XI: Hiilawe Falls

Last weekend four of us decided to hike to the back of Waipio Valley in hopes of seeing the beautiful Hiilawe Falls. In case you’ve forgotten, the almost 1500-foot tall Hiilawe Falls was seen from a distance during the first day trip into Waipio Valley. There is no trail leading to the falls, so it is extremely tricky to get to the back of the valley. I’ve wanted to see this waterfall since my first trip into Waipio, but didn’t want to attempt the hike on my own. Thankfully one of the other interns had been shown how to do it earlier this summer, and led the rest of us to Hiilawe Falls.

Waipi'o Valley Beach

Waipi’o Valley Beach

WARNING: The details about whether or not this hike is considered trespassing are very unclear. Some websites warn against doing it while others claim it is not trespassing. We did not pass any “No Tresspassing” signs to reach the waterfalls, but all the same, I would not recommend doing this hike if you only visit the Big Island for a week or so. The trail is not marked and runs over difficult terrain, the river that feeds the waterfall is mostly dammed, and there are many other beautiful things to see on the Big Island.


8:30 – 10:00: Drive from Hilo to Waipio Valley

10:00 – 3:00: Hike to Hiilawe Falls

3:00 – 4:00: Explore Honoka’a and the Eucalyptus forest

4:00 – 5:30: Drive from Honoka’a to Hilo

5:30 – 6:30: Dinner at the Hilo Burger Joint

Waipio Valley

When we arrived to Waipio Valley we spent a few minutes taking in the view from the lookout and took a quick bathroom break at the public restrooms. The weather was iffy as always, but we got lucky with mostly clear and sunny skies. Since it’s nearing winter here, the hike was pleasantly warm in the sun and almost cool in the shade.

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Walking down to take in the view from the overlook.

Remember from the first day trip, the road into Waipio Valley has an average grade of 25%, and sometimes gets as steep as 45%. Only 4×4 vehicles are allowed to drive up or down it, and as you can imagine it is killer on the knees! This time around I hiked down backwards. It was much easier on the knees but meant I had to constantly crane my neck to see behind me.

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Walking down the excessively steep road into Waipio Valley.

Once we reached the valley floor, we had the option to turn right and head toward the beach, or left to go into the neighborhood and hike to the back of the valley. Compared to the beginning of summer, the waterfall was almost invisible at a distance. This could be the result of many things, but most probably had to do with a lack of rains lately or the parent stream being diverted at the top.

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Hiilawe Falls from the floor of Waipio Valley. The waterfall is barely visible from this distance, especially compared to the picture from earlier this summer.

The mini-neighborhood we walked through only has 5-6 houses before you reach the trail, but Waipio Valley extends much further back, with many more houses and farms. In particular, taro is a very popular crop in this valley.

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Heading down the main road in Waipio Valley, shortly before turning toward the waterfall.

After crossing the river further along this road, we almost immediately turned left into the forest, starting the hike with a hop over a downed log. Some people consider parts of this hike to be trespassing on private land; however, we never crossed any “No Trespassing” signs we saw. I bring this up because if you turn left into the forest before crossing the river, you definitely will be cutting through someone’s backyard, which we avoided. We attempted to stay as close to the river as possible, zigzagging across it several times to (hopefully) avoid encroaching on anyone’s land.

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The very beginning of the hike is marked by a huge downed tree crossing the path, immediately left after crossing the river.

After a short ways up the river, the development ends and there are no more houses. While there is not likely to be anyone trying to enjoy a peaceful afternoon with a book that deep in the forest, the land still may be private. We did not see anymore signs about private land past a certain point, but still made sure to stay as close to the river as possible until we reached the waterfall.

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The hike is accompanied with all sorts of obstacles!

The hike itself might only be a mile along the river before reaching the waterfall, but it took about an hour to get there because of the terrain. We frequently had to cross the river and climb over boulders and tree stumps. But the view was worth it. The 1450-foot waterfall completely dwarfed us as we approached it.


We looked tiny in comparison to the valley wall!

Once we arrived we immediately went for a dip in the waterfall’s pool, which I’ve seen compared to the Garden of Eden. It was absolutely beautiful and for a few moments, we had it all to ourselves.


The base of the waterfall – pristine, clear and freezing cold!

As I mentioned previously, the waterfall was hardly moving the day we went. We were able to swim very close to the falls, but everyone should beware of falling rocks in situations like these. You can also walk up to the falls on the surrounding rocks and stare up 1450-feet to the top.

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There was so little water that the falls almost looked more like a mist up close.

After a break, a snack and a freezing swim, we headed out with one last look at the falls.

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You can do a similar, easier hike to this on Maui, where you end up at the base of the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. However, this one is about three times the size of Waimoku, and the sheer cliffs were absolutely incredible.

The way out went much quicker than the way in, now that we knew about all of the obstacles we’d encounter along the way.

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Trying to keep the bags dry as we waded in chest-deep water along the river.

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Climbing down steep rocks and tree roots.

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We even saw a dog doing the trail with its owners!

We arrived back to the base of the road in no time at all, and our only adventure left was climbing back up out of Waipio Valley. Four days later, my legs are still sore. However, the hike was a lot of fun and I’m grateful I finally got to see Hiilawe Falls up close. This will definitely be my last time in Waipio Valley during this trip. But who knows? Maybe one day I will return and hopefully do some camping in Waimanu Valley, which adjoins Waipio.

Eucalyptus forest

On the way back from Waipio Valley, before reaching Honoka’a again, we turned off onto a road past the 4-mile marker to drive through a eucalyptus forest. Curious as to where it led, we continued driving along it for probably a half hour. It went through a couple of small neighborhoods before turning into a one lane road surrounded by dense grass and forest on either side. We would have continued further but for the extremely large pothole we came upon, at which point we turned around. It was a beautiful random excursion down a random road.

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Free turkeys!

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The beautiful beautiful eucalyptus forest we drove through, although there are many along the Hamakua coastline.

When we finally made it back to Hilo, we stopped at the Hilo Burger Joint for a delicious and relaxing dinner.

My time here on the Big Island is coming to an end, and there are a few more things I want to accomplish before leaving. A snorkeling blog post is coming up soon, but I want to visit one more bay before writing. I also hope to drive around the entire island one day, and hike Pololu Valley again. Ideally, the lava flows would start back up again and I would get a chance to do that trip as well. We shall see!

Next Up: Big Island Snorkeling

3 thoughts on “XI: Hiilawe Falls

  1. Fascinating hike to the falls. I admit to some envy not being along for the exercise and sight-seeing, but maybe not the dip in the pool at the base of the falls! :o)

    • Roy, I didn’t mention this in the post because I couldn’t find the source again, but I believe I read somewhere that this stream comes from Mauna Kea runoff, which would explain why it was so cold! If that’s not entirely true, it certainly felt cold enough to have come from 13,700 feet!

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