Waimoku Falls

Haleakala National Park Kipahulu District (Maui Island), Hawaii, USA

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 2.5
Waimoku Falls in high flow
Waimoku Falls is a majestic said-to-be 400ft tall waterfall situated at the head of Ohe'o Gulch.

During our first trip back in September 2003, I remembered approaching the waterfall and having a lady (who was walking the other way) smile broadly and tell me that it was a spiritual experience. And when Julie and I first laid eyes on it, we were ooh-ing and ah-ing, especially after seeing how most of the waterfalls on this side of the island had either low typical flow or were diminutive in size. In fact, I believe this is probably the tallest legitimate waterfall outside of Akaka Falls that you can see without a helicopter.

But in addition to the falls making for the ultimate reward of a 4-mile round trip Pipiwai Trail hike, this trail had so much more to offer. In addition to the other waterfalls in the Oheo Gulch, there was also a long section of an eerie bamboo forest as well as swimming holes (when the conditions are calm, of course) and even a banyan tree.

Julie and I agree that this is probably our favorite waterfall in the Hawaiian Islands (see our Top 10 Hawaii Waterfalls List). The journey to get there just has that diversity of attractions and diversions in addition to one of the best of the most accessible waterfalls to be found. Below, we give a words-eye view of how we experienced the out-and-back Pipiwai Trail.

At the official start to the Pipiwai Trail From the well-signed and large car park area (which requires a National Parks fee and can still be full if you're not here early enough), we had to cross the Hwy 31 then walk east (back in the direction of Hana) towards the actual signposted Trailhead for the Pipiwai Trail. This trail was just past the 42-mile post alongside Hwy 31.

Next, the trail headed inland (the sign indicated it was 1.8 miles one-way to the falls at this point) as it meandered gradually uphill high up alongside the Pipiwai Stream. In the Summer, I recalled the scent of guava filling the air as I suspected that was when the fruits ripened and fell from the trees to allow the wildlife (including the insects) to get at the sweet nectars.

At roughly a half-mile into the hike, we were at the overlook for Makahiku Falls. We devoted a separate page for it because we have a bit more to say about this one.

The banyan tree Beyond the falls, the trail went through a gate flanked by a long fence. I believe the intent of this fence was to keep out pests (i.e. introduced species like domestic animals, wild boar, and goats, etc.) threatening to eat away at the native vegetation that remains in the National Park. So please leave the gate closed as you pass through them.

I recalled the trail could get confusing here as there were a plethora of false trails. However, I believe they all tended to head in the same direction. At the end of this little interlude, the trail then passes before a large banyan tree. I'm not sure if it was native or if someone planted it here, but it made for a good landmark to help keep us oriented as we were continuing with the hike.

Next, there was a fork in the trail where a sign indicated "Stream Overlook." It wasn't necessary to take this fork to get to Waimoku Falls, but we talk more about the falls here as well as another one that seemed to spill over a dilapidated manmade wall further along the Pipiwai Trail on a separate page.

Hiking within the darkness of the bamboo forest Eventually, the trail then hit a series of bridges crossing high up above the Pipiwai Stream. There were more waterfalls tumbling below these bridges, and it made for another interesting break in scenery on this hike.

Beyond the bridges was the bamboo forest. This forest was particularly memorable because I swore there were times the grove was thick enough to block out most of the sunlight. There were also mysterious knocking sounds (I still couldn't figure out if there were bamboo trunks knocking on each other with the tradewinds or what) as we meandered through the grove. In some of the muddier sections, the park service put in boardwalks to ensure the walking remained as easy as possible.

Eventually, after the bamboo forest ended, Waimoku Falls (as well as some surprise smaller waterfalls high up the cliffs) could be seen above the trees. I recalled there were some stream crossings we had to negotiate in order to get right up to the base of the falls. Depending on how much the falls would be flowing, some of these stream crossings could get your feet wet (and maybe as high as knee-deep or thigh-deep in high flow; as it was in our 2007 visit).

While the trail ultimately went right to the very bottom of Waimoku Falls, we do have to warn that the presence of boulders strewn about everywhere seemed to suggest the everpresent danger of rock falls. As the tragedy at Sacred Falls on Oahu could attest, this would be a threat to take very seriously. Thus, swimming here and lingering close to the cliffs beneath the falls would incur quite a bit of risk.

Finally, to give you an idea of how much time to budget for this excursion (especially since the Hana Highway is so full of diversions to eat away at all the time you have in a day), the last time Julie and I did this trail in 2007, it took us around 2.5 hours round trip to do the whole hike plus take photos. Since it was raining at the time, we didn't linger for long or spend much time at the other side attractions. Otherwise, we could've easily spend 3-4 hours here!

If you add this amount of time with the time spent checking out the Lower Pools of 'Ohe'o, then it's not hard to see how even making a beeline for Oheo Gulch from the resorts in West or South Maui and back could easily consume an entire day! So something that might be worth a consideration (though it's a far cry from the luxury you may be accustomed to in leeward Maui) is to spend a night in laid back and sleepy Hana town. We did just that on our last trip and found the entire Hana Highway and Kipahulu experience to be far more relaxing than to fit it all in a day.

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Our first full view of Waimoku Falls back in September 2003Our first full view of Waimoku Falls back in September 2003
Julie checks out the Waimoku Falls in full flow in 2007Julie checks out the Waimoku Falls in full flow in 2007
Julie entering the bamboo forestJulie entering the bamboo forest
It's hard to believe that directly upslope from Waimoku Falls and the Oheo Gulch is the summit of Haleakala Volcano.  Yep, it's the place people wake up at 2:30am in the morning to go up here and freeze, and it's all for the opportunity to see the sunrise hereIt's hard to believe that directly upslope from Waimoku Falls and the Oheo Gulch is the summit of Haleakala Volcano - a place where people wake up at 2:30am to get up here to see the sunrise
Makahiku Falls in moderate flowMakahiku Falls in moderate flow

Big banyan tree still there in 2007Big banyan tree still there in 2007

Stream Overlook sign past the banyan treeStream Overlook sign past the banyan tree

Looking down at the waterfalls beneath the footbridgesLooking down at the waterfalls beneath the footbridges just before the bamboo forest

Julie up ahead deep in the bamboo forestJulie up ahead deep in the bamboo forest

Still in the bamboo forestStill in the bamboo forest

Still meandering through the bamboo forest but in a brighter spotStill meandering through the bamboo forest but in a brighter spot

Another waterfall up ahead at the end of the bamboo forestAnother waterfall up ahead at the end of the bamboo forest. I don't think this is Waimoku Falls though.

Julie having to cross a pretty deep stream to proceed further to Waimoku Falls when it was swollen like this in 2007Julie having to cross a pretty deep stream (maybe knee-deep or thigh-deep) to proceed further to Waimoku Falls when it was swollen like this in 2007

Another look at the bending Waimoku Falls in moderate flowAnother look at the bending Waimoku Falls in moderate flow in September 2003.

Some folks choosing to get wet beneath the falls despite Mother Nature telling them they're doing so at their own riskSome folks choosing to get wet beneath Waimoku Falls despite Mother Nature telling them they're doing so at their own risk

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The car park for the Pipiwai Trail is the same as that of the Lower Pools of 'Ohe'o so see that page for driving directions.

As mentioned earlier, this car park can get pretty busy, especially on a good weather day. So an early start could certainly reduce the likelihood and stress of such a circumstance.

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Click here for the full World of Waterfalls map

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

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