One of the most famous trails in Maui the Pipiwai Trail is hidden away on the very backside of Hana over a 2-hours drive (minimum) from anywhere. The short but intense jungle hike takes you deep into the Hana Rainforest, past some staggering waterfalls through the ancient and lost jungle and through a mysterious and ghostly Bamboo patch. With Hiking the Pipiwai Trail Maui Hawaii one of the highest-rated Hana Activities, we take a look at exactly what to expect when hiking one of the most stunning and beautiful trails on the Island
About the Pipiwai Trail
- Length – 4 Miles Round Trip
- Duration – 2-3 Hours
- Map – Google
- Difficulty – Moderate
- Elevation – + 800ft
- Notes – Well Defined, but rough rail, uphill into dense, humid, mosquito-filled jungle. Waimoku Falls
Where is the Pipiwai Trail
Pipiwai Trail is located in the Haleakala National Park in the Kīpahulu District of the Park, however, that may not help you that much if you don’t know where those places are. Essentially the Kīpahulu District of Haleakala is at the very backside of the island, remote and very difficult to get to. It is one of the last stops along the Hana Highway just before the narrow single track road becomes a dirt trail and off-limits to hire cars.
Essentially it is one of the hardest places to get to on the island with one of the longest travel times. Even via the Back road to Hana, it is not much closer or easier to get to, and your hire car insurance will be invalid! So why is the Trail so popular? Is it SO good people are willing to travel 3-4 hours just to hike it? Well no. It is a nice trail but it’s not worth the drive really.
The Trail is popular because it is part of the Road to Hana Experience. The Road to Hana is about the journey, experiencing the Lost World coastline, spotting waterfalls, jaw-dropping beaches, and hiking the Pipiwai and Checking out the Seven Sacred Pools at the Kīpahulu District of Haleakala. It is part of the wonderful journey that is The Road To Hana
As we said most people will do this Trial as part of the Road to Hana so, however you are navigating the Road, be it private hire Car or a Tour bus that is how you will get to the trail. Simply carry on Past Hana until you reach the Kipahulu Portion of the Haleakala National Park. Unfortunately to Hike the Trail you have to pay the Park Entry Fee of $30 per vehicle. This will get you ample parking plus access to all areas of the park, including the summit area, for 3 days.
$30 is A LOT of money to do this hike so we strongly advise timing this with visiting the Summit area in the next 3 days. Alternatively, if you have visited the Summit area in the last 3 days save your receipt and access to the Kipahulu district is included. Parking outside of the park is very limited to essentially none. So there is no real way to avoid paying and besides even by hiking the trail you are required to pay $15 per person even if you don’t have a vehicle!
The best plan is to just make sure you visit both parts of the Haleakala Park in the same 3-Day window. Better still grab an America the Beautiful Pass and get access to all USA National Parks for 1 year for $80 or if you are heading to the Big Island a TRI-Park pass will cost $55 and get you in all 3 Hawaiian National Parks.
How the heck do you Say Pipiwai?
Those pesky Hawaiian words can really trip you up, right. and the Pipiwai Trail is one we hear botched many times over. But it’s actually very easy to pronounce. At least the way we have been led to believe.
Pee – Pee – Why
How Difficult is the Pipiwai Trail?
The Hike is a 2-mile uphill hike on a reasonable trail with a total gained height of around 800 feet. The gradients are fairly shallow for the majority of the climb and there is nothing difficult underfoot apart from a few loose rocks, uneven surfaces, and exposed roots. If it’s very heavy rain it can be a little muddy and slippery but on the whole, it’s a pretty easy hike. The route is out and a back so you obviously have to retrace your steps once you reach the terminus of the trail and the spectacular Waimoku Falls and hike down the 2-mile trail making a 4-mile hike in total.
The only difficulty you will face is heat, humidity, and wildlife. Under the jungle canopy, it is really hot and humid, this makes the trail far more taxing than it would be in cooler conditions. The trail is also flanked by many areas of standing water and the valley walls and tree cover means winds are light. This is perfect breeding grounds for Mosquitos. Combined with light clothing, shorts and t-shirts, heavy breathing and raised body temperature and the missiles are going to home in on you pretty aggressively.
Expect to get bitten, a lot!
What to Wear?
This is definitely a Trail for light breathable clothing. Activewear is best with a basic Technical Tee and sporty shorts all you need. Compression wear is completely un-necessary for a hike such as this but you may like your yoga pants, so whatever is comfortable. Tights and Long-Sleeved tops may help with the Bugs, however.
The terrain underfoot is mostly fine and Hiking boots are not required, and reasonable sorts shoes will be fine. Even in the rain, the trail is pretty reasonable.
Rain is likely so maybe consider a very light rain jacket if the skies are looking heavy, but on the whole, it is likely to be warm so rain is more of a relief than a problem. However, remember showers can roll in at a minutes notice, so rain protection for any fragile cameras/electronics is essential.
Things to Pack
Being only a 4 mile round trip, and one you can cut short at any moment, you are not really going to need much. A small backpack with a liter of water each and emergent snacks and you are good to go. You can get water at the Visitor Centre but it’s better to bring it in with you.
Other than that you are good to go and travel light. Of course, the only essential piece of kit is a good camera…you are going to need that!
You can bring Bug Spray, but the reality is you are going to need it so you may as well just apply before you leave the car. The same with sun cream. The trail is mostly covered so not overly necessary, apply as you would for the day rather than the hike in general.
Hiking the Pipiwai Trail
Technically the trail starts off in the National Park Visitors Center and heads out and across the Hana Hwy, we start our description there as the trailhead leaves the road.
You can’t miss the trail as it is the only track leading away from the coast and up into the jungle. The trail starts out fairly steep and climbs up away from the Oheo Gulch with glimpses of the pools through the foliage. Underfoot is a mix of dirt, exposed stone, and roots, a typical forest trail as the path meanders in and out of tree cover and into sunny meadows. It lacks the real jungle feel at this point and is more like a pleasant walk in a sunny wood.
Soon, as the trail reaches the top of the first climb the Falls of Makahiku come into view. This one of the most stunning waterfalls we have ever seen. The sheer rock walls covered in green moss as the river plunges to the depth below. Care should be taken on this part of the trail as wandering off-trail to get photos or a better look at the falls has resulted in several deaths as people have fallen into the valley below!
Shortly after the first falls, the trail hits the Banyan Tree. This is one of the most spectacular examples of this colossal tree in the state and hidden away in the remote jungles makes it all the more appealing. The long branches of the Strangler Fig are perfect for kids to play on as you take a quick break in the shade after the first hot climb.
From here the trail follows the stream passing a series of small falls and pools and is the most unremarkable part of the hike. After approximately a mile the trail crosses a pair of bridges across the stream and then back again. Below the bridges are a pair of twin waterfalls and pools that are very pretty.
Right after the Bridges, you hit the Bamboo Forest. This ghostly part of the trail is filled with the sounds of hollow knocks as the bamboo gently bashes against itself. The sound is akin to a wind chime blowing in the breeze and is both soothing and eerie at the same time. The Thick Bamboo has cut out almost all other vegetation and the dense forest is dark and foreboding, transporting you to a haunted realm with nothing but the bamboo and the path cut through the invading hordes. Bamboo is an invasive species and it really has taken hold here, as you look up the valley you can see the density of the infestation as the tops of the plants billow out of the canopy like clouds.
After an indeterminate time deep in the Bamboo you finally emerge and the forest changes completely you are now in the deep jungle and the plant life is stunning. With large Elephant leaves and thick jungle foliage abound, as you approach a clearing to find a picture-perfect waterfall of huge proportions. The Waimoku Falls are seriously stunning, 400ft of sheer rock rack face encircle the clearing as the Pipiwai stream plunges the entire length. The walls coated by Moss and Lycans all fed by the constant spray of the Falls.
It is a really surreal and wonderful location to end the hike. The pool under the Falls certainly seems inviting and the perfect way to cool off after the hike. However, Access is difficult over the boulder field and the water is quite shallow and very cold. Under the falls themselves is very unpleasant, the water hitting you from 400ft is downright painful and not at all like how showering in a shampoo commercial makes out! Still, it is hard to resist, however, it is a risky endeavor and any pebbles or sticks that flow over the falls will certainly hit a lot harder than water!
After taking in the setting for a while, all that is left is to turn tail and head back down the trail. Descending is naturally a lot easier and a fair bit quicker and you can be back at the trailhead in 30-40 mins.
Tips and Safety
Remember it is HOT – Make sure you pack plenty of water as the hot and humid conditions under the jungle canopy really take their toll
The trail is uphill the whole way some once toy hit the Waimoku Falls, after a rest, it’s all downhill. Expect the return journey to take less than half the hike up, and that is without taking into account you will stop far more often on the hike up!
Stick to the trail – the Trail is defiantly in the wilds and is not overly maintained. Once off the trail, there are sheer drops and often concealed. People have died on this trail!
Under the Waimoku Falls is not a safe place to linger. If you insist on showering in the falls do so briefly, just enough to grab your Instagram shot! To be honest, the freezing after and pounding water will beat you into a hasty retreat regardless!
Flash Floods – Most of the trail is high above the water level and flash floods are not a big risk, but heavy rainfall high in the mountains can turn the trickle into a raging torrent. Anywhere close to the stream is in danger, but this is mainly limited to the summit area around the Waimoku Falls, when these turn nasty you do not want to be there. Those Boulders you scrambled over to get to the falls, the were all thrown over the falls in Flash Floods!
Being careful in general pays off at the far end of the Hana Highway. There is very little out here in ways of assistance. If you get injured, help is a long way away.
Similarly, bring everything you need. There is NOTHING at the visitor center by way of groceries or Gas. Bring all you need with you. This applies to driving the Highway itself, there is gas are some groceries in Hana itself but there are expensive and not to be relied upon, apart fro that there is nothing but jungle and the odd fruit stand!
Timing is difficult, avoiding crowds is hard as we all seem to arrive at once on our pilgrimages along the road to Hana. The best time to hike is either very early on in the day or very late, around lunch and early afternoon it is at it’s hottest and most crowded. However early on or late both require an overnight stay in Hana. This is well worth it but may not fit with your itinerary or other plans.
You can camp at the Kipahulu Park and get up super early for a near-deserted trail!
Oh and remember to wear Bug Spray!
Other things to do in the Area?
The Kipahulu District is a tiny part of the Haleakala National park and there are only limited things to see and do. The Visitors Center is quite interesting but small and there are some traditional Hawaiian huts on the grounds and some ancient burial grounds. It is quite interesting but will not take more than 10mins of your time.
The Main Draw at the park apart from the Trail is the Seven Sacred Pools of the ‘Ohe’o Gulch. The seven pools are very popular for swimming and cooling off after the hike up Pipiwai. The Picturesque pools make for great photo opportunities but swimming in them is pretty overrated. The water is frigid and often a bit grotty. While getting in is an urge that is practically impossible to resist, swims tend to be short and accompanied by lots of cussing.
There is a risk of water-borne diseases and when the river is in flood the pools will definitely be closed. Cliff jumping was once popular but has been banned after injuries. We prefer to take in the beauty of the pools without getting wet, but we know it is hard not to strip off and cool down. The pools are regularly shut for various reasons and you actually have more chance of finding them closed.
The Ocean Entry is defiantly not safe and the conditions vary from rough to suicidal. The sea is defiantly best avoided here, head back to the beaches of Hana if you want an ocean swim.
More about ‘Ohe’o Gulch here
Have Your Say
Have you hiked the Pipiwai trail? Let us know your thoughts and experience of one of Maui’s most loved trails. How did you find the terrain, was the gradient too much and was the Pay-Off, the Waimoku Falls, worth the hot and humid hike up to them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and let us know if you have any recent updates to the condition of the tail. As always if you have any questions fire away