The Big Island has it’s share of lush tropical forests, mountains, and rainfall which means waterfalls! Most of the Big Island Waterfalls are near Hilo since the windward side of the island is very dry. These three waterfalls are easily reached and I highly recommend putting in the minor effort to see them.
Today we’re visiting Rainbow, Akaka, and Pe’epe’e Falls – all on the Wailuku River, the second-longest river in Hawaii.
Rainbow Falls is one of the most picturesque Big Island waterfalls and it’s within the Hilo city limits. Best of all, you practically drive up to it!
This photo was taken one minute after parking the car. Only in Hawaii!
In the Hawaiian language, Rainbow Falls is known as Waiānuenue (“rainbow water”), the falls flow over a natural lava cave, which is the mythological home to Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess, and mother to the folk hero Maui. The falls are 80ft tall.
If the beauty of the waterfall isn’t enough, there are lots of classically Hawaiian flowers including the hibiscus and the (African) tulip tree.
Photo time with the parents!
Up to the left of the falls is a curvy staircase to give another view and to see the beautiful Banyans.
This overlook brings you a little closer to the falls, but I still think the lower view is the best one.
On a sunny morning, it’s worth a re-visit to Rainbow falls to grab some more photos of this lovely spot in a completely different light.
Rainbow Falls derives its name from the fact that on sunny mornings around 10 am, rainbows can be seen in the mist thrown up by the waterfall.
We’re on the wet side of the island, and a walk to Akaka Falls was all we needed to remind us of that. The walk to Akaka Falls is much longer than Rainbow Falls – but it’s still less than half a mile (0.4 to be exact)! There are lots of slippery stairs, though, so you will want to be careful and ADA accessibility is not good.
You’ll catch your first view of the falls through the foliage on your walk down to the viewing platform.
Akaka Falls drops 420 feet into a punch bowl surrounded by lush, green vegetation.
Plants flourish here. The wet side of the island, known as the Hamakua Coast, can see 200+ inches of rainfall per year. For scale, Mt. Waialeale on Kauai sees 460 inches (one of the wettest places on Earth), Hilo sees 130 (the wettest city in the US), and Seattle sees about 38 inches per year.
Kahuna is like a sister to Akaka Falls, but the viewing angles and vegetation make it harder to see.
There is another hiking trail you can take to get a better view, but we were already soaked, so we skipped it.
The best-named waterfall in Hawaii – the apostrophes make all the difference. Don’t let the childish Google Reviews of “Pee Pee Falls” lead you away from this beautiful view. I just love the way the Banyan Trees frame this view.
My zoom lens helps get us closer to the falls in the photo above, but the photo below shows how far the viewing platform really is from the falls. I want to get closer.
The viewing platform is a long way from the falls, and the best views will require you to hike away from the platform and scramble through some mud and rocky ground. On calm days you may see people swimming in the plunge pools or in the area of the boiling pots, even though there are plenty of signs warning against it.
Looking back at the viewing platform, you can see how far I’ve come for this angle of the falls. There was a clear path on the slope, but it was slick, steep, and muddy!
The little cascades of these pools make it look like the water is boiling.
Umauma Falls are in the vicinity, but they are only accessible through a paid tour/experience. You can’t get to them for free like these waterfalls, so I did not include them.
Akaka Falls charges $5 per car or $1 per pedestrian at an electronic kiosk. Locals do not have to pay. The parking lot can be very busy. Rainbow and Pe’epe’e are free to visit.