Standing an awe-inspiring 1,450 feet tall, Hiilawe Falls is a true sight to behold. Although it’s known as the tallest waterfall in Hawaii, its stream slows to a trickle in between the heavy rain showers. Despite that, it’s still a hidden gem in Waipo Valley, making it well worth the trip.
For the best views, you’ll want to take a helicopter tour past the falls, although you can make it on foot if you’re well-prepared. By helicopter, you can kick back and relax while gazing in awe at the lush rainforest landscape leading up to the falls. Then, you can see the waterfall in all its glory as it flows over the lava rocks to the valley below. As long as your pilot is willing, you’re welcome to loop around for another look and take pictures from all the best vantage points.
If you plan to hike in, you’ll need to prepare for quite a trek. You cannot drive down into the valley even though the pathway does look wide enough. If you try, you’ll end up stuck at the bottom of the hill with no way to get your vehicle out. With a 900-foot descent in just one mile, the road doesn’t prove friendly to vehicles, not even four-wheel-drive Jeeps can tackle that climb.
On foot, it’s equally treacherous, especially on the way back. So, only go if you can hike straight uphill for about a mile without fail. Also, keep in mind that there’s no cell service deep in the valley nor anyone else to call for help if you get into trouble. Rescue teams cannot get to anywhere in the valley with ease, leaving you waiting a long time for any hope of assistance.
Getting to the trailhead can prove almost as difficult, especially if you trust Google to lead the way. When you can get service, GPS directions tend to lead hikers down Mud Lane where, as you can probably guess, they get stuck. To avoid that, ignore the digital maps in favor of going down Mauka Cane Haul Road until the road forks. Then, travel down the left path for a little less than a mile and park near the gate. After that, you’ll need to hoof it to make it into the valley.
While walking along the path, stay on the marked trail and avoid stepping on the native plants. Also, watch for signs notifying you about private property. As you carefully make your way through the valley, you’ll pass by the smaller, yet equally beautiful Waiholoa Falls, plus many swimming holes. If you decide to get in the water, it’s at your own risk, of course. Just be sure to avoid swimming near the base of the falls no matter what.
Upon arriving at the viewing point for Hiilawe Falls, it’s a toss-up whether you’ll see any water coming down over the lava rocks. The Lalakea Stream dam keeps the water going at a trickle except after heavy rainfalls. Efforts to get the dam removed have failed thus far, despite the fact that it’s no longer needed to deliver water to local developments.
Upon taking in the beauty of the falls, turn back for the return trip before you run out of steam. Hike up the last steep mile slowly and deliberately to avoid losing all your energy before you make it to the top. Don’t hesitate to take plenty of breaks along the way, too.
-Access to the valley closes when the trek poses a risk to hikers. So, check the conditions and warnings before heading out the door.
-Check around for horseback tours if you want a guided trip over to the most popular viewpoints for the falls.
-Gear up appropriately for the long hike – and definitely bring much more water than you think you’ll need. Don’t forget reef-safe SPF 50+ sunblock and locally sourced bug spray.
-The path gets slippery, so be sure to wear closed-toe hiking shoes on your trek.