Rainbow Falls is an awe-inspiring waterfall that tumbles 80 feet into the Wailuku River that gushes below. Surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, this waterfall is easily reached from downtown Hilo as itʻs just a 5-minute drive away. Known as Waiānuenue in Hawaiian language, the name translates to “rainbow [seen in] water” and is befitting for these falls, as the rising sun commonly ignites a dazzling rainbow in the mist.
Visit Rainbow Falls to experience the home of Hina, the ancient Hawaiian moon goddess, that is said to live within a lava cave encapsulated behind the falls. This peaceful oasis is a fantastic place to visit in the early morning to view the falls and explore the stunning natural environment that surrounds them.
About Rainbow Falls
Wondering why this waterfall is called Rainbow Falls? As you might guess, a rainbow can commonly be seen in the early morning as the sunlight refracts off the cascading water droplets of the waterfall. For the best chance of seeing this natural phenomenon, position yourself east of the waterfall with the rising sun at your back. The rainbow is best viewed when lots of water is flowing down the Wailuku River, or while it’s raining, but the rainbow can still be viewed year-round if the weather conditions are good. At 80ft tall, the broad waterfall of Rainbow Falls is smaller than 422ft ʻAkaka Falls further up the Hamakua Coast but is much easier to access. Additionally, you can venture up the stairs alongside of this waterfall to view it from the top. Continue further upstream to encounter an ancient banyan tree and Pe’epe’e Falls.
Basic Facts & Tips
Legend of Hina
Rainbow Falls plays an important part in Hawaiian mythology, as it is said that Hina, the Hawaiian goddess of the moon lives within a lava cave hidden behind the curtain of the falls. Hina is the mother of Maui, an important Hawaiian demigod that is best known for lassoing the sun to help his mother dry kapa, a cloth created from tree bark.
It is also at this sight where an epic battle ensued between Maui and a giant lizard named Kuna. While Hina peacefully slept, Kuna hurled a boulder from the cliffside and obstructed the entrance to Hinaʻs cave. As cold water began to rush into the cave, Hina cried out so loudly that her cries were carried across the channel that lay between Hawaiʻi and the island of Maui. Hearing her cries, Maui came to his motherʻs rescue as he used his club to split the boulder in two and battled Kuna within the Wailuku River until his inevitable destruction. The remnants of the boulder, known as Lonokaʻeho, are still present though now shrouded with tropical foliage. This sight stands as a testament to Mauiʻs strength and the importance of the Big Island in Hawaiian mythology.
Hike to the Top of Rainbow Falls
Ascend the left shoulder of Rainbow Falls up a stone staircase to reach another spectacular viewpoint over the waterfall. If you werenʻt able to view the rainbow from the main viewpoint, sometimes this top-down angle can illuminate the rainbow if you’ve arrived in broad daylight.
The trail ascends through lush tropical vegetation amidst giant banyan trees. At the top of the falls, you can continue past the upper viewing area to one of the most spectacular trees on the Big Island: an ancient banyan tree enveloped in fig vines with massive roots that spawn out of its trunk. Even further along the Wailuku River, you can reach nearby Peʻepeʻe Falls that is located about 1.5 miles upstream from Rainbow Falls. Peʻepeʻe Falls is arguably just as beautiful as Rainbow Falls, and offers the perk that it tends to be much less crowded than its popular neighbor.
Rainbow Falls is one of the most easily accessible waterfalls on the Big Island, just a 5-minute drive from downtown Hilo. Drive west up Waiānuenue Avenue for one mile, take a right at the fork down Rainbow Drive, then follow the signs to park in the lot on your right-hand side. The paved parking lot can accommodate about a dozen cars and a few tour buses. There is no entrance or parking fees, and there are restrooms within the parking area. It is advised to visit outside the hours of 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, as these tend to be the busiest. To access the falls, follow the short trail to the 70ft viewing platform that begins right behind the parking lot. The trail is both paved and level, making this wheelchair accessible.