Waipio Valley Hike Guide: Trail Map, Length, and Where to Go
When you think of Hawaii, the first thing that comes to mind is relaxing on a white sand beach with a tropical drink in hand. Don’t get me wrong — that does sound amazing — but Hawaii has so much more to offer!
Hiking is one of our favorite things to do in Hawaii. How can you go wrong with miles and miles of stunning shoreline, mountains and volcanoes galore?
So when we arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii for the last few days of our honeymoon, we were on a mission to find the most epic hike that the island had to offer.
And we surely weren’t disappointed when we stumbled across the Waipio Valley hike — which is home to waterfalls, wild horses and black sand beaches.
In this Waipio Valley hike guide we break down the trek from start to finish, total distance covered, elevation gained, hike difficulty and all the amazing views the valley floor has to offer.
Table of Contents
How Long is The Waipio Valley Hike?
Waipio Valley hike time: The hike will take a total of 1.5 to 3 hours depending on the fitness level of the group and time spent exploring the valley floor.
Waipio Valley hike distance: The round trip hike from the lookout parking lot to the black sand beach and back is just over 3 miles.
Waipio Valley hike elevation: The elevation gain is approximately 975 feet on the steepest road of its length in the United States.
For my husband and I — who spend four plus days a week in the gym — it took us 1 hour and 47 minutes to complete the hike. We spent at least 15 minutes on the valley floor to soak in the incredible views.
According to our Fitbit Versa, we walked a total of 3.24 miles and burned 494 calories. Plenty of calories burned to enjoy a fresh hot malasada afterwards at Tex Drive-In located a short drive down the road in Honokaa.
How Difficult is The Waipio Valley Hike?
The hike down to the valley floor follows a steep road descending 800 vertical feet in just over 1/2 mile with an average grade of 25% (and steeper in certain spots!).
Descending down the steepest road of its length in the United States can be harsh on the knees; however, it is the fastest part of the hike and offers incredible views throughout its entirety.
The most difficult part of the hike is the climb back up the from the valley floor. As mentioned previously, we consider ourselves fit individuals who hike and exercise often. That said, we did have to stop a few times on the trek back up to catch our breath and re-hydrate.
Pro tip: The hike up from the valley floor is fairly strenuous. We recommend doing the Waipio Valley hike early in the morning to beat the heat and crowds. Don’t forget to bring lots of water!
Overall, we would rank the Waipio Valley Hike as a moderate hiking trail. It is definitely more difficult than the Pololu Valley hike — another popular trail on the Big Island of Hawaii — but can be done by all ages.
All About Waipio Valley
Waipio Valley — meaning “curved water” in the native Hawaiian language — has quite an interesting history with both historical and cultural importance.
Located along the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, this “Valley of the Kings” is a mile wide and six miles deep. The valley is surrounded on both sides by cliffs that reach almost 2,000 feet.
As many as 10,000 Hawaiians once lived on the valley floor and was home to many of Hawaii’s rulers. It was here the Kamehameha was proclaimed the future ruler of the islands ancient burial caves located in the steep cliffs of the valley.
On your way through the valley you will see lush tropical vegetation. Taro is the main crop being cultivated today and Waipio is among the most fertile and productive valley on the Big Island of Hawaii.
It looks like a scene out of a Jurassic Park movie!
The Wailoa Stream flows through the middle of the valley, cutting the black sand beach in two, and emptying into Waipio Bay. You can often find wild horses grazing through the stream. What a sight to be seen 😍
Additionally, there is a gorgeous black sand beach on the valley floor. The sand is black due to its composition of volcanic minerals and lava fragments.
The surf at the beach is notoriously rough and therefore we do not recommend swimming here. However, it is an amazing spot to sit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
The valley is home to ancient burial grounds and it is important to stay on marked paths to avoid trespassing. Signs will clearly tell you where you can and can’t go.
On the valley floor is the perfect spot to rest in the shade, have a picnic lunch, or just take in the view:
Getting to Waipio Valley
The drive time to the Waipio Valley Hike ranges from 1-2 hours depending on where you are staying on the Big Island:
From Hapuna Beach (Kohala Coast): 1 hour drive
From Hilo: 1 hour drive
From Kona: 1.5 hour drive
Click on the map below for directions to the overlook:
Address: 48-5546 Waipio Valley Rd, Waimea, HI 96743
GPS Coordinates: 20° 7' 3.6912'' N 155° 35' 1.7772'' W
Parking: There is ample parking at the overlook — which is also the beginning of the trail head. You may also park on the street near the overlook if the parking lot is full.
Pro tip: Don’t be discouraged if there are no parking spots when you arrive. Many tourists quickly stop at the overlook to admire the views and take pictures without venturing down to the valley. That said, parking spots turn over quite frequently throughout the day.
Please note that rental cars are prohibited from driving down to the valley floor and 4x4 vehicles are required. Additionally, there are guards at the top of the road to prevent rental cars from proceeding down the steep grades which would breach your rental car agreements.
Waipio Valley Hike Trail Map
The Waipio Valley hike begins at the Waipio Valley overlook located on the Muliwai trail, a grueling 9-mile switchback trail that descends into Waimnau Valley, the next stop over from from Waipio Valley.
But don’t fret — you can stick to the first section of the trail that leads down to the black sand beach on the valley floor — a 3 mile round trip hike from the scenic overlook.
The following trail map provided by National Geographic is posted at the trail head:
The Muliwai trail is marked on the map via the red dotted line. The Waipio Valley hike ends at the river crossing right on the black sand beach. From here, you simply go back the same way you came in!
What to Bring on The Hike
For hiking, the best time to visit Hawaii is within the dry season: April to October.
We did this hike in September which left us on the outskirts of the dry season. The trail was a bit muddy but the clouds kept us cool on our way down. It was the ideal temperature for hiking as it can get a bit humid once the sun it out!
We recommend bringing the following for the 1.5-3 hour hike:
Water — we love to use a Camelbak when we hike as it offers storage room for snacks and cameras while keeping our hands free
Hiking boots or sneakers — half the hike is on a steep paved road and the other on a dirt road that can get pretty muddy after rain showers
Snacks — Cliff bars keep us full and energized during hikes
Towel — definitely take a moment to sit and relax on the black sand beach to take in the breathtaking scenery
Sunglasses — the sun is quite bright once the morning clouds clear
Hat — it is always good to protect your face from the sun during a long hike
Sunscreen — avoid the painful sunburn and protect your skin!
Where to Go on The Hike
The Waipio Valley hike can be slightly confusing for first timers. From the trail start to the bottom of the valley, there are multiple different forks in the road that can leave you puzzled.
At the start of your hike, head to the ranger station map and go straight down the paved service road. This is the beginning of the Waipio Valley hike.
After the steep decent on Waipio Valley Road, right at the bottom you will arrive at a fork which turns into a dirt / gravel road — bear right if you want to head to the black sand beach. Turning left takes you inland into Waipio Valley where residents live. There is a waterfall deep in the valley, but access is not recommended. Turning right at the fork, you know you are on the correct path to the black sand beach if you pass a small fishpond on your left (pictured below):
The trail to the black sand beach can get quite muddy after lots of rain — stay right on the trail to catch the views of cascading waterfalls!
The black sand beach offers incredible views of the 2,000 foot cliffs dropping to Waipio Bay.
The Wailoa Stream cuts right through the middle of the valley floor. We stopped here to enjoy a quick snack before heading back up the overlook. Keep an eye out for wild horses! They will often be enjoying the river crossing or feeding on wild vegetation near the beach.
If you don’t plan on trekking up the switchback trail towards Waimnau Valley, this river crossing marks the end of the Waipio Valley hike.
When you are done enjoying the valley floor, head back up the same path you took to return to the parking lot / trail-head.
Waipio Valley Tour Information
Feeling a little nervous about tackling the Waipio Valley hike to get to the valley floor?
Not to worry! There are scheduled tours done by a local, professional tour group to help you enjoy the experience.
Check out Waipio Valley Shuttle for a 4x4 van tour that will take you down for $65 per person.
Is The Waipio Valley Hike Worth It?
Absolutely! There is no question about it, the Waipio Valley hike is 100% worth it!
If you are visiting the Big Island of Hawaii this is a must do adventure activity. It is easily our favorite hike that we have ever done!
You will not regret the amazing views of cascading water falls, 2,000 foot cliffs to the ocean, lush vegetation, wild horses and black sand beaches.
By the end of it, you will be asking to do it all over again 😉
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