The Beautiful Waipi’o Valley
Located along the Hamakua Coast on the northeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i, Waipi’o Valley is the largest and southernmost of the seven valleys on the windward side of the KohalaMountains. Waipi’o is a mile wide at the coast and almost six miles deep.
At the coast there is a beautiful black sand beach constantly pounded by the Pacific Ocean waves. On either side of the valleyare cliffs reaching almost 2000 feet in elevation with numerous cascading waterfalls. Hiking in the Waipio Valley is amazing.
The Hamakua Coast is well-known for its very rugged coastline and its dramatic sheer cliffs and steep valleys. The Waipio Valley is the most famous of the Hamakua valleys, and exists today in a very primitive state, with only a few man-made structures deep in the valley adjacent a few farmers’ fields. Here, once upon a time, the Peace Corps sent its trainees to learn how to live in an austere environment before shipping out to their overseas assignments.
Unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, your drive will end at the Waipio Valley Lookout. Here the view of the valley and beach is spectacular. For an even better experience, hike down the trail to the edge of the valley and discover the wonders of Waipio. Once you descend into the valley, the direction of your hike is up to you; the valley is wide open and wonderful jungle trees, rivers, and Hawaiian animals stretch in all directions. Another unforgettable adventure is the Waipio Valley by Horseback tour.
If you want to explore the Waipio, but don’t want to hike or 4-wheel drive into the valley, check out the many guided tours that take you down into the Waipio Valley.
Although we’ve hiked into Waipio Valley several times, we recently chose to drive our SUV deep into the Waipio Valley – check out our Waipio Valley 4×4 Adventure blog post for our story and photos.
Stop for Food
Before you hike into the Waipio Valley or after as you leave the overlook, make sure you stop at Tex Drive In restaurant in Honokaa. Since 1969, this restaurant has served local plate lunch-style food, snacks, coffee, and a full service breakfast. It specializes in Portuguese Malasadas – a delicious deep-fried donut. Located on Highway 19 at Honokaa (view map). (808) 775-0598.
Hiking into the Waipio Valley
The road from the Waipio lookout is very steep (25% grade), this is significant on the hike back up! This road descends 1000 feet in a mere mile to the bottom of the valley. Much of the valley is private property, so please be respectful. Any hikers should Near Hiilawe Falls, Waipio Valleyask permission to cross private property, and should not ever pick fruit, walk into gardens or explore what look like “abandoned” homes. The valley itself has no electricity, running water or phone service and is sparsely populated with mostly farmers Hiilawe Falls, Waipio Valleytending their taro fields. You will see a few primitive buildings, many overcome by vegetative growth. The river winds its way through the center of the valley and can be difficult to cross after heavy rainfall. The farmers use a system of ditches, low-walled fields, and PVC pipes to irrigate their crops.
From the bottom of the paved road, hiking to the right (east) takes you to the black sand beach on the coast – this strip of black sand is often pounded by violent surf (especially in Winter months). Just prior to reaching the beach is a forest setting with Farm land in Waipio Valleywild horses grazing in the grass. Continuing to the East of the beach along the coast, you will see two spectacular waterfalls Kaluahine Falls, and further along, Waiulili Falls. To the left (west) of the paved road, your hike will take you within view of
Hi’ilaweWild horses in Waipio Valley Falls – a breath-taking waterfall more than 1,400 feet high, the highest in Hawaii! As you walk along this road, you are surrounded by ferns, exotic flowers, and fruit trees, their branches heavy with over-ripened fruit. This road can be washed out be the swollen river, fed by torrential rains.
If you are able to continue along this road to the west, you can hike deep into the Waipio and eventually reach its remote northwest wall. Mosquitoes can be nasty down here, so bring your bug repellant. Camping is not allowed in the Waipio valley, however several bed and breakfasts also exist near the valley. Are you ready? Read our Hawaii Hiking Tips.
View of the valley floor from the road while hiking down into Waipio. You can see the unspoiled land and farmers’ taro fields below.
View of the back side of the Waipio Valley, the valley floor a vertigo-inducing 2,000′ below!
Challenge: Waimanu Valley Hike
Looking for a challenge? The Muliwai Trail takes you on a tough, winding route up the valley wall on the far side (West side) of Waipi’o Valley leads up and over into the next remote valley, Waimanu. Upon reaching the valley floor, take the road to the right, then follow the beach to Wailoa Stream. The road ends at the stream. Ford the stream and follow the horse trail on the dunes to the west side of Waipio Valley and the beginning of the trail.
The trail zigzags up the western wall of Waipio Valley, climbing approximately 1,200` to the plateau. It then leads across the plateau area to Waimanu, crossing 12 gulches that are up to 500` deep, then descends another 1,200` into Waimanu Valley. It is minimally maintained, steep, deeply eroded in places, rocky, muddy, and slippery when wet. Only experienced hikers in good physical condition should attempt it. Heavy rains in the uplands often cause dangerous flash flooding in stream beds and can submerge low lying campsites. Never attempt to ford rain swollen streams.
Waiilikahi Falls is one of Waimanu Valley’s impressive waterfalls and is accessible by foot – not by trail, but by more of a bushwhacking adventure. The best view of this waterfall is not from its base but from the ford of Waimanu Stream. Watch out for wild pigs on this hike. To get to Waiilikahi Falls, be patient and look carefully for tags—colored plastic ribbon tied to trees or shrubs—and follow them on this route. There is no trail— not even a beaten path.
Hiking to Waimanu is no cake-walk! The hike will take you 9 hours to hike in and more than 10 hours to hike out. Be prepared for clouds of mosquitoes.Check the weather before starting, if it is raining, the more than 12 streams you have to cross will be swollen deep! Although this trail is lengthy (18 miles), the views are breath-taking. Camping is allowed in Waimanu – you must call Forestry Wildlife (808) 974-4221 for a permit. Want to be adventurous? For more adventures and info, check out the Big Island Adventure Guide.For additional photos of the Muliwai Trail and the Waimanu Valley, check out this photo journal.
Attractions: scenic drive, scenic lookout, tropical valley
Activities: hiking, picnicking, swimming, fishing
Extras: parking lot and bathrooms at the scenic lookout
Virtual Tour: Take a Virtual Tour of Waipio Valley.
Directions: Take Rte 19 North out of Hilo. Turn right onto Rte 240 towards Waipio. Take this road until you reach the Waipio Lookout. View map.