Activities

Rainbow Falls: A Picturesque Hilo Escape

September 12, 2015, 2:40 PM HST
* Updated September 12, 2:42 PM
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Rainbow Falls is by far one of the most breathtaking places and one of the easiest to access waterfalls on the Big Island. The 80-foot waterfall descends into a large pond and provides year-round viewing pleasure for visitors and residents alike.

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Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Perhaps most notably known for its name, Rainbow Falls is located just off Waiānuenue Avenue in Hilo, which translates literally as “rainbow water.”

The falls are known to provide viewers with a glistening rainbow on sunny mornings from the right vantage point as the sun reflects off the mist surrounding the falls. Locals know that the best time to catch a glimpse is mid-morning when the sun is shining.

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Rainbow Falls stairway. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Hike up the short walk of stairs, lined with railings, to find the perfect rainbow view from the upper portion of the falls. The walk to the top of the falls is safe enough for anyone who can walk a flight of stairs, although be aware of the potential slippery stone steps if rain has fallen. Signs line the walkway, noting the dangers of the steps when wet, so use caution.

Beneath the waterfall is a natural cave that some legends say is the home of Hina, the mother of Maui. Other legends note that the bones of King Kamehameha’s father were buried in the abyss.

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The main viewpoint of the falls is located just off the parking lot and brings you to a mid-point where unobstructed views show picturesque angles of the falls crashing into the basin.

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Warning signs at Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

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Fed by the sometimes unpredictable Wailuku River, which is also the longest river in Hawai’i, Rainbow Falls is not a safe place to take a dip, and viewing is only permissible from the marked viewing areas. Despite the temptation to find your way to the basin, hold off. This park is perfect for photo opportunities to add to your Big Island gallery.

The stop can easily be quick and added to a list of other Hilo attractions, like a trip further up the Wailuku river to visit Boiling Pots, or lower to where the river meets the Pacific Ocean near the Singing Bridge that exits you towards the Hamakua end of town.

Rainbow Falls can also provide the opportunity to be a partial day trip. Bring a lunch and a towel or infamous hilo bamboo mat and plan for a make-shift picnic area since formal facilities don’t exist. A small grassy patch and an area off to the side allow the opportunity.

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View of the top of Rainbow Falls from the lookout. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

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Although the Rainbow Falls water flow varies, depending on the time of year and weather patterns, the waterfall is considered to be year-round. During winter months, when snow falls and then melts on Mauna Kea and Mauna, Loa the water collects and moves downstream. Locals to the area use Rainbow Falls as an indicator of recent weather and rainfall at higher elevations.

Parking at the falls is free and plentiful on most days, but can fill up with tour vans during the mid-mornings, a popular time of day for the attraction due to the increased chance of catching a glimpse of a famous rainbow. Facilities at the park include open-structured restrooms. No porta luas (restrooms) here. A formal picnic area is lacking,  but no admission fees and the potential to create your own make up for it.

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Rainbow Falls Cafe. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

While you’re in the area, check out Rainbow Falls Cafe, the small eatery located across the street from the park, the perfect quick stop for a refreshing drink, a scoop of ice cream, or a quick snack. Unfortunately the cafe’s hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, so weekend visitors are out of luck.

Getting to Rainbow Falls

Located just over six miles from Hilo International Airport, Rainbow Falls is west of Downtown Hilo on Waiānuenue Avenue. After passing Carvalho Park on Waiānuenue Ave., near the Kaumana Drive intersection, the turn to Rainbow Falls creeps up on you at the first right. The roadway will lead you directly to the falls.

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A view from the top level portion of Rainbow Falls, a quick upstairs walk. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

A view from the top level portion of Rainbow Falls, a quick upstairs walk. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Stairway to the upper area of Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Stairway to the upper area of Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Top viewing area at Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Top viewing area at Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

A Makai (ocean side) veiw from the top of the Rainbow Falls upper lookout. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

A Makai (ocean side) veiw from the top of the Rainbow Falls upper lookout. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

The top portion of the walkway at the top of the Rainbow Falls stairs that lead to the upper view point portion. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

The top portion of the walkway at the top of the Rainbow Falls stairs that lead to the upper viewpoint portion. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Caution: The steps can slippery when wet. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Caution: the steps can slippery when wet. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

View towards the mauka (mountain) end above Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

View towards the mauka (mountain) end above Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Warning signs at Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Warning signs at Rainbow Falls. Photo: Jamilia Epping.

Makai (ocean) view from the top viewing area of Rainbow Falls.

Makai (ocean) view from the top viewing area of Rainbow Falls.

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