Discover Hawaii’s Big Island Waterfalls: Top 9

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Hawaii, with its lush landscapes, vibrant culture, and tranquil beaches, is undeniably a paradise on Earth. 

However, one of the natural wonders that stands out even among the Hawaiian islands is its awe-inspiring Big Island Waterfalls. 

Dotted mostly around the eastern coast, these Big Island Waterfalls range from massive plunges that dominate the landscape to serene cascades tucked away in hidden corners. 

In this post, we’ll guide you through nine of the most majestic waterfalls on Hawaii’s Big Island.

big island waterfalls

Safety Tips

Before diving into the details of each waterfall, it’s essential to remember the importance of safety. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Stay on Designated Paths: This not only ensures your safety but also protects the delicate ecosystem.
  • Avoid Swimming in Unmarked Areas: Some pools may have strong currents or hidden dangers.
  • Check Weather Forecasts: Rain can make trails slippery and may result in flash floods.
  • Wear Proper Footwear: Sturdy shoes with good grip can make a significant difference on muddy trails.
  • Keep a Safe Distance: Especially on cliff edges, as rocks might be unstable.

Best Times to Visit Big Island Waterfalls

The Big Island’s diverse climate zones and geography offer a plethora of experiences throughout the year. 

When it comes to enjoying the waterfalls in their full grandeur, the timing of your visit can make a significant difference.

Rainy Season (November to March):

  • Peak Waterfall Flow: This period witnesses the highest rainfall, which means the waterfalls are at their most vigorous. The cascades are fuller, and the surroundings are exceptionally lush and green.
  • Cooler Temperatures: The rainy season brings slightly cooler temperatures, especially in the upland areas. It’s a refreshing change for those looking to escape the typical tropical heat.
  • Crowds: As this is considered the off-peak season, especially in the early months, visitors can expect fewer crowds at popular spots.
  • Cultural Events: The winter months are vibrant with cultural events and festivals, offering travelers a deeper insight into Hawaii’s rich traditions.

However, a word of caution: with the increased rainfall, some trails leading to waterfalls might become muddy and slippery. 

It’s essential to be prepared with appropriate footwear and to tread with caution.

Dry Season (April to October):

big island waterfalls
  • Balmy Weather: The months leading up to summer and stretching into early fall offer warm and dry conditions. It’s an ideal time for those wanting to combine their waterfall adventures with beach activities, snorkeling, or diving.
  • Stable Trails: With less rainfall, hiking paths are generally more stable and less muddy, making treks to waterfalls more comfortable.
  • Vibrant Marine Life: If you’re combining your waterfall trip with some underwater exploration, the calmer seas during these months provide excellent visibility for snorkeling and diving.
  • Festivals and Events: The summer months host numerous local festivals, celebrating everything from music and dance to food and traditional crafts.

However, as these months coincide with the primary vacation season, some popular tourist spots might be crowded, especially between June and August.

While the Big Island promises an enchanting experience irrespective of when you visit, aligning your trip with your primary interests – be it witnessing roaring waterfalls, enjoying sun-drenched beaches, or diving into local events – can enhance your Hawaiian adventure manifold.

Want to know the the Best Time to Visit Hawaii? Check out our Ultimate Guide here!

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Essential Items to Bring

  • Waterproof Backpack: To keep your belongings dry.
  • Rain Jacket or Poncho: Even if you’re visiting during the drier months.
  • Water and Snacks: Especially if you’re planning on hiking.
  • Camera: You’ll want to capture these breathtaking sights.
  • Bug Spray: The tropical environment means mosquitoes.
  • Sunscreen: Even on cloudy days, UV rays can be strong.

#1 Akaka Falls

big island waterfalls

Among the treasures of big island waterfalls, Akaka Falls reigns supreme. 

Located on the island’s northeastern side within Akaka Falls State Park, this waterfall’s awe-inspiring cascade is a spectacle that draws thousands of visitors annually. 

Soaring at a breathtaking 442 feet, Akaka Falls isn’t just one of the tallest, but undoubtedly one of the most dramatic big island waterfalls. 

As the water gracefully descends, it creates a symphony of sounds that harmonize with the surrounding nature.

Surrounded by a verdant tropical forest, the environment around Akaka Falls is a lush tapestry of ferns, wild orchids, and the vibrant heliconia, offering an ethereal backdrop to the falls. 

For visitors, reaching this iconic waterfall is a breeze. 

The park has a well-paved loop trail, weaving through the rich rainforest, allowing even novice hikers and families with kids an opportunity to get up close with one of the island’s most prized natural wonders. 

Each step on this trail not only brings you closer to the waterfall but also deeper into the heart of the Big Island’s rich ecosystem, making Akaka Falls a must-visit when exploring big island waterfalls.

#2 Rainbow Falls (Waiānuenue)

big island waterfalls

Hilo, a quaint town on the Big Island, is home to another gem in the realm of big island waterfalls – the enchanting Rainbow Falls, locally known as Waiānuenue. 

As dawn breaks and the sun’s first rays pierce the horizon, something magical happens. 

The mist, created by the fierce 80-foot plunge of the waterfall, acts as a canvas for nature’s most beautiful artwork – rainbows. 

This natural phenomenon, ephemeral yet breathtaking, lends Rainbow Falls its name and reputation.

But the allure of this waterfall doesn’t end with its colorful morning display. 

Rainbow Falls boasts a unique geological feature – a natural lava cave right at its base. 

This cave isn’t just a geological marvel but is also steeped in Hawaiian lore. 

Legend has it that this cave is the dwelling place of Hina, the ancient Hawaiian moon goddess, further deepening the mystical aura of this location.

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When visiting Hilo, a detour to witness the magic of Rainbow Falls is a must. 

The combination of natural beauty, geological wonders, and local legends make it an indispensable chapter in the story of big island waterfalls.

#3 Peepee Falls & Boiling Pots

Adding to the repertoire of Hilo’s big island waterfalls are the intriguingly named Peepee Falls and Boiling Pots. 

While they might not boast the height that other waterfalls on the island have, what they lack in stature, they more than make up for in sheer fascination. 

Peepee Falls feeds into a series of terraced pools, which are better known as the “Boiling Pots” because of the unique effect created by water flowing under and between the lava rock formations. 

When the river’s volume is just right, these pools seem to bubble and “boil,” creating a visual treat that leaves spectators spellbound. 

This natural marvel, combined with the lush surroundings, makes Peepee Falls and Boiling Pots an exciting detour when exploring Hilo’s Big Island Waterfalls.

#4 Umauma Falls

big island waterfalls

A few miles north of Hilo lies another crown jewel of big island waterfalls – the stunning Umauma Falls

What sets Umauma Falls apart from other waterfalls on the Big Island is its remarkable tiered cascade. 

Here, the Umauma River dramatically splits into three separate flows, creating a trio of waterfalls cascading side by side. 

This triple cascade is not just a rare geological feature but is also a breathtaking visual delight, often leaving viewers in awe of its natural beauty.

But the wonders of Umauma don’t end at the falls. 

The setting in which these waterfalls reside further elevates their beauty. 

Nestled amidst a well-maintained tropical garden, the falls are surrounded by a verdant canopy of native plants, flowers, and trees. 

Visitors can immerse themselves in this serene setting, with walkways and bridges offering multiple vantage points to enjoy the falls. 

Whether you’re a seasoned photographer looking for that perfect shot or a traveler seeking a tranquil moment amidst nature, Umauma Falls promises a memorable experience in the realm of big island waterfalls.

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#5 Hi’ilawe Big Island Waterfalls

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Tucked away in the heart of the magnificent Waipio Valley, Hi’ilawe Falls stands as one of Hawaii’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders. 

With its astounding 1,200-foot drop, it is not just one of the tallest waterfalls in Hawaii, but also one of the most breathtaking in its beauty and magnificence. 

The sheer scale of Hi’ilawe Falls is a testament to nature’s unbridled power and grandeur.

Visiting the falls gives one a sense of being in the presence of ancient legends, as the Waipio Valley is deeply rooted in Hawaiian mythology and history. 

Known as the “Valley of the Kings,” this area was once a haven for Hawaiian royalty, and the majesty of Hi’ilawe Falls reflects that regal presence. 

The journey to the falls, often through rugged terrains and dense tropical forests, adds an element of adventure, making the sight of the waterfall even more rewarding.

#6 Wai’ale Falls

A stone’s throw from the bustling town of Hilo lies the serene Wai’ale Falls, a two-tiered waterfall surrounded by a lush tapestry of green. 

The falls cascade gracefully, with each tier adding its rhythm to the symphony of sounds that envelop the area. 

The surrounding vegetation, with its vibrant shades of green, perfectly frames the falls, creating a picturesque setting.

For those with a thirst for adventure, a brief hike is all it takes to get an even better view of Wai’ale Falls. 

The trail, though short, offers a touch of the wild, taking visitors through dense foliage and providing occasional glimpses of local flora and fauna. 

Once at the ideal vantage point, the sight of the falls, combined with the serene sounds of flowing water, makes for a moment of pure tranquility. 

It’s a perfect spot for meditation, photography, or simply soaking in the beauty that nature has to offer.

#7 Kulaniapia Falls

Kulaniapia Falls stands out as a hidden gem among the island’s many waterfalls. 

Unlike many other cascades that are open to the public, Kulaniapia Falls offers an intimate, private experience, which only adds to its allure. 

Towering at 120 feet, this waterfall is not just about height, but also about the exquisite setting in which it’s nestled. 

Surrounded by vast bamboo forests that whisper with every gust of wind, the area feels like a page right out of a fairy tale.

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To access this secluded paradise, reservations are a must, ensuring that the natural serenity of the location is preserved. 

The exclusivity allows visitors a chance to truly immerse themselves in the surroundings, undisturbed by large crowds. 

Whether you’re standing at the base feeling the mist kiss your face, or simply listening to the harmonious sound of cascading water amidst bamboo thickets, Kulaniapia Falls promises an experience that is both peaceful and rejuvenating.

#8 Onomea Big Island Waterfalls

The allure of Onomea Falls isn’t just in its flowing waters, but also in its stunning surroundings. 

Situated within the verdant expanse of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, this waterfall becomes an integral part of a larger, vibrant tableau of nature’s beauty. 

As the water descends, it is framed by an impressive collection of tropical plant life, making the scene all the more picturesque.

Visitors to Onomea Falls are often struck by the sheer diversity of flora around them. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is home to over 2,000 species, ranging from majestic palms to delicate orchids. 

As you tread along the garden’s meandering pathways, the sounds of the waterfall serve as a gentle background score, guiding you through nature’s gallery. 

Every turn offers a new vista, a new plant to admire, and a new nook that seems untouched by time.

Visiting Onomea Falls is not just about witnessing a waterfall, but about experiencing an entire ecosystem in all its splendor. 

It’s a journey through a lush, living museum where every plant and every droplet tells a story of the island’s rich biodiversity and heritage.

#9 Papakolea Green Sand Beach Waterfall

big island waterfalls

Nestled on the southern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island is the enigmatic Papakolea, one of the world’s few green sand beaches. 

While the emerald-hued sand itself is a marvel, a lesser-known attraction adds to the beach’s allure during certain times of the year – the ephemeral Papakolea Green Sand Beach Waterfall.

This seasonal cascade is nature’s surprise gift to those fortunate enough to visit at the right time. 

After periods of heavy rainfall, freshwater runoff from the island’s terrain finds its way to the cliffs overlooking the beach. 

As the water courses down these cliffs, it creates a temporary waterfall, presenting a surreal juxtaposition of cascading freshwater against the backdrop of the shimmering green sand and azure ocean waves.

The sight of the waterfall on a green sand beach is a stark contrast and a visual spectacle. 

The sparkling white foam of the cascading water, the olive-green sands rich in olivine crystals, and the deep blue of the Pacific come together in a breathtaking panorama that few other places on Earth can boast.

The rarity of this occurrence makes it even more special. 

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While Papakolea’s unique sand is a result of the constant erosion of a nearby cinder cone filled with olivine-rich lava, the waterfall’s appearance is far less predictable, making it a treasure for those who happen upon it.

For the intrepid traveler, the journey to Papakolea and the hope of witnessing this transient waterfall becomes a blend of adventure and anticipation. 

The trek to the beach itself, though challenging, offers vistas of rugged coastlines, volcanic craters, and the expansive Pacific. 

And if one’s timing aligns with nature’s whims, the reward is a sight that encapsulates the raw, ever-changing beauty of the Big Island.

That about sums it up on waterfalls of Hawaii’s big island!

Make sure to check out our guide to planning your Unforgettable Hawaiian Adventure!

Big Island Waterfalls FAQs

Are there entrance fees for these waterfalls?

Some falls, like those in botanical gardens or private properties, may have fees. It’s best to check ahead.

Can I swim at these waterfalls? 

Some waterfalls have pools suitable for swimming, but always look for signs or ask locals before taking a dip.

Are guided tours available?

Yes, many tour operators offer guided visits to these falls, often combined with other island attractions.

How long are the hikes to the waterfalls? 

It varies. While some falls like Akaka are easily accessible, others like Hi’ilawe in Waipio Valley may require longer hikes or tours.

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