Hawai'i is loaded with amazing waterfalls, but it is hard to find a waterfall that doesn’t require some serious, and often sketchy, climbing to get beneath the falls. The easy access to the large and deep pool beneath Wai'ale Falls makes it a true gem on the Big Island. It is also rarely written up in guidebooks, which tend to focus on the downstream maintained parks of Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots, also found on the Wailuku River. If you are in Hilo and want to easily find a swimming hole but avoid crowds, this spot is for you. To get beneath the falls, you only need to hike about 25 yards. Access to the river is easy. There is a large rock island in the middle of the river, and if you do a quick swim to the island, you will take a short trail to a pebble beach looking directly at the falls.
To get above the falls, there is a 0.3-mile trail, but it is not maintained and can be incredibly muddy. If you are up for an adventure, it can be worth it, though. The bare rocks around the falls (except at high water) allow you to get very close to the brim with fantastic panoramic views. In addition, there are smaller cascading falls and swimming holes scattered above the falls. If the water level is not too high, you could spend hours above the falls exploring the swimming holes and venturing upstream to larger unnamed falls.
There are multiple places to cliff jump. The top of the falls is about 55 feet above the pool. Some climb up from the pool to an obvious midway point for a slightly tamer experience, and youngsters can find jumps into the pool and falls at much lower heights, too. Just keep in mind that Wailuku River means “River of Destruction” in Hawaiian; many people have lost their lives swimming in this river, typically because of flash floods. Because the river does flood with high frequency, be sure to check out what’s below before you jump.
Swimming holes and cliff jumping can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable outdoor activities that pose significant risks regarding personal safety. Changing water levels, unseen rocks, and river bottoms that have shifted with currents and seasonal weather can turn a well-known jumping area into a serious hazard. Prior to engaging in these activities, extensively scout the current conditions, and understand the risks involved with serious injury and the logistical challenges of evacuation from the water so you can make safe decisions.