You might not think of stunning natural settings to appear in any town. However, visit Hilo, and you’ll quickly discover that Wailuku River State Park, where Rainbow Falls is located, is right in town. In just minutes, you’ll arrive at one of the most beautiful sights in the area, already renowned for its beauty and rainbows.
The name for Rainbow Falls, Waianuenue in Hawaiian, comes from the beautiful rainbows formed by the mist created from the 80-foot drop of these falls. The Hawaiian name translates to “rainbow water.” Legends surrounding the area include one that the lava cave beneath Rainbow Falls houses the ancient moon goddess, Hina, who was the mother of the demigod Maui. When visiting the falls, look out for plaques around the area that give more detail about the legends and the history of this area.
If rainbow pictures are your goal, visit during the morning. The sun must be at your back to see the rainbows. Therefore, from the lower and upper viewing areas, mornings are ideal for catching images of rainbows as the sun rises and illuminates the pool and mist at the base of Rainbow Falls. However, even if you arrive later in the day, you can still see one of the most beautiful falls in Hawaii.
Visit the lower falls area, which is a short distance from the free parking lot. This area gives you a great view for taking photos of the waterfall and rainbows. Plus, a ramp from the parking area makes this observation area accessible to everyone.
A short trail to the upper lookout area may close occasionally due to heavy rainfall. Use caution on the set of lava rock stairs that form part of the trail to the upper falls. These stairs are the only way up, making the upper lookout not accessible to those who cannot climb the often slick, steep steps. If you find the upper trail open, make the walk to the upper lookout area for a different vantage point of the falls and a banyan grove. You will also see an enormous ancient banyan tree that looks like a grouping of trees clustered together. These are aerial prop roots the tree uses to stabilize itself and get nutrients.
If the upper lookout is open and you choose to climb the trail to reach it, you may spend more than an hour at Rainbow Falls. However, if you don’t visit the upper lookout area, you should still plan for at least thirty minutes to view the falls from the lower lookout point and take plenty of pictures. Depending on when you arrive, you may need to wait for the sun to rise to the perfect vantage point to create rainbows.
As a natural feature, Rainbow Falls may look different every time you visit. The amount of water flow depends on recent rainfall levels in the area. Sometimes, dry spells cause the falls to trickle down in front of the lava cave. After heavy rains, the waterfall may completely obscure the cave behind it and appear brown due to sediment and runoff in the water. You can still see rainbows in both instances as long as the sun is at your back and there is enough mist at the base of the falls.
Visiting Rainbow Falls is one of the must-visit stops for everyone in Hilo. Its location within the town and free parking make it an easy place to stop by at any time. Sometimes the parking lot fills up but wait a few minutes and someone will likely leave to free up a spot. Plus, with the lower lookout so close to the parking area, everyone can see the falls, regardless of ability or age. Don’t miss the chance to visit Rainbow Falls and check out one of the Big Island’s easiest-to-reach scenic spots with rainbows and waterfalls.
-Skip the upper falls lookout if anyone in your party has mobility issues as there are no wheelchair accessible ways to get to this area.
-Stay on the designated paths. Areas outside these paths can be slippery, dangerous, and subject to washout from flash floods. Keep safe when you visit by sticking to the trails.
-After you see Rainbow Falls, stay visit Boiling Pots located nearby in Wailuku River State Park. It has a separate parking lot, close to its observation area.