Pipiwai Trail & Waimoku Falls

The Pipiwai Trail cuts though an immense and unforgettable bamboo forest

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The stream is idyllic

The stream is a string of pools and waterfalls

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]

DETAILS:
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.

Waimoku Falls

The prize: 400′ tall Waimoku Falls.

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.

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 – *After Hana markers go back down)
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: $15 – NPS Info: http://www.nps.gov/hale/planyourvisit/kipahulu.htm
Get directions


View Pipiwai Trail & Waimoku Falls in a larger map

  1. Mary Anne says:

    My husband and I are over 65, fairly active, and would like to hike this trail this February. My only problem is that I have a height problem. Are there any points in the trail that have a narrow point and dangerously close to edges.

  2. Brittany says:

    Aloha,

    My fiancΓ© and I will be going to Maui this July for our honeymoon and would like to take a tour that includes this trail. I am aware there is a guided tour option, are there any tour companies that have his trail part out their day tour?

    • Aloha Brittany,

      Check out Epic Experience Maui if you would like to consider some private tours!

      Mahalo,
      Emily

  3. Darren says:

    Hello!

    I am an active 20 year old male who has an extra day in Maui and read so many wonderful things about this trial. I am not a hiker but I think I should be able to handle this trail. Do you reccommend going alone or paying for a guided tour?

    Thanks!

    • Aloha Darren – I just hiked it yesterday – love this trail, if you are 20 and active, you’re all good πŸ™‚ You don’t need a guide, just give yourself plenty of time to enjoy!

  4. Aloha Mark,
    I’ve really enjoyed reading about these wonderful hikes in Maui. Your humor and descriptive writing are perfect! My wife and I will be in Maui Summer 2016 (without the kids!) We were on this – greatest of all islands – for our honeymoon in ’03. We BARELY survived the hike back out of Sliding Sands Trail back then, but discovered our love of hiking together. A few pounds lighter now, we cannot wait to take on the challenge and reward of a few of the hikes in and around Hana. Thanks so much for sharing this info!

    • It’s a great hike. Easy yet challenging. Bamboo forest is magical. Try to get there by 10 am or earlier for heat comfort. Good for anyone relatively active and healthy. Places of shade and cool breezes. We have done this in Feb 2015 and 2016. If over on West side/Kaanapali – leave at 630 am or 6. Wear comfy sneakers and clothes. You will sweat. Make bee-line for State Park. Past Hana. Stop at Honolulu Coffee in Paia go restroom and breakfast . Stop at Travaasa in Hana for restroom and gift store. Eat at Thai by Pranee in Hana after the hike. On way back. Take your time on way back. Enjoy the Hana drive.

  5. Hi Mark,
    I would like to hike the bamboo Forrest. When is the best month to hike the trail and what airport is closest? Thank you!
    Jen

    • Aloha Jen – it really is wonderful year-round. Hana airport is the closest, however, if you’re not flying in from another island to stay in Hana specifically, you’ll likely want to drive from where you stay. The drive is an adventure in and of itself! Have fun!

    • Sam Shannon says:

      Hi Jen,

      The Hanna airport is the closest, but getting a commercial flight there is probably going to be difficult.

      My favorite time to hike the bamboo forest is in February. It’s warm, yet not hot and there’s always a chance for a light cool mist. Love hiking the bamboo in a fine mist. It’s beautiful.

      That being said, you will probably need to fly into the Kahului Airport (OGG) and either rent a car or hitch-hike to the trail head. The problem with hitch-hiking is, although everyone wants to drive to Hana, most people will not drive the Southern route where streams over the road and often wash them out. Many rental car companies use to prohibit traveling on that road. If you can find someone taking the southern route, you’ve got it made. Otherwise, you can take the Northern route and simply get out when most people turn around. It will probably be easier to find someone heading your direction from Hana anyway.

      I hope this helps

    • The pool at the base is shallow – people wade in and stand under the falls, though the park service now has a highly ignored sign in the middle of the trail when you approach stating not to pass the sign.

    • Richard says:

      Call ahead. We went in late Sept. There were Heaney rains.
      The pools were closed. Looked like Rapids . The false looked like Niagara.

      It was awesome but it did add to the danger

  6. aloha! im planning a visit to maui in october. I was wondering how difficult it is to cross the stream? We are going with a few older companions who might not be able to hop across rocks and do not know how to swim. Is it shallow enough to walk in the stream to get to the waterfall? This site has been very helpful. Thank yoU!

    • Aloha Iris – It is shallow enough to cross without swimming, however the stream bed is boulders and rocks, is quite slippery and footing may be difficult for your older companions depending on their agility.

  7. wayne tryba says:

    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.

    • Alexandre says:

      The trail is fantastic.

      Me and my girlfriend started in mid-afternoon and really enjoyed it. The first part was under the heat and sun, but when you get deeper into the forest (and especially bamboo forests), then it’s more comfortable.

      Some people decide to swim on their way, either in rivers or at the very end under the fall.

      It takes about 1h00-1h30 on the way up.
      Then 45 mins way back.

  8. 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?

  9. 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…

  10. 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…?

  11. 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

    • 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!

  12. mamalu says:

    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.

  13. Joanne says:

    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

    • 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 πŸ™‚ )

  14. 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.

    • 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?

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

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