Stunning sunset colors at Rainbow Falls, one of the best Big Island waterfalls in HiLo

7 Best Big Island Waterfalls You Must Visit (+ Map)

Waterfall chaser? You’ll love Big Island waterfalls, with some among the tallest falls in Hawaii!

Many of these beautiful waterfalls on Big Island are conveniently clustered into two main windward-facing areas on the north and east sides of Big Island, where rain is plentiful.

The most accessible of these beautiful waterfalls are Rainbow Falls, near Hilo outskirts, and Akaka Falls, in Akaka Falls State Park.

Rainbow Falls, one of the most spectacular Big Island waterfalls, is a mere stone’s throw from downtown Hilo.

While Rainbow Falls can be conveniently seen from the parking lot viewing area, Akaka Falls requires a short, easy hike with some steps and inclines, but through a beautiful verdant rainforest!

'Akaka Falls, one of the most beautiful Big Island waterfalls, set in stunning rainforest background
‘Akaka Falls, one of the most beautiful Big Island waterfalls, set in stunning rainforest background

Like to take a refreshing dip at the base pool of one of the Big Island waterfalls? Your best bet would be at Kulaniapia Falls, a 120-foot waterfall in stunning surroundings, that requires you to buy a day pass to visit.

But well worth it, given the peaceful, uncrowded experience!

And which is the tallest of the waterfalls on Big Island? That would be Hi’ilawe Falls at an awe-inspiring 1400+ feet in the Waipi’o Valley, but accessible only through shuttle tours.

Join us on a virtual tour of the best waterfalls of Big Island, and we can help you plan a visit to one or all of them!

Snorkeling Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay should definitely be on your Big Island itinerary: check out our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkel tours!

Lush rainforest jungle setting of the three tiered Umauma Falls, one of the private waterfalls in Big Island
Lush rainforest jungle setting of the three tiered Umauma Falls, one of the private waterfalls in Big Island

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Map of the Best Waterfalls in Big Island

The below map shows the locations of the best waterfalls on Big Island. Expand the map for directions and parking.

Best Big Island Waterfalls

1. Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls, at 80 feet, is not the tallest of the Big Island waterfalls, but definitely the easiest to get to, a scant 5 minute drive from downtown Hilo!

Admiring the beautiful Rainbow Falls is without a doubt one of the best things to do on the Big Island!

A mere 100 foot walk from the free public parking lot to the viewing area, Rainbow Falls is an easy add-on to any Big Island itinerary, and definitely worth stopping for.

The best time to see this beautiful waterfall is early morning, when you’re likely to see the pretty rainbows after which the falls are named in the waterfall spray and mist.

Rainbow Falls, one of the Big Island waterfalls that is easily accessible, with rainbows early morning
Rainbow Falls, one of the Big Island waterfalls that is easily accessible, with rainbows early morning

Even otherwise, the lush rainforest landscape surrounding the waterfalls, along with the mysterious dark lava cave behind the falls, makes for a great Instagram photo.

Part of the Wailuku River flow, which in Hawaiian means “waters of destruction,” Rainbow Falls is a gushing torrent after rainstorms.

If you’ve time, don’t miss exploring the beautiful grove of banyan trees near the top of the waterfall.

Rainbow Falls is part of the Wailuku River State Park, a free public state park in Hilo, and you can reach the parking lot by taking Rainbow Drive off Waianuenue Avenue.

Jungle setting of Rainbow Falls in Wailuku River State Park
Jungle setting of Rainbow Falls in Wailuku River State Park

Consult our travel guide to Wailuku River State Park to plan a visit.

2. ‘Akaka Falls

Limited time and can visit only one waterfall? Make it ‘Akaka Falls, a spectacular 440 feet waterfall in a lush rainforest landscape, and best of all, relatively easy to get to.

Located within the beautiful ‘Akaka Falls State Park, the waterfall is a short easy hike from the parking lot on a paved path with metal railings, but does involve inclines and steps.

We saw older hikers as well as toddlers easily manage the hike.

Akaka Falls State Park is a few miles up the Hamakua Coast from Hilo, and you need to take Highway 220 all the way to the park.

The trailhead to the waterfalls starts from the parking lot at the end of the road. You can pay for entrance and parking using one of the automated kiosks at the lot.

The 0.4 mile trail is circular and the recommended direction takes you first to the smaller Kahuna Falls (described below) and then as a grand finale, the breathtaking Akaka Falls!

The falls are at their fullest after rains, simply spectacular, with the spray, mist, and thunderous roar creating a dramatic effect!

'Akaka Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Big Island, gushing after rains
‘Akaka Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Big Island, gushing after rains

‘Akaka Falls can be seen from the trail and a large fenced viewing area, and you’ll be seeing the free falling waterfall from a distance, across a steep valley.

If you’re short on time, you can skip the Kahuna Falls, and take a left at the initial fork, which will take you directly to Akaka Falls.

Right from the get-go, you are in the midst of a lush rainforest jungle, with towering trees forming the canopy, banyan trees with their aerial roots adding to the drama, and a verdant understory of ferns and vines completing the Jurassic Park setting.

Rainforest paved path to Akaka Falls in Akaka Falls State Park
Rainforest paved path to Akaka Falls in Akaka Falls State Park

You’ll see bamboo groves, wild orchids, pretty ginger flowers (our kids loved the torch ginger flowers!) and fruit trees.

Along the trail, especially in the morning, you’ll hear the constant chirping of pretty forest birds. We saw a few stunning ones: yellow-fronted canary, ‘apapane (Hawaiian endemic honeycreeper), warbling white-eye, and i’iwi (another Hawaiian endemic scarlet honeycreeper).

To plan your visit, consult our travel guide to Akaka Falls State Park.

3. Hi’ilawe Falls

Wondering what is taller than the towering Akaka Falls? Hi’ilawe Falls at 1450 feet dwarfs ‘Akaka Falls, and is one of the tallest waterfalls in all of Hawaii!

Located in the lush Waipi’o Valley, home to the stunning Waipi’o Valley Black Sand Beach, Hi’ilawe Falls can typically be seen either from a helicopter ride or on a hike in the Waipi’o Valley, from a distance (due to private property between the trail and the waterfall).

Hi'ilawe Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Hawaii, located in the Waipio Valley of Big Island
Hi’ilawe Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Hawaii, located in the Waipio Valley of Big Island

Waipi’o Valley was closed to visitors (both hiking and driving) due to concerns about the steep road into the valley.

As of now, a few operators like Waipi’o Valley Shuttle Tours are permitted to offer tours that take you into the valley where you can see Hi’ilawe Falls from certain viewpoints.

The falls do run dry, so time your trip after rains if you can, and definitely include a stop at the Waipi’o Valley Black Sand Beach, one of the best Big Island black sand beaches!

4. Kulaniapia Falls

Searching for a Big Island waterfall that you can swim in? There aren’t too many, but Kulaniapia Falls, a waterfall located in the private property of The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, a beautiful, off-the-grid lodge, is a great option for many reasons.

As one of the largest privately accessible waterfalls on Big Island, Kulaniapia Falls, at 120-feet tall, is much taller than the popular Rainbow Falls, and far less crowded!

Only a limited number of day passes are sold, which means you have 40+ acres of property and 4 beautiful waterfalls to explore in relative peace, in serene harmony with the stunning natural landscape.

Along with the day pass, here are the top activities you can enroll in:

We enjoyed swimming, paddleboarding and kayaking in the base pool of Kulaniapia Falls, and for the most part, the base pool was mostly empty, a rarity among Big Island waterfalls!

>> Check pricing and availability for Kulaniapia Falls day passes now!

Apart from Kulaniapia Falls, which is the main attraction, you can also stroll through trails and bamboo gardens, or enroll in farm-to-table cooking classes or rappelling on waterfall cliffs at a discounted rate.

Our teenage kids took the Waterfall Rappelling at Kulaniapia Falls: 120 Foot Drop, 15 Minutes from Hilo, an adventurous rappelling course, and felt this was the highlight of their vacation!

The course takes about 2-3 hours, and we thought it would be grueling for us, but they loved it!

>> Check pricing and availability on the Waterfall Rappelling at Kulaniapia Falls: 120 Foot Drop, 15 Minutes from Hilo now!

We opted instead for the Farm-to-Table Chef’s Dinner at Kulaniapia Falls course, which included picking fresh vegetables from their garden, and preparing a delicious lunch!

>> Check pricing and availability on the Farm-to-Table Chef’s Dinner at Kulaniapia Falls now!

5. Pe’epe’e Falls & Boiling Pots

If you’re planning to stop by to see Rainbow Falls, consider adding Pe’epe’e Falls just a few minutes away, also in the Wailuku River State Park.

Continue further up on Waianuenue Avenue and take a right on to Pe’epe’e Falls Road. The parking lot and viewing area is at the end of the road, and both are free. Restrooms are also available at the parking lot.

You have a short, pleasant walk (can’t really call this a hike) on a paved path through gardens and picnic areas to the actual waterfall.

Pe’epe’e Falls are roughly 80 feet tall, set against a rainforest jungle background, but partially obscured from the viewing area by a jutting ledge, and at a distance.

Pe'epe'e Falls and Boiling Pots in Wailuku River State Park
Pe’epe’e Falls and Boiling Pots in Wailuku River State Park

The Wailuku River continues as a series of cascades and further beyond the viewing area, you’ll see white, frothing pools along the flow, called Boiling Pots.

These pools are connected by underground flows, hence the “boiling” or frothy nature of the water.

Stay in the viewing area even if you see people head down towards the river.

As mentioned above, Wailuku in Hawaiian means “waters of destruction,” and the waters can change to flash floods and raging torrents in a few minutes, if it has rained in the areas above.

6. Umauma Falls

Umauma Falls is a series of cascading waterfalls in Big Island, and three most prominent cascades add up to roughly 300 feet.

Located in private property about 20 minutes from Hilo, to view the falls we took the Umauma Experience (Big Island 9-Line Zipline Experience Plus Kayaking Tour) that included a series of 9 thrilling ziplines followed by a relaxing bout of swimming, standup paddleboarding and kayaking at one of the base pools of Umauma Falls.

Three-tiered Umauma Falls, on private property in the Big Island of Hawaii
Three-tiered Umauma Falls, on private property in the Big Island of Hawaii

Not only did we get to see a beautiful waterfall, our kids loved the ziplining thrills!

>> Check pricing and availability on the 5-star rated Big Island 9-Line Zipline Experience Plus Kayaking Tour now!

7. Kahuna Falls

Also in Akaka Falls State Park, Kahuna Falls is a 100-foot waterfall, one of the two waterfalls on the circular trail starting from the parking lot (the other being Akaka Falls, described above).

Kahuna Falls can be viewed from a dead-end viewing area with metal railings, near a flight of steps on the trail.

The waterfall is way off in the distance, across a lush rainforest landscape, and partially obscured by the foliage.

Kahuna Falls, one of two Big Island waterfalls in Akaka Falls State Park
Kahuna Falls, one of two Big Island waterfalls in Akaka Falls State Park

After heavy rains, the falls are visible more prominently, and look stunning when viewed with binoculars or a zoom lens.

Consult our travel guide to Akaka Falls State Park to plan your visit.

Waterfall Safety Tips

Waterfalls can be exciting, but safety is paramount. Always carefully assess conditions on the day of your visit. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Heed all warning signs.
  • Remember that flash flooding can occur with very little or no warning, even if it isn’t raining or stormy where you are.
  • Waterfalls, streams, and other water bodies may not be safe for swimming. The water may not be safe to drink.
  • Rocks, logs, and other debris may tumble over waterfalls into plunge pools or streams below.
  • Always stay on designated trails. Expect muddy and slippery conditions.
Mysterious cave under Rainbow Falls, Big Island of Hawaii
Mysterious cave under Rainbow Falls, Big Island of Hawaii

The Best Big Island Tours

Have you booked these top-rated Big Island tours yet?

Guided snorkeling with manta rays at night, a bucket-list underwater Big Island adventure to watch the amazing manta rays up close. Sightings guaranteed or go again.

Big Island in a Day excursion from Kona or Waikaloa, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, ‘Akaka Falls, and the Waipi’o Valley Lookout!

Snorkeling historic Kealakekua Bay, one of the top snorkel spots on the Big Island. Look for dolphins en route (plus whales in season)! Don’t want to snorkel? Take a dinner cruise instead.

Sunset and stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest point in all of Hawaii! Travel up and down in a luxury 4X4 van. Hooded parkas and gloves provided!

Thrilling zipline adventure over KoleKole Falls, a 7-line Hilo ziplining experience that allows you to soar over lush forest vegetation and the 250-foot waterfall!

Renting a Car on the Big Island of Hawaii

Most visitors that travel to the Big Island choose to rent a car because the island is, well, BIG, and the Big Island must-see attractions are scattered around the island.

Depending on where you choose to base — Kona or Hilo are the main places visitors choose — you can pick up a rental car in either location.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kona car rentals or Hilo car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kona car rentals now!

>> Check availability and prices on Hilo car rentals now!

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Kailua-Kona, on the sunnier leeward side of the Big Island, ands Hilo, on the lush windward side, are the main bases on Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island. Most visitors to the Big Island split their stay between these two places.

You will find the biggest choice of hotels and resorts in Kailua-Kona and Waikaloa, with both chains and boutiques, while Hilo has fewer hotels and inns.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is an excellent choice if you are looking for a pristine beach out the front door. The Hilton Waikaloa Village is a great choice if you are traveling as a family.

The Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast, just 40 minutes from Kailua-Kona, is a fabulous resort for a splurge. The SCP Hilo Hotel is the perfect base from which to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You will find VRBO listings all over the island, especially in Kailua-Kona, Hilo, and Volcano (the base for travelers spending a night or more visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Volcano as well as in Kailua-Kona and Hilo and we’ve found the choice and quality great.

>> Look for a Big Island vacation rental on VRBO now!

Stunning rainforest landscape around PeePee Falls in Hilo, Big Island of Hawaii
Stunning rainforest landscape around PeePee Falls in Hilo, Big Island of Hawaii

More Big Island Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii? Also known as Hawaii Island, the Big Island is home to some spectacular scenery and lots of activities: check out the top things to do on the Big Island!

Learn about the 4 national parks on the Big Island, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you may be lucky enough to catch flowing lava!

Head to the southeast part of the island to admire Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, possibly the most striking of the Big Island’s black sand beaches, and read our guide to the rare green sand beach on the Big Island!

The state parks of the Big Island protect some of the island’s best treasures. A few miles north of Hilo, you will find Akaka Falls State Park, home to the 442-foot Akaka Falls.

Also on the scenic Hamakua Coast, stop to visit the lush and beautiful Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, with its numerous varieties of tropical plants.

On the leeward side of the island, you’ll find many beautiful beaches. Must-visit Hapuna Beach is a picture-postcard tropical beach with its long stretch of white sand.

Kauna’oa Beach, also known as Mauna Kea Beach, is another white sand beach north of Kona you have to visit. It routinely makes the top 10 beaches in the USA list!

Part of the Kekahai Kai State Park, Manini’owali Beach is yet another stunning white sand beach on the Kohala Coast just north of Kailua-Kona.

South of Kailua Kona, you’ll find arguably the best snorkeling spot in all of Hawaii at the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. Our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkeling tours will help you find the perfect tour for you!

Also on the South Kona Coast is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the Big Island’s national park sites that is historically and culturally significant. And, it’s very scenic!

Did you find this article informative? Pin it on Pinterest for later!

Discover the must-visit waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii from Akaka Falls to Rainbow Falls and more. How to get to each waterfall, plus map.

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