Waipio Valley Overview
The largest and most dramatic of the windward valleys along Kohala Mountain, the Waipio Valley has long held importance to those who call the Big Island home. Located along the island’s northern shores, Waipio Valley means “the land of curving water”, named after the streams that run through the area. It is also often 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, Waipio 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.
Waipio Valley Lookout
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 and farming community as well as some insight into their unique way of life.
By visiting the Waipio 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. While a trip into the valley is magical, the view from the lookout is truly stunning as well, and gives you a glimpse of the wild beauty of Hawaii.
Options for Exploring Waipio Valley
To explore further than the Waipio Valley Overlook, you’ll need to hike, drive a 4WD vehicle, or take a tour of the area. The lookout has a small parking area, allowing you to check out the overlook and letting hikers disembark and head into the valley on foot. Hikers will hike down the Waipio access road that starts on the south side of the parking lot.
If you choose to continue using your rental vehicle, check your rental agreement carefully. Some companies do not allow for travel into the Waipio 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. Vehicles have gone over the edge when their brakes gave out, so don’t risk it.
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.
Alternatively, the Waipio Valley Shuttle is the original 4-wheel drive tour of “the land of curving water” and is a mesmerizing and intimate look at the valley. If you love sightseeing, the shuttle tour is a wonderful way to spend a morning or afternoon on the Big Island.
Waipio Valley Hike
The hike down is extremely steep so be very aware of vehicles as you are hiking down the narrow road. Bring plenty of water and snacks as there are no amenities, but remember to pack the garbage out with you. When you reach the bottom of the road, you can either turn left and walk the dirt road toward the back of the valley along the Wailoa Stream and see Hi’ilawe Falls or turn right and head toward the coast and the Waipio black sand beach.
Both directions have beautiful scenery, but if you only have time for one, head to the beach, as the falls are seen from a distance and much of the scenery on the way is on private land. There are often wild horses wandering around on the roads so be careful and take it slow.
Turning right, your hike will take you to the Waipio black sand beach. This is a beautiful black sand beach with impressive waves and a stream that cuts through the middle. Kaluahine Falls can sometimes be viewed from the right side of the beach when it is raining. Be careful if you cross Wailoa stream as it can be a bit slippery and watch out for fast flowing water during rain storms. I rarely swim at this beach because of the strong currents, but it is a beautiful place to relax and watch the waves. It’s also a popular fishing and surfing spot for locals who know the water well.
If you walk along the beach to the other side of the Waipio Valley, a foot trail at the southern end of the valley will take you to the trailhead for the Waimanu Valley Hike, which isn’t accessible by vehicles and is a strenuous multi day hike. However, if you take the trail just to the top of the ridge, it offers incredible views of the Waipio Valley and an opportunity to see the region from a different perspective.
Waipio Valley Directions and Map
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.