Waipio Valley — meaning “curved water” in the native Hawaiian language — is one of the most beautiful spots on the Big Island of Hawaii. Located north along the Hamakua Coast, the “Valley of the Kings” is a mile wide and six miles deep surrounded by 2,000 feet cliffs. The valley featues a black sand beach, lush tropical vegetation, wild horses, waterfalls, and a stream – all the ingredients for a hiker’s paradise. Not only is the valley insanely lush and stunning, but it is historically and culturally significant.
Before the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778, the valley was home for Hawaiian royalty. There were anywhere between 4,000 to 10,000 people living here at that time. Allegedly in 1780, Kamehameha The Great received the war god Kūkaʻilimoku in Waipi’o, who proclaimed him the future ruler of the Hawaiian Islands. The valley remained a popular community until 1946 when a tsunami came through and destroyed most of the settlement. Today, only about 50 people live in Waipi’o Valley.
To reach Waipi’o Valley, you have to hike or drive down on of the steepest road in the United States. For those of you who have decided to do the Waipio Valley hike, keep reading for answers to common questions and a detailed step-by-step guide.
Common Question About Hiking Waipio Valley:
How long is the Waipio Valley hike?
Starting at the Waipio Valley overlook (photo above), the hike down to the black sand beach on the valley floor is about 1.5 miles or 2.4 kilometers. It takes about 30 – 45 minutes, but the walk back up will take anywhere between 1 – 1.5 hours depending on your level of physical fitness.
Address to the lookout: 48-5546 Waipio Valley Rd, Waimea, HI 96743
When is the best time to hike?
To beat the crowds and the heat, start hiking around 8:00 am. During the morning, the cliffs surrounding the valley block the sun and keep you cool during the hike. Concerning the weather, if it rains, the road at the bottom of the valley will be muddy, but you can still access the beach.
Where can I park?
There is plenty of parking at the overlook – which is the beginning of the trail. However, if the parking lot is full, you can pull off on the street leading up to the overlook. However, since this is a popular hike, I recommend going early for a guaranteed spot.
Is hiking the only way down?
If you wanted to drive instead of hike, you might only do so with a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. However, many rental cars companies prohibit driving down to the valley floor, so be sure to ask before doing so.
You can also check out Waipio Valley Shuttle service for a van tour that will take you down for $65 per person. The tour is 1.5-2 hours total – plenty of time to enjoy the valley.
Are there restrooms?
There are restrooms at Waipio Valley lookout and porta-potties down at the beach.
What should I bring?
Tennis shoes or hiking boots. It’s essential to have sturdy shoes during the steep portions of the hike, especially if you have weak ankles like myself. I did see some people hiking in flip-flops, so it is possible. However, I wouldn’t recommend it.
- Swimsuit. While I don’t recommend swimming due to strong currents, you can layout on the beach or splash in the river.
- Sunscreen. The sun is intense in Hawaii, so protect your skin.
- Water. There is no clean water at the bottom of the valley, and the hardest part of the hike is the way back up to the lookout, so having enough water is crucial. You’ll thank me later.
- Snacks. There are no vendors down in the valley or at the beach so pack a granola bar or nuts to stay energized.
A Step-By-Step Of The Hike
Part 1: Overlook to Valley
Once you park your car at the Waipio Valley Overlook parking, find the trailhead / paved road to the left. It’s impossible to miss. As you start your descent down the steepest street in the United States (an average grade of 25%), your knees and legs will start to feel it. However, I guarantee you will be too distracted by the incredible valley views to notice. The road continues along the valley wall for 3/4 mile until the road levels and splits into two.
Part 2: Valley to Beach
Once you reach the bottom of the valley, there is a fork in the road. Turn right and pass the river on the left side. Continue along the dirt road for 1/2 mile until you reach the black sand beach parking.
Note: If you go left at the fork, the road goes towards the village. As you walk deeper into the valley, you will see a more than one waterfall cascading down the cliffs of Waipio Valley. The scenery is quite beautiful – something out of Jurrasic Park.
Part 3: Waipi’o Valley Black Sand Beach
You have arrived!!! The beach is a 1 mile long and gets its black color from water-trodden basaltic lava. The Wailoa stream flows towards Waipio Bay through the center of the valley, dividing the black sand beach in two. If you’re lucky enough to go at low tide, you can cross over and explore the other side of the beach. Click here to check Waipio Bay’s tide chart.
I do not recommend swimming at Waipio Beach due to strong rip currents and high surf. However, it is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Tip: If there’s been a considerable amount of rain, you may see Kaluahine Falls. The falls are located below the Waipio Valley Overlook parking area and visible from the beach! When the tide is low, and surf is low, you can walk east along the coastal boulders from the beach for 1/2 mile to the falls.
I rank the Waipio Valley Hike as moderate. Because of the average 25% grade, I only encourage those who are either physically fit or determined to attempt the hike. The hike back is the most challenging part, but if you take your time and stay hydrated, it is doable.
If you’re interested in an easier hike, check out the Pololu Valley Hike. This one also has gorgeous views and ends on a beach – perfect for all ages.
Be sure to check out my other island adventures here!