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Soak in the Natural Splendor of Waipio Valley on Hawaii’s Big Island

While hordes of tourists descend on the Grand Canyon this summer, pack your bags instead for Waipio Valley, the Big Island’s tropical version of Arizona’s famous gorge. Known locally as the Valley of the Kings, it has amazing views, outdoor adventure, and fun diversions without the soaring desert temperatures.

Your first glimpse of this spectacular scenery is from Waipio Valley Lookout, 50 miles northwest of Hilo. Experienced hikers can explore on their own, taking provisions (and local advice) before following the steep road 1,000 feet to the valley below. As you walk through the rainforest past 2,000-foot cliffs, look out for towering waterfalls, exotic flowers, fruit trees, and herds of wild horses.

Or opt for a guided tour. Hiking, horseback riding, mule-drawn wagon tours, and ATV tours explore different sites, like the dramatic 1,400-foot Hi’ilawe Falls. Some go as far as the wild black sand beach at the end of the valley, a favorite of surfers. Every tour includes enthusiastic guides who recount the history of the valley, including stories of the great King Kamehameha. They’ll also point out where ancient villages and heiaus (temples) once stood.

Interesting side trips include Waipio Art Gallery, featuring local art made from Koa wood, and lunch at the Tex Drive-in, also an unofficial visitor’s center. Here, the island’s best malasadas are served along with generous plate lunches. Or take a scenic 45-minute drive for a tour and tasting at an organic coffee farm.

For more planning tips, go to the Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau website.

Read more of the 50 Affordable Stateside Escapes.

Have a recommendation for Hawaii’s Waipio Valley, or another great getaway in Hawaii? Post your comment below.

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