How to get from Kona to Hilo on Hawaii’s Big Island

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There are multiple ways to get from Kona to Hilo on the Big Island, Hawaii. We’ve broken down all the transportation and driving options to help you plan your route.

Big Island Hawaii

Hilo and Kona are the two largest and most frequented cities on Hawaii’s Big Island. 

Kona, often called “Kailua-Kona” is on the dry side of the island with beaches, pristine bays, historical sites, and world-class coffee. Since the Big Island’s international airport is near Kona, this is where most visitors begin and end their trip.

Laid-back Hilo is on the windward side of the coast and is known as the “wettest city in the United States”, filled with stunning waterfalls, lush rainforests, and peaceful gardens. 

With so many exciting things to do in Kona and some seriously fun things to do in Hilo, many travelers add both to their Big Island itinerary. Since they’re only a few hours from each other, traversing from Kona to Hilo is a great way to see the highlights of Big Island.

In this guide, we’ve outlined all the different transport options to get from Kona to Hilo, main driving routes, plus stops along each route if you want to extend your drive into a fun road trip.

Kona to Hilo

Other resources for planning your trip

Be sure to download our complete packing list for Hawaii! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your Italy trip. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?

Getting a rental car

rental car in Hawaii

By far the best way to get from Kona to Hilo is by car, and having your own rental is the most convenient and flexible option. Plus, it gives you the freedom to stop and sight-see where, when, and as much as you want!

To find the best rental car on the Big Island, compare prices on Discount Hawaii Car Rental, which aggregates rates for all the major companies and displays them side-by-side. The site also allows you to filter by vehicle type.

If you’re considering this option, make sure you read our guide to renting a car in Hawaii before you book.

Can you rent a car in Kona and return it in Hilo?

Yes, but note that most companies will charge a one-way rental fee.

Kona to Hilo: Central route

Kaumana Caves Hawaii Big Island
Kaumana Caves
  • Distance: 77.4 miles
  • Driving time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

The fastest way to get from Kona to Hilo is via HI-190 and Saddle Road traveling directly through the center of Big Island.

The route passes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, reaching high altitudes and showcasing Mars-like landscapes. This area is more desolate than other routes, so it’s very straightforward with minimal stops to get out and explore.

Noteworthy stops along the central route from Kona to Hilo

  • Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary: this captivating nature preserve sits on the slopes of Hualalai Volcano. Rainbow eucalyptus trees, rescued tropical birds, and lush foliage line magical trails.
  • Mauna Kea: this dormant volcano is the largest mountain in the world with sweeping vistas of the Big Island at the summit. You can drive a 4×4 vehicle most of the way up. The peak is a 6-mile hike from the visitors center.
  • Kaumana Caves: these lava tubes were created by magma rivers centuries ago during a Mauna Loa eruption. Today, you can hike through them for a fun adventure!
  • Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack: this whimsical shop has a colorful menu using mostly local and organic ingredients. Acai and purple ube (yam) soft serve are the most popular bases for their brightly-colored toppings.

Kona to Hilo: Northern route

Akaka Falls State Park Hawai'i Island
Akaka Falls
  • Distance: 100 miles
  • Driving time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Big Island’s lush and verdant coast is on full display along the Northern Route.

From Kona, you’ll follow HI-19 up the coast through Waimea, passing forest preserves and stunning coastlines leading you to Hilo.

This route has many incredible opportunities to immerse yourself in nature as you head into the wetter side of the island. Many stops along this route are among the most popular things to do on Big Island.

Note: when putting the directions into Google Maps, it’ll automatically take you up HI-190 through the Pu’u Wa’awa’a Forest Reserve and shave off a few miles. By going this route, you’ll miss a few notable stops mentioned below, so be sure to take HI-19.

Noteworthy stops along the northern route from Kona to Hilo

  • Hot Malasadas Truck: a very popular donut shop that is cash only. They’re made fresh to order and known as some of the best malasadas on Big Island.
  • Hapuna Beach: the largest stretch of white sand on Big Island, known as one of the best beaches in the world. Pack a picnic, take a dip in the clear water, and bring your mask and fins for snorkeling.
  • Pololu Valley Lookout: gaze out at a black sand beach surrounded by lush cliff sides and hugged by cerulean waters. If you want to explore more, take the short, but steep trail down to see the beach.
  • Akaka Falls: this 442-foot waterfall is one of the most spectacular falls on Big Island. It’s easily accessed inside Akaka Falls State Park along a short trail. Entrance fee is $5 USD, parking is $10 USD.
  • Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden: one of the most beautiful places in all of Hawaii is decorated with over 1,800 species of tropical plants, including rare and exotic flora you may have never seen before.
  • Hilo Shark’s Chocolate Farm: Sample locally-grown chocolate and coffee as you tour this 100-year-old farm. Book the tour on Airbnb in advance.

Kona to Hilo: Southern route

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
  • Distance: 124 miles
  • Driving time: 2 hours, 51 minutes

This is the longest, but most scenic drive to get to Hilo from Kona.

You’ll head south along HI-11 all the way east to Hilo, cruising past sunny coastlines, numerous Forest and Nature Preserves, and a National Park. 

The scenery along this route is diverse and dramatic as lush forests turn into volcanic landscapes. This is an ideal route if you want to stretch your legs on hiking trails, visit historic sites, and take your time getting to Hilo.

Noteworthy stops along the southern route from Kona to Hilo

  • Da Poke Shack: beachside poke shack with fresh fish in a variety of different styles and sides.
  • Captain James Cook Monument: this monument is dedicated to the explorer who was the first Westerner to discover Hawaii. It’s only accessible via a 3.8-mile hike down to the coast and features one of the best snorkel spots on the Big Island.
  • Papakolea Green Sand Beach: one of only four green sand beaches in the world! Take the shuttle for $25 USD or opt to hike a little over 2 miles one way to get to the beach.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: this magma-oozing national park is home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes. Lava tubes, hiking trails, and scenic vistas showcase the park’s diverse and rugged beauty.
  • Pohoiki Bay & Hot Springs: the only accessible hot spring left on Big Island. Relax in 3 pools with perfect, hot tub-like temperatures right off the beach.

Kona to Hilo by bus

The Hele-On bus is an excellent way to get to Hilo as rides are completely free (until December 31, 2025).

It runs 7 days a week from the Kona Commons Shopping Center in Kailua-Kona to the Mo’oheau bus terminal in downtown Hilo on Route 1.

The ride is about 2.5 hours and travels on the Northern Route through Waimea.

This is the fastest and most convenient route, however you can view all the bus routes online.

Can you fly from Kona to Hilo?

traveling to Big Island Hawaii

Technically, yes you can, however there are no direct flights from Kona to Hilo.

All flights have a stopover in Honolulu, which adds considerable transit time (and seems awfully counter-productive). While flying is typically the quickest way to travel, for this route it may be best to grab a set of wheels.

Guided tours from Kona to Hilo

Punalu’u black sand beach Big Island Hawaii
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

If you’re looking for a hands-free way to get to Hilo and see the sights along the way, a guided tour is the perfect outlet. 

Whether you’re going from Hilo to Kona or vice versa, there are some exciting tours that hit all the best stops between the two, depending on your interests.

From Kona

On this Full-Day Circular Tour, you can see many of the Big Island highlights in just a day

Heading south, you’ll start your day at Bay View Farms, known since the 80s for having some of the best Kona coffee, and views over Captain James Cook Monument dotted along Kealakekua Bay.

Stop briefly at Punala’a Black Sand Beach before arriving at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for a bit of sightseeing over the dramatic landscapes. Once you’ve landed yourself in Hilo, visit a macadamia nut farm and decades old candy shop.

What you need to know:

  • Hours: 12 hours
  • Price: $309.93 USD
  • Location 

What guests are saying

“[…] The tour guide was excellent!” – GetYourGuide Traveler (April 2022)

Planning a trip to Hawaii?

We have lots of resources on travel in Hawaii and destinations around the islands. Check out our Hawaii Homepage for everything you need to know, or start by reading some of our favorite Hawaii travel articles here:

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