The Island of Hawaii is the largest and third most visited of the Hawaiian Islands, behind Oahu and Maui, with 1.4 million visitors a year. It is less developed than its neighbor island of Maui. If you enjoy the outdoors, raw nature, and of course volcanoes, the “Big Island” is a great place to visit.
There are many hikes and Waimanu Valley is one of the best. The rugged part of the north coast of Hawaii offers solitude, challenging hiking, and an exceptional reward. Waimanu Valley has stunning views, a gorgeous black sand beach, and the third tallest continuous waterfall in Hawaii and the thirteenth highest in the World at 2,600 feet, the Waihīlau Falls.
Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.
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Hike Details: Waipi’o Valley
Distance: 16 miles round trip
Time: 5 hours each way
The Hike: Waipi’o Valley to Waimanu Valley
The Muliwai Trail is an in-and-out hike starting from Waipi’o Beach. The hike begins with a river crossing at the Waipi’o stream. Head to the end of the beach, where there are trail signs designating the start of the trail. From here, there is a steep trail called the Z Trail, all the way to the top of the mountain. This 1,200-foot ascent is fully exposed.
From the top, the next 5-6 miles is through forested land that enters 12 smaller gulches. There are several small water streams to cross while hiking on the high trail. These streams are typically small and easy to cross; however, with heavy rains, it can become very slippery and difficult to manage.
The last mile and a half is a very steep descent of 1,300 feet into Waimanu Valley. It is more challenging than the Z trail up from Waipi’o Valley. This section is minimally maintained and eroded in places. Due to lots of rainfall in the area, it is commonly very muddy and slippery. Use caution when descending into the valley.
At the bottom of the valley, there is one last river crossing, which is typically the deepest crossing, between 2-3 feet. Campsites are clearly marked along the beach with trails connecting each site.
How to Get to Waipi’o Valley
The hike starts from Waipi’o Valley, a 90-minute drive from Kona. Overnight car parking is near the overlook at Waipi’o Valley Artwork. Parking costs $20 per day (i.e. $40 for an overnight hike). From the overlook, there is a 4×4 required road which is extremely steep and descends down into Waipi’o Valley. Hitch a ride down to the beach or walk down, roughly a mile and a half.
Permits are required to camp overnight at one of the nine Waimanu campsites. Each site can hold a different amount of campers, with three small, two medium, and four large campsites.
Permit Costs for Waimanu Campsites
- Hawaii resident cost is $12 per site (max of 6 people)
- Non-resident cost is $18 per site (max of 6 people)
- If a campsite can accommodate more than 6, it is an extra $3 per person up to the max accommodation
For more on reservations and permit information, go to Hawaii Camping & Wiki Permits.
What to Bring on the Hike
Stay two nights at Waimanu beach, giving an off-day between the hike in and the hike out. Here is what we recommend to bring on the hike:
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pads
- Water filter (critical as there is Leptospirosis in the water)
- Bug spray
- Cooking stove & fuel
- Bathing suit
- Small utility rope to hang clothes
- Hiking shoes
- Light waterproof jacket
- Pack rain cover
- Dry bag (not necessary but could be handy for any valuables/electronics if the water level is high during river crossings)
- Check weather reports before attempting this hike. Rainfall exceeds 100 inches annually on this part of the island.
- Be careful at all water crossings, flash floods occur. Crossings can be fatal.
- The trail is not maintained well and can get very muddy and slippery especially when wet. Bring proper footwear.
- Bring enough water to start the hike. Replenish at one of the several water crossings.
- There are two proper river crossings, one in Waipi’o and one in Waimanu. Good strap sandals may help.
- There is minimal cell phone coverage after the lookout.
- ALWAYS filter and treat water!
That’s it – have a wonderful time hiking the Muliwai trail to the Waimanu Valley of Hawaii!
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