One of the most popular waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii, Rainbow Falls is loved for its easy access and the rainbows that frequent the falls on misty mornings. The Wailuku River varies dramatically based on rain, but this 80-foot (24.4-meter) cascade wows viewers whether it is a thundering torrent or delicate trickle.
Located in Wailuku River State Park, Rainbow Falls—surrounded by lush greenery and basalt lava rock—draws in visitors staying on the island, stopping by on a cruise, or hopping over from another Hawaiian island. You can visit the falls on a tour that also includes nearby Akaka Falls and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Waterfall chasers can take a guided tour of the Big Island’s top waterfalls, including Rainbow, while thrill-seekers can book an adventure tour that combines helicopter flights and ziplining.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Rainbow Falls is a great stop for nature lovers, photographers, and first-time visitors to the Big Island.
- Rainbows are visible at the falls only on sunny days after a rain, and then the river is at certain water levels.
- The main viewing platform is wheelchair accessible via a short paved path; the upper overlook is accessible only by steep stairs.
- Legend has it that the basalt cave behind Rainbow Falls is the home of ancient goddess Hina.
How to Get There
Rainbow Falls is 2 miles (3 kilometers) from downtown Hilo. From Hilo, head west on Waianuenue Avenue and turn right onto Rainbow Drive. From the parking lot, it is a .2-mile (.3-kilometer) walk to the first (and most popular) viewing platform. A steep set of stairs leads to the viewing platform atop the falls.
When to Get There
The state park is open during daylight hours. The best time to visit the falls is in the morning on a sunny day, when chances are good for catching rainbows. Early mornings are also best for beating the crowds, which frequently arrive on tour buses between 10am and 2pm.
How to Photograph the Rainbows at Rainbow Falls
The first viewing platform at Rainbow Falls is a popular spot for nature photographers to capture rainbows against the lush greenery and turquoise water. If you want to catch the magical colors on camera, time your visit before 10am on a sunny day after a recent rain. If the river is too low there will not be enough water to generate the mist needed to create rainbows; if it is too high, the water will be muddy and the sky rainbowless.