There are few more exciting things to do on the Big Island than a hike to one of the stunning waterfalls. The experience is deeply fulfilling: the lushness of the rainforest, the earth-damp path, the plumeria-scented air, and finally, the moment of revelation when you spot the torrent of water cascading over rocks into a deep pool.
Where to Find Waterfalls on the Big Island
Most visitors to the Big island settle primarily in Kona town, or along the Kohala coastline where they can enjoy more stable weather and beautiful beaches. But this side of the island is a desert of dry volcanic rock. Unlike the northeastern part – the Hamakua Coast – which is green and wet.
The stretch of coastline between Hilo and Hamakua is the Big Island’s most beautiful expanses of scenery: hidden valleys, tropical gardens, black sand beaches, and roaring waterfalls.
In this area you’ll many opportunities to pull off the road and discover incredible sights, much like the ones on the Road to Hana, in Maui. But unlike the Road to Hana which is narrow and poorly maintained, the drive along the Hamakua Coast is wider, better maintained, and travels through a much more open landscape.
7 Best Waterfalls to Visit on the Big Island
Hawaii is full of amazing waterfalls, but most of them require some serious hiking or climbing. There are however some easy-access falls as well, but they are usually crowded. And they have all kinds of restrictions: you can’t swim, you can’t go too close to the water, you can’t get outside the marked path, you can’t use a drone. Nonetheless, visitors prefer easy access falls, even if they have restrictions.
So if you are heading to the Big Island and want to see some beautiful waterfalls, here are some that you can easily visit on your own. I have also included a couple that require a guided tour.
The ‘Akaka Falls State Park has actually two big waterfalls: ‘Akaka and Kahuna. The path is paved all the way and has a nice covered rest area at the ‘Akaka Falls. You’ll find some steps and some inclines along the way, but the hike is not difficult.
There are two routes that you can take: a longer, or a shorter one. The longer route includes both falls. The shorter route goes directly to ‘Akaka, the main waterfall. But since you are here, why not hike the full loop and see both falls?
The loop trail is a little over half a mile long with 115 feet of elevation change. It takes approximately a 30-45 minute hike to see both falls.
‘Akaka Fals is about 24 minutes (15.0 mi) from Hilo via HI-19/Hawaiʻi Belt Rd and State and Hwy 220. Entrance to the falls costs $10/vehicle and $5 per person.
Rainbow Falls is located on the Wailuku River, very close to Hilo town. Because of its beauty and easy access, this is one of the most photographed waterfalls on the Big Island. Despite being so close to the city, the falls are in a very secluded area, surrounded by large trees and dense vegetation.
This is a good place to visit early in the morning, when you have the biggest chance to see rainbows around the waterfall. The rainbows are caused by the reflection and the refraction of the sun light in water droplets in the early hours of the morning.
The waterfall itself is only 25 meters high, which is not that high when compared to ‘Akaka Falls. Although swimming here is prohibited, you can get very close to the water. Unlike other waterfalls on the Big Island, which you can only see from the distance.
Hidden below the waterfall lies a small lava cave. When the light is at the right angle, you can see the rock formations inside.
To reach the Rainbow Falls from Hilo, drive up Wainuenue Avenue, turn to the right on Rainbow Drive and park in the parking lot on your right hand side. Parking is free and access to waterfalls is very easy.
Pe’epe’e Falls & Boiling Pots
Just a little further up the road from Rainbow Falls you’ll find the Pe’epe’e Falls. They have their own unique beauty and are not near as crowded as Rainbow Falls. The falls can be seen from the lookout point, which is farther away.
For an up-close view, or if you want to swim here, take the short trail on the right side that will lead you there. However, hiking down when the stream flow is heavy is dangerous because you could swept away, so use caution!
From the lookout point you can also see the Boiling Pots, a series of small pools and cascades that can be quite turbulent after heavy rains. The water appears to be boiling due to underground lava tubes, hence the name Boiling Pots.
To get to the Pe’epe’e Falls and Boiling Pots, continue past Rainbow Falls for approximately one mile (1.6 km) and turn right from Waiānuenue Avenue onto Peʻepeʻe Falls Road.
Onomea Falls is located inside the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, so if you want to see the falls you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to enter the garden. However, the botanical garden itself is gorgeous and it sits in an unbelievably serene location, so it’s totally worth visiting.
Besides the beautiful flora and fauna species that are native to Hawaii, you’ll be able to see some of the most exotic plants and rare species of orchids.
The waterfall is on the Scenic Loop. On the way to the waterfalls you’ll pass by Boulder Creek, which is a gorgeous sight to see. The view of the ocean at the bottom is spectacular as well. The path is slightly downhill toward the ocean, then slightly uphill back to the entrance, but most people should be able to handle it.
To get here from Hilo, turn towards the ocean between mile marker 7 and 8 on Hwy 19, in the direction of Onomea Bay. Continue for 1.75 miles to reach the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens.
Admission fee is $15 for adults, $5 for children up to age 16, and free for children under age 6.
Approximately 16 miles north of Hilo, on the Umauma River, lies one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Hawaii: Umauma Falls. The three-tier fall has a combined height of 300 feet, but it doesn’t seem very high when you look at it from the viewing bridge. Access to the falls is right off the road.
The last time we were on the Big Island, Umauma Falls resided in the World Botanical Gardens, so access to the waterfall was included in the admission price for the garden.
However, in 2008 the land around the waterfall was sold to Umauma Experience, a company that also operates a zip-line. As a result, the waterfall now accessible only through the Umauma Experience and the cost to visit the waterfall is $6.
The Umauma Falls are about 30 minutes away from Hilo, on Highway 19, towards Hamakua. After mile marker 16, turn left on Leopolino Road. Stay on this road for about 1/3 mile then turn right on Old Mamalahoa Highway. After 1/3 of a mile you’ll see the signs for the Umauma Experience visitors center.
Also a little farther down from Rainbow Falls, on the Wailuku River, is is another beautiful waterfall: Wai’ale Falls. If you want a nice pool to swim in and don’t like crowds, this spot is for you. There’s no real parking lot, but there is a spot to pull off and view the falls from the road.
To get beneath the falls you only need to hike about 25 yards. Access to the river is easy. There is a large rocky island in the middle of the river, and if you do a quick swim to the island, you can take the short trail that takes you directly to the falls.
Wai’ale Falles is about 4 miles away from Hilo Town, via Waianuenue Ave.
Hi’ilawe is the Big Island tallest waterfall: 1600 feet tall!. Since it’s on private land, you can only visit it on with a horseback excursion, or an organized tour.
The best view of the falls is however from above, through a helicopter tour. The water flow of these falls is not as heavy as it once used to be due to the fact that part of Lalakea Stream above the falls was dammed for irrigation.
it talks about a challenging but doable 2 mile hike (from the valley floor) to Hi’ilawe falls which must be going thru private lands (as per some threads i read).
Are There Any Other Waterfalls on the Big Island?
After seeing some of these beautiful falls on the northeastern coast I asked myself the same question: are there any other ones hidden in these lush green valleys? Unfortunately, most of the waterfalls on the Big Island are either located on very dangerous terrain, or are not publicly accessible because they sit on private land.
However, if you want to further explore the falls and cataracts on this island, there are some local companies that offer guided tours.
To get to the waterfalls, drive north on Hwy 19 from Hilo, for 43 miles (60 minutes) to Hwy 240. Turn right onto Hwy 240 and drive for another 9 miles. At the end of the road you’ll see the Waipi’o Valley Lookout car park. This is usually the meeting point for the waterfall tour.
Best Time to Visit the Waterfalls
Like all the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island has only two seasons, both of them warm. There’s a wet season that occurs from October through April, and a dry season that happens between May through September.
However, these two seasons are merely guidelines based on statistical data and some anecdotal observations. In reality, the weather on the Big Island can vary quite a bit depending on where you are on the island. The windward (northeast) side is generally wetter and cooler, while the leeward (southwest) side is drier and hotter.
As a result, there is not a better or a worse time to visit the waterfalls on the Big Island. Having sunshine on this side of the island is ultimately a matter of luck. But the falls are beautiful just the same.
Where to Stay When Visiting the Waterfalls on Hawaii’s Big Island
There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to staying on different parts of the island. This is especially the case when you consider the size of the Big Island and the long driving distances between the different points. For instance, it takes over 3 hours to drive between Kona and Hilo. That’s why where you are staying is ultimately a decision that you’ll have to make based on what you want to do when you are here.
If you wish spend a lot of time on the beach, you’ll want to stay on the drier side of the island, in Kailua-Kona. Or if you prefer more exclusive resorts, you may consider Waikoloa, further to the north. On the other hand, if you want to explore the waterfalls and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you’ll be better off saying in Hilo.
We love both sides of the Big Island, so we kept driving between the beaches, the volcanoes and the waterfalls. However, the last time we were there we decided to rent a hotel room in Hilo for a couple of nights. This gave us more time to explore the beautiful northeastern coast and didn’t have to drive the winding road at night on our way back to Kona.