Explore Rainbow falls in Hilo and the Wailuku River State park (updated 2023)
One of the most picturesque waterfalls to visit above Hilo town, Rainbow falls are beautiful to visit especially on misty mornings, when actual rainbows occur around the basin area with mist over the water.
One of the most picturesque waterfalls of the Big Island to visit, the falls are an easy drive to visit from downtown Hilo. The falls are easy to visit along with this fantastic guide of places to also explore the Wailuku River up the chain of waterfalls leading down to Rainbow falls.
The legend of Rainbow falls
Cascading down the Wailuku river bed area about 80 feet, the falls are spectacular to visit during the rainy season when images of the falls in full force are quite spectacular. There are so many cultural legends of Rainbow falls that talks about the local moon goddess Hina that lives at the falls along a Mo’o Kuna (a large and powerful lizard god) that is actively pursuing her.
Rainbow falls in Hawaiian is interpreted as Wainuenue for rainbows seen in the water. Depending on the time of visit, the waterfalls can be tremendous during the winter months or trickling down the cavern during the summer season.
Best time to visit Rainbow Falls
One of the most popular attractions to visit in Hilo, Rainbow Falls is a year round destination and is always a must see attraction.
The best time to visit Rainbow Falls is typically in the early morning or later afternoon before most of the crowds appear and the parking lot fills out.
Another popular time to visit is actually when it rains a lot and the waterfall is roaring with an endless water supply that gushes down the falls and fills the entire cliff areas to create a massive waterfall experience and more rainbows to enjoy and photograph.
How to get to Rainbow falls?
It’s an easy drive to get to Rainbow falls from downtown Hilo area. Drive down Wainuenue Blvd from Hilo town towards the hills and make a right on Rainbow drive and into the parking lot area. If it is busy just wait for a bit until a spot opens up that you can use. There are restroom facilities and a local gift store close by if you want to support local businesses.
Hike to the top of Rainbow falls
There is a short hike above some stairs that leads you to the top of Rainbow Falls with wonderful views of the falls and landscapes from above.
If you continue on the trail towards the forest area, you’ll head into a grove Banyan trees that is actually just one large tree formed. If the trail is open, make the short uphill climb for those fantastic views from above but do stay away from the river areas and slippery rocks and stay behind the fenced areas.
** The trail is not always open depending on maintenance of the stairs and park area.
Ancient Banyan trees at Rainbow Falls
Like a menehune forest (legendary midgets folklore) the banyan grove is actually just one huge banyan tree that developed more aerial roots to make them appear like additional trees in this magical area. Be careful because the short trail can be muddy and slippery.
Also, bring some bug repellent because there a lot of mosquitos in the grove.
More waterfalls at Pe’epe’e falls and boiling pots
If you drive further down Wainuenue avenue past a subdivision of beautiful old Hilo Kamaaina style homes, look out for the sign to Boiling Pots and turn right and drive a block to the park entrance.
The viewing point is a short walk to Pe’epe’e falls and the boiling pots area that is an area above Rainbow falls. The beautiful Pe’e’pe’e falls is to the far left with the boiling pots to the right of the viewing area.
This place also has historic cultural significance with that continues with the legend of Hina and the mighty mo’o lizard that was trying to woo her. (Story is on the placards along with historic facts of the area).
Continue to Wai’ale Falls
For even more waterfalls, continue on Wainuenue about a mile and you will cross over a bridge with views of another waterfall in the area called Wai’ale falls. You can only view the waterfall from the bridge area, park on the side and walk on the bridge to see the wonderful waterfall action in front of you.
Tip – be careful of ongoing traffic in the area and view the waterfalls on the walkway area facing the falls directly.
Hike to Narnia
A slightly more challenging hike would be to visit the Narnia area where five waterfalls drop into this area of pools and spillover watershed and gorgeous views of the valley area.
It’s about an hour and a half hike to visit Narnia each direction and mostly on a dirt fire road until you get to the cutoff point and go directly in a woody forest area where the waterfalls magically appear in the distance. As with all things in Hawaii water conditions change rapidly and swimming is only advisable if the water is calm and not running rapidly down the river.
Wailuku River State Park
All the rivers and tributaries upstream are part of the Wailuku River State Park and most of them are accessible with viewing platforms and some short hikes in the. It is not advisable to swim in this river with changing conditions even with locals in the know.
But, check out this video of what you should never try to do over Rainbow falls (these are kayak pros) and probably illegal to do in the area.
Tips to visiting Rainbow falls and the surrounding falls
Stay on the observation points to the falls, there are signs for no hiking or climbing the areas around the falls
Bring plenty of mosquito spray since it is forested area
Swimming is dangerous around the waterfalls and unpredictable so it is advised not to swim in any of the reservoirs or pool areas even with locals
Even though it is tempting, avoid climbing the large banyan trees, they are slippery and contain fire ants that leave really painful bites and are very itchy.
Easy enough to drive and take pictures at the observation areas to enjoy. But climbing and swimming is dangerous and illegal in most of these waterfall areas at Wailuku River State Park.
Local Tours around Hilo
You can sign up for a variety of local and guided tours to leave the driving to a professional and or guide to show you all the local attractions
Hilo highlights with Rainbow Falls
Drive yourself Big Island DIY guide app
Rainbow falls and Volcanoes National Park
Other things to do Around Hilo Area
If you plan on visiting Hilo and staying longer, check out my post on visiting Hilo town and attractions around the town to explore including:
visit historic downtown Hilo
Check out the cool caves above Hilo at Kaumana Caves State Park
Visit Hilo’s cool museums and art galleries
Tour the Lili’uokalani gardens off Banyan Drive
Coconut island on Hilo Bay
Family friendly fun at the Hilo Panaewa Zoo
Enjoy some beach time at Richardson Ocean Park
Stroll around the Hilo Farmers market
Enjoy some outdoor recreation on family friendly Reeds Bay Beach Park
Explore the pools, lagoons and coves around Carlsmith Beach Park
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Conclusion on Rainbow falls in Hilo
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