One of the must- see attractions on Hawaii’s Big Island is Papakōlea beach. This is one of only four green sand beaches in the world and also happens to be the southernmost point in the United States. Although you have to trek almost 3 miles to get the the beach the spectacular views and once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a green sand beach are totally worth it.
Papakolea beach quick facts:
- Time needed: 2-3 hours
- Location: South Point, Big Island of Hawaii
- Best time to go: Weekdays to avoid crowd and in the morning before the sun gets too hot.
How to get to Green Sand Beach
Getting to Green Sand Beach is no easy feat. First you must drive to the southernmost tip of the United States. Then, hike about 3 miles from the parking lot to the beach area. Make sure you bring plenty of water and protect yourself from the sun with a hat and sunblock. This is a moderately difficult hike over rolling lava rock fields. If you are traveling from Kona or Hilo make sure you also stop by Punalu’u, the black sand beach about 30 minutes awa.
Take the road to ‘South Point’ between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11 (between Kona and Volcano Village), and drive about 12 miles all the way to down to the parking lot. There is a public parking lot with a few outhouses and people selling drinks and snacks. There will also be people offering rides to and from the lot to the beach. Please keep in mind that it is illegal to drive to Papakolea Beach and although it is really tempting to pay one of the drivers to bring you to the green sand it is not allowed.
Once you have parked your car follow the path down to the boat ramp and then veer left. The trail follows the coastline and is quite lovely. The hike is about 3 miles each way and will take you about an hour each way to walk. Once you get to the beach you will need to hike down a steep trail to get to the sand and water.
Can you swim at Green Sand Beach?
Yes, but use caution. The surf can be quite rough with big waves. The area to the sides of the main swimming area are very rocky so be careful not to get hurt on the rocks. Keep in mind there is no lifeguard on duty so swimming is at your own risk.
What makes the sand green?
The reason why there’re only 4 green sand beaches in the world is because it takes a special, rare type of volcanic lava eruption. During the eruption, the lava brings the green olivine crystals up to the surface. When the olivine crystals interact with the cold ocean water, they shatters into tiny pieces we call sand, thus forming this extraordinary green sand beach. This particular lava flow is from Pu’u o Mahana, an ancient cinder cone on the southwest rift of Mauna Loa Volcano. This and nearby Punalu’u Black Sand Beach are two of the most unique Hawaii beaches you will encounter anywhere.
Where are the other green sand beaches in the world?
The other green sand beaches can be found at the following locations:
- Talofofo Beach on Guam.
- Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island in the Galapagos Islands.
- Hornindalsvatnet in Norway.
Where exactly is the southernmost point in the USA?
Ka Lae, which is Hawaiian for “The Point,” is on Hawaii’s Big Island, and is as far south as you can go in the United States. It is west of the green sand beach. As you drive back the way you came, turn left at that fork you passed on the way in, just under a mile up the road. This is South Point, or Ka Lae, the southernmost point in the United States.
The Southernmost Point in Continental USA is in the Florida Keys, so it gets more traffic and attention. Ka Lae has a few random monuments, crumbling ancient ruins, scenic beauty and of course a green sand beach.
Registered as a National Historic Landmark, it is believed Ka Lae is where ancient Polynesian explorers first landed in Hawaii sometime around 400-500 A.D. Remnants of one of the earliest Hawaiian settlements are evident in the ruins of an ancient heiau (temple) near South Point, and other artifacts between here and Papakolea Beach.
Though swimming in the area is discouraged due to dangerous currents, you may see locals hurling themselves off the cliff into the crystal-clear water far below. Swimming is not recommended in this area and there is no lifeguard on duty.
Rules and laws at Papakolea Beach
No, it is illegal to remove sand, rocks or other items from the beach
No, it is illegal to drive to the beach even though there are many people who will offer you a ride in exchange for a few dollars (the going rate was about $15 each way when we inquired). There is a spray painted sign at the area where you are not allowed to cross with your rental vehicle.
Taking sand from any beach in Hawaii is punishable by fines upwards of $10,000. This includes sand from Green Sand Beach and the Black Sand Beach. Taking volcanic rock, coral and shells is also prohibited.
No, do don’t give anyone money for parking at the trailhead. If someone is asking money for parking it is a scam.
Have you ever visited a green sand beach? Tell me about it in the comments!