Round Trip Mileage: 3.0 Miles
Elevation Gain: 975’
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 back. This is the shortest hike from this trailhead, but there are two other hikes that begin here. See The Muliwai Trail hike, which travels up the cliffs on the other side of Waipi'o Valley for amazing views. Or see Waimanu Valley, a backpack or extreme dayhike to this majestic spot.
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 is 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. 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. You’ll probably want beach gear, and don’t forget the mosquito repellent.
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. The surf at the black sand beach is notoriously rough and should only be swam or surfed by experts when rough. There is no lifeguard. The best view of Hi’ilawe Falls and of the entire valley is from the Muliwai Trail, about halfway up the sea cliffs on the other side of Waipi’o Valley. Remember: the entire back of the valley is private property and only the beach is public land.
Kaluahine Falls: These falls are located below the parking area and invisible from above. To find them, walk east along the coastal boulders from Waipi'o beach for less than 1/2 mile. Don’t try to hike here if the tide is high and covering the boulders or if surf is high because it is too dangerous. These falls are often dry unless there has been a considerable amount of recent rain. Return to the black sand beach the way you came.