Wailele is the Hawaiian word for waterfall. The literal translation—leaping (lele) water (wai)i—gives you a good sense for the majesty and ethereal beauty of these natural phenomena.
On the Big Island, you’ll find the majority of the island’s waterfalls on its eastern side. Hawaii’s tradewinds blow from the East and Northeast, which means that the damp, ocean air makes first landfall on the eastern coast of the Big Island. As it meets the slopes of the volcanoes that created the island, the air forms condensation and, eventually, rain. All this precipitation has made Hilo and its surrounding areas into a lush, verdant landscape, dotted by botanical gardens and, of course, waterfalls.ii
If you’re spending your time near Hilo and you’d like to see these leaping waters for yourself, we’ve put together a guide to all the waterfalls in the area. Additionally, if you’re up for a little road trip, we’ve also included a few outliers that are worthy of some drive time.
Waterfalls in and Around Hilo Town
#1: Rainbow Falls
Named for the rainbows that the misty falls form during a sunny morning in Hilo, Rainbow Falls is just a five-minute drive from the Hilo Post Office. Depending on how much rain the area has received, you might be treated to a full-on deluge—or a trickle. Since this spot gets popular, visit early for the best views.
#2: Pe’epe’e Falls
Just a few minutes beyond Rainbow Falls, you’ll find Wailuku River State Park and, within in, Pe’epe’e Falls. While these falls may not be as dramatic as some of the others you’ll see on the Big Island, they’re very convenient to Hilo Town. If you’ve already visited Rainbow Falls, why not continue up the road a ways and enjoy another waterfall? After all, you’re on island time.
The pools formed by Pe’epe’e Falls are known as the “Boiling Pots.” Although you will see people swimming in them from time to time, we don’t recommend it. Sudden flash floods and the lack of lifeguards make it easy to get into trouble quickly. Instead, if you’re dying for a cool dip, check out our article on the Best Beaches in Hilo. You’ll find plenty of nearby spots for cooling off.
Side note: You’ll sometimes see this spot written as “Peepee Falls,” without the two ‘okina. The official pronunciation is PAY-ay, PAY-ay—just so there’s no confusion!
#3: Waiale Falls
Continuing along our “why not?” tour of the waterfalls in and around Hilo town, from Pe’epe’e Falls, head up the road another five minutes to Waiale Falls. Even though you’re only 10 minutes from Hilo town center, you’ll find this spot less crowded than the first two waterfalls we mentioned.
There’s also a short but slippery hike in the area. If you’re a trail warrior who loves an adventure, check out the tips from the AllTrail community before you set out.
#4: Kulaniapia Falls
Because this dramatic, 120-foot waterfall is located on private property, you’ll need to either book an excursion or stay at the inn to enjoy Kulaniapia Falls. By the way, if it looks familiar, that’s because one of the waterfall shots from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was filmed on the property.
The owners offer a rappelling adventure down the waterfall for the thrill-seekers in your group. Those who prefer to get their thrills in a culinary setting may prefer one of their farm-to-table meals. For more information, visit the Kulaniapia Falls website.
Now, as you probably know, if you’re willing to spend a little time in the car, the Big Island has plenty of natural wonders to reveal to you—including more waterfalls. So let’s travel a little beyond Hilo town and head up the Hamakua Coast.
Waterfalls Along the Hamakua Coast
The eastern shoreline north of Hilo town is dotted with waterfalls just waiting to be explored. We’ll take you a quick tour of our four favorites.
Taking in the Impressive Beauty of the Big Island’s Leaping Waters
Even among the Big Island’s volcanic peaks, ocean views, and jungle terrain, its waterfalls stand out for their majesty, beauty, and power. Whether you’re visiting Hilo for a few days or starting a new life on the Big Island, this list will help you explore one of the most striking aspects of the Hilo area’s landscape.
Finally, if you’re looking for more things to do in and around Hilo, check out our guide to Hilo’s Botanical Gardens. We’ll show you our favorite spots for strolling through the area’s lush landscape and fascinating flora.
Making a move to the Big Island? We’d love to help! We have teams and warehouses on both the Hilo and Kona sides of the island, so we can get you anywhere you want to go. Get started with a free quote from one of our local, Hilo-based experts.
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