Waipio Valley Road: Hiking the Steepest Street in the World

The beautiful yet strenuous Muliwai Trail, located on Hawai‘i Island, provides a serious challenge — and stellar views — along one of its steepest stretches.

I always thought childbirth would be the hardest thing I’d ever do in life. But then I hiked part of the Muliwai Trail on Hawaii Island.

The strenuous trail, located in the Waipio Valley, is so challenging because of its extreme vertical slope. But tackling it was an incredibly rewarding experience in one of the most breathtaking places in the world.

Making Way on the Muliwai Trail

Before arriving on Hawai‘i Island with friends, I had envisioned spending four days lounging on the beach, sipping mai tais and tackling all the books I’d been meaning to read. But my friends had different plans: our four days would be a nonstop adventure around the island, including a truly epic hike.

One day, after feasting on a breakfast of malasadas (Hawaiian doughnuts), we were ready to get our hiking on. We started at the Waipio Valley Lookout, a giant bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean with the plush green valley stretching below. The landscape was so stunning, it looked fake.

My friends had described the section of the Muliwai Trail we were going to walk as “hard, but totally doable.” Living in Los Angeles, I’m no stranger to hiking trails, but my motto is “the easier the trail the better.” I was relieved to learn that the hike was only 1.5 miles long, but then I saw the path we’d be traveling, and my relief turned to shock. That 1.5-mile road, though short, happened to be one of the steepest streets in the world, with select stretches hitting a 30-percent grade.

Quick Tip:

Make sure to pack lots of water, sunscreen and snacks. There is nowhere on the trail to buy supplies along the way.


Slow and Steady

Considering the steepness, it is impossible to go down the road at a fast speed; each step must be deliberate and taken with a degree of caution. (I wore my old gym sneakers, though proper hiking boots would have come in handy.) But going slowly gave us time to appreciate our surroundings. As we made our way down, the scenery got greener with each stride. It felt as if we were descending deeper and deeper into nature, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of city life.

When we arrived at the bottom of the valley, we caught our breath and immediately began to explore the land. The black-sand beach, surrounded by a forest of large, sturdy trees, glistened as ocean waves rolled in. Off in the far distance was Hi‘ilawe Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the state. But the coolest sight I encountered was the wild horses roaming free. These gentle, majestic creatures hung out on the beach, minding their own business as tourists visited their home. I couldn’t help but think how lucky they are to have the most gorgeous address on earth.

Quick Tip:

If you’re not a hiker, the Waipio Valley Lookout is worth a visit. Your Instagram followers will thank you for filling their feeds with sublime eye candy.

The Final Stretch

The Muliwai Trail continues for another 7.7 miles (15.3 miles round trip, 19 miles if you start from the Waipio Valley Lookout) and leads farther into the Waimanu Valley. Many hikers camp along the way; however, my friends and I hadn’t planned an overnight stay, so we turned around and headed back up the steep path.

The way down was tough, but the way up was ten times harder. So grueling, in fact, that I had to stop and rest often. (Only cars with four-wheel drive are allowed on the road — vehicles with anything less would never be able to make the trip.) It took about 30 minutes to ascend the path.

When I reached the top, back at the Waipio Valley Lookout, I was greeted once again by the amazing view. I could barely believe I had traveled all those steep steps. It might’ve been a challenge, but I did it. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


Where to Stay:Marriott’s Waikoloa Ocean Club

Jeanne L. is a writer living in Los Angeles, California.