The stunning Akaka Falls State Park is located on the rugged Big Island of Hawaii along the Hamakua Coast. Widely considered as one of the most beautiful regions of the island, the Hamakua Coast gets over 84 inches of rainfall each year, helping to give it an incredibly lush and tropical ambiance. The park itself features one of the Big Island’s most magnificent waterfalls, the 442-foot Akaka Falls, as well as the smaller 100-foot Kahuna Falls inside. At twice the height of Niagara Falls, the impressive Akaka Falls is also one of Hawaii’s most accessible thanks to a short paved trail that separates the waterfall from the visitor parking lot.
The vibrant green rainforest surrounding Akaka Falls provides a nice break from the barren volcanic landscape that characterizes most of Hawaii Island. Here, visitors can enjoy a self-guided walk through the dense jungle to the scenic lookouts providing majestic views of Akaka and Kahuna Falls.
The 64 acres that make up Akaka Falls State Park are connected to the volcanic eruption that formed Mauna Kea 250,000 years ago. Rain collects into the Kolekole Stream on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea and runs down to the ocean along the Hamakua Coast. Akaka Falls is the tallest waterfall along this stream.
One unique aspect of Akaka Falls State Park is the O'opu ‘Alamo'o fish that call it home. The peculiar species of goby fish lays its eggs on top of the falls, and once hatched, the larva floats down the waterfall and starts the long journey into the ocean below. After spending a few months maturing in the sea, the young fish swim miles back up Kolekole Stream and use its suction cup-like mouths and pelvic fins to vertically climb up 442 feet from the base of Akaka Falls to the top, starting the whole process over again.
Find Akaka Falls State Park on northeastern Hawaii Island's Hilo Coast at the end of Akaka Falls Road (also known as Highway 220), about 3.6 miles southwest of Honomu. It is located less than 20 miles from the Hilo International Airport and about 85 miles from Kona International Airport. The cost of admission is $5 per car or $1 for pedestrians (there is no charge for Hawaii residents). The parking lot is open daily between 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., but the park itself is open to walk-ins from sunrise to sunset. The trailhead can be found directly off the parking lot.
Remember that this part of the island is known for getting a lot of rain, so a rain jacket or umbrella is always a good idea (don't forget to bring some mosquito repellent, too).
What to See and Do
The clear highlight of Akaka Falls State Park is the 442-foot waterfall that centers the park. The pleasant, paved looped hike to the falls is only about 0.4 miles, but is slightly uphill and contains several steps. Along the way, you’ll not only have the opportunity to view both Akaka Falls and the 100-foot Kahuna Falls, but also an abundance of wild orchids, bamboo, and different species of ferns.
From the beginning of the footpath heading to the right, Kahuna Falls will be visible from several different areas first, though it is not as accessible as Akaka Falls due to the tree cover. While Akaka is always flowing, Kahuna is much more visible after rainfall. Shortly after, the cascading Akaka Falls becomes visible flowing from a small cliff into Kolekole Stream. The entire hike can be completed within less than an hour and is easily accessed from Hilo.
Tips for Visiting
- Akaka Falls State Park is a perfect addition to the popular 45-mile Hamakua Coast road trip from Hilo to historic Honokaa. Try pairing a trip to the park with a visit to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, as well.
- Though the main waterfall is the park’s biggest highlight, try not to rush through without taking in the beautiful natural scenery and enjoying the journey along the way. Know that the falls can be viewed from a couple of different spots along the footpath.
- This state park is one of the most popular spots on the Hilo side of the Big Island of Hawaii, so don’t be surprised if it is crowded when you arrive. One way to avoid this is by getting there before 11 am on the weekdays to beat the crowds—and you’ll have the added perk of seeing the falls in the early morning sun. During the busy summer months, the parking lot can fill up quickly.
- Be sure to stop by the fruit stand just down the road from the trail for some fresh coconut, chilled pineapple, or sugar cane to snack on.
- There are bathrooms available onsite.
- Get updates about Akaka Falls and loop trail closures on the state park website before you go.
- Parking can be paid for with a parking app or with exact change only.
- While the footpath is paved, there are quite a few steps, so keep that in mind if you’re traveling with someone with mobility issues.
- If you can’t make the trip in person, consider taking a virtual tour of the entire loop trail with Google.