11+ BEST HILO WATERFALLS YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS

Hilo is such a verdant, dreamy place. This community on the eastern coast of Hawaii’s Big Island is home to some of the state’s best culture and scenery. And when you imagine the tropical landscapes of Hilo, you likely envision world-class waterfalls.  

But what’s the best way to encounter Hilo waterfalls? There are a few viewpoints on public property, some of which are incredibly easy to access. Others require an entry fee and a bit of hiking. And then there are beautiful waterfalls you’ll likely only read about – the ones deep in the lush rainforests, shrouded in mystery. 

Ahead, we’ll explore some of the best Big Island waterfalls –  the popular ones that are easy to see and a few hidden gems. 

So keep reading to learn more about Hilo’s gorgeous waterfalls and catch a pro tip or two for having the best experience possible during your Hawaii adventure.

11+ BEST HILO WATERFALLS YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS
Rainbow Falls in Hilo

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RAINBOW FALLS (WAIANUENUE FALLS)

Not only is Rainbow Falls one of the prettiest sights in Hilo, but it’s also easily accessible. Located right in Hilo town, Rainbow Falls has a quintessential Hawaii rainforest setting: lush greenery, flowing water, a stately banyan tree, and (if you’re lucky) a rainbow. 

Its Hawaiian name Waianuenue actually means rainbow water. The best time to visit is In the early morning, when the sunlight hits the falls and casts a rainbow around it. The colorful phenomenon is seriously gorgeous, but even if you don’t catch the rainbow, this is still a worthy stop. 

Besides the view, Waianuenue Falls is an important place in Hawaiian moʻolelo (Hawaiian legend or stories), as it’s the home of Hina, who is the moon goddess and mother of the demigod Maui. 

You don’t have to hike in order to see this waterfall, which is in the Wailuku River State Park. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the viewing sight. When the upper trail is open, you can take a short hike around the waterfall and see a unique Banyan Tree. However, it sometimes closes in the rainy season. 

You won’t spend much time at Rainbow Falls since it doesn’t require any hiking and since swimming isn’t allowed, but it’s a great place to stop by, take in the incredible views, and slow down for a bit. 

Rainbow Falls is located about two miles away from Downtown Hilo. It’s on Rainbow Drive, just off Waianuenue Avenue. 

Read More: 16 SPECTACULAR THINGS TO DO IN HILO, HAWAII

Want to see the Hilo waterfalls, but don’t want to drive? Try one of these amazing tours!

PE’EPE’E & BOILING POTS

If you’re taking a scenic drive out to Rainbow Falls, you might as well travel a little further to check out Boiling Pots. This stunning area is about a mile and a half upstream from its more famous neighbor and is a must-see sight in Hilo. 

Boiling Pots is a series of small cascades and ponds, and the rushing current creates a whitewater effect that lends the area its name. 

Pe’epe’e Falls feeds Boiling Pots. You can see both sights from a distance at the Boiling Pots viewpoint, just steps away from the parking lot. The small ponds were once a popular swimming destination, and you may still see some local families and teens cooling off in the water below. 

However, the trails leading to the pools are closed and can quickly turn dangerous, so it’s best to enjoy this Hilo waterfall from a distance and save your swimming for a dedicated spot. 

The lookout point for Pe’epe’e Falls and Boiling Pots is on Pe’epe’e Falls Road, off of Waianuenue Avenue. 

Read More: First Timers Guide to Visiting Waikiki with Kids

WAI’ALE FALLS

If Rainbow Falls and Pe’epe’e Falls leave you wanting more, you can easily drive on and see a hidden gem not far from those popular spots. 

Wai’ale Falls is a two-tiered cascade along the Wailuku River, and you can view it from a bridge on a quiet road. They aren’t the tallest waterfalls you’ll see in Hilo, but they typically have a more substantial water flow than their downstream counterparts and possess a unique beauty. 

The top tier: a natural waterfall descending from the mysterious, verdant slopes of the island’s volcanoes. The bottom tier: a manmade irrigation system that allows the river water to cascade down over a rocky wall. It’s an incredible sight and a shame that it’s often missed in Hilo waterfall tours. 

On clear days, many adventurers trek down closer to the falls at their own risk. A short trail runs about a quarter mile to the falls, though it’s typically overgrown and slippery. But whether you view the falls during a quick stop on a driving tour or stick around for a while, a visit to Wai’ale Falls is sure to be a worthy adventure. 

Wai’ale Falls is less than a mile’s drive from Boiling Pots on Waianuenue Avenue. Visitors typically take advantage of the free parking off the side of the road and then walk back over the bridge to view the falls. 

UMAUMA FALLS

There are several ways you can see Umauma Falls. This series of waterfalls is accessed through private property, so you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. However, with so many options on how to experience this area, you likely won’t leave disappointed. 

The simplest way to see Umauma Falls is through a self-guided tour. This casual entry allows visitors to explore the property on their own time. A paved trail enables you to drive up to the different waterfall viewing areas along the Umauma river, and there’s a garden pathway for anyone wanting to stretch their legs and take in the unique Big Island sights and sounds. 

Looking for something more unique and hands-on? Umauma Experience offers horseback riding, ziplining, kayaking, and ATV tours. These adventures feature views of the amazing waterfalls and chances to swim in the tranquil pools below. 

The Umauma Falls Experience is located about 14 miles north of Hilo. 

AKAKA FALLS & KAHUNA FALLS

Want to see a couple of the most popular waterfalls in Hawaii? A visit to Akaka Falls State Park is a must-do adventure. The hike is somewhat easy yet takes you through an array of flora and fauna. Plus, you get to see two tall waterfalls in one trek. 

The half mile loop trail at Akaka Falls State Park involves some uphill climbs and stairs. But it also involves troves of bamboo, fern hanging overhead, and of course the stars of the show: Akaka and Kahuna Falls. These may be the most famous waterfalls on the Big Island. 

Akaka Falls is a 442 ft waterfall in the park. It’s the more popular of the two falls and is a natural wonder. Kahuna Falls is further up the trail and is also an impressive sight. 

It’s a popular place – not the serene setting you perhaps envision when thinking of a Hilo waterfall hike. But it’s also safe, legal, and absolutely gorgeous. 

Akaka Falls State Park is about 12 miles north of Hilo, just past the small town of Pepeekeo. It’s about a half hour drive to get here from downtown. 

KULANIAPIA FALLS

Peaceful beauty awaits those who explore Kulaniapia Falls, a gorgeous setting on private property near the Hilo side of the Big Island. This is the place to go if you want a truly immersive waterfall experience. The 42-acre property is home to a tranquil inn, and its off-grid, oceanview cabins were featured on Netflix’s “World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals.”

Booking a room or cabin is a great way to truly feel the magic of this serene place. But you don’t have to book a stay here in order to experience the falls. The property also offers day passes, which allow visitors to hike and swim among the waterfall. You can also book a rappelling adventure, Stand Up Paddle Board or Kayak under the falls, take a farm tour, or enjoy a chef’s dinner on the property. 

The best part about this place is that you can get in close proximity to Kulaniapia Falls and even swim at its feet as long as the weather is good. 

The steep access fee keeps Kulaniapia Falls less crowded and more maintained than public, accessible waterfalls. The hike to the swimming area is challenging enough to feel like an adventure, but should be doable for most kids and adults. 

Kulaniapia Falls is about 5 miles upstream from Hilo. You must reserve your day pass in advance. 

ONOMEA FALLS

There’s a lot to discover when you visit Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden, a nonprofit private park on the Big Island. The 1.25-mile walking path will take you through an assortment of tropical plant life and sweeping vistas. And if it’s waterfalls you seek, you won’t be disappointed. 

Onomea Falls is located not far along the pathway. It’s a serene place – moss grows on the rocks around the small waterfall, and a wooden bridge offers viewers a chance to get a great view of the cascade. And it’s part of a bigger journey that invites you to slow down, take in nature’s beauty, and witness some of Hilo’s best sights. 

This is a great place to go with young children who might enjoy exploring the garden’s paths. Waterfalls may not be the main reason you visit the botanical gardens, but they will be one of your favorite views from your visit. 

You’ll need to pay an admission fee to the gardens to access Onomea Falls. The park is also called Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and is about 7 miles North of Downtown Hilo. 

KAMAE’E FALLS

Lava tubes feed Kamae’e Falls, so the water here comes from soil of Mauna Kea. That means it flows even when there hasn’t been heavy rain. The cascade drops into a stream that’s home to many native fish, including the O’opu Alamo’o, which uses its fins to ascend waterfalls. 

So how do you get to see this gorgeous cascade? Kamae’e Falls is located within the Botanical World Adventures, a private park that offers ziplining, segway tours, and weddings. 

If you’ve ever wanted to zipline past a waterfall, this is one of the best places to do it. But if you’re more comfortable taking in the sights from the ground, you can also book a self-guided tour of the botanical gardens. This will allow you access to roam the plant displays, hedge maze, and the trail that leads to the private waterfall viewing area. 

Botanical World Adventures is about 14 miles North of Downtown Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. 

HI’ILAWE, HAKALAOA, & KALUAHINE FALLS

Hawaii Island visitors who want to be transported in place and time should visit Waipio Valley. This quiet, lush place is rich with history, nature, and beauty. Once the home to Hawaiian royalty, Waipio is now a small farming community with about 100 residents. 

Taro grows here, and horses roam freely. It’s also home to a few of the best Hawaii waterfalls. The most visible and iconic waterfall in Waipio is Hi’ilawe, which stretches nearly 1500 feet from the cliff top to the valley floor. 

Though it often flows alone, Hi’ilawe is actually part of a twin waterfall. When rain and irrigation allow, Hakalaoa cascades beside it. 

You’ll need to join a permitted tour to view Hi’ilawe from afar. The steep access road to Waipio is closed to the public, and visitors are no longer allowed to take the difficult hike into the valley. 

But a few professional tours can still carry visitors into Waipio, where you can catch a glimpse of Hi’ilawe Waterfall (as long as it’s flowing) and see the other unique sights that make Waipio such a special place in the Hawaiian Islands. 

Beyond these two magnificent cascades is another waterfall worth mentioning: Kaluahine Falls. This waterfall cascades from the cliffs directly into the ocean below. 

When hikers were permitted into the valley, they could trek out onto its expansive black sand beach and see this waterfall in action. These days, certain helicopter tours may catch a glimpse of Kaluahine Falls, but it’s otherwise a beauty reserved for the residents of Waipio. 

Waipio Valley is located on the Hamakua Coast, about 50 miles North of Hilo. 

BEST TIPS FOR YOUR HILO WATERFALL ADVENTURE

Whether you plan to hike into a secluded pond or take a simple driving tour, you need to be prepared as you embark on your waterfall expedition. Here are a few reminders to make your waterfall viewing a fantastic experience.

  • Don’t Trespass – Many guidebooks feature unsavory advice about crossing onto private land and other risky moves. Plus, hiking trails can close down without notice. Stick to the public paths and admission-based parks to ensure you explore the island respectfully and as safely as possible. 
  • Be Smart – Most public waterfalls prohibit swimming under them to help keep everyone safe. But if you are considering swimming in a pond or crossing a river to access a waterfall, be smart. Recent or uphill rain will cause flash floods. Rocks can fall from the top of waterfalls, and slick rocks and steep edges can make for a dangerous hike. 
  • Plan Ahead – Map out your planned waterfall route to see what other sights you’ll want to take in along the way. Dining, beach parks, and gardens are just some of the many stops that invite you to slow down and enjoy your journey. 
  • Pack a Lunch and Snacks – Many waterfall viewing areas feature picnic tables, so bring a to-go lunch as you head to these remote locations. Big Island Candies, local produce from the Farmer’s Market, and sweets from Two Ladies Kitchen are great snacks to bring along. 
  • Consider a Guided Tour – Don’t want to vacation behind a steering wheel? Are your eyes prone to wander off the road during scenic drives? Consider taking a tour shuttle around the Big Island. Professional guides can take you to waterfalls and scenic vistas, all while sharing their unique insight into the culture and history of Hilo. There’s a lot to see on Hawaii’s largest island, and a guided tour will help you catch all the best sights, especially if this is your first trip here. 

OTHER PEACEFUL PLACES TO VISIT IN HILO

If you’re inspired by the natural beauty of Hilo’s waterfalls and want to experience even more of Hawaii’s unique beauty, your adventure shouldn’t end with the last cascade. Below are a few peaceful and scenic places you should visit in addition to these spectacular waterfalls.

HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

It’s what draws many visitors to the Big Island: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Featuring unique landscapes of lava rock, craters, and new growth, the National Park features some of the most beautiful scenery on the island. It’s no wonder that this tops every list of best things to do in Hilo!

LILIUOKALANI GARDENS

Liliuokalani Gardens is a quaint and scenic place in downtown Hilo. It features excellent ocean views, several banyan trees along the Hilo Walk of Fame, an array of sculptures, and easy access to Mokuola (Coconut Island).

Stop by for a bit to stretch your legs, or meander around the grounds for a while. Liliuokalani Gardens is on Banyan Drive in Hilo town. 

RICHARDSON OCEAN PARK

Richardson Ocean Park is a calm beach area just past the Hilo Airport. It’s often sunny here, even when the rest of Hilo is gray. Swimming conditions are typically good at Richardson Ocean Park, and there are many tide pools to explore. You may even see some sea turtles here.

Whether you are sightseeing or want to enjoy a full beach day, this could be the perfect beach for you. 

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