The Pipiwai Trail: Taking the Family on One of Maui’s Best Hikes

I’ve been to Maui a handful of times but somehow on past Maui trips I’d been so focused on beaches and surfing that I had overlooked this magical Maui trail. However, when I saw the quintessentail picture of a hiker standing amongst towering bamboo, I knew that I wasn’t leaving Maui again without doing this hike. So determined was I to hike this trail that when we woke up on our designated “Road to Hana day” and the forecast was 100% chance of rain all day I cheerily made some pb&J’s and loaded the fam into the car. Along the way I optimistically pointed out slightly lighter sections in the dark foreboding sky and assured everyone that it would probably be sunny soon. Soon, not surprisingly, we were driving on the Road to Hana in the pouring rain, staring up at the sky and praying that this wouldn’t end up being a failed Pipiwai Trail attempt. Long story slightly shorter, we hiked the trail, it was awesome, and here’s what I learned and would recommend for anyone else who wants to experience the Pipiwai magic.

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Getting There:

Don’t stress yourself out and rush the Road to Hana just to try to beat people to the trailhead. It’s good to get an early start because there is so much to see on the Road to Hana but I think crowds are pretty much inevitable. Even on a day with absolutely horrendous weather, imagine driving a mini van through a waterfall for two hours while avoiding fallen trees, there were still plenty of people on the trail.

The Trail:

It’s slightly less than four miles but it feels longer, in part because of all the different scenery and because the first part of the trail is mostly uphill. In the beginning you might find yourself wondering “what’s all the hype?” and “how much longer until we get to the bamboo forest?”. Don’t worry, in less then a mile you reach the first waterfall and a nice view of the surrounding mountains.

Pipiwai Trail Makahiku falls
Makahiku Falls is a scenic spot for a break on the Pipiwai Trail

After this you go into the trees and it becomes that classic hiking in the tropics experience, mud, mosquitos, and ankle-twisting tree roots. There are some parts of the trail that have a very steep, dangerous drop off and signs that warn of past fatalities so if you’re with kids, keep them close.

Pipiwai Trail
Watch out for rocks and roots on the Pipiwai Trail

Take a break at the huge Banyan tree and marvel at its enormity then continue on because at this point despite the beauty of the trail and the Banyan tree you will have giant bamboo on the brain.

Banyan Tree Pipiwai Trail
Marvel at the giant banyan tree

At last you will come to a bridge that crosses a stream and you will have reached the start of the bamboo forest. Take a quick pic or two but be aware that as you continue it gets better and better. Dodge millennials in bikinis doing photo shoots and find those mystical moments on the trail where you can savor your surroundings.

bamboo forest pipiwai trail
Cross a bridge to enter the bamboo forest

From this point on you will be immersed in the bamboo until you reach the waterfall. Parts of the trail will be on a boardwalk and parts will be on single-track trail. When you reach the waterfall you will have to cross a stream in order to go all the way to the end of the trail. It’s possible to get a nice view of the waterfall without going to the end of the trail but there is something satisfying about making it all the way to the end. It is not advised to go past the end of the trail and swim because the geography of the area makes falling rocks a very real danger to anyone who attempts to swim in the pool of the waterfall. If you’re thinking about taking a dip it’s better to find a little swimming hole further down stream that’s safer or wait until the end of your hike and take a dip in the Seven Sacred Pools. (Note: when we went the pools were closed indefinitely due to falling rocks so check the website beforehand if swimming in the pools is on your to-do list)

Waimoku Falls
At Waimoku Falls you’ll be astonished that such a beautiful waterfall was only a two mile hike

The hike back to the parking lot will be significantly quicker since you’re retracing your footsteps and it’s mostly all downhill.

What to Bring/Wear

  • Hiking shoes. Any type of sneaker with good traction will work.
  • Mosquito repellent. The mosquitos definitely have a taste for tourists, especially in the trees and the bamboo.
  • Water. It’s a relatively short hike but it’s the tropics so bring plenty of water. I like to bring one bottle per kid for the way up and one per kid for the way down to help them ration it out so that they don’t guzzle it all before we’ve even gone fifteen minutes. There isn’t any potable water until you get back to the parking lot.
  • Snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Rain jacket. Depending on the weather you might want to bring a lightweight raincoat.
  • Ziplock bag/dry bag for keys/phone if it starts raining on your hike

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