11 Best Waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii
Author Meagan Drillinger explored the Big Island during her travels across Hawaii in January 2023.
Hawaii is the land of rainbows, beautiful beaches, towering peaks, and, of course, waterfalls. When it comes to the best waterfalls in the state of Hawaii, the Big Island has more than its fair share. Located all up and down the eastern side of the massive island, where rainfall is much more abundant than on the western side, waterfalls simply abound.
From waterfalls that are easy to view from the road to others at the end of challenging hikes, and still more that you can see while cruising through the canopy on an adrenaline-pumping zipline, you won't lack for fabulous waterfalls on the Big Island.
Of course, the power of the waterfalls often depends on how much rain has fallen in recent weeks, so you'll want to time your visit for peak waterfall season between November and March when rainfall is at its peak. During these months, you're almost guaranteed to see rushing cascades plunging hundreds of feet down black volcanic rock cliffs and crashing into sparkling pools below.
These are the best waterfalls on the Big Island.
1. Rainbow Falls
One of the easiest waterfalls to visit on the Big Island also happens to be one of its most beautiful. The Rainbow Falls is a gushing cascade of water that careens 80 feet down from a volcanic rock ledge. Legend has it that the waterfall is home to the Hawaiian goddess of the moon, Hina.
It's easy to see why she may have chosen this tropical oasis as her home — it's breathtakingly beautiful. The force of the falls is dependent on how much rainfall there has been and how high the Wailuku River is. But even in drier months, Rainbow Falls puts on a seriously intense show.
Besides the exceptional beauty, what's great about Rainbow Falls is how accessible they are. It's free to see them, and you can walk from a parking area that is directly in town.
If you're lucky, you'll quickly learn how the falls got its name — just look for the rainbow that shimmers in the churning mist below the falls.
Address: 2-198 Rainbow Drive, Hilo, Hawaii
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts on the Big Island of Hawaii
Read More: Most Beautiful Waterfalls in the World
2. 'Akaka Falls
While you're in Hilo, 'Akaka Falls is another stop to add to the waterfall list. These impressive falls tumble a staggering 422 feet, exploding out of the lush, green jungle and plummeting down a rocky cliff to a pool below. Truly, these falls are impressive, and may even give you a touch of vertigo just looking at them.
'Akaka Falls isn't as easy to access as Rainbow Falls, but it's pretty close. To view the falls, you'll have to enter 'Akaka Falls State Park, which requires an entrance fee of $10 per vehicle and an additional $5 per passenger. A half-mile loop hike takes you to a viewing platform, from which you can see the falls.
If you keep going along the pathway, you'll reach a second waterfall, Kahuna Falls. These falls aren't as easy to see as Akaka, but you'll certainly hear their power. The loop walk is very beautiful, as well, passing through bamboo forests and past towering Banyan trees. The park can get crowded, especially on weekends, so it's best to go early.
Address: VR3X+P5, 875 Akaka Falls Road, Honomu, Hawaii
3. Umauma Falls
Outside of Hilo, Umauma Falls is much more than just a waterfall. It's an adventure for the entire family. The Umauma Falls are located on the property of an adventure company called The Umauma Experience, which specializes in ziplining. But you don't have to ride the zipline to have an experience — you can simply go to visit the falls.
The admission fee to view the falls is $5 per person. This gives you access to wander the grounds, walk the lovely paths, and explore the gardens. Umauma Falls is less than a mile walk from the parking area.
If you did want to zipline, though, you can do that for an extra fee. Doing so will not only give you a dose of adrenaline but will also allow you to see other waterfalls that you can't see from the road. Other adventure activities include ATV tours, kayaking, stand up paddle boards, and swimming in the Umauma River. It really is an experience when you go to visit Umauma Falls.
Address: 31-313 Old Mamalahoa Hwy, Hakalau, Hawaii
4. Kamae'e Falls
Just down the road from The Umauma Experience is the entrance to the Botanical World Adventures, a garden, arboretum, zipline course, and maze. But also located on their property is the beautiful Kamae'e Falls, which is one of the cooler waterfalls on the Big Island.
What makes it so unique is that the water flowing comes from a lava tube, which drains water that has come up for years through the volcanic soil. This means that you'll have a pretty constant stream of water year-round. The waterfall plummets 100 feet down a rock cliff that is draped in ferns and foliage, landing in a shimmering pool below.
You don't have to pay admission to see the falls, but you may want to stick around to see what sorts of other activities Botanical World Adventures can offer. Their zipline takes you over other falls that you cannot see from the road, as well.
Address: 31-240 Old Mamalahoa Hwy, Hakalau, Hawaii
5. Pe'epe'e Falls and Boiling Pots
About a mile and a half up from Rainbow Falls is the equally impressive Pe'epe'e Falls, also fed by the Wailuku River. That said, the waterfall is much less known because it's a lot harder to view. Instead, you're more likely to see the famous Boiling Pots, which are part of the Pe'epe'e Falls experience.
It's difficult to see Pe'epe'e Falls from the viewing platform unless the falls are flowing at full volume after heavy rain. Visitors used to be able to hike to the falls, but that is no longer permitted because of safety issues. Still, what you can see are the Boiling Pots, which are also really interesting to view.
Boiling Pots is a series of smaller cascades farther downstream and, depending on the rainfall, can be extremely intense. Without periods of heavy rain, the pools babble along rather tamely, but after a storm, the high water rages and churns creating quite a spectacle. It's said that the Boiling Pots pools date back to the eruptions of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, thousands of years ago.
6. 6 Tons Falls
If you close your eyes, you may miss this waterfall. But you're going to want to slow down and make time for these delightful semi-secret falls. Just off the Old Mamalahoa Highway, about a mile before the Hawaii Tropical Biosphere Reserve, is 6 Tons, one of the most fun waterfalls on the Big Island.
These falls are super fun because you can park your car on the side of the road and go for a dip in the pool at its base. It's a fairly tame waterfall, so it's safe for swimming. A large tunnel opens up back behind the falls, as well. The falls can be found right beside the wooden bridge that crosses Kawainui Stream.
If you cross underneath the bridge to the other side and follow a path along the banks of the river, you'll reach the top of a second waterfall. Just be careful on this walk as it is through thick forest and over some slippery rocks.
7. Hi'ilawe Falls
The Big Island (and Hawaii in general) is clearly not short on waterfalls. But when it comes to the most extreme falls, the Big Island takes the cake. Meet Hi'ilawe Waterfall, a 1,200-foot waterfall that slices through the Waipio Valley.
This is the tallest waterfall in the state of Hawaii and dates back to the time of Mauna Kea's eruption. Originally the falls was a lava flow, which helped to shape the cliffs on either side of the falls. Today it is a channel for water to careen down the lava rock face.
As far as pressure goes, Hi'ilawe may not be as impressive due to the Hamakua Ditch, which diverts the water to help irrigate nearby farms. As a result, the water stream isn't as impressive as you might hope for falls of this height. Still, the height of the falls is something that will take your breath away.
The best way to see the falls is from the air or from down in the valley.
8. Nanue Falls
Nanue Falls is not easy to get to. In fact, some may call the journey to the falls "a scramble." But if you're up for the challenge and have the proper footwear, Nanue Falls is certainly worth the trek.
Brace yourself for climbing over very slippery rocks and potential face-to-face encounters with large crab spiders as you make your way up the Nanue Stream — sometimes walking in the stream itself. If you're looking for a trail to the falls, you won't find one. You literally have to walk upstream in order to reach them.
It will take about an hour to reach the waterfall, though the journey is less than a mile. And you'll have to pay attention to where you're going because you may get lost once or twice. But once you're here, the waterfall is really beautiful and a gentle swimming hole adds a nice, and much-needed, touch.
9. Kolekole Falls
Kolekole Falls can be found along the Ka'ahakini Stream within the Kolekole State Park. It's less of an impressive drop and more just a really beautiful waterfall to set up a picnic or listen to the sound of the flow babbling over the rocks.
A nice perk of this waterfall is the swimming hole in the pool at the base of the falls.
One thing to be aware of when visiting this waterfall is that it is next to Kolekole Beach Park, and if the tide is high or the waves are particularly intense, this can be a dangerous spot to visit. It is also a spot that can get a little crowded on the weekends.
10. Kulaniapia Falls
Sometimes it's nice to have a waterfall all to yourself, and at Kulaniapia Falls that's exactly what you'll get. Located on the grounds of a private vacation rental, these spectacular falls are only open to those who have a reservation for either an overnight room or a day pass.
The grounds cover more than 40 acres and are a spectacular jungle paradise of green rainforest, black volcanic rock, low-impact luxury bungalows, and, of course, the gushing falls.
Once a guest of the property, you'll have the opportunity to experience the falls, whether you're rappelling down them or swimming in the pool at the base. The cascade of water dramatically tumbles 120 feet down several tiers of rock before splashing into the deep plunge pool below.
You can book one of the off-grid cabins or purchase a day pass. The day passes include access to the grounds, including the hiking trails, waterfalls, bamboo gardens, swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
11. Onomea Falls
Not far from Hilo is the beautiful, lush Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden. Not only is this spot a perfect place for soaking in vibrant gardens and ocean views, but it also happens to have its own private waterfalls.
The falls burst forth from out of a rich jungle environment, with thick fern forests, hanging vines, groves of bamboo, and dusty black lava rocks. The tiers of water flow down in rushing blasts and feed into the stream below. The garden is also home to Boulder Creek Falls, which is a smaller, 10-foot waterfall.
Among the other things to see in the garden are the wide array of beautiful flowers, forested land along a wooden boardwalk pathway, and tropical birds that call the canopy home.
Address: 27-717 Mamalahoa Hwy, Papaikou, Hawaii