Visit the Waipi’o Valley for Stunning Views and History
The largest and most dramatic of the windward valleys along Kohala Mountain, the Waipi’o Valley has long held importance to those who call the Big Island home. Located along the island’s northern shores, Waipi’o Valley is called the Valley of Kings due to its importance to Hawaiian culture and tradition. As many as 10,000 people lived in the valley before the arrival of European explorers. A fertile and productive region, Waipi’o was home to Kamehameha the Great when he was proclaimed the future ruler of the Hawaiian Islands and served as the focal point of a major naval battle when Kamehameha began his conquests.
Surrounded on three sides by nearly 2,500-foot cliffs, the valley boasts the steepest road by length in the United States – an 800-foot rise in just 0.6 miles. If you choose to venture down, you’ll need a sturdy pair of hiking boots or a tough 4WD vehicle to get in and out of the valley. You’ll also want to spend some time checking out the overlook and historical background information available. Massive, smooth cliff faces show where part of the island broke off and fell into the ocean and the rolling waves from the strong incoming winds provide an excellent photo opportunity.
Once you reach the valley floor there’s no shortage of excellent sightseeing. The valley contains several ancient burial sites, fishing areas, and heiaus in varying conditions, and visitors get a good idea of the size and scale of the ancient fishing community as well as some insight into their unique way of life. By visiting the valley, you’ll not only be rewarded with incredible views of the natural wonders of Hawaii, but you’ll be knee-deep in the history and culture that makes Hawaii so special.
To explore further than the Waipi’o Valley Overlook, you’ll need to hike, drive a 4WD vehicle, or take a tour of the area.
Taking Highways 19 and 240 will get you there. Coming from Waimea, head east on Hwy 19 until you reach Honokaa and follow the signs for Highway 240. From Hilo, take 19 going west until Honokaa and take Highway 240, looking for signs for Waipi’o Valley. The lookout has some parking, allowing you to check out the overlook and letting hikers disembark and head into the valley on foot. If you choose to continue using your rental vehicle, check your rental agreement carefully. Some companies do not allow for travel into the Waipi’o Valley and you may void your rental agreement. The road is very steep and you need 4WD so you can put your vehicle in low gear and spare your brakes.
Hikers can find parking at the trailhead located in Kukuihaele. At the end of the Waipi’o Overlook, head west and walk down the single-lane road until you reach the fork. Turning right, your hike will take you to the Waipi’o Black Sand Beach. A foot trail at the southern end of the valley will take you to the nearby Waimanu Valley, which isn’t accessible by vehicles, but offers incredible views of the valley from further inland and an opportunity to continue exploring the region.
Going left at the fork will take you further into the valley and the ancient settlements along the Wailoa Stream. Looking inland, you’ll be able to see the Hiilawe Falls Lookout and the massive, 800-foot waterfall that cuts through the mountainous cliffside. Keep an eye out for private property signs and be respectful of the resident’s privacy. There are some lovely wild horses wandering around so be careful and take it slow.
One of our favorite ways to explore the valley is via horseback. The Waipi’o Valley Horseback Adventure tour is put on by Na’alapa Stables and offers an excellent, unique method by which to see the natural wonders of the valley. Tours last about 2 ½ hours and begin from the Waipi’o Valley Artworks store in nearby Honoka’a, with the company shuttling guests to the stable area and proceeding on horseback from there.