Hiking to Waimoku Falls in Haleakala National Park, Maui

Hands down, Pipiwai Trail is the best in Maui. In the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park, the Pipiwai Trail is comprised of the upper portion of ‘Ohe‘o Gulch in the area known as Seven Sacred Pools. While most visitors to ‘Ohe‘o only pay a cursory visit to take photos, the Pipiwai Trail which runs mauka (mountain-side) of the highway is the undisputed highlight of the Kipahulu section of the park.

The four-mile trail is just long enough to be adventurous and just short enough to be accessible, and the trail is at a moderate enough grade that most hikers should be able to reach the end. Speaking of the end, the last half mile of this trail winds its way through bamboo which is so thick it blocks out the sun, and just when you think the scenery couldn’t get any more tropical, the trail emerges at the base of 400-foot Waimoku Falls. This two-hour expedition more than justifies the winding drive out here. Or, for the best way to experience the trail, camp overnight at the Kipahulu campground and hit the path before the throngs of day-tripping tourists arrive.

To find the trailhead for the Pipiwai Trail, drive 30-40 minutes past the town of Hana. At mile marker 41.7 you’ll reach the entrance to the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park, and parking for the trailhead is within the park boundaries. You’ll have to pay the park entry fee ($10/car) to hike, but since you should spend additional time exploring the pools down by the ocean, it’s no different than if you were visiting the park.

Find the trailhead by walking back out to the road and going 100 yards toward Hana. Here you’ll see the signs for the trailhead on your left. From the time the trail departs the road it steeply climbs its way up a rocky slope until you are a greeted with a sign offering trail distances and words of caution. Much of the Pipiwai Trail parallels ‘Ohe‘o Gulch, and you can hear the rush of the water as you make your way uphill toward the falls. However, it’s never safe to access the pools or waterfalls located in the river. There may be days when you can get to the river by scrambling down a sketchy hillside or undefined trail, but a number of visitors have been swept to their death in flash floods. The National Park Service advises against any attempt to access the stream.

After 10 minutes on the trail you’ll reach the lookout for Makahiku Falls, a 200-foot plunge that can be anything from a trickle during drier months of the year to a torrent of violent water during the throes of a flash flood. After Makahiku Falls the trail will begin gaining in elevation for another five minutes before emerging in the shade of one of the most beautiful banyan trees you’ll ever see. The section between “the tree” and the first bridge is one of decisions. Multiple spur trails lead to waterfall overlooks, offering views of the canyons and pools.

A tall narrow waterfall cascades down through the bamboo forest in Maui.
Makahiku Falls view along the Pipiwai Trail on Maui. Photo © Maria Luisa Lopez Estivill/123rf.

Ten minutes past the tree you’ll reach the first of two bridges that zigzag their way across the stream. This is a great place to snap pictures of the waterfalls and your first taste of the bamboo forest. You’ll notice after crossing the second bridge that when the trail turns into stairs that climb steeply toward the bamboo, there’s an opening in the railing on the left side where a path leads down to a rocky streambed. This is the Palikea Stream, and if you rock hop up the riverbed for about 15 minutes, you’ll emerge at a waterfall that is less dramatic—but also less-visited—than neighboring Waimoku Falls. The waterfall here trickles its way down the towering canyon walls, and the pool at the bottom can occasionally be frequented by those who prefer to bathe au naturel.

Back on the main trail, by continuing up the stairs you’ll find a boardwalk through the densest bamboo on the island. As you emerge from the creaking cavern, five more minutes of rock hopping brings you to the pièce de résistance, which of course is 400-foot Waimoku Falls. Welcome to one of the most beautiful corners of the island.

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