If you are looking to spend a day chasing waterfalls, then Hilo, Hawaii is just where you want to be and the Waiale Falls Trail is just the trek to kick off the day.
Waiale Falls Trail is a short hike that leads to a gorgeous two-tiered waterfall. To get to the trailhead for this hike, take Waianuenue Avenue west out of Hilo. You will pass a large white building with a small parking lot on your left and immediately after turn onto a bridge overlooking Waiale Falls. Just after the bridge, on the north side, there is a pull-out area on your right where you can park. The trailhead to get down to Waiale Falls Trail is not marked and depending upon the season, may be overgrown. Look to the north side of the river, and you should see a cut in the trees marking the trail’s start.
The Waiale Falls Trail is 0.6 miles in length and the trail itself will have an elevation gain of only 85 feet. But don’t let these numbers deceive you, as Waiale Falls Trail may be short, but it certainly is not simple or sweet. This is an informal trail made by locals eager to enjoy a less crowded waterfall and swimming spot. So it is not maintained by an entity and what passes for a trail is simply the people who constantly use it, stamping down the weeds and pushing aside the bushes as they go. Still, there is a good chance you’ll get some scratches, and we recommend wearing a good pair of hiking shoes to avoid thorns and help with the uneven footing.
The short trail will lead out of the underbrush and put hikers at the top of the first tier of Waiale Falls. This first tier, also commonly referred to as the lower tier of the Waiale Falls, flows over a man-made wall that once served as a sort of dam. From here, you can also more clearly see the second tier of this waterfall, also commonly referred to as the upper tier of the Waiale Falls. The upper tier is a naturally-occurring waterfall that sends water crashing over a lava cliff into the plunge pool below and between it and the lower-tier part of the waterfall. You will actually find several pool areas separated by massive boulders and natural rock walls. For the extra daring, you can even find a few spots where you can jump up to 50 feet into the waters below.
That said, with regard to swimming at Waiale Falls Trail, yes it’s possible; it also comes with some big risks. First, there are no lifeguards here, and it is common to go here and be alone or just with a few other people. This alone puts you at risk of greater injury should you find yourself needing aid. But the bigger issue is the river’s unpredictability.
The two tiers of Waiale Falls are a part of the Wailuku River, a name that translates to “River of Destruction” for good reason. This river frequently experiences flash flooding, which can sweep swimmers away in a dangerous undertow across massive boulders and over this and other waterfalls. So if you are going to swim, make sure to always check the weather conditions. Avoid swimming if it has rained the day before or the day of. Swim with a buddy and be honest with yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable swimming in a location, don’t! There are plenty of other fantastic, beautiful spots to enjoy swimming in Hawaii. Those with young children should certainly enjoy the lookout from the bridge but refrain from traversing into the waters below.
For those looking to extend their adventure here, you can continue on upriver or down. Going upriver will take a bit more effort as there is no clear trail, but going over rocks and along the river’s edge is possible. You will find a number of smaller waterfalls, more swimming pools, and tons of sunning rocks the further you go.
-Don’t stop with Waiale Falls and the Waiale Falls Trail! There are a couple of other great waterfalls and swimming spots near here. The biggest ones are Peepee Falls and Boiling Pots. Both of these are within walking distance of Waiale Falls – you can either clamber down the river or go back across the bridge, down Waianuenue Avenue and take a left on Peepee Falls Road. These are both much more popular swimming spots with scenic views.
-The parking lot and trail at the end of this road lead directly to Boiling Pots with PeePee Falls just a short walk upriver on your left. If you weren’t impressed with Waiale Falls, then you will find these alternatives much to your liking.