Hiking Maui’s Bamboo Laden Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls

By Kyle Ellison

The Pipiwai Trail is more than simply the best hiking trail on Maui; it’s a journey to a tropical fantasyland, where banyan tree branches burst like sun rays and bamboo creaks in the wind, while waterfalls tumble from cliffs so high you find yourself staring toward the sky.

Located in the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park, the Pipiwai Trail is the perfect leg-stretcher after the serpentine journey to Hana, or an adventurous way to start the day if camping at Kipahulu campground. Set mauka—or towards the mountain—of the popular Pools of Ohe‘o, the Pipiwai trail is rugged enough to be considered a legitimate hike, but accessible enough that moderately fit visitors can complete the 4-mile journey.

First Pay the Fee at the Haleakala National Park Entrance

Photo:  crdt723.

Photo: crdt723.

If you’re planning to hike the Pipiwai Trail, begin by parking in the official entrance of Haleakala National Park, which requires a fee of $15/vehicle and allows access to the Pools at Ohe‘o. If you’ve traveled to the summit of Haleakala within the past 3 days, then your entrance ticket should still be valid for the Kipahulu section as well.

What You Need Before You Go

Mahiku Falls along the way to Waimoku Falls.  Photo:  Brian Uhreen.

Mahiku Falls along the way to Waimoku Falls. Photo: Brian Uhreen.

Before setting out on the Pipiwai Trail, ensure you have water, snacks, and sunscreen for completing the 2-hour hike. The trailhead is across the street from the parking lot, and immediately begins as a moderate climb that parallels Palikea Stream. Though the pools and waterfalls aren’t accessible, you can hear the rush of turbid water as it splashes and sloshes on the rocks, and forest birds flit in the treetops above, as the pastoral soundtrack of nearby cattle accompanies the crunch of your shoes.

Behold the Beautiful Banyan!

Photo:  Brian Uhreen.

Photo: Brian Uhreen.

After passing through a small, chain link gate and views of the thundering waterfalls, the trail reaches a cool, shaded juncture where a massive banyan tree thrusts its boughs in an explosion that seems frozen in time. Aside from the famous banyan tree in Lahaina, this is arguably the most popular tree on Maui for its gasp-inducing beauty, where twisted arms of light brown wood seem to twirl and dance their way from the ground and converge in a unified trunk. It’s the perfect spot for a swig of water, some shade, a snack, and some rest, before continuing on toward two metal bridges that cross the babbling stream.

Warning: Do Not Jump From Bridge

Though warning signs advise against it, daredevil youth will often leap from the rails of the large metal bridge, dropping 65 feet to the water below with a splash that echoes through the canyon. Since jumping from the bridge is discouraged—and illegal—a better bet is to continue the trail and enter the grove of bamboo, where stands of wood are bunched so thick they literally block out the sun. A narrow boardwalk snakes its way though the dark, undulating forest, eventually emerging at a vista so stunning it makes every ounce of effort and sweat completely worth the experience.

The Treasure at the End of the Trail

Here at the end of the wooden boardwalk—and the end of the Pipiwai Trail—is towering, 400-ft. Waimoku Falls, where water accelerates so quickly toward the ground it changes mid-air to a wispy mist that sprinkles the rocks down below. Trying to photograph the entire waterfall means placing your camera near the ground, your lens facing up toward the sun and the sky where the water begins its descent.

Access to the bottom of the falls is restricted—and there isn’t really anywhere to swim—so the best plan is to simply hang back and admire the tropical view, where water, sky, rocks, and trees combine to create a humbling moment set deep in the East Maui forest.

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