The Pipiwai Trail lies in the coastal section—the Kipahulu District—of Haleakala National Park. You get there via Route 360 past Hana, a popular add-on to the legendary Road to Hana along the North Shore. The trail lies directly above the famous Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo Gulch: among Maui’s defining landmarks. Combining the two is one of the classic experiences in Haleakala National Park.
The relatively short mileage and the overall mild grade—save for the first, steepish section of trail—will make this a pretty easy trek for fit hikers. Others may find it moderately challenging. While it’s not a particularly demanding hike, the Pipiwai Trail forays up a canyon vulnerable to flash-flooding, so avoid it during heavy rainstorms and heed all warnings and temporary closures.
Most will find hiking sandals inadequate for the Pipiwai Trail: There are enough rocky and root-studded sections to warrant close-toed shoes or boots. Expect mud, though the National Park Service has installed boardwalks over some of the chronically gloppiest sections. Consider mosquito repellent, too, as bloodsuckers commonly “enhance” the jungly atmosphere along the way.
Access the Pipiwai trailhead via the parking lot for the national park’s Kipahulu Visitor Center. As we’ve mentioned, the first half-mile or so is an uphill slog. There’s an early payoff, though, shortly thereafter: the spectacular plunge of Makahiku Falls, variously reported as 185 or 200 feet tall. Its beauty and grandeur would make it the indisputable highlight of many a trail, but on the Pipiwai Makahiku plays second fiddle to the climactic falls at the footpath’s end.
Beyond the Falls at Makahiku overlook, you’ll pass through a gate and then come to a tremendous banyan. This is another of the magical attractions along the Pipiwai Trail: a venerable fig tree with an elephantine trunk and dangling prop roots. You’ll likely want to kick back awhile in its fairy-tale presence.
Not far past the Pipiwai banyan, a well-used spur path branches off the trail. (This is a good opportunity to note that multiple side trails and “manways” split from the Pipiwai Trail. At least one has been fenced off due to its riskiness. Generally speaking, stick to the main route.) That spur leads to a waterfall alcove and pool.
Past a couple of bridges, you’ll enter a well-developed bamboo forest: another of the crowning glories of the Pipiwai Trail. The boardwalk traverses through the bamboo depths is mesmerizing, with the creaking of the giant segmented stems and the hush of wind through the leaves.
Then, just a short way beyond where you leave the dreamy bamboo grove, you find yourself at the trail’s showstopper endpoint. Waimoku Falls marks the head of the lower gorge of the Pipiwai Stream, and what a marker it is! This 400-foot-tall waterfall is almost overwhelmingly impressive. So is its grand cliff face, spangled with greenery and often weeping with smaller subsidiary waterfalls.
Waimoku Falls is best appreciated from at least a little distance. Many hikers nonetheless wade and scramble their way to its plunge pool base and even behind the falls. The main hazard—even if it’s low odds at any given moment—is being struck by a rock or other debris tumbling over the waterfall or falling from the cliff wall. Really, the trail brings you thrillingly close to the thunderous waterfall: No need to flirt with catastrophic injury going closer yet.
While you could bang out the Pipiwai Trail in a couple of hours or less at a steady clip, it’s really best appreciated with plenty of time to spare for dilly-dallying. You don’t want to give the Makahiku Falls viewpoint short-shrift, or rush your way through the entrancing bamboo forest. And Waimoku Falls isn’t the kind of spectacle you just ponder for a minute, then bid adieu. Give yourself four or five hours to really soak up the lush, sublime beauty the trail leads you through!
If you actually stay overnight in Hana, you can get an early start to enjoy the Pipiwai Trail—and the Seven Sacred Pools below—before they’re thronged by Road to Hana day-trippers.