Rainbow Falls: A Spectacular Waterfall in Wailuku River State Park, Hilo, Hawaii


Rainbow Falls, a jewel in the heart of Hilo town, stands as an awe-inspiring testament to nature’s grandeur. Perched atop the falls, visitors are greeted with a scenic panorama that encapsulates the essence of the Big Island’s diverse landscapes.

As the 80-foot waterfall cascades down, it roars to life, especially after a heavy rainfall, creating a spectacle that’s both mesmerizing and powerful. The falls flow into a deep pool below, surrounded by lush greenery and the iconic huge banyan trees, adding to the site’s enchanting allure.

This landmark, easy to visit and a must-see for anyone exploring the Big Island, is steeped in ancient Hawaiian lore. It is said to be home to the ancient Hawaiian goddess, Hina, adding a layer of cultural significance to its natural beauty.

The name ‘Waianuenue’ itself, when broken down into Hawaiian place names, reflects the vibrant rainbows that often appear like ethereal bridges across the falls on sunny mornings.

The Meaning Behind the Name: Waiānuenue

Names aren’t just words; they carry history, culture, and in this case, a good dose of natural beauty. In the Hawaiian language, Rainbow Falls is called “Waiānuenue,” which translates to “rainbow [seen in] water.”

You don’t need to be a linguist to see the poetic charm there! The name packs a double whammy, describing not just the falls but also the ethereal rainbows that frequent the misty area. Even more intriguing, according to Hawaiian legends, the lava cave behind the falls is believed to be the home of Hina, the ancient goddess of the moon. This connection to mythology adds a layer of mystique to the already beautiful Waianuenue Falls, located just off Wainuenue Avenue.

Location of Wailuku River State Park

The journey to Rainbow Falls is as memorable as the destination itself. Meandering along Waianuenue Avenue, a turn right at the crucial juncture leads you down a path enveloped by the sights and sounds of the tropical watershed.

The roar of the falls serves as a constant backdrop, guiding visitors through a verdant walkway dotted with informative plaques that reveal the site’s rich history and the legends of Goddess Hina.

Located on the beautiful part of the Wailuku River, Rainbow Falls is a hop, skip, and a jump away from downtown Hilo. No long treks or perilous journeys. Just a quick drive from downtown Hilo, and you’re there, taking in the sights and sounds of this natural wonder, located in Hilo on the Big Island.

A Short Hike to the Top of Rainbow Falls State Park

A quick jaunt to the top of Rainbow Falls is a decision you won’t regret. It’s a short walk that packs a punch!

The trail, easily accessible and inviting, leads you through lush vegetation and colossal banyan trees, creating a sort of natural runway leading to the grand finale: a new perspective on the falls. After a short drive to the location, the path tempts you to climb to the top, promising breathtaking views and an experience to remember.

Best Time to Visit the Big Island of Hawaii

While the falls are a year-round attraction, the best time to maximize your chances of seeing a rainbow is early in the day, especially during sunny mornings. We’re talking “before-your-morning-coffee” early, when the weather is sunnier and the surrounding tropical rainforest enhances the beauty of the scene.

So, set that alarm and make it a point to be there maybe even before breakfast. Trust me, the sight you’ll witness will be worth the early rise. Plan to spend around 30 minutes to an hour to soak in the full experience.

Why Are The Waterfalls in Hilo Area Called “The Rainbow Falls”?

Well, the answer isn’t shrouded in any deep mystery; it’s pure science and a pinch of perfect positioning. Rainbow Falls is east-facing, which means, for the best rainbows, you need to get there early in the morning when the sun rises from the east, right on Rainbow Drive.

Now, how do these magical arches of color form? Rainbows are essentially the result of reflection, refraction, and dispersion of light in water droplets. The tiny droplets in the mist created by the cascading waterfalls to visit work as perfect little prisms, splitting the sunlight into its beautiful spectrum.

So, while you won’t need rainfall to see these bows, you do need some good sunlight and a lot of misty droplets. And let’s not forget, the more water that’s flowing over the falls, the more impressive your rainbow will be. Though, even on a less water-abundant day, you can still witness this breathtaking phenomenon.

Ancient Banyan Trees

Just when you think you’ve soaked in all the beauty the place has to offer, you’ll come across an ancient banyan tree near the upper viewing area that’s sure to blow your mind.

Enveloped in fig vines, this old-timer has numerous aerial prop roots sinking into the ground, making it look like it has multiple trunks. Surrounded by the lushness of a tropical rainforest, the atmosphere around the banyan tree is as enchanting as it is serene.

Pe’epe’e Falls: A Nearby Gem

If you’re in the mood to stretch those legs a bit more, a short distance upstream will lead you to Pe’epe’e Falls. While Rainbow Falls usually steals the spotlight, Pe’epe’e is like the underrated opening act you end up loving.

As you approach the falls, you might be reminded of the island’s volcanic origins, with the volcano not far off in the distance. The nearby boiling pots, with their bubbling water, add a sense of mystery and power to the landscape. If you’re feeling adventurous, a visit to the Kaumana Caves can provide a fascinating glimpse into the island’s geological past.


In conclusion, Rainbow Falls is not just a stunning natural feature; it’s a vibrant tapestry woven with threads of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and mythological significance.

A visit here offers more than just a visual treat; it’s an immersive experience that connects you with the ancient spirits of Hawaii and the timeless beauty of its landscapes.

As you leave, with the sound of the falls echoing in your ears and the memory of rainbows dancing in your eyes, you carry with you a piece of Hilo’s heart, forever etched in your own.