Round Trip Mileage: 5.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 2100'
The easternmost and largest of the seven windward valleys of Kohala Mountain, Waipi’o is the "Valley of the Kings." Meaning curved water in the Hawaiian language, Waipi’o is a place of indescribable beauty and great historical significance. The valley is deeply cut into the mass of Kohala mountain, with three thousand foot cliffs and some waterfalls up to fifteen-hundred feet. It is split by the sublime Waipi'o River. The valley was the permanent home for Hawaiian ali'i (royalty) until the time of King ʻUmi-a-Līloa. Later in 1780, the great King Kamehameha received the war god Kūkaʻilimoku in Waipi'o, proclaiming him the future conquerer of all the Hawaiian islands. The valley remained heavily populated until 1946, when a devastating tsunami erased most of the existing structures. Since then a small community of people live simply here.
The hike described on this page travels from the Waipi'o Overlook to the beach and then up the other side of the valley on the Muliwai Trail, sometimes called the Z trail due to it's appearance from the beach. There are other options from this trailhead. This hike to Waipi'o beach is much easier. The Muliwai Trail actually travels all the way to Waimanu Valley, a backpack or extreme dayhike.
A Special Note About Waipi'o Valley: Waipi'o Valley is among the most popular destinations on the Big Island. There is a considerable amount of bad information available on the internet and in some popular guidebooks concerning Waipi'o. To be clear: the entire back of the valley and Hi'ilawe Falls are either private property or require you to cross private property. Despite what you've heard, the roads leading to the back of the valley are not public rights-of-way. There are several social media posts showing tourists trespassing, especially up the creek to the base of Hi'ilawe Falls. Disregard all of it. It's really very simple - it's legal to walk down the road to the beach and return as described below. If this seems restrictive, just consider all of the other incredible places on public land throughout the island.
Trailhead: From Honoka’a in the northern part of the island, take Hwy. 240 west to Kukuihaele. The road comes to a dead end at the Waipi’o Overlook. Parking can be difficult at the small parking area, and take care to park in an appropriate place if you park up the road. This is the trailhead for two-wheel drive vehicles. There is a good overlook worth a stop near the parking area, although you can’t see much of the back of the valley. I don't recommend driving down into Waipi'o. The road is narrow, impossibly steep (25% average grade), and rough. It may be a violation of your rental car agreement. If you make it to the bottom in one piece, find an appropriate place to park and do not drive to the beach. A number of guiding services, shuttles, and horseback tours operate in Waipi’o and take also visitors down to the valley floor. Big Island Hikes does not review or endorse any commercial services.
Gear: Standard hiking gear. The trail becomes steep, rocky, and loose so boots are appropriate. Bring plenty of water and sun protection.
Hike: From the parking area, walk down the knee-jarring four-wheel drive road for 3/4 mile until the road levels. Follow the road toward the beach for 1/2 mile and arrive on the black sand beach. Hike west across the beach, and cross Waipi'o River where it meets the ocean. This river crossing can be treacherous and should be attempted when the tide is low. Proceed to the end of the beach and look up to spot the big Z-shaped Muliwai Trail on the cliffs above. Find the beginning of the Muliwai Trail marked by an array of state signs. Climb steeply for more than 1000 vertical feet across the switchbacks. Take care with your footing and also try to prevent knocking any loose stones onto the trail below. There are many spots with fabulous views of Waipi'o Valley and Hi'ilawe Falls. This particluar hike ends at the top of the valley when the Muliwai Trail begins to head toward Waimanu Valley. Return the way you came.