The Rainbow Falls are a broad waterfall in the Wailuku river that is conveniently located within Hilo town. They are very easy to visit, visible from the parking lot, and you’ll have a high chance of seeing rainbows if you visit somewhat early in the day (perhaps even before breakfast). Plan to stop here for 30 minutes to an hour.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- About the rainbow falls
- How and when to see rainbows at the Rainbow Falls
- The short hike to the top of the Rainbow Falls
- Directions to the Rainbow Falls
About the Rainbow Falls
The Rainbow Falls cascade 80 ft over a lava cave that, according to legends, is home to the ancient Hawaiian goddess Hina, the goddess of the moon. Compared to its significantly taller (422 ft!) neighbor, the ʻAkaka falls, the Rainbow Falls win out for accessibility and for how close you get to see the waterfall – either directly from the parking lot or from the top of the falls after a several minute hike.
Good to know: In the Hawaiian language, the rainbow falls are called “rainbow [seen in] water”, or Waiānuenue. If you are interested in the meaning of Hawaiian place names you can find more information on them here.
Depending on the amount of rainfall upstream in the preceding days the falls can be either roaring or they can be reduced to a trickle. We have included pictures of both scenarios on this page.
Why are the Rainbow falls called, the Rainbow falls?
You can only see a rainbows when you are standing with your back towards the source of the sun (or any other light source). This is because rainbows are caused by the reflection, refraction, and dispersion, of light in water droplets (find out more about how this happens).
The water droplets in this case don’t come from rain, but from all the small water droplets in the mist that surrounds the falling water. The main viewing area for the rainbow falls is east of the falls, so if you want to see rainbows while looking at the falls, you need to do so in the morning (because the sun rises in the east).
To see the best rainbows you should arrive early on a sunny morning.
It is also best if there is a lot of water flowing (and falling!) in the waterfall, but even if the falls are reduced to a small trickle it’s still possible to see rainbows. Have a look at the following video for great explanation on why you are always in the center of a rainbow and what special circumstances you need to see a rainbow:
A short hike to the top of the Rainbow Falls
The short climb to the top of the rainbow falls is well worth the effort. As you climb up along the left shoulder of the falls (left, when facing the rainbow falls) you walk past lush vegetation and some HUGE banyan trees. After walking for a few minutes you will be rewarded with a new perspective on the falls.
… and ancient banyan trees
If you turn left after reaching the upper viewing area you get to one of our favorite trees on the island: an ancient banyan tree. This tree is almost completely enveloped with fig vines, and has many aerial prop roots growing down into the soil that make it appear like the tree has multiple trunks. Our words don’t do it justice, so please go see for yourself – it’s one of the largest and most awe-inspiring trees we’ve ever seen!
A short distance upstream of the rainbow falls you can also find the Pe’epe’e falls. Both these falls and the Rainbow falls are part of our list of 5 best Big Island waterfalls.
You can find the Rainbow Falls at the northwest border of Hilo, just off Rainbow Drive. To get to the falls, drive up Wainuenue Avenue, turn to the right on Rainbow Drive, and park in the parking lot on your right hand side.