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Best Hikes In Hawaii: Akaka Falls Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Akaka Falls
  • Where: Outside of Hilo, Hawaii
  • Cost: $5 per car
  • Distance: .5 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 151 feet
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • More Information: Division of State Park website

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Narrative

The state of Hawaii is filled with many waterfalls to explore.  During the recent trip my family and I took to Hawaii’s Big Island we made sure to make a stop at a waterfall that Hawaii Magazine ranked as the best in Hawaii.  The waterfall is called Akaka Falls and is located in Akaka Falls State Park just outside of the village of Honomu:

From the main city of Hilo on Hawaii’s windward side the drive up to Akaka Falls was quite scenic as we passed farmland, lush rainforest and quaint villages.  As we drove up the road leading to the state park we were one minute driving along rural ranch land and the next minute in a dense rainforest trying to find a place to park.  The parking the day we went to Akaka Falls was limited due to the heavy crowds.  Fortunately someone backed out and we were able to get a spot.  From the parking area the very top of Akaka Falls could be seen which was quite a sight:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Considering how scenic the falls were from the parking lot we could only imagine how nice it must look from the viewpoint at the bottom of the trail.  Getting to the viewpoint requires completing a half mile loop hike:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Akaka Falls has been a tourism site on Hawaii for quite a long time considering it became a State Park all the way in 1923.  Back then Akaka Falls was a local picnic attraction, but now it is clearly one of the top tourist locations on the island with an estimated 200,000 people visiting annually.  Akaka Falls is also part of the large Hilo Forest Reserve on the slopes of the 13,796 foot Mauna Kea volcano:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

You can read about my prior hike up Mauna Kea at the below link:

Mauna Kea is the world’s largest mountain when measured from its base below sea level which makes the mountain about 30,000 feet high.  It’s high altitude while being located in the tropics means that a lot of rain falls on the high regions of the mountain and then flows down its steep sides which carved out deep gulches like the one Akaka Falls is located in:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

The water also supports the lush rainforest that covers the slopes of Mauna Kea.  As we walked down the trail we saw many varieties of fruits and flowers growing in this lush environment:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

The trail down to Akaka Falls is paved and is in great shape the entire way:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

For anyone thinking of bringing young kids, my three and six year olds had no issues hiking on this trail and had a great time.  It took us about 20 minutes to reach the lookout where we stared in amazement at the incredible sight that is Akaka Falls:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

This waterfall lives up to its reputation as its 442 foot drop is quite scenic to see firsthand as the waters of Kolekole Stream drop into the deep gorge below:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

There were signboards located at Akaka Falls that interestingly enough explained how the Big Island also has the highest waterfall in all the United States, Waihilau Falls that drops 2,600 feet in the remote Waimanu Valley:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Waihilau Falls must be quite a site to see considering how scenic this 442 foot waterfall is.  Another signboard explained about the various fish and other critters that live in the freshwater streams of this region:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

We spent about 15 minutes taking pictures and taking in views of Akaka Falls.  My kids were soon bored of it and ready to move on again.  So we headed back up the trail towards the parking lot:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Along this section of the trail we saw a number of tributary streams with little small waterfalls:

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Picture from Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Conclusion

For being a short half mile hike, this trail is packed with incredible waterfall scenery.  The surrounding smaller waterfalls was some really nice bonus scenery for this hike.  Akaka Falls definitely lived up to its reputation and we had a great time checking it out.  However, unlike Hawaii Magazine, I don’t rank Akaka Falls as the best waterfall I have seen in Hawaii.  I still think Manoa Falls on Oahu is just as scenic and the hike in is even nicer than the one to Akaka Falls.  The two mile roundtrip hike to Manoa Falls through a beautiful lush rainforest really adds to the experience compared to the short hike to Akaka Falls.  Regardless a stop at Akaka Falls should still be a must see location for anyone visiting the Big Island.

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