Muliwai Trail : Waipio to Waimanu

This is a great trail and a must-do for all Big Island hikers!
When preparing for this hike many of my friends were saying how hard this hike is, I admit that there are sections that are hard (mainly the Z-trails up), but I didn’t let them discourage me! I found out that this hike, once you get past that awful awful Z-trail, is quite easy going.

Since this is an overnight hike I will list the supplies I brought
Items I brought:Solitude 1 tent (1 person tent that I bought cheap at sports authority)
girls Swiss sleeping bag (bought the girls size because it is smaller and has a compression sack, got this cheap at target)
trekking poles from walmart (these are a life saver!)
swimming suit
2 days of clothes
3 days worth of food
a 3 L water bladder
water filter
other misc stuff

I wore tennis shoes that were easy to dry ( for the 2 submerged stream crossings) along this hike because the trail is well traveled.
overall my osprey Ariel 65 pack only weighed 30 lbs which made the hike easy peasy.

ready to go!

Our plan for going down Waipio was to bring my friends 4WD truck, have him drop me off with both our packs, drive back up, and have him walk back down. fortunately he was able to hitch a ride down! (its a steep road at 26% grade)


picture of waipio valley, you can see Waipio Rd. to the right

From there you will hit your first of two large stream crossings, the Wailoa Stream. The best place to cross is to get as close to the ocean as possible and walk across there (less algae covered rocks).

Continue hiking to the end of the valley via the sand or in the forest area you should come upon an easier path. Once you get to the end you will see a large path that goes to the left. Here is the trail head to the Muliwai Trail.
The first part of this trail is called the Z-trail, due to the large Zig-zag you can see from the Waipio lookout.

This part of the trail is the hardest being that you climb from 0 to 1200 ft in 0.8 miles. Being the type of hiker I am I took a bunch of 30 second breaks about every 5-10 minutes. About 1/3 of the way up is an amazing view of Waipio. Many hikers turn around here.


view from 1/3 of the way up


After you get to the top of the Z-trail you come upon a beautiful pine tree forest. I took a pretty good 10 minute break at the top.


the great pine forest

As you continue along the hike you will go up and over 12 gulches and cross a few more tiny streams. There are 4 large gulches and the others are very small. After hiking up the Z-trail these changes in elevation seriously feel like nothing.

My favorite view of the section between Waipio and Waimanu

There are a few cool things to see along the trail as you are hiking. The first is a small waterfall with a nice pool. We did not swim here but I have seen pictures of others enjoying the cooling water here, the pool is definitely deep enough.


it’s fun size!

Throughout the hike you will notice 4 helipads along the trail. Each of the signs says how far you have gone and how far you have till you reach the end! The third Helipad has a shelter, some people we met along the trail ended up camping here to avoid the rain. (It rained the entire time we hiked so make sure you bring a waterproof cover for your backpack!)


one of the small streams at the bottom of a gulch

After going past the long overgrown 4th helipad you come to the Waimanu Z-trail!  This was a rather hard hike down because of how slippery the rain made the trail. Both me and my friend slipped twice. The trail on this one is a bit steeper but a bit shorter also. After a while, you’ll be begging to go uphill.

After a few switchbacks you have made it to Waimanu Valley! …almost.

There is one more stream crossing you have to do! The Waimanu Stream.
This stream is a little deeper and can be harder for crossing at certain times of the year when it is rainy. Fortunately we went when it was dryer. Choose your route carefully when deciding to cross. We crossed closer to the ocean where it was much shallower. There is also a rope if worse comes to worse. Here is a picture of a really bad time of year to cross the stream…

If all else fails there is a few open spaces to camp on this side of the river.

Once you make it past the river there are 9 official state camping spots. It took us a little under 5 hours to get there (started hiking around 11 and got there around 4)
A permit can be purchased here:,details,31720.html
When we went all of them were full including the one we paid for. Honestly there are more than 9 spots you can camp at down here. just pick a spot and set up. Also there are nice outhouses for your convenience in this little valley! (bring toilet paper!)
After that hike we were too tired to search for dry wood and fell asleep early at 8:00pm.


the unofficial camp spot we found


panorama of the valley


View of the valley with the waterfall

Day 2

I highly recommend that you wake up early to see the sunrise. It was probably the most amazing sunrise I have seen yet. I sat on the ocean and watched the sun slowly peak over the ocean and onto the already beautiful valley. I could tell it was going to be a sunny day!


sunrise from the beach

we deiced to go grab some fresh water and went to a waterfall that my friend had recommended for water.
to get to this small waterfall you must go all the way past campsite 9 and follow the trail into the wooded area. After about 10 minutes you will (hopefully!) see some water crossing the trail. There should be a small trail heading uphill that will take you to the fresh spring water.  There is also a lot of good campfire wood along this trail.

Later in the morning my friend and I played in the seaweed drenched ocean and then laid out to dry in the sun.



Waimanu Beach

We then got bored and decided to hike back to the large 1080 ft Wai’ilikahi Falls. (time runs slow in the valley) To get there you follow the same trail as before. After about 30 minutes you will see the trail start to go upward and will hear the water. This is by far the largest and most amazing waterfall I have ever been to! The water crashing down to the water created enormous winds that made it so that at times you couldn’t even look at the falls.


its windy!

After hiking back to camp we decided that we wanted to go back up the Z-trail before sunset and camp at the top to avoid having to do the whole hike all at once. (and to avoid the “large crowd”). We hiked until the sun began setting and made it about halfway until we found a beautiful flat place for camping with an amazing view.

hiking up the Waimanu Z-trail

Day 3

We woke up for sunset again, although this time not it was not as pretty, ate some breakfast bars and set off! It was a short hike over the rest of the gulches and it felt like I had tons more energy than I would have if we hadn’t climbed the Z-trail the night before. Once we got to the top of the Z-trail we stopped to take a long break to view the beautiful Waipio valley lookout.
Going down was tough but not as tough as the Waimanu decent. Walking over a sandy trail at the bottom made my legs a bit sore too. finally after crossing back over the river, my friend left his pack with me at the bottom and hiked/jogged (crazy right?) up the Waipio Rd to get his truck.

He drove us back up and we had the most amazing Italian food at a restaurant called Cafe IL Mondo in Honokaa right outside of Waipio. (Highly recommend their calzones!!)

Overall I had a blast on this adventurous backpacking trip and can’t wait to do it again!!



4 thoughts on “Muliwai Trail : Waipio to Waimanu

  1. Pingback: Muliwai Trail: Waipio to Waimanu Valley | Nature.

  2. Did this last year with three friends…awesome…main points:
    – It rained 2-1/2 out of 3 days–still a fabulous trip,.
    – “1080 ft Wai’ilikahi Falls…This is by far the largest and most amazing waterfall I have ever been to!”: You need to hike to the far back of the valley. …but there is no trail, so past Wai’… you end up walking in the stream for over a mile. I counted 13 waterfalls together and they far exceed 1000 feet.
    – It can be VERY windy in the campground, onshore gale. That’s why the lava rock walls are there–windbreaks. Use them.
    – It’s illegal to park overnight at the Waipio lookout…there is pay parking 1/2 mi. back in town at the art gallery.

  3. Great Blog! I’ll be doing this trail in July. I’m curious about where you all parked. I’ve heard that I can park at the Art shop, but I’m wondering if you all parked at the lookout during your stay. I’ll be there from a Monday until a Wednesday.

    Thanks in advance!

  4. I really appreciated your pictures. I lived in Waimanu in 1971 and had only two visitors in several months. I just finished writing a story about climbing the cliff on the Lapahoehoe side of Waimanu. Thought I would use Google to see if I could find a picture and you provided it…

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