Take a step back in time with a visit to the lush Waipio Valley on the Big Island, known as the Valley of the Kings for its role in ancient Hawaiian life. Learn about this stunning valley on the Hamakua Coast.
A Little History on Waipio Valley
Waipio Valley is known to be among the most breathtaking and sacred places on the islands, due to its historical importance to the Hawaiian people. Many stories about ancient Hawaiian gods you hear of today were set in the Waipio Valley, long before settlers roamed the land.
The valley was once home to ancient Hawaiian rulers and warriors who fought for control of the beautiful island kingdom, this includes King Kamehameha the Great, who trained in the valley as a young boy before becoming the ruler and unifier of the islands.
The valley is also known as ‘the sacred place’. It has been said that there are royal burial sites located on the cliffs and anyone who lives in the valley will be protected by the kings’ mana (divine power). Not even the many reoccurring tsunamis in the late 1800’s could harm the settlers and residents of the valley.
Visiting Waipio Valley
Today, there are now less than 100 local residents who reside in the valley and live purely off the land itself. The valley’s indescribable beauty drives many tourists and locals to this area each year, most of which are looking to either hike to the black-sand beach or view the six acres of taro planted below.
The valley is located on the northeastern shores of the Hamaku Coast, tucked in the Kohala Mountains on the Big Island. Out of the seven valleys on the windward side, Waipio valley is the largest and most popular site to visit.
Waipio, also known as “curved water” in the Hawaiian language, stretches about a mile wide at the coast and travels six miles further into the valley.
The lush tropical landscape rises nearly 2,000 ft. and boasts many cascading waterfalls. Hi’ilawe waterfall is known as the tallest and most popular waterfall in the valley.
You will also find the Waipio River, which flows from the mountains until it reaches the beach. A visit to the valley will have you dreaming about "paradise found" well after you’ve returned home!
Getting down into the valley is tricky. The road heading into the valley is known to be very steep, reaching an average grade of 20-25%. Therefore driving into the valley is not recommended, as the road heading down to the valley can be very narrow and tough to navigate through. You can, however, hike to the valley floor from the lookout point.
The Waipio Valley is considered a moderate-to-difficult trail, recommended only for those who are physically ready to hike steep and often slippery terrain.
The trail itself is about 6.5 miles long and may take 3-5 hours to hike, depending on the amount of detours you decide to make along the way. Hiking down to the valley floor may seem easy, but the hike back to the top is what makes this trail very challenging—especially under warm weather conditions. It is best to start the hike early, to avoid hiking in the mid-day heat.
You can enter the valley from several different points, however the entrance by the parking lot is the easiest to find. From the parking area at Waipio Lookout, head down the paved road about three-quarters of a mile. Once the road is more level, continue to follow the road toward the ocean for another half-mile until you reach the black-sand beach. Note that the Waipio black-sand beach does not have lifeguards on duty, so it's not recommended for swimming due to the rough currents.
Although the trail may be half paved and partially shaded by the tropical landscape, it is always important to wear sunscreen, bring lots of water and wear proper hiking shoes.
Hiking Essentials and Precautions
As always, is important to take proper precaution and pack the essentials before hiking to the valley.
Bring lots of water—the weather in the afternoon can be very warm so it is important to stay hydrated and pack lots of water to last the entire hike.
Check the weather conditions before you hike—avoid hiking under bad weather conditions, as it can be very dangerous and extremely slippery when wet.
Pack proper hiking shoes—due to the steep and slippery terrain in the valley, it is best to wear proper shoes for the hike. We recommend closed-toe hiking shoes for this hike. Avoid wearing flip-flops.
Sunscreen—always wear sunscreen. Reef safe sunscreen does not contain any harsh chemicals, keeping the marine life safe and protects you from the sun’s harmful rays.
Stay on the trails—majority of the land is located on private property, it is best to stay on the trail and avoid entering if it is not a public area to avoid getting lost or trespassing on private land.
If you decide to bring snacks/food on your hike, please discard all trash into designated trash containers or take everything back with you for proper disposal. Take a pack-in / pack-out approach.
Mahalo and enjoy the Big Island’s Waipio Valley!
If you would like to learn about other Big Island activities, check out our Big Island Guide.