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How Far is Kona To Hilo? | 3 Routes

a satellite image of the big island of hawaii with a line drawn between kona and hilo

How Far is Kona to Hilo? | Roadtrip Options

If you could fly over a flat map it’s about 56 miles (91 km) from downtown Kona to Downtown Hilo. This, however, is not possible with 2 massive 13,000 foot tall mountains looming between the 2 cities. So whether by air or by car, it’s a bit of an undertaking. The Big island is essentially one large diamond with roads running along the perimeter (coasts) and a road cutting through the middle. This provides 3 options to travel between Kona and Hilo by car.


There are 3 Ways from Kona to Hilo by Road

Middle Route (Fastest)

Northern route (Most Scenic)

Southern Route (Longest)


Option 1 The Middle Route – The Fast Way Through the Middle

The fastest way to Hilo from Kona or Kona to Hilo is the Saddle Road route. If there’s no traffic it will take approximately one and a half hours to to drive from downtown Kona to downtown Hilo without traffic. This is a great way to go if you don’t intend to stop for food and you just want to get there. Another interesting feature in this drive is the route takes you between Mauna Kea (the world’s largest mountain) and Mauna Loa (The world’s largest volcano). This is called the saddle and it brings you up to an altitude of 6,632 ft (2021 meters). So while you’re saving time you’ll definitely be doing a big climb to get from one city to another.

Looking to make a road trip out of it? Consider taking the northern route or the southern route below and add a stop or two to make things more interesting and that long drive worthwhile. If you’re visiting this is the perfect way to integrate some sightseeing into your travel.


Main Points of Interest (from Kona to Hilo)

Cupcake Mountain (Pu’uwa’awa’a)

Pu’uwa’awa’a (Poo-oo-va-a-va-a) or Cupcake Mountain is a great stopping off point for a restroom break and a nice hike. If you time it right it’s possible to see all four mountain tops on the island. This is usually in January or February when the wind blows that clouds away.

The hike is about 7 miles round trip and climbs 2000 feet (700 meters) so it’s a good workout. You may find heards of sheep and some cows along the way. The bighorn sheep (Muflon) will often hang out on top of the Pu’u. If you’re quite enough you may be able to get close to them.

woman on a mountain bike posing awkwardly on a grassy hill with yellow dead grassy view in the background and clouds on mountains behind

Mauna Kea rest Stop with Playground

A good stop near the halfway point between Kona and Hilo. Has restrooms and is perfect for kids (and adults) to get some energy out before hitting the road.

a playground with grassy floor and a mountain behind



Mauna Kea Visitor Center and Summit

Located at 9000 elevation. The visitor center is a required stop before heading up to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. Mauna Kea is 13,803 feet above sea level and 33,484 feet from the base to the top. If you time it right you can hit the sunset which is epic. Bring warm clothes and an all wheel drive vehicle.



Kaumana Caves

There are 2 caves heading opposite directions. You can hike for miles through these ancient lava tubes but pants, hats, lights, and water are necessary for this endeavor.

inside a lava tube cave looking out towards the entrance with a few people standing near the entrance


Option 2 The Northern Route

This is often the wettest route with the valleys and Hamakua coast often experiencing rain. The benefit of the rain is the northern route is the greenest and the best way to see waterfalls. It also allows you to stop over in the city of Waimea which is so culturally and climatically different from other parts of the island.

Major Points of Interest (from Kona to Hilo)

Cupcake Mountain (Pu’uwa’awa’a)

Pu’uwa’awa’a (Poo-oo-va-a-va-a) or Cupcake Mountain is a great stopping off point for a restroom break and a nice hike. If you time it right it’s possible to see all four mountain tops on the island. This is usually in January or February when the wind blows that clouds away.

a view of a large mountain in the background


Home to America’s 10th largest ranch, this cow town feels different from the rest of the island. With a cooler wetter climate and some great little restaurants and shops Waimea is worth a visit on its own. It also has a great playground for the Keiki (kids).

Tex’s Drive In

A drive through that sells malasadas with various fillings. Malasadas are pillow shaped doughnuts covered in granulated sugar.

Waipio Valley Lookout

Waipio Valley is an impressively large and lush valley filled with taro (Kalo in Hawaiian) farms, streams, waterfalls, and wild horses. There’s a black sand beach at the bottom and some fun off-roading through streams.

a view of a lush valley opening into the ocean and people looking out


Laupahoehoe Beach Park

A little flat of land at the bottom of Hamakua coastal cliffs that was flattened by a tsunami. There’s a stream and some rocky coastline. Good for its dramatic scenery and relaxing park-like atmosphere.

a man sitting on a rock


Akaka Falls

A very popular tourist stopping off point. It’s a quick detour and a short walk to the falls which is one of the talles and most easily viewed in Hawaii.



Umauma Zipline Experience

One of our favorite ziplines. Imagine flying thousands of feet through the air over such tropical waterfalls and rivers with a buddy next to you. Great for the whole family we like the Zip-n-dip because of the lunch and paddle board after is a nice way to wind down and cool off.




Option 3 Southern Route – The Long Way Round

The southern route to Hilo from Kona is possibly the most unique in all of Hawaii and depending on geological activity it can also be the most exciting. It can take around 3 hours (without stopping) to get from Kona to Hilo or visa versa. It also requires driving a narrow road up near Kona that occasionally can have closures with no alternate route. But if you want to see lava, this is the only and best way. Volcanoes National Park is one of the big highlights here with the Kilauea caldera sometimes actively making an impressive lava show.

Another worthwhile stopover is South Point and its neighboring green sand beach. This is the southern most part of the United States and has a great view with a jump into the ocean. With other points of interest along the way including Volcano Winery and more there’s good reason to head south when considering your route to Hilo.

Major Points of Interest (from Kona to Hilo)

Captain Cook Monument

A dramatic cliff encompasses the northern end of this Historical site and one of Hawaii’s best snorkeling spots.



a boat sits in the calm ocean water just off shore from a white obelisk nestled among some trees with a cliff behind

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (City of Refuge)

Also known as two step because of the easy entry. The historical park nearby coupled with the excellent snorkeling make for a good stop if you want some adventure along the way to Hilo.

South Point

The southern most point of the United States south point is also a dramatic cliff overlooking the ocean. Often windy here its a good spot to jump in the water and even visit the nearby green sand beach for those looking for a bit of off-road adventure and a rare sight.

Green Sands Beach

While it’s a bit off the beaten path it’s a fun little beach to see up close. The sand is green because of the olivine crystals created by the lava and crushed up into tiny sand.

Punalu’u Beach

A black sand beach located near the highway. It’s a great quick stopping off (restroom) point and is a good place to see turtles.

Volcano Winery

A little stopping off point. While there isn’t a great deal to see on property other than the tasting room this is a unique opportunity to sample something different and offers a nice break from the road.

Volcanoes National Park

Home to Kilauea volcano one of the few active volcanos that can be seen up close. The lava may or may not be flowing at this time but the craters are still worth a look or a hike. You can also get a meal or a drink at the Volcano House Lodge with an overlook of the caldera.

a woman sitting in a rocking chair in warm clothing holding a book. A lava rock fireplace in the background and a pile of wood. A table sits next to the woman with martinis on it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any other routes between Kona & Hilo?

If you’re driving, there is no other way to get to Hilo than the 3 routes described above. The only other practical way to travel between Kona and Hilo is by air.


Which route from Kona to Hilo is best for scenery?

The northern route has the best scenery on the drive itself and the southern route has the most unique scenery in the world if you have time to get out of the car for a while.

On the northern route  you will drive in the saddle of the island which has mountains and coastal views as well as a coastal view and lush greenery as you drive along the Hamakua coast on the north of the island. There is also a great short detour along Sugar cane Road just before arriving in Hilo with a waterfall, botanical gardens and a nice hike down to the water via Onomea Bay Trail.

a google maps aerial view of a route along the lush coastline of the big island

click the picture to view this route in google maps

As for the most unique scenery the southern route has some amazing snorkeling as well as the epic Volcanoes Park which is home to some of the best lava and volcanic crater hikes available in the world.

a group of people walking down a dirt road

Kilaua Iki hike in Volcanos National Park is one of the most accessible and dramatic hikes in the park.


Why would you drive to Hilo from Kona or from Kona to Hilo?

Hilo has beach parks, botanical gardens, restaurants, an amazing zipline experience and a unique feel that is different from Kona’s dry lava landscape. Conversely, Kona has sunny weather, warmer water, and gorgeous reefs as well as amazing snorkel tours like the manta ray night snorkel and the Captain Cook Snorkeling Tour.