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The hike into Waimanu Valley is nothing less than exhilarating and is by far the most challenging hike we have done on the Big Island. Waimanu Valley is incredibly lush with waterfalls cascading down its green slopes and ocean waves crashing on the rocky shore. Sleeping in Waimanu is a camping experience well worth the grueling hike to get there!
Time Required: 2 days+
Location: Kohala Forest Reserve, 50 miles northwest of Hilo
Distance: 19 miles (30.5km) round trip
Highest Elevation: 1394ft (425m)
Elevation Gain: 5250ft (1600m) round trip
Difficulty: 9/10 – Rapid elevation gain, long and exhausting, can be very slippery if wet.
Season: Year Round
Additional Requirements: DLNR Camping Permit
From Kailua-Kona: Take the Hawaii Belt Rd North for 53 miles to the town of Honokaa. Turn left onto Plumeria St, follow it for 0.7 miles and then turn left onto HI-240/Honokaa-Waipio Rd. This road will take you to the parking lot at Waipio Lookout.
From Hilo: Take the Hawaii Belt Rd North 39 miles to HI-240/Honokaa-Waipio Rd. Take a right onto the 240 and follow it to the parking lot at Waipio Lookout.
WHAT TO BRING
- Comfortable Footwear: Hiking shoes.Make sure your shoes are broken in prior to tackling this hike to prevent unexpected blisters. You could get away with running shoes but this trail can become very slippery with the slightest rain so some hefty hikers might be your best bet. Pack an extra pair of light shoes or sandals for when you arrive at your campsite as you will want to get out of your hikers and walk around a bit. You may also want to consider bringing water shoes/sandals. There are two large streams that must be crossed by foot. You can either remove your shoes and go barefoot, or pack some water shoes/sandals. Be aware that the streams are full of slippery rocks and it can be hard on your feet if you choose to go barefoot.
- Water: This hike is long with intervals of very intense elevation gain. If the sun is out, you will sweat a lot so bring plenty of water. It is also important to bring water purification tablets or a water filter pump. There are plenty of places to refill water along the trail and there is a freshwater stream near the campsites but you MUST purify the water!
- Food: Plan your meals based on the amount of days you will stay in Waimanu Valley. There are campfires at each campsite or you can bring a camping stove to cook your food. Don’t forget to bring snacks to enjoy along the hike as well. Some of our favorite snacks are trail mix, bananas, beef jerky and licorice.
- Weather appropriate clothing: You will be exposed to the elements throughout this hike. Waimanu is in the rainforest so there is a good chance you will be rained on at some point. Bring tarps, rain coats, and possibly a few changes of clothes. If you get a sunny day, light breathable clothing is your best bet as it is Hawaii and it can get pretty hot. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
- Games/Entertainment: Bring playing cards or other small compact games for entertainment at the campsite in the evening.
- Lighter/matches: If you want to have a campfire make sure you remember to bring a lighter or some matches.
- Sunscreen:If it is sunny and you’re like Mattson, who easily burns, bring sunscreen!
- Insect Repellent: Insect repellent can greatly improve your hiking experience.
- Headlamp/Flashlight: Once the sun goes down in the valley it gets very dark! be sure you have a flashlight or headlamp to find your way around.
- Toilet paper: Overnight trip… enough said
- Camera: There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
- This Guide: Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the hike
Flash Floods: This area of the Big Island receives over 100 inches of rain annually. Heavy rains can cause flash floods in streams and rivers. If there is flooding and fast moving water, attempting to cross streams and rivers can be very dangerous and potentially fatal.
Parking: Cars parked at the Waipio Valley Lookout for more than 24 hours may be towed. Parking is available at Waipio Valley Artworks for $20 a day. Call them ahead of time at 808-775-0958.
Permits: All campers must register for and purchase a camping permit to stay in Waimanu Valley. Permits can be reserved up to a month in advance and cost 18$/night for up to 6 people (12$/night for Hawaii residents). There are nine campsites to choose from. They are labelled 1-9 running east to west. We would recommend campsites 6-9 as they are closer to the sandy section of the beach and are more private.
Purchase a permit at the Department of Land and Natural Resources camping permit website (https://camping.ehawaii.gov/camping/all,details,31720.html).
Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:
- Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
- Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
- Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.
To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit http://www.leavenotrace.ca
Summary: The 19-mile round trip hike to Waimanu Valley begins at the Waipio Valley lookout and starts with a steep, short walk down into the valley. The trail to Waimanu Valley, also known as the Muliwai Trail, begins across the black sand beach at the west wall of Waipio Valley. The Muliwai trail ascends the steep west wall of the valley and then traverses 13 gullies before descending into Waimanu Valley. Waimanu Valley has 9 designated camping spots that are just off the beach. Once in Waimanu you can take a bonus side trip into the heart of the valley to check out Wai’ilikahi Falls.
Take a couple of minutes to soak in the views at the Waipio Valley Lookout (Route marker #1 on the map) before you begin your trek down the paved road into the valley. The road down is very steep and walking down it can be hard on the legs. Stick your thumb out as you descend and maybe if you’re lucky someone will let you jump in the back of their pickup. Once you get to the bottom of the valley turn right and follow the dirt road to the beach.
Once you reach the beach, head west across the valley. You will have to cross a large stream blocking your path as you head west. We recommend taking your shoes off to keep them dry, or switching to water shoes if you have them. Be careful as there are large, slippery rocks in the water that make the footing difficult. After you cross the river, the warm sand on your feet feels nice as you walk along the beach to the west wall of the valley.
From the beach you can see the large Z pattern cut out of the west side of the valley in front of you. That is the first part of Muliwai Trail (they call this part the Z-trail) that takes you out of Waipio Valley. There is a trail just south of the beach that runs parallel to the ocean that will take you to the start of the Muliwai Trail.
Walk on the trail behind the beach until you reach a sign and gate. Do not go through the gate. To the right of the gate is a sign and the trailhead for then Muliwai Trail (Route marker #2 on the map).
The first section of the Muliwai trail is the most challenging part of the entire hike. You will ascend about 1200 feet of elevation up long steep switchbacks. Take your time as you ascend and enjoy the spectacular views. On a clear day, you can see deep into the heart of Waipio Valley and catch a glimpse of a massive waterfall called Hi’ilawe Falls.
Once you’re at the top of the Z-trail and out of Waipio Valley the hike gets much easier. It is about 5-miles to Waimanu Valley from here and along the way there will be boulder hopping, stream crossings, and gully dipping. There are 13 gullies that you will dip in and out of. Some are big, some small, some have waterfalls, and some are dry. Gully number seven is our personal favorite because it has a nice spot to stop for a refreshing swim. Try to keep count of the gullies so you know approximately how much futher you have to go. There are also some State of Hawaii mile markers along the trail.
After 5 miles you will reach the final descent into Waimanu Valley. Take extra care on this section of the hike as the trail is narrow and can be VERY slippery! Once you reach the valley floor you will have one final stream to cross before you reach the camping area (Route marker #3 on the map). There is a rope running perpendicular to the river that can be used for guidance and stability. Once again, be careful when crossing the river as the rocks are slippery.
The campsites are labelled 1-9 from east to west. There are also two outhouses that you can use. If you need to refill water the trail continues past campsite 9 to a small waterfall on the west wall of Waimanu Valley. Be sure to purify this water before drinking it!
If you’re eager for more adventure and have time to spend in the valley, you can hike to Wai’ilikahi Falls (Route marker #4 on the map).This hike is about an hour each way but isn’t very well marked or maintained. There is a lot of bush whacking and trail finding necessary, plus you will be walking through tons of spider webs.
The trail to Wai’ilikahi Falls heads from campsite 9 inland along the west wall of the valley. Follow the trail to the small water source near the campsites and then keep going. There are colored markers tied to the trees marking the best way to the falls but they can be difficult to find. If you get lost, the valley wall should be on your right and if you follow that wall long enough you will eventually reach Wai’ilikahi Falls. When you’re about ten minutes from the falls you will come to a stream on your left. Keep it on your left and follow it upstream to the falls.
After enjoying your stay in Waimanu Valley it is time for the challenging hike back to the Waipio Valley Lookout. Follow the Muliwai Trail back to Waipio Valley the same way you came. Be sure to leave some extra energy in the tank because the hike up the east wall of Waipio Valley is brutal!
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Have fun out there!