Pipiwai Trail & Waimoku Falls

Last updated 01. Apr, 2012 by in Adventures, Adventures & Sights | Rd to H, Hikes, Most Popular, Pools (natural), Road to Hana, Road to Hana Sites, Waterfalls

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The Pipiwai Trail cuts though an immense and unforgettable bamboo forest

The top half of the Pipiwai Trail cuts though an immense and unforgettable bamboo forest

Rating: ★★★★★

In a nutshell: Pipiwai Trail is a treasure of the National Park System that passes through diverse scenery and culminates at the base of an absolutely spectacular waterfall.
Minuses: You’ll be sharing the trail with lots of other folks.
Sound-bite: [insert hollow percussive sounds of bamboo striking one another]

Taking into account the easy accessibility, the Pipiwai Trail offers, hands-down, the all-around best of East Maui’s most dramatic stream and waterfall hikes.

This idyllic 1.8 mile trail unfolds alongside a string of (many more than seven) pools and waterfalls framed by the lush green diversity of the lush tropical rainforest. The dramatic diversity then suddenly morphs into the zen-oneness of an immense bamboo forest. Once released from the bamboo, you’re dropped at the very base of a towering sheer-cliff waterfall worthy of a slow-motion Imax fly-by.

The only thing missing from this hike is solitude; because of the easy National Park access, and the half-million visitors per-year to the much more famous pools below, you definitely won’t have this one all to yourself.

The trail is safe, well maintained, and the steeper grade during the first half mile or so is really the only part that is less than easy if you’ve not been off the couch in a while. The NPS has even built a boardwalk to span the muddy sections and have been adding more stone steps in the steeper grade areas in the past couple years – oooh the luxury!

The trail is just mauka the Hana Hwy at Haleakala National Park Kipahulu (Seven Sacred Pools.) and you should give yourself at least a couple hours if you plan to enjoy yourself, add another hour if you stop a lot and/or aren’t a regular walker/hiker.

This National Park Service Map more accurately shows the trail and streams. <BR> (click to open a full Haleakala National Park map from nps.gov in a new window)

This NPS Map more accurately shows the trail and streams. (click to open full HNP map from nps.gov in new window)

The trail begins just across the road from the parking lot, and you don’t have to walk very far (just over a half mile) before you come to the first set of large and impressive waterfalls: the Falls at Makahiku. These mighty thundering falls will probably be more than enough waterfall for most. Plunging almost 200′ over a verdant cliff covered with bamboo, prehistoric-looking ferns and Tarzan-worthy jungle vines melting into the postcard-perfect Hawaiian rainforest valley below – the scene is breathtaking. If you’re not fit enough to continue another mile (the hike back is all downhill, so we won’t count that!) you’ll probably be satisfied with these falls as your end-point. But if you’re capable, we want you to know better: this is just an appetizer to ready you for the much more impressive journey to come.

Tip: Take all warning signs seriously. Flash-flooding, rock falls and cliff/bridge jumping have taken several lives, and many natural dangers occur suddenly without warning.

Side Trip: “Infinity Pool”
As you continue, you’ll notice a side path with signs and a recently erected fence barring you from heading in that direction. The National Park Service has blocked this path as yet another casualty of a popular guidebook that doesn’t properly educate visitors as to the dangers in the places it sends them.

This is the absolutely stunning precipice of Makahiku waterfall, a sheer lava-rock cliff face that drops almost 200′ into the valley below. Yes, it is an absolutely gorgeous spot – but certainly not a safe place for every tourist regardless of age and physical condition.

If you want to go here now, you’re going to have to squeeze under or around the fence wherever other trespassers before you have bent it back. Keep in mind that your doing so is against the National Park Service’s prohibition – which could potentially carry a court date and quite significant fines. That said, being cited and fined are unlikely, but you’d certainly better be sure that you fully understand your abilities, the physical risks and the current conditions.

During normal conditions, the water flows over only the far side; the near side of this pool has taller, thick rock lip that will keep anyone with sense enough to stay on the pool-side from a one-way date with gravity. From inside the pool you will observe why the guidebook name makes sense – views from the pool emulate that of a resort-style Infinity pool and are jaw-dropping (to say the least) as the deep blue of the ocean appears to meet the edge of the pool.

Once out of the pool, if you’re an off-trail kind of hiker who hasn’t had enough off-trail, you can continue your side-trip upstream along the streambed (be ready to do some swimming and climbing) and check out some more worthy pools and waterfalls.

Mossy rough-hewn stone block steps evoke scenes out of "The Land of the Lost"

Mossy rough-hewn stone block steps evoke scenes out of "The Land of the Lost"

Back On The Trail
Back on the Pipiwai Trail, you’ll pass though a gate and come to another highlight – a gigantic banyan tree – with a footprint the size of a decent-sized house! Over years, a banyan’s aerial prop roots form into new trunks of their own, expanding continually outward. Looking at this tree in front of you, with new trunks sprouted out along the far-reaching branches, ever further from their source, you can see why Hinduism considers the banyan the symbol of eternal life. If you’re a tree climber (or you have some in-tow like I usually do) you’ll be spending more than a couple minutes here.

Past the Banyan, another side-trail will present itself (hint: the Park Service has placed a TRAIL arrow here pointing away from it (and toward the main trail.) This side trail soon takes you to a view of cave, pool & waterfall combination that my words (or photography) have not yet been able to do justice. It is definitely a value at the price of a few extra steps.

Continuing along the trail you’ll notice the scenery changing to bamboo. It is a pretty quick change, starting around the time you cross two bridges. Believe it or not, the same nuts brave folks you saw jumping from the bridge at the highway sometimes come up here to get their adrenaline fix. There are only a few choice people I’d advise to attempt jumping here (and it isn’t because they’re skilled jumpers!)

The bamboo will become thicker, and the ambiance and hollow percussive sounds of bamboo striking one another, will begin to transport you to an Asian nether-world. (This is also where the boardwalk comes in and save you from having your shoes sucked off by thick mud.) Various implementations of stone steps, all appearing to date from different periods in ancient pre-history, augment the scene to where running across some Sleestacks hunting dinosaur eggs wouldn’t look out of place in the least.

As the trail continues winding, if you pay careful attention the bamboo will begin to thin and trees will start coming back. It is right at this point that a grove of mountain apple trees can be found (if you know what you’re looking for.) If you’re lucky enough to be here in summer, you’re in for a refreshing treat. Mountain apples are oddly attached to the trees on which they grow. Instead of being on a stem that terminates from a minor branch, like most fruit, mountain apples grow on a small stem directly out of the main branches (and even the trunk) of the `ohi`a `ai tree. (Yeah, you can call it a mountain apple tree!) It definitely looks Dr. Seus-ish to the uninitiated.

Waimoku Falls is bigger than the eye can take in from this close up.

The prize: 400' tall Waimoku Falls.

Just so you know what to look for – they don’t call ‘em mountain apples for nothing – they’re (mostly) red and are shaped like a cross between an apple and a pear. Riper (to the point where the skin begins to crack and become damaged) is better. (more info: Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawaii)

Just a bit further and some rock-hopping over a usually tame stream, and this scenery-packed hike culminates at the base of sheer 400′ cliffs, with spectacular Waimoku Falls quite literally falling to Earth right in front of you. In fact, when you’ve reached the end, you’re smack at the base of the falls, and can walk right up and stand under them. This author (and a Park Service sign a safe distance from the falls) suggest you seriously consider how all the countless boulders you’re standing in front of got there. That said, there is nothing other than your sensibility to enforce keeping your distance, and you’ll certainly observe plenty of people ignoring the sign.

Even at a safe distance you’ll be cooled and refreshed by the mist and wind created by the falling water. Once you’ve cooled down and are ready to continue, you reverse the path from where you came. Easier (downhill) but just as rewarding with a new angle from which to view the scenery.

Key Info: (for trailhead @ HNP Kipahulu.)
Mile Marker: #42 (Hana Hwy aka Hwy 31)
GPS Coordinates: 20.661458,-156.045299
Facilities: National Park Rangers, Information Facility, Camping (no permit req’d), grills, picnic tables and toilets. (No potable water.)
Phone: 808-572-4400
Fee: $10 – NPS Info: http://www.nps.gov/hale/planyourvisit/kipahulu.htm
Get directions

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15 Responses to “Pipiwai Trail & Waimoku Falls”

  1. Donna Putt

    14. Oct, 2013

    What are the hours of the Pipiwai trail?

    Reply to this comment
    • Mark

      14. Oct, 2013

      Aloha Donna – the trail does not close, though I would not suggest doing it in the dark!

      Reply to this comment
  2. Holly

    03. Jan, 2014

    Really want to do this hike but concerned about my level of fitness for incline hiking. Not worried about the distance. Can you tell me how far the steepest elevation change is and what degree of incline that part of the trail would be? Weird question, I know.

    Reply to this comment
    • Mark

      03. Jan, 2014

      Aloha Holly – not sure of the specs – how fit are you? Can you give me an idea of what kind of physical activities give you difficulty?

      Reply to this comment
  3. Joanne

    05. Jan, 2014

    Aloha, would the trail through the bamboo forest be suitable for a 5 and 3 year old. Would love to do this but if it isn’t suitable for young children, we wait on it. Thanks

    Reply to this comment
    • Mark

      06. Jan, 2014

      Aloha Joanne – it depends how used to hiking or fit the children are. I have hiked this trail with children dozens of times. It is a well maintained trail with two shallow stream crossings at the very end (after the bamboo.) If they can walk 3-4 miles then they should be fine doing the whole thing – there is a lot of interesting scenery (even for kids!) and a great banyan tree for climbing right on the trail about 1/3 of the way up. There is an incline, but it gets less once you pass the banyan (and normally doesn’t phase active kids…out of shape adults are another story :) )

      Reply to this comment
  4. mamalu

    16. Mar, 2014

    Aloha… we will be in Maui next Christmas..we would like to take the Pipiwai trail. We will be staying in Kihei. Is it advisable to take the road back thru Kahului and down as opposed to taking the rough road outlined on the western side of the island that goes thru Keokea.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Megan

    28. Apr, 2014

    Aloha Mark,
    As it is now rainy season here in Maui, and the trail crosses a stream it sounds like, does the water level ever get too dangerous and high to pass during April/May?
    Thanks Megan

    Reply to this comment
    • Mark

      28. Apr, 2014

      Aloha Megan – its typically not deep, but, as always, use your judgement, and if in any doubt, ask/see if others are having any difficulty crossing. Have a blast!

      Reply to this comment
  6. Doug

    18. Oct, 2014

    Nov. 2 – 9- 2014….knock me over w/ a feather…This hike is a Fait Accompli…what else should we put on the ‘Must Hit’ list…?

    Reply to this comment
  7. Bright

    09. Dec, 2014

    How much time should we allocate to do this hike? We’re a couple who are fit for someone who doesn’t go to the gym…

    Reply to this comment
  8. Jane

    21. Jan, 2015

    My husband has a bad knee (it hurts to walk), but I can get him to walk around the neighborhood. Is this a steep incline, putting more pressure on his knee?

    Reply to this comment
  9. wayne tryba

    15. Feb, 2015

    I am going to Maui the third and forth week of march 2015. I want to hike the trail but my wife is not capable of this type of hike. How much time will it take me to hike up to the 400 foot or last waterfall on the trail. I would like to know the round trip time with a few stops along the way.

    Reply to this comment

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