7 Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Hawaii

Waterfall Kaua'i
Waterfall Kaua'i | © paul bica / Flickr
Photo of Kalena McElroy
24 March 2018

Whether a twin falls, or multi-tiered, waterfalls in Hawaii are framed by iconic volcanic mountains, lush valleys, tropical jungle, and refreshing swimming pools in a landscape unlike any other.

Some are situated right outside of an urban metropolis while others require hours of strenuous hiking. But no matter the location, viewing a waterfall in Hawaii is a magical experience. Here are the seven most beautiful places to see them.

Waiʻaleʻale Wall of Tears

Mount Waiʻaleʻale (why ah lay ah lay), often spelled Waialeale in English without the ʻokina, is a shield volcano and the second highest point on the island of Kauaʻi in the Hawaiian Islands. Its name literally means "rippling water" or "overflowing water". The mountain, at an elevation of 5,148 feet (1,569 m), averages more than 452 inches (11,500 mm) of rain a year since 1912, with a record 683 inches (17,300 mm) in 1982; its summit is one of the rainiest spots on earth. Recent reports though mention that over the period 1978–2007 the wettest spot in Hawaii is Big Bog on Maui (404 inches or 10,300 mm per year). Several factors give the summit of Waiʻaleʻale more potential to create precipitation than the rest of the island chain: Its northern position relative to the main Hawaiian Islands provides more exposure to frontal systems that bring rain during the winter. It has a relatively round and regular conical shape, exposing all sides of its peak to winds and the moisture that they carry. Its peak lies just below the so-called trade wind inversion layer of 6,000 feet (1,800 m), above which trade-wind-produced clouds cannot rise. And most importantly, the steep cliffs cause the moisture-laden air to rise rapidly – over 3,000 feet (910 m) in less than 0.5 miles (0.80 km) – and drop a large portion of its rain in one spot, as opposed to spreading the rain out over a larger area if the slope were more gradual.

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Shield volcano Mount Waiʻaleʻale is often referred to as the wettest place on earth, with over 335 rainy days per year producing endless waterfalls and rainbows. The Wall of Tears is a collection of thin waterfalls that stream down the nearly 2,900-ft cliff face. The hundreds of waterfalls are best viewed from above on a helicopter tour, but can be also reached through a long and treacherous hike.

Wailua Falls

Natural Feature
Map View
Wailua Falls | © Kris Arnold/Flickr
Wailua Falls | Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls may look familiar since it was used in the 1970’s hit TV series Fantasy Island. The large twin falls located within the verdant Wailua River State Park are easily accessible by road. These waterfalls flow year-round and drop into a large rocky pool below that can be reached by a short but slippery downhill hike.

Pāpalaua Falls

Viewable only by sea or air, Pāpalaua Falls is nestled in the far reaches of Pāpalaua Valley on Molokaʻi’s north shore and is one of the tallest waterfalls in the state. The impressive 1,250-ft waterfall reaches the valley floor in five tiers before joining a winding stream out to sea.

ʻAkaka Falls

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Akaka Falls, Big Island Hawaiʻi | © GE Keoni
Akaka Falls, Big Island Hawaiʻi | © GE Keoni
Drive a little bit past Hilo into the Hawaiian rainforest and you’ll find ʻAkaka Falls State Park. The 440-ft waterfall is easily accessible after a short nature walk. From the viewing area you can hear the rumble of the powerful water—ʻAkaka Falls is a very impressive sight. Here you will be able to feel the natural power of the waterfall and smell the surrounding tropical flowers.

Rainbow Falls

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
Rainbow Falls Hilo | © Matthew Dillon/Flickr
Rainbow Falls Hilo | Rainbow Falls Hilo

Rainbow Falls is best viewed after a hard rain from the lookout at Wailuku River State Park, just mauka (towards the mountains) of Hilo town. The powerful waterfall is named after the rainbows that can be seen in the mist. Behind the falls is a large cave of lava often mentioned in Hawaiian mythology as the home of Hina, the moon goddess.