Are you eager to go chasing waterfalls on your Hawaii adventure? The Big Island of Hawaii is a fantastic place to get started, thanks to its lush and varied landscapes and environmental facets that work together to create the perfect conditions for massive Big Island waterfalls.
In fact, there are so many waterfalls on the Big Island that the most appropriate question isn’t where can I see waterfalls on Big Island, but rather which are the very best Hawaii Big Island waterfalls to see and experience. That’s the question the following complete guide to the best waterfalls Big Island will answer.
Your Complete Guide to the Best Big Island Waterfalls
Akaka Falls (and bonus Kahuna Falls)
Akaka Falls is a spectacularly tall waterfall that hurls down an incredible 422 feet down a mountain face. The height and sheer beauty of its surroundings make Akaka Falls one of the most visited waterfalls on Big Island, but it will take a bit of effort to see them.
This Big Island waterfall is located within the Akaka Falls State Park, which requires both an entrance fee per individual and a parking fee per vehicle. Once you’ve paid and parked, it is a short 0.4-mile hike to the Akaka Falls overlooks. Take your time, though as this easy trail traverses some beautiful tropical terrain and includes sweeping landscapes, including extended views of the massive Akaka Falls.
This trail, known formally as the Akaka Falls Loop trail, also features a small overlook point where it is possible to see the second waterfall. Called Kahuna Falls, this second falls is best visible after a rainstorm, when tons of water is gushing from it as a massive cliff partially obstructs it from view.
Unfortunately, there is no swimming within Akaka Falls State Park.
Hi’ilawe Falls is another waterfall that you cannot swim at, but its incredible beauty deserves serious appreciation. Hi’ilawe Falls is up on the top of the list for tallest waterfalls in the state of Hawaii, with its cumulative water drop of 1450 feet. The waters come crashing down from so far up a cliff that it can feel impossible to point out the crest when standing at the base and looking up. Looking across or down this waterfall feels like looking down a massive rock tunnel. Arguably the best way to see the towering Hi’ilawe Falls is via a helicopter tour that will take you soaring across Waipio Valley.
Not sure you want to dole out the money for a bird’s-eye view? Well, unfortunately, as of this publishing, this is the only feasible way to experience this magnificent Big Island waterfall as the private roads that head into the valley are too steep and narrow for anything but local traffic. Some people opt to park at Waipio Valley Lookout and hike down the road but be prepared for a very, very steep climb back.
Kaluahine Falls is also located within the Waipio Valley, but it is not always visible. This magnificent waterfall flows directly into the ocean just north of Waipio Valley, but only does so after heavy rains. We love the beauty of the white crashing waters of the waterfall, meeting with the white surf likewise smashing into the black lava rocks. It’s unfortunate that Kaluahine Falls is only visible during specific rain conditions, but one might argue such rarity adds to its beauty.
You can view Kaluahine Falls in two ways. The first is, of course, by sea. Taking a Big Island snorkeling, diving, or similar private boat experience in North Hawaii offers the opportunity to view the beauty of these waterfalls from afar. Alternatively, you can make your way to Waipio Black Sand Beach, walk all the way to the eastern corner of that beach, continue just over the coastal boulders, and shortly you will see Kaluahine Falls.
Pe’e Pe’e Falls (and fascinating Boiling Pots)
Pe’e Pe’e Falls features a set of three distinct waterfalls, the tallest of which crashes down 80 feet over black and brown rocks and within a lush tropical backdrop. The plunge pool beneath Pe’e Pe’e Falls is a popular swim spot, although it is incredibly important to be cautious of your surroundings if you venture in as there are no posted lifeguards. There isn’t even a park ranger posted here.
To reach Pe’e Pe’e Falls, first, you will want to drive towards the parking lot for Boiling Pots, which is located just west of downtown Hilo. Boiling Pots is the name given to a succession of big pools with bubbling and rolling waters that give the appearance of boiling (hence the name). From here, it is just a short upriver hike along the Wailuku River to reach Pe’e Pe’e Falls.
Rainbow Falls is located less than two miles east of Pe’e Pe’e Falls and Boiling Pots. This is a 100-foot wide, 80-foot tall cascade of water that crashes over a lava cave that legends says is the home to the Hawaiian goddess of the moon. Its name is due to the brilliant rainbows viewable whenever one stands looking at them with their back to the sun. The best time to visit this waterfall is early on a sunny morning when the morning mists and early sun rays create the optimum rainbow-making conditions.
This beautiful Big Island waterfall lies within the Wailuku River State Park, but don’t let that state park title fool you. Entrance to view the falls and enjoy a short hike around the park is free, and you can visit anytime between sunrise and sunset. You’ll find a parking lot for the park located just off Rainbow Drive and a lower viewing platform just a few steps away from it.
Want a more overarching view? Take the short hiking trail just left of the parking lot to climb along the falls’ shoulder and beneath some massive banyan trees. This hiking trail leads to a viewing platform higher than the falls themselves, offering outstanding vistas of the plunging waters and surrounding vegetation.
Wai’ale Falls is not among the tallest or widest waterfalls Big Island has to offer, but they are still spectacular in their own way. Plus, this Big Island waterfall is quite swim-friendly, making it a great place to go for those who want a different type of waterfall experience.
This waterfall is another one located near Hilo; just head west out of town along Waianuenue Avenue, and you will find a bridge with a pull-out area for Wai’ale Falls. Access to the waterfalls is free and requires going down a short 0.6-mile trail. That trail opens up to a plunge pool beneath cliffs curved around like a horseshoe. The Wai’ale Falls cascade down in two distinct falls, one wider than the other, at the furthest point of the horseshoe.
Note, however, that while chances are high there will be other people swimming and enjoying the beauty of these falls when you go, there are no lifeguards here, and so this is very much a swim-at-your-own-risk situation.
Uma Uma Falls
Uma Uma Falls is a three-tier waterfall located just northwest of Hakalau and close to the coast. It gets described as three-tier because from above, looking down at this series of waterfalls very much feels like looking down on a three-tiered cake with three distinct levels. Each level has its own plunge pool where water slowly streams down across lava rocks until hitting an edge where it crashes down again as a waterfall into the layer below. Bordering the three layers of the Uma Uma Falls on both sides is the verdant rainforest of coastal Hawaii.
This Big Island waterfall is owned by a private company, but don’t let that dissuade you. Opting for what the company calls the UmaUma Experience includes a self-guided tour of the waterfalls and their botanical gardens for $12. Or you can opt to experience this waterfall in a more unique way by checking out this outfitter company’s zip lining tours. Via their zip lines, you can fly across as many as nine unique zip lines, several of which cut right in front of the Uma Uma waterfalls. This tour outfitter even includes a kayaking and swimming adventure in the river flowing from this series of waterfalls.
Learn More About the Big Island & its Best Attractions
Enjoying the sheer magnitude of Hawaiian waterfalls and their unique beauty amidst the lush, green rainforests is certainly a fantastic way to spend an afternoon on the Big Island (especially when you can jump in and enjoy the waters first-hand) but your outdoor adventures don’t have to stop there. The Big Island of Hawaii is a place full of exciting outdoor adventure possibilities amidst some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. From midnight swims with manta rays to morning hikes along a lava-shaped coastline, the Big Island has so much to offer the outdoors’ lover. Learn more about all the Big Island of Hawaii and its many attractions by visiting our other pages, and get started planning your dream vacation to the islands today!