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Nestled along the eastern coastline of Hawaii’s Big Island lies the picturesque town of Hilo. With its lush rainforests, stunning waterfalls, and rich cultural history, Hilo has become a popular tourist destination for visitors seeking an authentic Hawaiian experience.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Hilo is located in Hawaii County on the Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore Hilo’s geographic location in depth, discussing everything you need to know about what county Hilo is situated in, what island it calls home, key facts and figures about Hawaii County, as well as some background on how Hawaii’s counties are organized overall.

Determining What County Hilo is Located In

Pinpointing Hilo’s Location on Hawaii’s Big Island

Hilo is located along the eastern coastline of Hawaii’s Big Island, which has the formal name of Hawaiʻi County. More specifically, Hilo serves as the largest settlement and county seat of Hawaiʻi County.

Geographically, Hilo sits on the eastern side of the island, about 200 miles southeast of Hawaii’s capital Honolulu, which resides on the island of Oʻahu.

Defining the Counties of Hawaii

The state of Hawaii consists of five counties spread across several islands. These counties include:

  • Hawaii County on the Island of Hawaiʻi (commonly called the “Big Island”)
  • Honolulu County encompassing the Island of Oʻahu
  • Kauai County on the Island of Kauai
  • Maui County spanning the islands of Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, and Kahoʻolawe
  • Kalawao County occupying the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the island of Molokaʻi

As seen on this breakdown, Hawaii County represents the Big Island, where Hilo is positioned.

Key Facts About Hawaii County

Hawaii County has these vital statistics:

  • Land Area: Approximately 4,028 square miles, which makes up 63% of Hawaii’s total landmass
  • Population: Around 200,000 residents as of 2018
  • County Seat: Hilo
  • Main Industries: Tourism, agriculture, astronomical research

Hawaii’s County Structure and Governance

Brief History of Hawaii’s County System

The current county system in Hawaii was established in 1905, when the Hawaiian Islands were still a U.S. territory. Previously, the islands were united under a single government. The county system divided the islands into 5 counties: Hawaii, Maui, Kalawao, Kauai, and Oahu.

Over time, some of those counties merged. Today, Hawaii has 4 operational counties: Hawaii County, Maui County, Kalawao County, and the consolidated City and County of Honolulu.

Unique Nature of Hawaii’s Counties

Unlike most U.S. states, Hawaii’s counties serve as both administrative subdivisions of the state government and local municipal governments. They have a mix of county and city duties and powers. This dual role gives them more responsibilities compared to typical city or county governments elsewhere in the U.S.

For example, Hawaii’s counties handle local zoning regulations and property assessments, maintain highways and municipal infrastructure, provide emergency services, administer local parks and recreation, manage waste collection/disposal, operate public transportation, oversee building permits and code compliance, and collect local taxes.

Maui County

Maui County includes four of the Hawaiian Islands: Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe. It covers about 1,159 square miles and has approximately 167,000 residents as of 2020. The county seat and largest city is Wailuku, located on the island of Maui.

Honolulu County

Honolulu County refers to the consolidated City and County of Honolulu government. It encompasses all of Oahu island, including the state’s capital and largest city, Honolulu. With 998 square miles of land area and about 350,000 people (2020 census), Honolulu County is the smallest but most populous county in Hawaii.

Kalawao County

Kalawao County occupies the tiny Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai. At just 12 square miles, it is Hawaii’s tiniest county. Kalawao County had an estimated population of 86 in 2020. It was originally established to enforce an isolation policy for hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients.

While only a few patients reside there today, the county still exists to preserve the settlement’s history.

About Hawaii County and the Island of Hawaii

Geography and Climate

The Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is the largest and southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Spanning 4,028 square miles, it accounts for over 60% of the total land area of the entire state.

The island features a diverse landscape, with volcanic peaks, lush rainforests, green pastures, black sand beaches, and more. Its tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, rises 13,796 feet above sea level.

The climate on the Big Island is generally mild and pleasant throughout the year, with average high temperatures ranging from 75°F to 85°F. However, the island has multiple microclimates depending on elevation and location. The slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea often experience winter snowfall.

Meanwhile, the eastern Hilo side sees frequent rainfall exceeding 120 inches annually! Talk about ideal weather!

Demographic Data

According to the latest census figures, Hawaii County has a population of over 200,000 residents. The population density is approximately 50 people per square mile, making it one of the least densely populated counties in the United States. However, various towns and communities dot the island.

The racial makeup of Hawaii Island is diverse, with around 31% white, 22% Asian, 9% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 2% black or African American, 1% other races, and 35% two or more races. Hispanic and Latino residents account for over 9% of the population.

Economy and Industry

The economy of Hawaii Island centers around tourism, agriculture, astronomical research, and militarily defense spending. In 2021 alone, visitors spent over $2 billion on the island, supporting its vibrant tourism scene.

Key attractions like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Waipio Valley, and more entice visitors yearly.

Agriculture also thrives on Hawaii’s fertile volcanic soil. Macadamia nuts, coffee, tropical fruits, cattle ranching, and fishing sustain local industry. Intriguingly, the Mauna Kea Observatories operated by NASA and other organizations lead global astronomy research on the island.

Additionally, the Pohakuloa Training Area serves all branches of the US military for training exercises and testing initiatives. With economic diversity and growth ahead, Hawaii County aims for continued prosperity.

Points of Interest

From natural wonders to historic sites, Hawaii Island offers boundless sights and attractions to explore. Volcanoes National Park allows you to witness active lava flows and volcanic craters from Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

Meanwhile, spectacular waterfalls like Akaka Falls and rainbow-misty Waianuenue Falls astound visitors. The Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site preserves the ruins of an important sacred Hawaiian temple as well.

No trip is complete without visiting the striking black sand beaches, rainforest trails, tropical gardens, coffee plantations, and more too! With endless sights to amuse and inspire, Hawaii Island earns its reputation as the “Big Island.”


In review, the tropical town of Hilo resides within Hawaii County on the eastern side of Hawaii Island. As part of the State of Hawaii’s unique county system, Hawaii County governs the entire Island of Hawaii, also called the Big Island, which Hilo calls home.

We explored Hilo’s geographic location in depth, discussed key facts about Hawaii County, and provided background on Hawaii’s county structure and governance. Hopefully this guide gave you a comprehensive understanding of what county Hilo, Hawaii belongs to as well as some useful context about the region overall.

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