8x Waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii (+ jaw-dropping waterfall retreats)

The Big Island of Hawaii is paradise for nature-lovers and adventurers. Fabulous waterfalls, gorgeous green and black sand beaches, the lush rainforest and the proximity of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park make it the best Hawaiian island for families looking for an active vacation. Chasing waterfalls on the Big Island is certainly part of the fun.

The unpredictable weather on the windward side or east coast of the island can put a damper on your Hawaiian vacation. Then again, if you want to admire the Big Island waterfalls in all their beauty, you just have to put up with a shower now and then. We hesitated a bit before adding the Hilo area to our Hawaii itinerary. But in the end, we’re really glad that we didn’t let that one unpredictable element stop us from visiting.

The Big Island turned out to be the highlight of our trip and that was, in part, thanks to the rain. The lush, natural beauty was overwhelming and the waterfalls on the Big Island nothing short of spectacular. To top it all off, you’ll find some of the most mesmerising Airbnbs of Hawaii hidden in the most unlikely places. Continue reading to discover some out-of-this-world waterfall retreats.

Onomea Falls is one of the prettiest waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii
One of the Hawaii Big Island waterfalls

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“Emerald slopes became so tall they touched the clouds, and showers painted diamond waterfalls that sluiced down cliff sides.” – Victoria Kahler
Psst… Love waterfalls as much as we do? Discover our selection of waterfall quotes and captions!

The most spectacular waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii

Let’s start our tour of the best waterfalls on the Big Island from Hilo, the main town on this side of the island, and continue along the Hamakua coast all the way up to the Kohala coast. Find out what makes every waterfall in this list so special and if it’s publicly available or not. Plus, discover which Big Island waterfalls you can swim in.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls Big Island waterfalls is not swimmable

Quick facts about Rainbow Falls:

  • Accessibility: Publicly accessible.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Height: 80 ft (24 m).
  • Driving time from Hilo: 5 minutes.
  • Can you swim in Rainbow Falls Hawaii? No, swimming is not allowed.

Rainbow Falls or Waiānuenue Falls is located just a few miles from Hilo, in Wailuku River State Park. There’s no need to hike to this Hawaiian landmark because you can almost see this tropical waterfall from the parking lot. Rainbow falls is surrounded by lush rainforest yet very accessible. According to the Hawaiian legend, moon goddess Hina lived in the lava cave over which the waterfall cascades.

On a clear morning, when the sun faces the waterfall, the light forms a rainbow on the spray. Hence, its name Rainbow Falls. We didn’t get to see this phenomenon since it was too clouded. But we still had a great time. The setting is very idyllic and we had this gorgeous Big Island waterfall all to ourselves.

Giant banyan tree near Rainbow Falls on Hawaii island
Upstream Wailuku river from Rainbow Falls you'll find Peepee Falls Big Island waterfalls

On the left side of Rainbow Falls, there’s a set of stairs that takes you closer to the Wailuku river and the top of the waterfall. About halfway, you’ll notice a path leading to this impressive banyan tree.

Pe’epe’e Falls

Pe'epe'e Falls is one of the waterfalls on the Big Island in Wailuku River State Park right past the boiling pots
Image courtesy of Jimmy Emerson on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Quick facts about Pe’epe’e Falls:

  • Accessibility: Publicly accessible.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Height: 55 ft (16 m).
  • Driving time from Hilo: 6 minutes.
  • Can you swim in Pe’epe’e Falls? No, swimming is not allowed.

The Wailuku river feeds another waterfall called Pe’epe’e Falls, located about a mile past Rainbow Falls on Rainbow Road. There’s a scenic overlook which also offers a view over the Boiling Pots, a series of lava pools that bubbles with river water as if it were boiling.

This Big Island waterfall is not as famous as Rainbow Falls so it’s usually much quieter.

Technically, you could hike down to the water and cross the fence to access the pool but this is highly discouraged. The Hawaiian term Wailuku translates as water of destruction for a reason, after all.

Wai’ale Falls

Wai'ale Falls is located just minutes away from Hilo town
  • Accessibility: Publicly accessible.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Height: 55 ft (16 m).
  • Driving time from Hilo: 7 minutes.
  • Can you swim in Wai’ale Falls? No, swimming is not allowed.

Go another mile upstream and you’ll find yet another waterfall, Wai’ale Falls a.k.a Eagles Nest Falls. Reaching this two-tiered Big Island waterfall requires a short hike over a narrow and overgrown trail. Because it’s a bit more difficult to find, it’s also much quieter than the other waterfalls in Wailuku River State Park.

You can head to the top of the waterfall or to the large pool. Although this place is popular with local cliff jumpers, swimming is not allowed. The area is really nice, though, and perfect for a picnic.

‘Akaka Falls

Man enjoying the view at ʻAkaka Falls state park Hawaii Big Island waterfalls

Quick facts about ‘Akaka Falls:

  • Accessibility: Publicly accessible.
  • Cost: Either $5 per person or $10 per car.
  • Height: 442 ft (135 m).
  • Driving time from Hilo: 23 minutes.
  • Can you swim in Akaka falls? No, swimming is not possible.

This majestic Big Island waterfall is located in the ‘Akaka Falls State Park. A well-paved loop trail and different sets of stairs led us along giant ferns and fragrant flowers. The lush rainforest and beautiful trees provided plenty of shade during one of the shortest Big Island hikes.

You’ll actually find two waterfalls in ‘Akaka Falls State Park. The first one, located in the northeastern corner of the park, is Kahuna falls. The view point is pretty narrow and only allows to catch a glimpse of this waterfall.

The second one is spectacular ‘Akaka Falls, which you can hear well before you see it. It’s such an amazing sight that we spent quite some time admiring this natural delight. Both the trail and viewing platform provide plenty of photo opportunities. ‘Akaka Falls State Park is easily accessible and allows inexperienced hikers to behold the untamed beauty of the Hilo region. Make sure to include a visit to these stunning falls on your Big Island bucket list.

Kahuna Falls on Big Island Hawaii
Lush nature at Akaka Falls State Park
Two girls drinking fresh coconut juice from a tropical fruit stand near Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls on the windward side of the Big Island

Insider tips on ‘Akaka Falls:

  • We first visited Rainbow falls before continuing our way to ‘Akaka Falls. We’d recommend to plan your visit in the same order since ‘Akaka falls is just that bit more impressive than Rainbow falls.
  • Just like in Maui, where we found fresh fruit stands at several Road to Hana stops, you’ll find several stalls with freshly sliced pineapple and coconut juice on the Big Island. To our delight, we found one just down the road from Akaka Falls State Park. Could you resist a a stand like this?

Onomea Falls

Onomea waterfalls Big Island Hawaii

Quick facts about Onomea Falls:

  • Accessibility: Located on private property.
  • Cost: Either $20 per person.
  • Multi-tiered.
  • Driving time from Hilo: 15 minutes.
  • Can you swim in Onomea falls? No, swimming is not possible.

Onomea Falls is located on the grounds of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, which can be reached via the most scenic drive from Hilo. We arrived around opening time and meandered down the elevated boardwalk amidst a vast collection of palms and ferns.

Just a few decades ago, this was a neglected and impenetrable jungle. Nowadays over 2000 species of tropical plants, both native-Hawaiian and from jungles around the world, thrive on the grounds of the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden (formerly known as the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens) thanks to the fertile volcanic soil. Protected from the trade winds, they show their lively colors and fill the air with a delicate perfume.

Onomea Falls, named after the bay that borders the tropical gardens, can be found at the heart of this idyllic setting. This multi-tiered waterfall cascades down the rocks amidst a landscape of mosses and ferns. There’s a small bridge right opposite this Hawaiian waterfall, offering an excellent view of the falls.

Onomea Falls is one of the best Big Island waterfalls
Downstream Onomea Falls Big Island Hawaii

Insider tip on Onomea Falls:

  • Make the most of your visit to these botanical gardens, there’s just so much beauty to found. From the heliconias and purple orchids to the gorgeous vistas over Onomea bay, this is a wonderful place to spend some time.
  • Head to the What’s Shakin’ food shack a little further down the road for a refreshing smoothie offering a view of its beautiful garden.

Umauma Falls

Quick facts about Umauma Falls:

  • Accessibility: This waterfall is located on private property.
  • Cost: Either $12 per person.
  • Height: 300 ft (91 m) cumulatively over the three levels.
  • Driving time from Hilo: 21 minutes.
  • Can you swim in Umauma falls? Yes! This is one of the few swimmable waterfalls on Big Island. Some tours, such as this one, include opportunity to take a dip in Umauma’s waterfall and swimming hole.
Umauma Falls big waterfall Big Island Hawaii
Image courtesy of Terry Ott on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Umauma Falls is a triple-tiered waterfall located in the heart of the Umauma Experience adventure park north of Hilo. After a stop at the visitor center, you can drive down to Umauma Falls, park your car and take the self-guided Garden & River Walk. The trail leads along the Umauma River and a natural palm forest.

Notice the gorgeous native Ohia tree, a native species which we also saw on our Kilauea Iki hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Two viewing platforms offer amazing views of enchanting Umauma Falls in its idyllic setting.

Kulaniapia Falls

Kulaniapia Falls is one of the best waterfalls on the Big Island to swim
Image courtesy of Svein-Magne Tunli – tunliweb.no – CC BY-SA 4.0

Quick facts about Kulaniapia falls:

  • Accessibility: This waterfall is located on private property.
  • Guest can stay in the full-service Inn.
  • Height: 120 ft (35 m).
  • Driving time from Hilo: 10-15 minutes.
  • Can you swim in Kulaniapia falls? Yes! This is one of the only waterfalls on the Big Island you can swim in. And the best thing is that you don’t even have to spend the night in the Inn to experience Kulaniapia falls. That’s right, you can just get a day pass and take a dip in this mesmerizing environment.

This is the tallest privately accessible waterfall in the state of Hawaii, at 120 ft tall. It’s located on the grounds of the fully working farm of the Kulaniapia community, which is entirely off-grid.

You can swim in the large pond underneath Kulaniapia Falls. It’s the perfect playground for big and little adventurers thanks to onsite activities such as kayaking, paddle-boarding and even waterfall-rappelling.

Hi’ilawe Falls

Hi’ilawe waterfall in Waipio Valley is one of the best waterfalls on the Big Island

Quick facts about Hi’ilawe Falls:

  • Accessibility: No longer accessible.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Height: 1,450 ft (441 m).
  • Driving time from Hilo: 1 hour to the Waipi’o Valley lookout point.
  • Can you swim in Hi’ilawe falls? No, swimming is not possible without trespassing on private property.

Along the northern Hamakua Coast, amidst the Kohala mountains, you’ll find seven verdant valleys. Waipi’o Valley, also known as the Valley of the Kings, is the southernmost one. According to Hawaiians legends, it was once the home of King Kamehameha I and therefore this place is of significant cultural and spiritual importance to native Hawaiians.

Waipio Valley Road has been closed to the public due to a high risk of rockfalls and landslides. Only Waipio Valley residents and farmers are still allowed to access the valley. At this time, the only way for visitors to get a glimpse of the valley is from the lookout. Hiking down is strictly forbidden and therefore the Hi’ilawe Falls can no longer be admired.

Map of the Big Island waterfalls

For your convenience, we’ve created this map indicating the Hawaiian waterfalls mentioned in this article:

On all Hawaiian islands you need a rental car to get around the island

As you can see, most of the Big Island waterfalls are located in close proximity of one another. The drive from Hilo to the Hamakua and Kohala coast is also very scenic, so it makes for the perfect little road trip. We used this website to to book our rental car and were very happy with the process and service.

How to decide which Big Island waterfall to visit?

Mother and daughter near Rainbow Falls Hawaii, one of the best waterfalls on Big Island

Let’s sum it all up in a checklist which you can use to determine which waterfalls in Hawaii island to visit:

  • Must-see Big Island waterfalls that allow for a quick visit: ‘Akaka Falls and Rainbow Falls.
  • Most impressive Hawaii Island waterfalls: ‘Akaka Falls and Hi’ilawe Falls.
  • Best accessible waterfalls near Hilo: Rainbow Falls and Umauma Falls.
  • Medium accessible waterfalls: ‘Akaka Falls (some stairs) and Onomea Falls (steep platform in the beginning of the tropical gardens).
  • Least accessible waterfall on Big Island: Hi’ilawe Falls.
  • Free visit Hawaii Big Island waterfalls: Rainbow Falls and Hi’ilawe Falls.
  • Family-friendly Hilo waterfalls: Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls, Umauma Falls and Onomea Falls.
  • Entrance-fee Big Island waterfalls: Umauma Falls and Onomea Falls.
  • Guests only Big Island waterfalls: Kulaniapia Falls, Kapehu Falls and Kikala Falls.
GoPro for your Hawaii vacation

Big Island waterfall tours

Here are some options to visit the waterfalls with an organized tour, which is especially interesting if you’ll be staying at the other side of the island, near Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa.

Legends of the Waterfalls & Volcano Full-Day Tour

Learn all about the fascinating history and legends of this interesting area. Take a dip in the ocean, explore a tide pool, and check Rainbow Falls. Pickups from Hilo hotels and vacation rentals included.

Deluxe ATV Waterfall and Swim Experience

Experience the scenic beauty of the Hamakua Coast on this thrilling off-road adventure on automatic ATVs. Explore the amazing scenery and take a dip in the Umauma Falls private pond. This tour departs and ends in Hakalau.

Kohala Waterfalls Small Group Adventure Tour

Explore the rugged landscape, hike along tunnels and aqueducts, take in the sweeping coastal views, discover interesting rock formations and admire no less than seven Kohala waterfalls on this small group walking tour (9 persons tops). Pickups can be arranged at various locations, including Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa.

Small Group Waipio Valley and Waterfalls Adventure

This is a fabulous small group single day tour that truly captures the essence of the leeward side. You get to visit Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls and Hi’ilawe Falls, explore Waipio Valley, sample macadamia nuts at a Hilo fruit farm and swim at a private waterfall so this adventure really includes all of the top things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Pickups can be arranged at various locations, including Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa.

Circle of Fire and Waterfalls Helicopter Tour

If you want to see even the most remote waterfalls on Hawaii island, then here’s a helicopter tour that will take you to the most remote areas of the island: The Circle of fire and waterfalls helicopter tour from Hilo by Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. You might even fly over the legendary Wai’ilikahi Falls which are nearly impossible to reach by foot.

Your shoes will get muddy and your clothes wet (if you decide to cross the stream). Make sure to wear water resistant hiking shoes from a trusted brand such as Merrell or Keen. Also, pack an extra pair of clothes and shoes to change when you return to the car.
Pack a GoPro with the necessary GoPro travel accessories and some spare batteries.

These vacation rentals come with their own private waterfall on Big Island

We’ve dedicated an entire article on where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii to help you choose the best area (and you can find a sneak peak on the best places to stay in this web story). Since all waterfalls on Hawaii Big Island are located in the (north)eastern region of the island so we’d certainly recommended adventurous souls to stay in the wider Hilo area.

This part of Hawaii Island is home to some of the dreamiest Airbnb and VRBO rentals in Hawaii. Since we’re determined to return, we’ve put together a wish list of places to stay in the future and we’d love to share it with you.

The Falls at Reed’s Island

This waterfall-perched bungalow is an absolute eye-catcher. It comes with unparalleled views of the Wailuku river and its surrounding rainforest, a gorgeous riverfront yard, an exquisite wooden interior, hot-and-cold soaking tubs and front-row seats to a mesmerizing waterfall.

The best part is that you’re actually staying just downstream of Rainbow falls and within walking distance of downtown Hilo.

Kapehu falls reteat house and cottage

Porch and house in a lush garden with ocean views
Image courtesy of VRBO – Robert Tag
Kapehu Falls – Retreat House
House tucked away behind lush vegetation
Image courtesy of VRBO – Robert Tag
Kapehu Falls – Creekside Cottage

Stay at this scenic property and enjoy the private waterfall with a natural swimming pool beneath it. There are just 2 accommodations on this amazing property: the Retreat House or at the Creekside Cottage. Both available accommodations are separated by a creek and a ravine and the lush grounds give out to a eucalyptus forest. Pick your own fruit from the orchard and enjoy your secluded slice of paradise.

This property is located about 15 minutes from dnnwtonw Hilo. Guests of this accommodation can swim in this Big Island waterfall. And with a bit of luck you can have this beautiful waterfall all to yourself.

Spectacular cliff-perched Waipio Heaven

Gorgeous lanai with pool views in a tropical setting
Image courtesy of VRBO – Waipio Heaven

If you’re a fan of the verdant valleys of the Kohala coast, then you’ll love this out-of-this-world retreat. Waipio Heaven lives up to its name. This 5-bedroom has the most gorgeous heated swimming pool featuring a hidden water slide with fountain, a jacuzzi tub and cabanas. Endless ocean views guaranteed.

Edit: This property used to have access to a private waterfall. This feature seems to have been removed from the listing. So, if you consider booking this property for the waterfall, then make sure to inform about this before.

Is it safe to swim in waterfalls on the Big Island?

The freshwater on Big Island is known to contain the leptospirosis bacteria, so it’s essential to avoid contact with the eyes and open cuts. Since the amazing Big Island waterfalls are not as pure and pristine as one would expect, swimming involves a risk.

Another issue is flash flooding. Even if the conditions at the pool of a fall may seem sunny and ideal, rain could be pouring mountain-side. This could cause the water level at the pool to rise very fast – in a flash – and these floods often brings debris flows.

So, while technically you could swim in some of the Big Island waterfalls, it does come with a certain risk. If you decide to go for a dip anyway, then be aware of these risks and prepare accordingly.

That’s it for this list of waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii. If you’re planning to go island-hopping, make sure to also check out our selection of best waterfall hikes on Oahu and epic hikes on Maui.

Now, we can’t wait to find out what your favorite Big Island waterfall is. Let us know in the comments.

Scenic landscape with Hilo waterfall
One of the beautiful waterfalls in Hilo

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