the bumpy terrain.

Makalawena Beach parking lot view

Here is a tip on how we decided to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle:

We rented a four-wheel-drive Jeep for three days and did everything that required an off-road vehicle on the Big Island. We used our Jeep to go to Waipio Valley, The Green Sand Beach, and Makalawena Beach.

while hiking to Makalawena we saw a plane fly by

After visiting all the places that required a 4×4 vehicle, we returned the Jeep and got a normal-sized vehicle to save some money.

Mahai’ula Beach is located a short walk from the parking lot. A lot of people confuse this to be Makalawena, but it’s not. You will need to hike more to get to Makalawena.

Mahaiula-Beach, the first beach on the hike to Makalawena with white sand and blue water
Mahai’ula Beach

Mahai’ula beach has restrooms available, so be sure to use them — especially if you have kids, as this is the only place where washrooms are available.

Once you get to Mahai’ula, you will see the trail to Makalawena Beach past a historic house. See below for a picture of the Magoon Beach House at Mahai’ula:

This is the red Magoon Beach House at Mahai'ula

The hike will take you through lava fields and gorgeous scenery. Depending on how fast you walk, it can take anywhere between 25-35 minutes to get there.

Be sure to pack lots of water to stay hydrated and try to pack light to save some energy as you make the trek. Also, please remember to bring reef-safe sunscreen or a rashguard and a hat as it gets super hot, especially if you start your hike in the afternoon. There’s not much tree coverage, so the direct sunlight can get pretty intense.

Makalawena Beach Hours

Makalawena Beach is open 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Be sure to give yourself enough time to return to the parking lot, as the hike can be rough when done in the dark.

If you plan to watch the sunset on the Big Island, I highly recommend watching it from Mahai’ula Beach to avoid hiking back in the dark from Makalawena.

Also, the gate at the State park closes at 7:00 PM, so you want to make sure that you’re back before the gate closes.

Hiking back to the parking lot from Makalawena right before sunset

Weather Conditions

Be sure to check the weather before embarking on this hike. You can go to this website for a forecast on the Makalwena surf/tide report.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you swim at Makalawena Beach?

Yes, the beach is excellent for swimming and snorkeling, and there’s also a calm spot that’s perfect for sunbathing or taking a nap.

The water here is so clear and the sand is super soft. This is definitely one of my favorite beaches in Hawaii!

Makalawena Beach with perfect white sand and blue waters

Are there any facilities at Makalawena?

There are no facilities or amenities at this beach. Be prepared to carry back your trash as there are no trash cans.

Please do not litter or leave anything behind that you brought with you to the beach.

What should I bring when hiking Makalawena?

When you go on a long hike, there are certain things that you should always bring. We always wear sunscreen and pack lots of water and a hat, camera, and snacks.

Remember to bring food as well, as there are no stores or restaurants around.

You also need to have proper footwear with good traction, as the trail is rough and can be challenging to hike. Trust me, you do not want to do this hike with flips flops — your feet will hate you after. Don’t be that person — be sure to bring the best hiking shoes for Hawaii.

I saw at least two people struggling in flips flops when I went there. Don’t be that person if you can avoid it, and dress for the occasion.

Can you camp at Makalawena?

No, you cannot camp at the beach, as camping here is prohibited.

How much does it cost to get into Kekaha Kai State Park?

There is no cost to hike or go to the beach, and parking here is also free.

Is there a lifeguard at Makalawena?

No, there is no lifeguard at this beach. Please be sure to take precautions at all times and know your comfort level. The water here is calm for the most part, but be sure to watch the weather.

Is Makalawena Beach stroller-friendly?

I would not recommend bringing a stroller to this location, as it can be difficult to push it over the rocky and unpaved terrain.

Why is Makalawena considered a “secret” beach?

The beach is considered a secret beach because it’s secluded, and not many people go there due to the long hike.

Technically, the beach is not a secret, as many people know about it. The only difference here is that the beach will not be as crowded as other beaches on the island.

Is Makalawena Open?

Yes, the beach is open at the time of writing this post.

To Wrap It Up

The hike to Makalawena Beach is a great way to spend the day, and we hope you enjoy it! It’s perfect if you want to spend an adventurous day playing in the water and exploring new territory. The views are unique, so bring your camera and take lots of beautiful photos.

Hiking can be a fantastic experience but don’t forget your water and sunscreen. Stay safe out there, and happy hiking!