Although I have seen a lot of Haleakala National Park, I have not seen it all. In fact, it is likely that I will never be able to see all that this Hawaiian volcano has to offer. But I can try. I was eager to return to Haleakala after having hiked through the volcanoes most prominent hiking trails on a four-day backpacking trip. This time, though, I would be exploring upcountry Haleakala by hiking through the Pipiwai Trail which leads to the spectacular Waimoku Falls. This hike was also special because we did it on my wife’s birthday. I though that it would be cool to give her a 400-foot waterfall for her birthday.
The last time that I was in this part of Haleakala National Park was in 2008, with three of my closest friends. On that trip, we visited Oheo Gulch, nicknamed the Seven Sacred Pools. To get there, we took the infamous Road to Hana. This time around, we would take the reverse route to Hana, driving in a counterclockwise fashion through upcountry Maui. We arrived at the Park at around 1:45pm and started the hike at around 2:00pm.
The Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls is one of the best hiking experiences in the state. This valley hike offers a handful of small waterfalls, an eerie bamboo forest, and a massive gushing waterfall as the grand finale. About half-a-mile in, you will come to Makahiku Lookout and Falls. A large wooden sign will let you know that you are there. Unfortunately, the waterfall is some distance away, and can be a bit difficult to see with the vegetation.
Continuing on the trail, you’ll come across a second, smaller waterfall and pool. This waterfall is located between Makahiku Falls and the start of the Bamboo portion of the Pipiwai Trail. A more spectacular, tiered, waterfall can be seen as you cross a series of bridges over Palikea stream and enter the bamboo portion of the trail. This tiered waterfall reminded me a bit of Waimano Falls on the island of Oahu.
The path through the bamboo forest is about a mile long. The bamboo trees are so tall that you might be deceived by the perceived lack of sunlight. It’s a little like hiking during dusk. The bamboo trail, as it is often called, is partially lined with a wooden boardwalk to offer reprieve from the often muddy upper trail.
Eventually, the grand Waimoku Falls will come into sight. Large signs will tell you that you should not attempt to cross the stream to reach the falls if the flow of the stream is heavy. Luckily, the stream was very calm during our visit, making the stream crossing a non-issue. As you get closer, Waimoku Falls becomes larger and larger, until you turn a corner and see it in all of its unobstructed glory. There were about 6 other people totally enamored by the 400-foot gushing waterfall. The sheer rock face behind the waterfall is lined with green moss.
I’ve seen many of the waterfalls that Hawaii has to offer, and Waimoku Falls is easily one of the most impressive that you can see, and get close to, via a sanctioned state or government trail. If you do decide to get close to Waimoku Falls, you should be aware of the ever present dangers. As I stood there, just feet away from the falling water, I could not help but notice the presence of both large and small boulders, tree trunks, and branches. That said, be very aware of your surroundings and be weary of the fact that a large rock or boulder could fall from above you at anytime. Of course, keeping a nice distance between you and the falls will help your cause significantly.
Hiking the Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls is quite the investment. Depending on the route that you take, you can expect to spend 4.5 to 5 hours total hours driving to and from the trailhead at Haleakala National Park. It might make a bit more sense to hike this trail if spending the night, or a few days in Hana. If you’re camping at Wai’anapanapa State Park or staying at the luxurious Trevassa Resort, hiking to Waimoku Falls would make for a stunning and very rewarding side trip.
Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Michelle Sagucio.
Total Distance: 2 miles.
Total Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls Tips:
- The earlier you get to the park, the better. Remember, that it takes a long to get to this part of the island and it will take you time to get out. If you get there too late, then you might not be able to check out the other trails, including Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools).
- The receipt that the NPS staff will give you upon paying your parking fee is good for a few days. You could use the receipt to gain entry to to the top of Haleakala to watch either the sunrise or sunset.
- For information on the reverse route / back road / upcountry drive to Hana, read this post.
Directions to Pipiwai Trailhead: The Pipiwai trailhead is located in the Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park and can be accessed by driving 12 miles past the town of Hāna. If coming from Hana, the parking lot will be located just before the 42-mile sign post. There is a $10 National Park fee to enter and park your vehicle.