This is my favorite hike in the world. Of course, that’s not saying that much… after all, I’m not an avid hiker. But it’s a moderate hike with some challenging moments and huge payoffs: five waterfalls!
Before we get too far, an important note:
This hike is dangerous. The path can get very slippery. Traversing a slick wall, climbing up a ladder or waterfall, or jumping off the rocks into a pool can have very serious consequences. Please be careful. Furthermore, this hike is on property controlled by East Maui Irrigation (Maui’s water company). Having a waiver from EMI is recommended. Call the Paia office at 808-579-9516.
I found out about this hike thanks to a serendipitous conversation with a gentleman I was sitting next to on the plane. He was a Maui resident, returning to Hawaii after a short trip to Seattle. Since I was on my fourth or fifth trip and had explored the major attractions, I wanted to look into some of the hikes and the more obscure sights known to the locals. He grabbed a napkin, drew me a map, and told me that I absolutely must try this. I’m so glad I took his word for it!
If you’re not inclined toward anything too intense, you can still go on this hike, as long as you stop at the second or third waterfall. As I said, I’m not a huge hiker and I’m reasonably fit (I don’t work out or anything). I’ve done this hike twice. Hanakapiai Falls was way harder, Tent Rocks was quite easier.
What to bring
- Comfortable shoes with a good grip, but ones you don’t mind getting muddy or wet–think Tevas or water shoes. Alternatively, wear your usual hiking sneakers at the start, but ditch them for some water shoes in a backpack, which you’ll need after waterfall #3.
- Water. Just because you’re about to hit up some waterfalls and may not feel too hot from the sun doesn’t mean you can skip actually hydrating during the hike.
- Sunscreen. The Hawaii sun can burn you! And since you’re frolicking in waterfalls, you may not notice until it’s too late.
- Bug repellant of some sort. Mosquito bites are no fun.
- A power bar or other type of snack, depending on how long you’re planning to play. The Safeway in Kihei has a bulk section with some good, inexpensive energy bites.
- A waterproof phone or camera. You’ll want a record of this experience!
Getting to the trailhead
The hike begins by following the Road to Hana, Highway 360. The trailhead is in the bamboo forest between mile markers 6 and 7.
It can be difficult to tell, but you’ll know you’re there when you start seeing the bamboo crop up on your right (coming from Kahului and the airport). There will also actually be some room along the shoulders to park your car, definitely an uncommon thing on the Hana Highway. For another clue, there will be a small white and red sign along the right side of the road telling you not to leave your valuables in the car–good advice.
Waterfalls 1 and 2
After you park the car and get your stuff together, you’ll want to go into the bamboo. Find any gap with a trail–they will all eventually lead to the same spot. You will want to keep heading downward until you hear water.
Once you find this plank bridging an EMI ditch, you’ll know you’re really following the trail. Until then, enjoy the atmospheric experience of strolling among grass twice as tall as you… the play of light and shadow can be pretty dramatic.
Cross the plank, follow the trail through the bamboo. You’ll have to hop over some rocks to cross a stream. If it has been raining hard, the water here can be high or the rocks slippery. Take your time and be cautious!
Keep the stream to your left As you follow the trail. Soon you might hear a strong waterfall coming from that direction. Pop on out to your left and see the first waterfall! Cross the stream again for a closer look. The pool here is shallow and the banks don’t give you a lot of space to hang out. Occasionally, you won’t even see this, depending on EMI’s water diversion activities.
Return to the trail where you left off, and keep following it until it opens up. Here’s a smaller waterfall with a larger pool. The water is safe to wade in, though it isn’t the clearest or deepest. It’s a great spot to hang out, or simply refresh yourself before the next part of the hike.
The wall and waterfall 3
Facing the waterfall, head left into more bamboo. Here you’ll see a pretty slick wall with a couple pieces of knotted rope draped over it. This is the only way forward. It seems tough, but if you look for footholds before you start climbing up, you’ll be fine.
Sorry for the blurry photo–I was on the move! If you’re trying not to get mud on yourself, you shouldn’t attempt this. It’s just not possible to stay clean, and you’ll probably hurt yourself trying!
Follow the trail, which soon opens up to a larger pool and another waterfall. A lot of people stop here. There’s a rope swing to jump into the pool, and you can swim to the bottom of the falls and just hang out with the water cascading around you.
It gets harder after this. If heights aren’t your thing, stop here.
The ladder and waterfall 4
Again facing the falls, head to your left. The trail climbs up and ends at…yep, a stepladder, which will boost you up to a rope ladder. Hope you’ve got some upper arm strength! The stepladder part is fine, though make sure it’s firmly grounded before heading up.
Once you make it past that, you can catch your breath at a lovely little pool at the top of the waterfall you just left behind. Give yourself a pat on the back, have some water or a snack, and chill for a bit. You’ve earned it!
Now follow the trail again. At some point, it’s going to end at a stream. There’s no way forward but swimming through the stream AND climbing up the fourth waterfall.
Stash your stuff somewhere in the grass, change into your water shoes, and off you go. But do NOT dive into the stream. There are rocks not too far under the surface and you could brain yourself. Leave the heroics for later, just wade in for now.
It’ll get pretty deep eventually. If you’re not a strong swimmer, stay close to the sides. The last stretch is the hardest, but soon you’ll be at the foot of the waterfall. You can’t just stay here though… gotta climb up! Again, use the rope and be very very careful.
The final waterfall
After this, it’s just a lot of walking along the stream bed. The trail will end at the last waterfall. The flow will depend on weather conditions, but the pool is swimmable regardless. This is it! Have a good time!
When you’re done, just head back the way you came. The easiest way back through the fourth waterfall is to jump in. The water is deep enough, and it can be extremely dangerous to try and climb down the slick falls. I’ve done it both ways and while jumping is more nerve wracking for me, it’s definitely the better way.
Luckily, that’s the only tough bit. Everything else is easier on the way down. Depending on how long you spend at each waterfall, this could be as short as an hour or two, or a day’s enjoyment. Don’t start too late in the day–this is not a great place to be navigating in the dark!
Whether you choose to stop at the first few falls, or continue on, this hike is great fun for everyone. With care and preparation, you can have just another awesome day on Maui. Aloha!