Banyan trees at Rainbow Falls

10 Amazing Things To Do In Hilo Hawaii Free In 2024

Looking for exciting free things to do in Hilo without spending a penny on activities? This is the article for you. 

Hilo is a charming little town on the east side of the Big Island that has lush rainforests, waterfalls, and a beautiful coastline.

If you’re someone like me who prefers spending money on delicious Hawaiian food, Hilo offers an abundance of natural attractions to visit for free. 

To help you spend time on the Big Island while staying within budget, I’ve put together this list of 10 free things to do around Hilo.

From snorkeling to chasing waterfalls, there’s something on this list for everyone. 

Here are ten free things to do in Hilo Hawaii. 

Things to do in Hilo Hawaii for free

1. Visit Rainbow Falls 

Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii
Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii

Rainbow Falls is a must see picturesque 80 foot waterfall located not far from Hilo Bay.

It’s completely free to visit, and if you arrive early in the morning you’ll have a good chance of seeing the rainbow underneath the fall.

The main viewpoint of the waterfall is right by the parking lot, and you can continue walking to see magnificent ancient banyan trees. 

2-198 Rainbow Dr, Hilo, HI 96720. Open daily 8am-5pm. Free parking.

2. Visit Panaewa Rainforest Zoo

Emu at Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, Hilo Hawaii
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, Hilo Hawaii

The Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is an amazing nonprofit zoo without entrance fees located just outside of Hilo.

Tiger laying at Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, Hilo Hawaii
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, Hilo Hawaii

The zoo’s situated in the middle of the rainforest, and it homes everything from white tigers to spider monkeys and lemurs!

Visiting the zoo was one of the highlights of my trip, and they have a great gift shop where you can leave a donation to support the zoo. 

800 Stainback Hwy, Hilo, HI 96720. Open 10am–4pm daily. Free parking and no entrance fees.

3. Snorkel At Carlsmith Beach Park

Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii
Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii

The Carlsmith Beach Park is an amazing family-friendly lagoon just east of downtown Hilo. If you want to go snorkeling in Hilo, this is the place to go.

The park has restrooms, picnic areas, and a protected cove for snorkeling.

It had some of the clearest waters I’ve seen in Hilo when I visited, and I got to spot two sea turtles.

Just remember to bring water shoes when visiting, since the shoreline has sharp lava rocks. 

Other good beach parks not far from Hilo are Onekahaha Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Park.

4. Have A Picnic On Coconut Island

Coconut Island, Hilo Hawaii
Coconut Island, Hilo Bay

Located in the heart of Hilo Bay, Coconut Island is a tiny island connected to the land by a bridge.

The island has restrooms, picnic tables, and an area for swimming.

This is a popular place for locals to swim, and it’s the perfect place to stop by for a family picnic. When I visited, I saw many local kids diving off the lava tower into the ocean.

It’s also adjacent to the Liliuokalani Gardens and nearby many restaurants in downtown Hilo. 

77 Keliipio Pl, Hilo HI 96720. Free parking.

5. Visit Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii

Just north of Hilo, Akaka Falls is a spectacular 442 foot waterfall. It’s a 25 minute scenic drive from Hilo along the Hamakua coast.

It’s not entirely free since there is a $5 entrance fee for nonresidents, and $10 parking fee at the main lot.

You can find free street parking on the road leading up to Akaka falls, but the entrance fee is still required for nonresidents.

That being said, visiting Akaka falls was well worth it in my opinion.

Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii

It’s a short 0.4 mile hike to the waterfall through a lush jungle, and it’s even more beautiful than the pictures do it justice in person!

Hawaii 96728. Open 8:30am–5pm. Entrance fee of $5 per nonresident, $10/hr parking in the main lot. Free street parking along the road before the state park entrance.

6. Explore The Kaumana Caves

Located off of Saddle Road, the Kaumana Caves is a lava tube cave formed from a Mauna Loa eruption from 1881!

It’s part of a 25 mile lava tube, and you can explore up to 2 miles of the cave. It’s completely free to visit, and there’s free street parking off of Saddle Road.

The cave is large, dark, and you’ll want to bring a flashlight and comfortable hiking shoes when visiting. 

I wasn’t able to visit the cave during my trip since it recently reopened to the public, but I was able to visit the Thurston Lava tube in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Thurston Lava Tube

However, I’ve heard the Kaumana Caves are even larger than the Thurston lava tube so I plan on returning!

1492 Kaumana Dr, Hilo, HI 96720. Open 8am-8pm. Free street parking.

7. Stroll Around Liliuokalani Gardens

Liliʻuokalani Gardens, Hilo Hawaii
Liliʻuokalani Gardens

Situated right next to Coconut Island, the Liliuokalani Gardens is a beautiful park with fishponds, arched bridges, statues, Japanese lanterns, and banyan trees.

The park’s right by the ocean so you’ll have an amazing view of the harbor as you walk around.

I enjoyed strolling around the gardens after breakfast, and it’s within walking distance to Hilo Bay Cafe and the Suisan Fish Market (a great poke spot). 

189 Lihiwai St #151, Hilo, HI 96720. Open daily 5:45am-7:30pm. Free parking lot.

8. Shop At The Hilo Farmers Market

The Hilo Farmers Market is a great local farmer’s market located in the heart of Hilo Bay.

It’s open seven days a week from 7am–3pm, and there’s vendors selling local produce, jewelry, and crafts.

I got fresh coconut water for $3, and saw a bunch of interesting tropical fruits like mangosteen and breadfruit!

The prices for the fruits and veggies were are all reasonable so it’s well worth stopping by at least once. 

57 Mamo St, Hilo, HI 96720. Open daily 9am-5pm.

9. Explore Tide Pools At Richardson Ocean Park

Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo Hawaii
Richardson Ocean Park

Just a mile east of Carlsmith Beach Park, Richardson Ocean Park is another great family friendly beach park.

It has a black sand beach, tide pools, picnic areas, restrooms, and benches overlooking the ocean.

There were only a few other people at the park when I visited, and I saw dozens of sea turtles! 

2355 Kalanianaole St, Hilo, HI 96720. Open 7:30am-7:30pm. Free parking.

10. Stop by The Mokupāpapa Discovery Center

Located right by the water in Hilo Bay, The Mokupāpapa Discovery Center is a nice educational museum on the history and science of the Hawaiian islands.

It’s free to visit, and has a saltwater aquarium and interactive exhibits.

This is a great place to bring kids, and it’s open Tuesday through Saturdays from 9am to 4pm. 

76 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for cheap things to do on the Big Island, staying in Hilo is an incredible choice.

Waterfalls, beach parks with turtles, a lava tube and nonprofit zoo, Hilo has no shortage of exciting places to visit. 

I stayed in Hilo for the majority of my trip, because of its close proximity to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and beautiful natural attractions along Hamakua coast. 

For more ideas on what to do while in Hilo, be sure to check out our list of unique things to do in Hilo

Related articles you may be interested in: