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Waterfalls are a big source of question when it comes to vacationers traveling to Hawaii. For some, these natural water spectacles might seem like a mythical creature, existing only in dreams and in highly unattainable landscapes. Or maybe you’ve seen waterfalls online and on TV and think the ones in Hawaii could never compare. You might even think that in order to access one, you’d have to be some sort of hiker guru or super nature enthusiast. But no. None of this is true. In fact, Hawaii harbors not only some of the most beautiful waterfalls, but some of the tallest in the world too! From steep tumbling falls against jagged cliffs to shorter falls you can jump off, to waterfalls backed by lush green moss and ferns, to shallow pools, deep pools, small pools, and large pools beneath, Hawaii has the ultimate variety when it comes to waterfalls!
Many waterfalls in Hawaii are accessible only via helicopter, but don’t get discouraged just yet! There are tons that are accessible via hiking trails, kayaks, and tour boats too! Some waterfalls freefall into the ocean, while others drain into fresh pools below. Some are off limits and some are open to the public. Some are major tourist attractions, while others offer more personal encounters. Some waterfall trails are a quick walk, others are a long hike, and some can take days. Most are free to explore, but some have the occasional parking fee or park entrance fee. Some waterfalls are commonly known and widely visited while others are yet to be discovered. You can usually find wild life in and around waterfalls such as crayfish, fresh water gobies, fresh water crabs, wild pigs, birds, mosquitoes (yes, lots of them!) and anything else that runs wild in the forests of Hawaii (no snakes though!) You can also usually find fruit along waterfall hiking trails such as guava, papaya, lilikoi, and strawberry guava. Waterfall hikes in Hawaii are usually safe for any age and any stage of hiker, unless there are signs indicating otherwise or security guards protecting the entrance (for example Stairway to Heaven on Oahu and Kipu Falls on Kauai).
While we’d like to mention all of our favorites, we’re narrowing it down to just one waterfall hike per main island (Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Big Island). These waterfall hikes were picked for their astounding beauty, accessibility, and overall satisfaction factor. So while we may have other favorites in mind, these ones provide the ideal array for any type of hike and hiker. And we’re listing them from the most effortless to the most advanced, but remember; there are plenty of other waterfall hikes on each island that will appeal to any skill level. So if you’re vacationing to Hawaii be sure to check out all your options, and not just the ones we mention here. There is so much to explore! So get busy!
Our first mention is also our easiest mention that we’re highlighting, but quite possibly the one that will yield the heaviest water tumbling down. Akaka Falls State Park features two different waterfalls, Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. And they are both easily accessed via a short, well-maintained paved path. You’ll pass through dense rainforests filled with stunning flora and fauna including bamboo groves, wild orchids, ferns, and towering trees. While walking the 0.4-mile trail through the lush vegetation, you’ll first come to the 100-foot Kahuna Falls. Walk further around the loop and you’ll come across 442 feet of falling water, known as Akaka Falls- this will simply mesmerize you. There is a parking fee of $5 per car or $1 for walk-ins, but this goes toward the maintenance of the park and upkeep of facilities. There are public restrooms, trashcans, and drinking water available here for convenience. The all around experience of Akaka Falls is gratifying, easy, and accommodating, which is why we recommend it for your visit to the Big Island.
This hike is beautiful, rewarding, and relatively easy, however it does require some amount of awareness as to where you’re stepping. The trail carves through terrain such as roots, rocks, and mud and is approximately 1 mile in length. You’ll discover fantastic views of the Ko’olau Mountains, plus a handful of small waterfalls and deep refreshing pools of fresh water. The end of the hike boasts the Maunawili Falls, which is a safe and easy waterfall to jump from. If this is something you’ve always dreamed of doing, but are fearful about heights or the overall risk, then take peace of mind knowing these waterfalls are Aloha Bruce certified! While I love a good thrill, I’m not big on risky business, so Maunawili Falls is the perfect waterfall for me to jump from and still feel exhilaration. Parking is free for this hike, but we recommend bringing all valuables with you. And don’t forget the bug spray!
A longer hike than the last two, this trail offers natural surprise after natural surprise. You’ll walk past various look-out points, wooden bridges, steep ravines, green rivers and pools, many waterfalls, fragrant white ginger, and a dense bamboo forest that clanks in the wind, offering the sounds of a bamboo wind chime multiplied by a thousand. It is an absolutely gorgeous hike and while it’s only a 1.8-mile trail, it’ll likely take you a few hours to complete because of all the time you’ll spend stopping to gawk at all the sights. The end product is a towering 400-foot waterfall backed against sheer black lava rock, which tumbles into a shallow pool. You can dip your toes in the fresh water pool and walk around the base of the falls if you like, but our favorite feature of this hike is the private swimming pools you can discover right off the beaten path. Oh, and don’t use your brand new favorite $200 hiking shoes on this path- there are a couple river crossings and you’re likely to get your feet a bit wet during the balancing act!
The most physically demanding hike on our short list, the trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls is 4 miles in, 4 miles out. During summer months when this trail hasn’t been soaked in mud, it is relatively doable for any age hiker, as long as they’re willing to make a day trip out of the adventure. One really great thing about this hike is that it offers beautiful scene after beautiful scene; seriously, your camera card won’t be able to hold all the photos you’ll take during this hike! Another cool thing is after the first 2 miles, you’ll come to a large beach where you can refresh and rejuvenate. This is a popular place for families to rest and eat, and is great for swimming during calm ocean conditions. The next 2 miles is to the falls, which cascades down 300 feet and provides a very large, deep pool to swim in. And if you’re a strong swimmer, you can even swim past the force of tumbling water and climb behind the waterfall for one of the most memorable sights of your life.
Waterfalls provide such a fulfilling experience that we recommend visiting at least one every time you’re in Hawaii. With so many to explore and such a wide variety of trails for every type of hiker, it’s an adventure that will surely amaze everyone. It doesn’t matter how small or slow a waterfall is, they still manage to impress us with their mesmerizing movement and astounding splendor. Hawaii’s natural beauty never ceases to impress and we think you’ll agree if you visit any one of these hikes mentioned.