Thrilling Adventure on Waipio Valley Road in Hawaii: The Steepest Road in the USA

Waipio Valley Road is a short, steep road located in the Hamakua District of the Big Island of Hawaii, in the USA, restricted to 4x4s. It is said to be the steepest road of its length in the United States. The road is steep enough to destroy brakes on the way down, with some 45% grade sections.

Waipio Valley Road

Can you drive into Waipio Valley?

The road is 2.25 km (1.4 miles) long. It links Waipio Overlook at the western end of Honokaa-Waipio Road (State Route 240), down into the Waipio Valley, in the Hamakua District. Once on the valley floor, there are no paved roads. In the Hawaiian language, "Waipiʻo" means curved water. The Waipio Valley Road looks like a real road, not a street, and offers such a great experience for cyclists. As a courtesy, at the very few wider locations on this extremely narrow road, downhill traffic yields to uphill traffic. Sometimes it is not recognized as a road because it is open only to 4-wheel-drive vehicles, but it is a well-maintained paved road by the government.

Is Waipio Valley the steepest road?

Tucked away on the northeast coast of Hawaii's Big Island, the road is extremely steep, running from 279m to 7m above sea level. While the road is now paved, it is steep enough to destroy brakes on the way down and stall engines on the way up. Folks going down have to yield to folks coming up. Only cars with very tough four-wheel drive and very confident drivers should try to tackle the precipitous drops and hairpin turns leading to the bottom. The average grade is 25%, and the peak grade reaches 40-45%. In some places, this valley is steeper than Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, and Canton Avenue in Pittsburgh, which are considered the world's steepest streets.

Is Waipio Valley Road dangerous?

Driving into Waipi‘o Valley is not recommended for those who aren’t familiar with the road or don’t have appropriate vehicles. Many rental car agreements prohibit traveling down the road. It is restricted to 4x4 vehicles (which you'll need anyway to navigate the unpaved roads on the valley floor) and hikers with strong legs. If you do decide to drive yourself, please only do so in a true 4WD car (no AWD) and only if you are comfortable driving on steep and narrow roads with traffic (both ways). Vehicles must descend in first gear, low range, to avoid brake failure. Driving non-4x4 vehicles into the valley can be, and has been, fatal. Survivors may also be unable to get their non-4x4 vehicles out of the valley without an extremely expensive tow. If you don't have a 4x4, there are tours that will take you into the valley and back, or you can hike on the road (a popular option, at least for the young and healthy). Do not even think about taking a regular 2-wheel drive car, as you will burn up your brakes on the way down.

Is the road to Waipio Valley Open?

On February 25, 2022, the County of Hawaii decided to close the road indefinitely due to the imminent threat of slope and roadway failure threatening the health, safety, and welfare of the people, although locals are suing to reopen it. Now, the popular visitor attraction will only allow residents and leaseholders with agricultural businesses into the area. The deteriorating road conditions and occasional rockslides made the already dangerous route even more of a concern for the state.
More info:
Road suggested by: Gabe Katzman