The Big Island of Hawaii is full of amazing beaches and great snorkeling spots. One of the best spots for snorkelers is Richardson Ocean Park, a black sand beach very close to Hilo.
But what can you expect when you visit this beach and just how good is the snorkeling?
In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know!
Table of Contents
Getting to Richardson Ocean Park
Richardson Ocean Park is very easy to get to from Hilo.
It’s only about a 10 minute drive from the city and you pretty much just follow Kalanianaole St until you arrive at the entrance. Along the way you’ll pass up other popular spots like Carlsmith Beach Park and Leleiwi Beach Park.
If you’re on the west side of the island (Kona), it’s going to be a much longer drive at about one hour and 45 minutes. (I personally would not plan a trip specifically to this beach from the other side of the island.)
There is a good sized parking lot at Richardson Ocean Park (considering the size of the beach) although lots of the parking was undergoing renovations. So when we visited there were not a whole lot of spots available.
I believe the renovations were to make the beach accessible and I think they should be finishing things up pretty soon.
The actual beach (sandy portion) of this ocean park is quite small.
You’re not gonna find a long stretch of black sand like you would at Punaluʻu Beach. Instead, it’s made up of a few very small sandy coves of black sand with lots of rocks scattered about.
There is a lifeguard stand that was not attended when we visited but I imagine that there is someone there during busier times.
You’ll also find some picnic tables and some shady areas to get a break from the sun.
When you enter, head to the right and you can continue walking to find yourself a little secluded section of beach to set up at. It’s not a particularly large area so if it’s busy there may not be many places to go. And from what I hear, this place gets pretty busy on weekends.
They also have bathroom facilities and showers here which is a huge plus.
As you pull in, you may notice natural rocky pools located close to the coast. These are spring water ponds and they may become a factor during your time in the water which I’ll explain below.
Why the sand is special at Richardson Ocean Park
One reason why I wanted to visit Richardson Ocean Park was just for the sand — but not the black sand like you might expect….
The Big Island is famous for its black sand beaches and many people are also familiar with the unique green sand beach at Papakōlea.
Visiting the green sand beach is not so easy because it requires a 6 mile round-trip hike unless you are able to hop on a truck with locals or work out some other way to get there.
But the beach at Richardson Ocean Park can give you a taste of that green sand beach because the same olivine crystals that create the green sands at Papakōlea are found here!
It’s mixed in with black sand, so it’s kind of a hybrid black/green sand beach which I thought was very cool and unique.
At first, you may struggle to see the green but continue to look around. There are some patches of sand where the green tinge is very evident, especially whenever the sun hits it right.
If you look very closely at the sand you’ll see the green crystals shimmering.
And just as a reminder, it’s illegal to take sand from this beach and from other beaches.
During our visit, a brilliant rainbow appeared in the distance which felt like the perfect send off since it was our last day on the Big Island.
Snorkeling at Richardson Ocean Park
Snorkeling is very popular here largely because of the easy access. The entry point for the beach is very close to the parking lot and the entry point into the water is about as easy as it gets.
A small rocky staircase takes you onto a tiny black sand beach where you can backpedal your way with flippers into the water.
It’s worth noting that initially I did not see this staircase and I attempted to enter at some of the other beach areas where it’s pretty rocky.
I didn’t make it very far in before I abandoned my efforts because it was just too difficult to gauge what was underneath the waves.
Speaking of underneath the water…
Here’s what the actual snorkeling experience was like.
I mentioned some of the fresh water pools above. If you know anything about fresh spring water you know that it’s colder than the ocean. Much colder. While snorkeling, don’t be surprised to get hit with streams of cold spring water.
I went snorkeling here just shortly after sunrise so the sun was not quite out and those shots of spring water made it pretty chilly for me.
Had it been a little bit warmer outside or had the sun been out, it probably would’ve felt a lot better. So if you’re not a cold water person just be prepared for the cooler temps. They will certainly wake you up!
As far as the visibility and marine life, it wasn’t the most impressive during my snorkeling session. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed snorkeling but there was definitely a fair amount of sediment in the water. The sun being low on the horizon probably didn’t help much either.
And while I did see a decent array of fish, it wasn’t on par with something like Makalwena Beach. Interestingly, if you get lucky you might be able to see Monk Seals and turtles as they are known to make appearances.
One thing that I did think was really cool to see were the underwater mini black sand dunes. I was pretty new to black sand beaches and definitely new to seeing something like that.
The beach here is reportedly known for having a weak or nonexistent current but when I was snorkeling the surge and/or current were noticeable.
I remember a couple of times kicking pretty hard and not going anywhere. It wasn’t a big deal and I never felt unsafe but if you’re expecting perfectly calm water, it’s not quite always that calm.
Richardson Ocean Park is a special beach worth the visit for a few reasons.
First, I just loved the easy access into the water. So many snorkeling spots can be tricky and potentially scrape you up pretty good but at Richardson Ocean Park, getting in and out of the water with all of your snorkeling gear on could not be easier.
The sand here, while limited in real estate, was beautiful and that mixture of green and black was a unique site — perfect for anyone who is not able to make it to the green sand beach.
I thought the actual snorkeling was fun but the the visibility and wildlife diversity were not as good as some of the other beaches we visited, although to be fair those were located on the other side of the island.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.