Situated in northeastern Hawaii inland of the Hamakua Coast, Akaka Falls State Park is one of the Big Island’s unquestionable treasures. An incredibly lush landscape on the far eastern flanks of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain (measured from base to summit) on Earth, the park includes stunning waterfalls and all-around beautiful scenery.
Akaka Falls State Park is easily reached off the Hawaii Belt Road (Mamalahoa Highway) from Honomu by taking Highway 220/Akaka Falls Road. The centerpiece of the park—and its namesake—is Akaka Falls, easily one of the most sublime on the Big Island. Akaka marks a whopping 442-foot drop of the Kolekole Stream, which drains the rain-socked windward slopes of Mauna Kea.
All of that wetness explains the incredible luxuriance of these highlands, including the Kolekole’s gorge. Hike the paved, roughly half-mile loop trail in Akaka Falls State Park, and you’ll swoon over all the glossy greenery—bamboo, philodendron, ferns, and more. Keep an eye out for flashy orchids amid the profusion.
That heavy precipitation also feeds the powerful flow of the Kolekole and its feeder streams. They’ve cut their gorges and ravines through layered volcanic ash and basaltic rock produced by Mauna Kea. The harder basalt, more resistant to erosion, leads to the formation of waterfalls and cascades.
You can walk directly to the Akaka Falls Viewpoint if you take the lefthand path at the first junction you come to from the trailhead. Unless you’re super-strapped for time, we recommend going right and doing the loop counterclockwise, building up to an Akaka Falls climax.
Before you reach that climactic spectacle, you’ll spot another super-impressive waterfall plummeting toward the Kolekole along a tributary stream: Kahuna Falls, a few hundred feet high.
A shelter at the cliff-edge Akaka Falls Viewpoint provides protection from the elements. The epic plunge never fails to impress! While admiring the view, ponder the almost unbelievable fact that a diminutive fish actually climbs the waterfall’s cliff on a regular basis.
The fish in question is the Hawaiian freshwater goby, or oopu alamoo, which spawns in the Kolekole above Akaka Falls. Larvae washed down to the ocean after hatching in streambed-nestled eggs spend months at sea maturing, then return to the Kolekole to spawn. The gobies scale the cliff thanks to a suction surface on their bellies. It’s a dramatic journey that’s also undertaken by a native shrimp species as well.
Besides Kahuna and Akaka falls, by the way, you’ll see plenty of cascading plunges and chutes from the park’s hiking trail.
Akaka Falls State Park is one of the real magic spots on the Big Island. Make an effort to experience its rainforest ambience and regal waterfalls firsthand!
While the Akaka Falls State Park trail is paved, it includes sections of stairs and thus is not wheelchair-accessible.