Waipi’o Valley: Big Island’s Waterfalls, Black Sand Beach, and Hiking Trails


You’re standing at the Waipi’o Lookout, breathing in the fresh Hawaiian air as you gaze upon a view so captivating it seems to belong to another world. Lush green mountainsides cascade into the depths of a valley, where legends say Hawaiian kings once walked. Waipi’o Valley, Hawaii’s very own “Valley of the Kings,” a place steeped in history, natural wonder, and an aura that can only be described as magical.

The Magical Aura of Waipi’o Valley

Waipi’o Valley is a living time capsule; it’s like a glimpse into what Hawaii might have looked like before the modern world left its mark. Once a bustling center of ancient Hawaiian civilization, the valley was home to royalty and a dense population that cultivated the land.

Today, the valley is a place of tranquil beauty, mostly wilderness adorned with taro fields, a handful of inhabitants, and natural elements that will leave you awestruck. Nestled along the Hamakua Coast, the valley and its surrounding areas, including Kohala and Kohala Mountain, are rich in both cultural heritage and natural splendor.

Though the valley was once open to everyone, Waipiʻo Valley Road is now closed to non-residents. However, you can still soak in its beauty from the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, a vantage point that offers breathtaking views of the entire valley.

From here, the steep Waipi’o Valley Road can be seen winding its way down into the heart of the valley, a testament to the rugged terrain of this part of the island.

For those who yearn for a more intimate experience, visitor access to the valley’s floor and the enchanted areas beyond is still possible—but only as part of a guided tour. This allows visitors to explore the valley on foot or via the Waipio Valley shuttle, ensuring a safe and respectful visit to this sacred land.

The name Waipi’o translates to “curved water” in Hawaiian, perfectly capturing the meandering Wailoa Stream that flows through the heart of the valley. It’s a vast sanctuary, about a mile wide and six miles deep. The valley, acclaimed as one of our favorite destinations, is not only the largest in Hawaii but also one of the most culturally significant.

Toward the back, the valley branches into smaller ‘fingers,’ each uniquely marked by its own waterfall—a paradisiacal setting that has to be seen to be believed. The Hi’ilawe Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in the valley, cascades down the valley walls, adding to the mesmerizing beauty of the area.

And let’s not forget the stunning black sand beach at the valley’s northern edge, sliced in two by the ever-flowing river. This beach, along with other valley artworks, contributes to the magical aura that makes Waipi’o Valley a must-visit destination.

Waipi’o Valley Lookout

Don’t even think about leaving your camera behind; this place is a photographer’s dream come true! Sure, the Waipi’o Valley Lookout is about the views, but it’s also equipped with amenities to make your stop worthwhile.

As you prepare for your trip into the valley, remember that the journey down Waipio Valley Road can be as breathtaking as the destination itself. The Waipio Valley unfolds beneath you in a tapestry of lush greenery and stunning landscapes. Need a breather?

There are bathrooms, a picnic area, and even some historical information panels at the lookout to educate you about this sacred land.

The Partial Closure of Waipi’o Valley Road:

The ever-so-famous Waipi’o Valley Road—a pathway once traveled freely by many has now become a subject of caution. A comprehensive geotechnical assessment highlighted the immediate risks of rockfall, landslides, and slope instability, leading the County of Hawaii to restrict access for safety reasons. This action was taken to mitigate rockfall and address slope instability and erosion.

As of 2022, only Big Island residents, county-permitted tour company operators, and those exercising their Native Hawaiian traditional rights can access the valley floor via a covered 4WD vehicle. ATVs are a no-go!

Your journey to Waipi’o Valley doesn’t have to end at the lookout—though the view is a knockout on its own. For those itching to venture down to the valley floor, joining a tour group is your ticket to paradise.

It’s the perfect way to explore the sacred grounds while ensuring you’re in safe and knowledgeable hands, especially considering the immediate need to mitigate rockfall. Plus, it’s a chance to support local businesses and respect the private property rights of valley residents.

  • Remember, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife in Hilo plays a crucial role in maintaining these hiking trails and the overall ecosystem of the valley.

Hiking in Waipi’o Valley

Ready to put those hiking boots to good use? But let’s get one thing straight: hiking here isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a rugged paradise that demands your attention, stamina, and respect.

The Muliwai Trail: Not for the Faint-hearted

If you’ve got a flair for the extreme, The Muliwai Trail is your cup of tea. This beast of a trail zigzags up the opposite wall of Waipi’o Valley and heads for one of the most inaccessible spots on the Big Island—Waimanu Valley.

However, the first part of the trail, while strenuous, offers a unique viewpoint—especially breathtaking when the sun starts setting. As you follow the road up, the challenge of the steep road and the rugged dirt road becomes apparent.

The trail takes you from the valley floor to the side of the valley, presenting an awe-inspiring view of the tallest waterfall cascading down the valley wall.

For those who prefer a less demanding journey, there are horseback tours available, allowing you to experience the valley’s majesty without the exhaustive hike. These tours usually start from the bottom of the road and offer a unique way to reach the valley floor.

And for the truly adventurous, embarking on a day hike across this trail will not disappoint. It’s a memorable experience, taking you from the beach to the other side of the valley, with the option to walk along the beach for a more scenic route.

  • Remember, the trail remains open for those who wish to explore the valley with a covered 4WD, providing an alternative way to immerse in the breathtaking landscape of this part of the coast of the Big Island.

Hi‘ilawe Falls: A Forbidden Gem

Thinking of hiking to Hi‘ilawe Falls at the back of the valley? The path crosses over private land, and you’ll need explicit permission from the landowner.

The rule here is simple: no permission, no hike. If you’re fortunate enough to gain access, the journey towards these falls is as remarkable as the destination itself, taking you along the beach and through the lush valley landscape.

Getting Down into Waipi’o Valley: Your Options

Craving a closer look? You’re not alone. But there’s a catch—Waipi’o Valley Road is off-limits to non-residents. So how do you get that coveted up-close experience?

Since visitor access to the valley floor is now exclusive to guided tours, why not make the most of it? Options range from horseback riding adventures to shuttle services that’ll get you down there in style. Remember, if you’re planning to stay overnight, camping permits are a must.

Rising 800 feet in just one mile, it’s one of the steepest roads on the island, with an average grade of 25% peaking at 40%!

Got a rental car? Check your contract. Most rental companies specifically prohibit driving their vehicles down this road. If you’re determined to explore the valley on your own terms, look for a parking area near the top and prepare for a challenging trek.

Made it to the valley floor? Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit. The black sand beach beckons for a quick splash, offering a refreshing end of the beach experience.

The ocean currents can be deceivingly strong. As you walk across the beach, always keep safety in mind. And if you’re looking to explore further, turn left along the beach for more hidden gems. Safety first, always!

The Black Sand Beach of Waipi’o Valley

The sensation of beautiful black sand beach beneath your feet, the gentle ebb and flow of the Pacific, and the towering cliffs watching over you—a true manifestation of Hawaii’s enchanting contrasts.

Reaching this beach is relatively straightforward. Once you’ve descended to the valley floor, a turn to the right will set you on the road to the beach, this unique coastal haven. In a matter of minutes, the distinct black-sand expanse will spread before you, bisected by the powerful river flowing from the heart of the valley.

A note of caution: Depending on the river’s flow, crossing it can be tricky. Always gauge the water’s depth and current before attempting to cross. Remember, this area is important for Native Hawaiian traditional or customary rights, and it’s crucial to respect these cultural practices and the land itself.

You’re lounging on the black sand, the sun casting its golden glow on you, the sound of waves playing a gentle lullaby. Sounds heavenly. And it truly is. But, as inviting as the ocean may seem, it’s essential to exercise caution.

The beach is notorious for its rip currents and unpredictable high surf, especially during the winter months. It’s a paradise for the eyes and soul, but not necessarily a safe haven for swimmers.

This is why the area is monitored by company operators and those seeking to ensure visitors as a precautionary safety measure and to further assess any risks.

The Kaluahine Falls

Here’s a little cherry on top for your visit: the Kaluahine Falls. Located on the eastern side of the beach, this waterfall is like a secret whispered by nature. Its visibility often depends on the rain. From here, you can look up to see the top of the ridge, adding another layer of beauty to the scene.

Some might say that spotting the Kaluahine Falls on your visit is a stroke of luck, while others may feel it’s the universe’s rainy little gift. Either way, catching a glimpse of this natural wonder adds an extra layer of magic to your Waipi’o Valley adventure.


And there we have it! Waipi’o Valley is a tale of beauty, caution, and awe-inspiring landscapes. From the adrenaline-pumping hikes to the serenity at the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, every moment here is a brush with the sublime.