Waipo’o Falls is in the heart of Waimea Canyon, and it is hard to miss this spectacular 800-foot multi-tiered waterfall. The falls are first visible on Route 550 after mile 10, and there are multiple pull-offs offering fantastic views to snap photos of the Waipo’o Falls. Continue on to Pu’u Hinahina Lookout and you can easily access a trail that links to Canyon Trail and takes you to the top of the falls, offering unparalleled views into Waimea Canyon and a smaller falls to swim beneath, too. Once at the top of the falls, you have great views of the canyon, but not the actual falls themselves. Regardless, this hike is definitely a real gem in the park, and it is a superb option if you are limited on time (most hikers take two to three hours). Parking is generally available at Pu’u Hinahina Lookout, and it also provides the benefit of immediate views of the Waimea Canyon and the small island of Ni’ihue, “the Forbidden Island” owned by the Robinson family that is off-limits to visitors.
To connect to the Canyon Trail from Pu’u Hinahina Lookout, you’ll want to take the Spur Trail, a new trail approximately 0.5 mile in length that meets up with the Cliff Trail and Canyon Trail at a junction with Halemanu Road (four-wheel drive is recommended to access here). The trailhead is clearly visible. The Spur Trail takes you down in elevation through a grove of strawberry guava trees. Once you connect with the dirt road, you’ll continue on to the Canyon Trail. If you have more time, the Cliff Trail is a short side trip (0.5 mile) that once again provides great views. The Canyon Trail meets up with the Black Pipe Trail, but you’ll want to continue on with the Canyon Trail where it will soon come to the top of a ridge and open up. From here you’ll feel the immensity of the cliffs as you continue along the exposed ridge and down to the falls. Keep your eyes peeled for the white birds soaring throughout the canyon and nesting on the cliffs; these are koa'e kea, white-tailed tropicbirds.
The stream is densely surrounded by kahili ginger that once again creates a feeling of being in a “Tropical Grand Canyon.” While a truly beautiful plant, it is, unfortunately, a highly destructive invasive species. If you head to the left on a faint trail through the ginger, you’ll soon end up at a smaller 15-foot falls. This is a great place to cool off before your trip back. If you continue to to the right on the larger trail, you’ll find the top of Waipo’o Falls. This is a tiered waterfall, so if the river is low, you can actually climb below the first 15-foot tier and shower off here, too. Even climbing down, however, will not provide a view of the falls in their entirety, but it may make your heart beat a little bit faster. Nonetheless, Waipo’o Falls’ magnitude can certainly be felt, and the arched rock formations visible from this vantage point are pretty cool.
This hike is moderately difficult, and if there has been rain, expect slippery mud to add to the adventure. There are restrooms at Pu’u Hinahina, but the water is not potable, so be sure to bring plenty of extra water for the car ride home. Waimea Canyon State Park is a dog friendly park. Consider adopting a dog for the day from the humane society. Visit their website for more information about taking shelter dogs on field trips.
Note that swimming in any fresh water river in Hawai'i potentially exposes you to leptospirosis. You should not swim in any river in Hawai'i with open wounds.