Hiking the Pipiwai Trail: Makahiku Falls and Waimoku Falls, Maui

Roaring waterfalls and dense tropical jungle inspired us to do the Pipiwai Trail hike. But this adventure turned out to be more than we had ever dreamed of. 

Last updated: January 16, 2024

Pipiwai Trail hike - Roads and Destinations
Hiking the Pipiwai Trail, Maui

Toward Makahiku Falls and Waimoku Falls via Pipiwai Trail

Heading to Haleakala National Park again. We visited the home of Maui’s largest volcano the day before. It was a long, daunting, and rather unsuccessful journey. Everything but a narrow path at an overlook that peered down into the Haleakala Crater with its wide range of colors was obscured. Thick fog enclosed the entire area, negating even a faint thought about hiking downhill. 

The Pipiwai Trail was supposed to be different. At least we hoped so. Set at the northeast coast of the island of Maui, 10 miles north of Hana, the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park looked nothing like the stupendous summit. Lush tropical rainforest dominated here. Dense and abundant with exotic fruits, the area had allured natives for centuries. 

The striking jungle with a profusion of streams and waterfalls looked as enchanting as years ago. As many centuries ago, it still harbored rare tropical plants and endemic living creatures. The only thing that was missing was tranquility. 

One of the easiest trails in this part of Maui, the Pipiwai Trail sees nearly 500,000 people yearly. The 4-mile (out and back) path sits to the left of the Pipiwai Visitor Center and offers astonishing sights along the way. 

Watch our Road to Hana along with adventure along the Pipiwai Trail video

Hiking the Pipiwai Trail

The temperature had risen. Despite the lack of sunshine, the Kipahulu District pampered us with the tropical warmth. Rain was expected later that day. But standing at a trail junction with the right fork heading to Pools of ‘Ohe’o (Seven Sacred Pools) and the left one, the Pipiwai Trail, leading adventure seekers to Makahiku Falls and Waimoku Falls, we reluctantly agreed on leaving our umbrellas and ponchos in the car. 

An average hiker could complete the Pipiwai Trail in 2 hours. We predicted it would take us a couple of hours or less to hike to Waimoku Falls and back. 

Right from the start, the Pipiwai Trail turned out to be a muddy adventure. Large puddles popped up on both sides of the trail. Even larger ones congregated farther up right on the hiking path. A series of stone steps spanned the steepest and muddiest sections of the Pipiwai Trail. The necessity of the man-made aids, however, diminished quite soon, when the trail leveled out just a few hundred feet into the hike. 

Pipiwai Trail hike - Roads and Destinations
The start of the Pipiwai hike
Pipiwai Trail - Roads and Destinations
The sound of the gushing waterfall reached us way before we could see it
Drive the Road to Hana during the rainy season - Roads and Destinations
Different views from the Pipiwai Trail

The Falls of Makahiku

At 0.5 mile into the hike, the Pipiwai Trail gave the hikers their first reward. The forest receded, unveiling an unmissable overlook with a wooden bar that protected the adventurers from a steep cliff below. Here, slightly to the left, jaw-dropping views of the Falls at Makahiku opened up. 

Plunging nearly 200 feet over a verdant cliff adorned with a dense layer of bamboo, ferns, and massive jungle vines, the roaring waterfall looked nothing short of a mighty river, rushing to merge with the ocean. 

The opaque rainforest extended farther to the right of the gushing Makahiku Falls. Below, a green valley separated this lush idyll from the Pipiwai Trail. After lingering at the overlook for a few minutes, some of the hikers turned back and headed to the Pipiwai Trailhead. 

We proceeded forward. 

The Falls of Makahiku - Roads and Destinations
The Falls of Makahiku | Pipiwai Trail, Maui

Giant Banyan Tree along Pipiwai Trail

The next site along the Pipiwai Trail didn’t make us wait long. Gathering a small crowd in another 0.2-0.3 mile, a giant banyan tree arose right to the right of the trail.  

We saw our first banyan tree the day before in Old Lahaina. This forest dweller was even bigger. Its aerial roots had gathered into trunks. More roots were growing down the protruding branches. Some of them hung over the ground like natural arches that formed proper entryways to deeper sections of the Pipiwai Trail.  

Some Asian traditions associate the banyan tree with longevity and immortality. The plant doesn’t let anything suppress its growth. It continues spreading its roots and building one strong “stem” after another.

Giant banyan tree, Maui - Roads and Destinations
Banyan tree along the Pipiwai Trail

Uproar that Drowned All Other Sounds

The Pipiwai Trail was relatively flat past this point, except for exposed tree roots. Yet still muddy and ever intriguing… 

Since we hiked the Pipiwai Trail in early March, the last month of the rainy season in Hawaii, we could steal moments of complete serenity, broken only by the gusts of wind playing in the thick canopy above us and birds singing odes to the Hawaiian Islands. 

But the sounds of nature were getting louder. In fact, about one mile into the hike one persistent uproar drowned all other sounds, talks, and any kind of commotion along the Pipiwai Trail. We were getting close to a multi-tiered waterfall that in a hasty manner spilled into a stream and rushed through the lush rainforest to the place, concealed to our eyes.

Maui - Roads and Destinations
Palikea Stream | Pipiwai Trail, Maui

At first, I thought it was the Falls of Makahiku that we saw in the distance earlier. But it didn’t look quite like it. Later that day, I searched the Internet, but couldn’t get the name of this site. Eventually, I referred back to the photo of the map I took at the trailhead. The area was known as Palikea Stream

Needless to say, the cascading waterfall-stream was one of the highlights of the Pipiwai Trail hike, and so was a bamboo forest that we stumbled upon right after walking across a footbridge overlooking the stream. 

Bamboo Forest

Polynesian voyagers brought the first bamboo plants to the Hawaiian Islands centuries ago. Different kinds of bamboo appeared on Maui as more people chose to relocate to the tropical island. 

The bamboo forest along the Pipiwai Trail was getting darker and denser with every step. Conducted by the frisky wind, the stalks of the trees creaked and popped, the leaves rattled. The place felt surreal to say the least. 

But unfortunately, we happened to enter the bamboo forest almost as soon a couple of selfie-obsessed female hikers did. The ladies started posing and taking pictures of each other right in the middle of the trail. 

Other hikers, out of respect, waited for them to finish whatever they were doing before walking any farther. But this photoshoot seemed to never end. Having had enough, the human “traffic” on the Pipiwai Trail receded just in time when the heavy tropical rain started. 

Pipiwai Trail - Roads and Destinations
Hiking through a tropical forest
Bamboo Forest, Maui- Roads and Destinations
Bamboo Forest | Pipiwai Trail

Almost at Waimoku Falls

The rain, first slow and tamed, was getting more persistent. Hoping that it would end as unexpectedly as it started, we looked for temporary shelter in the bamboo forest along the Pipiwai Trail. With its dense, leafy crowns, it offered as much cover as it was possible at that moment. (Those perfect-selfie-hunting girls got out their umbrellas and continued their photo session in the rain. Some things are just beyond my understanding). 

I packed my camera in a travel camera bag. It wasn’t waterproof. So some uneasiness about the rainwater destroying my equipment daunted on me. 

Although still warm, the rain, however, was pouring unstoppably. It didn’t look like it would end anytime soon. We still had about 0.8 mile to get to Waimoku Falls. 

A sense of adventure propelled us to move forward, to continue our Pipiwai Trail hike. Our common sense reasoned that we had to do the opposite. The Pipiwai Trail wasn’t even muddy anymore. It turned into a stream that collected all the rainwater from the forest and carried it to the lower points. 

Pipiwai Trail - Roads and Destinations
The trail is muddy during the rainy season

We Headed Back… 

Some hikers did the same. Others stayed in the bamboo forest, waiting for the rain to stop. Surprisingly while treading down the trail with the ankle-deep puddles we met adventure-seekers that slowly but surely were still heading toward Waimoku Falls. We gazed at their ponchos in envy. 

My camera survived this rainy, tropical hike along the Pipiwai Trail. But our clothes were wet to the last thread. Walking under the rain in wet garments was uncomfortable. But sitting in the dry car with our clothing dropping decent streams of water on the floor was unbearable. 

I ran to the Kipahulu Visitor Center in the hope that they sell some clothes, with national park logos all over them… But still dry clothes. 

The visitor center had only t-shirts and ponchos. I paid a small fortune for both. There’s a valid reason why I never (or almost never…) buy anything at national park’s gift shops. Hotel towels that we had grabbed with us in the morning and now wrapped around our waists completed these bizarre attires.

Our Pipiwai Trail hike, probably the most memorable adventure we had on Maui, ended unfinished. But we weren’t going to call it a day just yet. We had the entire Road to Hana to explore. And rain or no rain, we were determined to see this region. 

Pipiwai Trail - Roads and Destinations
Ending the rainy Pipiwai hike

Pipiwai Trail Hike Stats

  • Distance: 4 miles (out and back)
  • Trailhead: To the left of the Kipahulu Visitor Center
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Elevation gain: 908 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours

Adventure along Pipiwai Trail: Map

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