The Real Highlight of Wailuku River State Park (Hint: It’s Not a Waterfall)


Wailuku River State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii is well-known for Waianuenue (Rainbow Falls), a neat waterfall just outside of Hilo. From the parking area at Wailuku State Park, there is an easily-accessible viewing area that gives guests a view of the 80-foot Rainbow Falls, which derives its name from the frequent rainbows that form in the mist on sunny days.

As mentioned, it’s incredibly easy to see Rainbow Falls. The parking lot is maybe 2 minutes from the viewing area, and all of this is really close to downtown Hilo. You could be having lunch downtown and being viewing the waterfall 15 minutes later, and back in Hilo 15 minutes after that. It’s an easy option for quick filler in your Hawaii Big Island itinerary.

However, Rainbow Falls is not the highlight of Wailuku River State Park. To be honest, the waterfall is only so-so in terms of Hawaii’s waterfalls and is only something I recommend to people because it’s so easy to see. That, and because this park is also home to one of the absolute coolest spots on the Big Island…

After checking out Rainbow Falls from parking area viewing spot, you can walk around to the left and climb stone steps that lead to an alternative viewing area. I’ve been to Wailuku River State Park twice now, and both times, most visitors seem to skip this upper viewing area, presumably assuming that it’s just a different view of the same thing (and that’s partially correct).

More important than this viewing area (and trail) leading beyond the falls, there’s also one of the largest and most awe-inspiring trees I’ve ever seen. Located to the left of this upper viewing area, the tree is located down an unmarked path that leads back towards the road.


This is a giant banyan tree, a kind of tree common in Hilo that pretty much always looks cool. This banyan tree takes that to the next level, looking like some sort of genetically modified banyan tree that has mutated into some monstrosity that is now feeding on the other trees near it. No joke, it reminds me of one of the bosses from Resident Evil. (And since the tree has no formal name, I’d humbly suggest “Resident Evil: Code Banyan.”)

Estimated to be some 600 years old, Resident Evil: Code Banyan has totally enveloped the original tree with fig vines and aerial prop rots that make it appear like the tree has multiple trunks. It might be hard to get a feel for how big this tree is via photo, but if you look closely, you can spot Sarah in the frame (as well as some random dude to the far left), which should provide some scale.

Basically, you could store several adult dinosaurs (the big kinds) under here, or perhaps even an army of horse-sized ducks. I don’t even begin to understand the science behind how this tree forms, but it’s really interesting to see in person–it actually looks like this tree is “eating” the grove of trees around it. Perhaps we need to get Claire Redfield on this case to stop this beast before it kills us all.


If you trek farther up along the trail closer to the water, you can walk along the Wailuku River, where you’ll see a variety of beautiful flowers and other plant life. Eventually, this path also leads to Peepee Falls and the Boiling Pots. These are terraced pools of water that bubble as if they’re boiling. These contain small fish and there’s also plenty of bird activity nearby. The Boiling Pots are inter-connected by a series of cascading waterfalls that were formed by the slow cooling of lava.

These Boiling Pots are cool and unique, but not cooler than that banyan tree. It’s seriously gargantuan, and is a perfect quiet spot for relaxing. Even though it’s only one-hundred feet from the waterfall viewing area, the tree is far less busy since it’s found on an unmarked path. (Although I’ve never done it, grabbing lunch from downtown Hilo and having a picnic under the tree sounds about perfect.)

This is a relatively short post, but that’s about all there is to Wailuku River State Park. You could spend 15-30 minutes here and see Rainbow Falls, Resident Evil: Code Banyan, and the Boiling Pots. That’s a lot of bang for your buck (oh, and I should mention that parking is free and there’s no entrance fee, so it’s a good value in terms of time and money!). I’m sure there are more trails in Wailuku River State Park that would enable you to spend even more time in the area, but I haven’t done that. With other parks on the Big Island to explore, I feel like 30 minutes is about the right amount of time to spend here before moving on to another location.

If you’re planning a visit to the Big Island or Oahu, please check out my other posts about Hawaii for ideas of things to do. There are a ton of incredible, under-the-radar experiences in Hawaii, and I highly recommend Hawaii The Big Island Revealed Guide. It’s written by a Hawaii resident, and is far better than other books we’ve read.

Your Thoughts

Have you visited the Big Island of Hawaii? If so, did you stop at Wailuku River State Park? Did you see Resident Evil: Code Banyan? Would you recommend visiting this park? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Please feel free to ask any questions you might have or share additional thoughts in the comments!

12 replies
  1. Kara
    Kara says:

    We would have completely missed this tree if I hadn’t been following your blog. It was unbelievable. The kiddos wanted to climb in it for hours. Unfortunately, mosquitoes drove us out after 30 minutes. Bring bug spray!

  2. Jon
    Jon says:

    Sitting here now with my feet in the water having just spent 10 minutes with that beautiful tree. Definitely a good tip.

  3. Erika R
    Erika R says:

    If you liked this tree, you should visit Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu next time you are on Oahu. There are some magnificent tree specimens! There was one tree with vertical roots that looked like 3 foot ribbons or walls! The trails are fun to hike (although they can be “rustic” (read muddy) and there are some nice little waterfalls. Also, we heard some birds that sounded like dinosaurs.You would also like the Bishop Museum near downtown Honolulu. It has a cool small planetarium and they have the ACTUAL bird feather cape given to Captain Cook at his first landing. Among other neat stuff.

  4. Christie
    Christie says:

    I feel like seeing the sign that read “Park operated and maintained by Umbrella Corporation” should have tipped you off. ?

  5. Jon
    Jon says:

    Great tip about the tree (Tom’s post… not yours, Todd!). We’re planning a Big Island trip for June and have the waterfall on the itinerary. Definitely will check out the area. Keep the Hawaii posts coming!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      There are a few parks in the area that are worth adding to your itinerary–if they aren’t on there already. We have more Hawaii coverage coming soon…

  6. Todd
    Todd says:

    My wife and I just went to the big island for the first time in February. We absolutely loved the tree and spent a couple hours there climbing the tree and just “hanging out.”

    Ok, bad puns aside, you talked about stashing dinosaurs in the tree. Well, I swear I am not making this up, but we accidentally stumbled upon two people having sex high up in the tree in one of the large nooks of the trunk. I am not trying to be salacious or creepy. This really happened. Here’s my pic of the tree, in part to prove I was there.

    Apart from that, the tree was absolutely fantastic.


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