Hiilawe Falls isn’t just high—it's higher than the highest elevation in seven U.S. states. Located in the back of historic Waipio Valley—a lush cleft in the Kohala mountainside where King Kamehameha was raised—Hiilawe Falls is a thin ribbon of white that plunges 1,450 feet, thereby making it one of the tallest waterfalls in the entire state of Hawaii. For all of the superlatives about its height, however, rarely is the waterfall very wide, since the river above the falls is diverted. Only after a heavy rain—which is fairly common in Waipio—will Hiilawe Falls swell to life to become a rushing torrent of water.
Accessing the base of the falls, however, requires passing over private land that isn’t accessible to visitors, so the best view you can get of the falls is from the road through Waipio Valley. Some travel publications encourage trespassing over the private land, but doing so has strained relations between valley residents and visitors.
To get an up close view of the famous falls, there are many Big Island helicopter tours that offer a bird's-eye view of the waterfall. Watch from above as millions of droplets free-fall their way toward the sea, and get a sense for Waipio's seclusion on this corner of the Kohala Coast.
Waipio Valley is one hour from Hilo and 90 minutes from Kona. The road leading into Waipio Valley is one of the steepest in the nation, so visitors without a 4x4 vehicle will have to walk down the road. To get the best view of Hiilawe Falls, walk along the dirt road that leads away from the beach. There are also guided horseback tours that offer occasional views of the falls, and since clouds gather in the afternoon, mornings are best for viewing the falls.