Hawaii the Big Island’s Hi‘ilawe Falls is a ribbon of white that plunges from lush green cliffs to the Waipio Valley floor. At 1,450 feet (442 meters) high, Hi‘ilawe is one of the tallest and most popular falls in the Hawaiian Islands. The cascade is set at the back of isolated Waipio Valley, so visitors typically view it from a distance.
Hi‘ilawe Falls is a popular destination for visitors to the Big Island’s northern Hamakua Coast, although its remote location makes for difficult access. The steep (25-percent grade) road into Waipio Valley means it is accessible only by 4-wheel-drive cars, hiking, or tour. You can visit the falls on a tour of the Waipio Valley’s waterfalls, view it from above on a helicopter tour, or explore the valley on horseback.
Things to Know Before You Go
Hi‘ilawe Falls is lovely for everyone visiting the Big Island, especially fans of nature and waterfalls.
While the height is always impressive, the breadth of the falls varies greatly based on the river’s water level.
Access to the falls and the valley floor is restricted.
Respect private property signs discouraging hikers from attempting to reach the falls.
There is public parking at the lookout above the valley, though note that many rental car companies prohibit driving into the valley.
Bring water and snacks, as there are no amenities in Waipio Valley.
How to Get There
You can reach Waipio Valley, just north of Honoka‘a on the Big Island’s east side, with a 4WD car or by parking at the overlook above the valley and hiking down the steep, 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) road into the valley. For ease, many visitors choose a shuttle or tour. Once you reach the valley floor, the best views of the waterfall are from the road through Waipio Valley. Hiking to the base of the falls is not recommended due to private land and the dangers of rising water levels.
When to Get There
Clear days provide the best visibility and easiest access to Waipio Valley, but the falls are biggest after recent rains. If you want to see the cascade at its most impressive and are willing to hike or 4WD down the muddy road to Waipio Valley, visit after heavy rainfall. If you prefer easier access and will be satisfied with seeing a slimmer version of the falls, time your visit with fair weather.
The History of Hi‘ilawe Falls
Historically Hi‘ilawe Falls had a much steadier flow of water, and the river provided sustenance to an entire community of farmers who lived in the then fertile and self-sufficient valley. At that time, Waipio Valley was known as the Valley of Kings and was home to King Kamehameha, who united the Hawaiian Islands under one ruler. The river above the falls has since been diverted, reducing the grandeur of the waterfall and the fresh water in the valley.
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