Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hike

by Amy Anne

The Papakolea Green Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of only four green sand beaches in the world! The trail to the beach is about 2.7 miles long and takes approximately 2-3 hours round trip. The hike is from the parking lot, to the green sand beach, and back. The trail is completely exposed, but follows the beautiful Hawaiian coastline the entire way!

The Deets

Location: Naalehu, HI
: Medium
Distance: 5.4mi (round trip)
Exposure: Exposed
Bikes Allowed: Yes
Dog Friendly:
Yes, but they’ll get hot


Parking: Free dirt parking lots
Yes – Portable at the parking
Doggie Bags:
Drinking Water:


From Highway 11 turn south onto South Point Rd. The road twists and turns through small towns and farmland for about 10 miles. When you near the end of the island, the road forks. Stay left and continue on South Point Rd until you dead end at a dirt parking lot. You can park here and hike down the hill to the trail. If you have an SUV, truck, or off-road vehicle that can handle the rough terrain, you can park further down the paved path at the boat ramp.

Papakolea Beach Trail Map

The main parking lot is inland about a quarter of a mile, just north of the Kaulana Boat Ramp. If you have an SUV or off-road vehicle, you can drive down to the boat ramp, where there is additional parking. The trail follows the coast for approximately 2.7 miles, where you reach the green sand beach. The trail is clearly marked and heavily trafficked. 

Get Off the Main Road

If you take the main trail, you will be moving aside for trucks, SUVs, dirt bikes, and other traffic. As you can see from the satellite image above, there are numerous other trails closer to the shore with far less traffic. Plus you’re closer to the ocean!

Trail is Entirely Exposed

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hike - Entirely Exposed

The trail is deceiving because most of the time you are walking along the coast and the cool ocean breeze keeps you from overheating. But, for all intents and purposes, this is a desert hike. Even if you feel cool, you can overheat and dehydrate. There is no shade for the entire hike and when you reach the green sand beach, you are still out in the sun. The terrain is loose dirt and loose lava rocks, wear good shoes and watch your step!

Here are a few tips to properly prepare you for this hike:

  • Consider sun shade such as a hat or umbrella.
  • Wear high strength sunblock and reapply as directed.
  • Use sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Plant Life Along the Trail

Papakolea Beach - Desert Plants

The entire hike is across lava fields and open plains. As a result, there isn’t much plant life. If you are expecting tropical flowers and lush forest, you won’t find it here. However, there are some very interesting succulents and other ground cover along the way.

Green Sand Beach Color

Green Sand Beach Color - Olivine Crystals

Don’t be fooled by some of the photos online. If you’re expecting an emerald green Hawaiian beach, you will be disappointed. The Papakolea green sand beach is an “olivine beach.” It gets its color from the olivine crystals of nearby soil. As the rain and ocean surf erode the surrounding land, the beach accumulates these green particles that mix with the rest of the sand, making it more green than nearly anywhere else on the planet. The sand itself is composed of many different colors from the soil and surrounding lava.

Beware of Scams: Green Sand Beach Shuttle

Green Sand Beach Shuttle

There is no “shuttle” to take you to the beach. If anyone tells you must ride a shuttle to get to the beach, it’s a scam. However, there are locals waiting in the parking lot willing to give you a ride in their pickup truck or SUV for a price. Ride at your own risk! Most of the vehicles do not have seating, seat belts, or proper handles. You’re essentially standing in the truck bed holding on to whatever’s available. I highly recommend you hike instead of take ride!

  • You CAN access the beach without a shuttle.
  • You DO NOT need to pay to access the beach.
  •  You CAN access the beach with your own vehicle.

Cliff Jumping at Nearby South Point

The nearby South Point is the furthest southern location in the United States. The high cliffs have amazing views and a great spot for cliff jumping! 

Don't Want to Bum You Out, But...

These are some things to consider when going on this hike. In no way should these things prevent you from going, I just wanted you let you know!

  • Be aware of scams where locals insist you need to pay or use a shuttle to get to the beach.
  • The trail is heavily trafficked. If you follow the main trail you will be sharing the trail/road with vehicles.
  • Trail can get very hot as there is no shade.

Additional Links

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3 Amazing Days on Big Island of Hawaii – Always Amy Anne April 11, 2021 - 8:42 pm

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