After living on the Big Island of Hawaii for about four years now, we still strongly believe that Waimanu Valley is the best hike on the Big Island. It's one of the most treacherous experiences, but is so rewarding when you make it to Waimanu Valley! We are both adventure photographers (unfortunately we only brought an old GoPro on the adventure!) and it would be a dream for us to hike with a couple and capture their elopement or intimate wedding session. Please let us know if you're interested! 

Ryan envisioned us being at the bottom of Waipio as the sun was rising (always the photographer mindset). We parked our car at the top, and hiked down the steepest road in the United States to the Waipio Valley floor. When we reached the bottom, the river crossing was easy due to low rainfall the week before. It's very important to check the weather and make sure that there hasn't been a lot of rain because the river can be quite dangerous. Adventure photographers with expensive camera equipment should cross with extra precaution. 

After walking the mile long black sand beach, we took the more challenging part of the hike head on. The beginning of the Waimanu Valley Trail has the infamous ‘Z-trail’ gaining more than 1,200 feet elevation. Once you make it to the top, you'll be able to see incredible views of the entire valley below. It's an adventure photographer's dream! We've always talked about shooting a couple for sunrise or sunset at the top of the trail. 

We continued our day’s hike enjoying the shade and cool island breeze from the massive trees towering over us. There are 11 gulches passing several small waterfalls and mastering and tricky maneuverers jumping across streams. I instantly knew that this would be the best hike on the Big Island.



Eleven miles later, we saw the first glimpse of Waimanu Valley and Wai’ilikahi Falls as we stood above the clouds looking down on this breathtaking valley. When we finally made it down the steep and narrow path to the valley's floor, we realized the campsite we reserved had been occupied by a lovely couple (who we eventually renamed, ‘The Scavengers’).  We didn’t have the heart to kick them out of another campsite, so we made the best of the situation and found a spot of our own further down the beach. You can make camping reservations for Waimanu Valley.

Situated between campsite 5 and 7, we found a perfect location to set up our hammocks which was blocked enough from the wind. We recommend reserving campsite number 2 because it has AMAZING views of the valley and waterfalls! The rest of the day consisted of locating enough wood that was dry enough to make a fire, meeting other happy campers in the valley, cooking our Tasty Bite Indian/Thai meals (these are a great healthy alternative to heavily processed dehydrated meals for any of the health nuts out there ;D) and sipping small bottles of wine under the billion starts above. The starts are absolutely stunning in Waimanu Valley! 



We both woke up early because we could feel the moist hammock from the early morning dew. As I lay unmoving in my hammock, I knew it was cold (cold for Hawai’i is a mere 58 degrees!), damp, and overcast. This was motivation enough to snuggle back in my sleeping bag and knock out for a few more hours. Not for Ryan. He was up and ready to go as soon as the sky revealed a glimpse of sunlight. 


Before long, Ryan returned to camp eager to hike to the 1,000 FT waterfall in the back of the Waimanu Valley. For just over two miles, we hugged the valley wall crossing over several streams and passing small waterfalls. As we heard the thundering power of the massive waterfall in the distance, the rain began to downpour, but there was no way that we were going to turn back! This is the reason why we were certain it was the best hike on the Big Island.

We inched closer and closer to the bottom of the falls, but we were completely taken away by the powerful force pushing us backwards. Ryan and I were completely mesmerized and overwhelmed by the incredible vortex of energy resonating from Wai’ilikahi Falls. This was definitely the reason that made Waimanu valley so special and memorable. Because of the hard rain the previous night, the waterfall was flowing more than usual and it was nothing short of breathtaking, majestic, and ultimately rejuvenating for the both of us.

A few hours had passed and we decided to head back to our hammocks before the sky was too dark. We finished the last of our yummy, dark chocolate and manini red wine, while soaking up all the blessings of the past two days. Dosing off minutes after the sun had set felt so normal and in sync with our natural rhythms.



We woke up on our final morning feeling refreshed and thankful that it had stopped raining in the middle of the night. This meant that our damp clothes and hammocks had time to dry a bit before we jammed everything back into our packs. Ryan was already up while it was still dark and began strolling along the coast to capture some epic shots of the sun rising beside the famous Waimanu Valley cliffs (one of his favorite parts of the day!)

I’m still getting used to the whole waking-up-before-the sun-rises thing. Thankfully, another group of campers ('The Hilo Crew') offered to share their freshly made coffee with us. I can count on Ryan for always making the extra effort to ensure we are ready to go! We enjoyed sipping our coffee talking story with the friendly group of campers as we gazed up at the seven waterfalls that poured off the cliffs towards the back of Waimanu Valley. This was one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend. Thank you rain for the magical waterfalls!

As they all made it across the (now powerful) river, we talked story with other campers for a bit and one of them @hiifish, was so sweet and snapped some great shots of Ryan and I before we left. With motivation from all the kindness and generosity that other campers shared with us, we charged up the valley in 5 ½ hours! (A whole hour less than it had taken us to get there!).

This journey made us both realize that it wasn't the seven waterfalls, the black sand beach, or the ocean view camp site that made this trip so special, it was the genuine and sincere encounters with the other campers that created an experience that we will never forget. Waimanu Valley is the best hike on the Big Island of Hawaii! Feel free to ask us ANY details questions about this hike on our Instagram account @alohazoephotography.


waimanu valley Hawaii island hiking