Rainbow Falls

Hilo (The Big Island), Hawaii, USA

Rating: 3     Difficulty: 1
Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is a very popular (I believe year-round) waterfall near downtown Hilo.

It's got a large car park and viewing area to see the falls in a ready-made post card setting. To reinforce that rare year-round property of this waterfall (despite hydroelectric developments further upstream), the Wailuku River (on which this falls flows) has been said to move a million cubic meters (275 million gallons) of water per year. Just about every time we've made a stop here, we noticed numerous other people checking out this beauty, especially when tour buses arrive. Personally, I don't blame them because this waterfall was pretty enough to break into our Top 10 List of Hawaiian Waterfalls.

Even though we weren't fortunate enough to see the falls with its namesake rainbows, I believe since it's east-facing, it can produce rainbows perhaps around mid-morning or later in the morning (assuming the sun would be out, which is not a guaranteed thing in the windward side of the island).

Even though it was only about a 50ft walk to the main lookout (see photo above), there was a walkway that climbed stone steps to the top of Rainbow Falls. If rainbows can't be seen at the main overlook, perhaps the top down view might provide better opportunities since the severe angle of broad daylight sun tends to move rainbows more towards the ground.

We also noticed an alcove behind the base of the falls, which was believed to be where King Kamehameha buried the bones of his father. I also read that according to another legend, Hina, mother of Maui, also lived in that same alcove.

Just to give you an idea of how much this waterfall can change under heavy rains, we were here under severe weather on Super Bowl weekend in 2008 when the volume of water that fell over the stream practically multiplied ten-fold! Under such conditions, there wasn't a bare rock in sight as everything was under rushing brownish water!

Directions: From Hwy 19 in Hilo, take Waianuenue Ave west for about 1.25 miles. A quarter-mile past the junction with Hwy 200, turn right at Rainbow Falls Drive and drive another quarter-mile to the spacious paved car park.

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Closer look at Rainbow Falls and the alcove behind it
While we were staying in Hilo (where Rainbow Falls is located), we managed to go on a bit of an in-the-dark adventure to see a lava flow about an hour or so drive south at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Earlier that day, we started to notice glowing lava further upslope from us.  It was surreal to see and something Julie and I will always remember
Something that was a bit less of an adventure was exploring the lava tubes.  I'd imagine that the risk of seeking out lava flows involved flowing lava going through these tubes that could've been below our feet.  There was no telling how close we would be to such tubes
Rainbow Falls in an angry moodThe falls in an angry mood during a freak storm during Super Bowl XLII weekend (the one in which the Patriots lost their perfect record); the rains were so heavy that flooding was everywhere!

The top of Rainbow Falls in its angry stateThe top of the falls in its angry state

Further downstream of Rainbow Falls in Hilo, flooding was severe anywhere near the Wailuku River or any other drainageFurther downstream of the falls in Hilo, flooding was severe anywhere near the Wailuku River or any other drainage for that matter!

The flood waters almost getting to the top of the bridge of the main highwayThe flood waters almost getting to the top of the bridge of the main highway

More flooding on that eventful day in 2008 in HiloMore flooding on that eventful day in 2008 in Hilo

Rainbow FallsOne last look at Rainbow Falls under more nominal conditions

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Left to right sweep of the swollen falls from its top

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For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.

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