The Big Island, also known as Hawaii Island, has a diverse landscape with several active volcanoes. Its deep creviced valleys coupled with an abundance of rainfall, make for spectacular waterfalls. While travelers choose Maui for its sandy beaches and Oahu for nightlife, Hawaii Island offers an indescribable natural beauty. The windward or eastern side of the island is the rainy side and averages almost 150 inches of liquid sunshine annually. That moisture generates the most impressive Big island waterfalls I have ever seen.
Although it’s hard to compete with Kilauea, Hawaii’s star tourist attraction, these majestic cascades are worthy of a visit.
Rainbow Falls, The Popular One
- Location: Rainbow Drive, off Wainuenue Avenue in Hilo
Rainbow Falls or Waiānuenue Falls is the most visited waterfall on Hawaii Island due to its accessibility and the fact that it’s free. Positioned close to Hilo port, it’s commonly included on port excursions for passengers on a Hawaiian cruise.
Visiting early in the morning when the sun is behind you increases the chance of seeing rainbows in the mist of this 80-foot watercourse. Located on the Wailuku River, this popular tourist destination is just one of many waterfalls along this waterway.
More To Discover On the Big Island:
● Swim with spinner dolphins on a Kealakekua Bay snorkeling excursion.
● Check out the best shore excursions from Kailua-Kona.
During times of heavy rainfall, the width of the waterfall increases. So, at times, the water rages as a noisy, muddy torrent flowing into the pool below. Swirling around, the force of the water has created a lava cave behind the falls. Legend says that the Hawaiian goddess Hina, Maui’s mother, resides in the cave behind the falls.
From the viewing area, climbing a series of stairs alongside the rainforest allowed me to get above Rainbow Falls. Here, I could see a different aspect of the beautiful falls.
Pe’epe’e Falls And The Boiling Pots
- Location: Wainuenue Avenue, one mile north of Rainbow Falls in Hilo
Further up the Wailuku River from Rainbow Falls is Rainbow Falls’ lesser-known brother. Pe’epe’e Falls is not as accessible, and the viewpoint to see it overlooks the boiling pots, a series of hollowed-out lava pools below the falls.
Not as impressive as Rainbow Falls, it’s still picturesque, surrounded by dense rainforest with plenty of tropical flowers. It’s very intriguing to see the boiling pots to see how water’s power has carved out circular shapes in the lava.
During heavy rainfall, this area is hazardous as raging water “boils” in the pools, giving it its name. Don’t be tempted to swim here, as flash floods can happen at any time, making the river treacherous.
Hi’ilawe Falls, The Tallest One
- Location: Waipio Road to Waipi’o Valley
At a colossal 1450 feet, Hi’ilawe Falls is the Big Island’s tallest waterfall. Surrounded by a lush landscape, it’s reminiscent of Meghalaya state in India, where its tropical forests and jaw-dropping waterfalls offer similar views.
Few come to visit Hi’ilawe Falls due to its remoteness in the Waipi’o Valley. While a 4WD vehicle is required to drive the steep and narrow road, the road and areas near Hi’ilawe Falls are on private property. Please be respectful of the locals and their land, and only visit if you have permission.
A better way of viewing Hi’ilawe Falls is through a helicopter tour, a horseback excursion, or an organized tour. The flow over these falls is not as heavy as it once was due to part of Lalakea Stream above the falls being partially dammed for irrigation.
Umauma Falls, The Dramatic One
- Location: Old Mamalahoa Hwy
Approximately 16 miles north of Hilo, Hawaii, on the Umauma River is Umauma Falls. It’s different from the others as it’s a series of three falls, arguably making it the prettiest waterfall on the Big Island. However, Umauma Falls is on private land and accessible through Umauma Experience. So, there is an entrance fee to see the falls, which is part of a large garden, including a rainforest walk, an arboretum, and a children’s maze.
While the three-tiered waterfall has a combined height of 300 feet, it looks smaller from the viewing bridge. Alternatively, thrill-seekers can enjoy a series of waterfalls ziplining down the Umauma River on nine ziplines. Combine ziplining with a suspension bridge and lava tube for the ultimate adrenaline experience on Hawaii Island.
Akaka Falls, The Unforgettable One
- Location: 875 Akaka Falls Road | Open: Daily 8:30 am to 6 pm
For me, seeing Akaka Falls after hiking through bamboo groves, wild orchids, and a lush rainforest was an unforgettable sight. The sounds, sights, and smells of the prolific flora teased my senses. The State Park charges USD 1 per person or USD 5 per car to access the 0.4-mile looping trail.
The tranquil, paved pathway is sheltered in many places by dense vegetation providing a welcoming natural umbrella from the hot sun. On rainy days, the lush rainforest also acts as a personal umbrella to shield you from the raindrops.
Reaching the viewing platform, thundering Akaka Falls is a glorious sight, falling 442 feet into a deep gorge, which is barely viewable. Measuring twice as high as the impressive Niagara Falls, it may not be as wide but still memorable. Facing east, the best time for viewing is early morning because, after midday, the waterfall hides in the shadows.
At Akaka Falls State Park, I also saw Kahuna Falls, which was mostly shielded by vegetation. However, for my USD 1 entrance fee, I viewed two waterfalls, which, in my eyes, was a bargain.
Wai’ale Falls, The Little Gem
- Location: Wainuenue Avenue, north of Rainbow Falls and Pe’epe’e Falls
While Hawaii Island is home to countless cascades, many are on private property, and others are barely accessible. But search high and low, and sometimes I find a little gem. Wai’ale Falls resides further up the Wailuku River from Rainbow Falls, Pe’epe’e Falls, and the boiling pots.
Wai’ale Falls is actually two waterfalls, and the best part is that the lower falls are viewable from the road. While the lower falls are manmade, it does not detract from the beauty of the view.
The upper falls are noticeable in the distance. To access the upper falls, a short trail on the north side follows the river. Be warned, that the path is not maintained and can be very muddy during rainfall.
Proclaimed as having the most active volcano globally, Kilauea, the picturesque waterfalls are also a massive hit amongst travelers. If chasing waterfalls is your thing, be sure to visit these gems as each one evokes beauty in its own way.
Happy travels, Karen