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10 beautiful waterfall hikes in Hawai‘i

‘Akaka falls in Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii. ‘Akaka falls in Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii. | Fominayaphoto/stock.adobe.com

Hawai‘i boasts more than a hundred waterfalls, some of them famous landmarks, others known mostly by kama‘āina only. The arrival of spring, at the end of the rainy season, is a great time to experience these natural wonders at their most potent. Here are 10 of the best waterfall hikes on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island.

O‘ahu

1. Mānoa Falls Trail

Round-trip: 1.7 miles
Level:
Easy

Manoa Falls Trail

Photo by epgamiao/stock.adobe.com

One of the most well-trod trails on O‘ahu, the Mānoa Falls Trail reopened in June 2021 following a 2-year closure. In that time, trail improvements were made, including graveled, widened paths and rockfall-mitigation fences. Visitors walk through an open shipping cargo container and later emerge into a lush, picture-perfect valley. You’ll head up a gradual slope past bamboo forests, banyan trees, and giant ferns to a 150-foot waterfall. The stream width depends on recent rainfall. TV and movie buffs might recognize the iconic waterfall from movies such as Jurassic Park and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and TV shows like Lost and Hawaii 5-0.

If you go: $5 parking at the Paradise Park lot, which is open 8 a.m.–6 p.m.

Read more: Hawai‘i book & film locations that reflect Island life

2. Waimea Valley

Round-trip: 2 miles
Level: 
Easy

Waimea Valley

Photo by Kelly Headrick/Alamy Stock Photo

Located on the North Shore, the trail at Waimea Valley is a family-friendly trek to a cascading, rain-fed, 45-foot waterfall and a 30-foot-deep swimming hole. Stroll along the wide, paved path that winds through the botanical gardens and historical sites, including an AD 1470 heiau and pōhaku (stone) shrines dedicated to the fishing god Kū‘ula. Swimming might be allowed, depending on the waterfall conditions (check before visiting by calling 808-638-7766). Life vests are required.

If you go: If swimming isn’t allowed when you visit, you can return to Waimea Valley at no additional cost within 10 days of your admission receipt. Open 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Adults, $20; kama‘āina, $10.

Read more: 5 kid-friendly hikes on O‘ahu

3. Waimano Falls Trail

Round-trip: 2.9 miles
Level: 
Hard

Waimano Falls Trail

Photo by Zoltan Csipke/Alamy Stock Photo

Hit the trail to this waterfall with a bathing suit and towel. Located near Pearl City, the trail starts off relatively easy, with a wide, even path that wraps around the summit and offers expansive views of the ‘Ewa Forest Reserve. The track eventually narrows into a challenging, steep, downhill section, with rope guides for some of the sharper drops. The payoff for weary hikers is a tiered waterfall that flows into 3 inviting pools.

If you go: If you want to swim in a full pool, plan your hike for a day after a rain.

Kaua‘i

4. Waipo‘o Falls via Pu‘u Hinahina

Round-trip: 2.8 miles
Level: 
Moderate

Waipoo Falls

Photo by Edmund Lowe/stock.adobe.com

Even before you begin this hike, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Waimea Canyon (also called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific) from the Waimea Canyon Lookout. A dramatic 800-foot waterfall is visible in the distance. But don’t let the epic appetizer dissuade you from taking the hike itself. After stopping at the overlook, drive about 3.5 miles north to the trailhead at the Pu‘u Hinahina Lookout, which connects a new half-mile Spur Trail to the Canyon Trail. The hike takes you through a tree-shrouded rain forest, passing by a couple of smaller waterfalls, before leading you to the top of Waipo‘o Falls.

If you go: Park at the Pu‘u Hinahina lot. Parking, $10; entrance fee, $5 (credit card only).

5. Uluwehi Falls via Wailua River

Round-trip: 6 miles
Level: 
Moderate

Uluwehi Falls via Wailua River

Photo by Jacqueline Massara/Alamy Stock Photo

This 2-in-1 adventure includes kayaking and hiking to reach the 100-foot Uluwehi Falls, known by kamaʻāina as the “secret falls.” Kayak Kaua‘i and Outfitters Kauai offer guided tours (adults, approximately $110). You’ll paddle upstream along the usually calm Wailua River for about 2 miles, passing Kamokila Hawaiian Village, a re-creation of a traditional Hawaiian village, to a fork in the river. You’ll then veer right at the fork and paddle along the river, flanked by lush vegetation, for 5 to 10 minutes, before reaching a bank where you can park your kayak. The roughly 0.75-mile trail crosses a typically shallow section of North Fork Wailua River and passes through the dense jungle toward a wooden walkway. Climb the short, steep embankment before arriving at the towering waterfall.

If you go: For a shorter guided journey to the Uluwehi Falls, you can rent a canoe from Kamokila Hawaiian Village (entrance fee, $5; outrigger canoe rides to the waterfall, $35).

Maui

6. Waimoku Falls via Pipiwai Trail

Round-trip: 3.8 miles
Level: 
Easy

Waimoku Falls via Pipiwai Trail

Photo by CheriAlguire/stock.adobe.com

Located within Haleakalā National Park, Waimoku Falls—one of Maui’s tallest—is a must-stop along the road to Hāna. The Pipiwai Trail features 4 highlights: a majestic banyan tree, a bridge overlooking a smaller waterfall, a boardwalk through an enchanting bamboo forest, and, of course, the captivating 400-foot waterfall. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow.

If you go: $30 per vehicle, or $15 if you’re on foot. The Haleakalā National Park entry fee is good for 3 days.

7. Pua‘a Ka‘a Falls Trail

Round-trip: 0.4 miles
Level:
Easy

Pua'a Ka'a Falls

Photo by Billy McDonald/stock.adobe.com

Near mile marker 22.5 on the road to Hāna, you’ll find a quiet park with a refreshing oasis: a pair of 25-foot waterfalls. A paved trail takes you to the first waterfall, which is visible from the road, and leads to a stream and the second waterfall. The 5-acre park is a great place to have a picnic lunch with views of the waterfalls (swimming not allowed).

If you go: The Pua‘a Ka‘a State Wayside includes parking, bathrooms, and picnic tables.

8. Waihe‘e Ridge Trail

Round-trip: 5 miles
Level:
Hard

Waihe's Ridge Trail

Photo by Alex Krassel/stock.adobe.com

You’ll feel like you’re on the top of the world when you hike the Waihe‘e Ridge Trail in the West Maui Forest Reserve. The trek starts off on an uphill path and leads through the flourishing forest. At the overlook, there’s a bench where you can rest and admire the grand, multitiered 270-foot Makamaka‘ole Falls in the distance. The ridgeline trail, with an elevation gain of more than 1,500 feet, has expansive views of the ocean, Mauna Kahālāwai, and the Waihe'e Valley. By the time you reach the summit, you’ll almost be in the clouds.

If you go: There’s a gravel lot at the trailhead.

Hawai‘i Island

9. ‘Akaka Falls Trail

Loop: 0.4-mile
Level:
Easy

'Akaka Falls Trail

Photo by khomlyak/stock.adobe.com

Akaka Falls is a tourist favorite for good reason. At 442 feet, it’s the tallest sheer-drop waterfall on Hawai‘i Island. This family-friendly loop trail starts off on concrete stairs and leads to a paved path flanked by fanned-out ferns and tropical rain forest foliage. There are lookouts with views of the smaller 300-foot Kahuna Falls, as well as the ‘Akaka Falls that plunge into a stream-eroded gorge.

If you go: Parking for kamaʻāina (bring your driver’s license), free; nonresidents, $10.

10. Kohala Waterfalls Adventure

Round-trip: 1.5 miles
Level:
Moderate

Kohala Waterfalls Adventure

Photo courtesy Hawaii Forest & Trail

On this guided Kohala Waterfalls Adventure by Hawaii Forest & Trail, visitors ramble off-road to an exclusive trailhead and hike through a private nature reserve containing trickling streams, native trees, wooden bridges, stone steps, and several waterfalls. You’ll also journey through a restored ancient Hawaiian agricultural site. The elevation gain on this hike is about 200 feet. The excursion includes a swim under one of the cascading waterfalls. At the end of the hike, guests will enjoy a picnic lunch at an overlook with views of the sea cliffs.

If you go: This is a daylong excursion. It lasts about 7 to 8 hours. Adults, $200.

Features editor Rachel Ng loves living within walking distance of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

* * * * *

What to know before you go

  • Always check the weather report before embarking on a hike. Flooding can occur if there’s heavy rainfall.
  • Some of these trails can be wet, muddy, and slippery. Wear shoes that have good traction and dry fast. 
  • Hiking poles can come in handy for steeper, more challenging hikes.
  • Be respectful when driving through and parking in residential neighborhoods. 
  • Keep noise levels to a minimum, and don’t litter.
  • Avoid getting into the water if you have an open cut or sore.

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