Waterfalls of Kauai
That 90s girl-band who sang, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls” must not have visited the Garden Isle. Here, it is nearly impossible to resist seeking out a waterfall or three. With a little adventurous spirit, some good directions and the proper footwear, you can pretty easily find yourself face-to-face with some of God’s loveliest handiwork.
Of course, some Kauai waterfalls are a bit trickier to cozy up to than others because they are either hidden, treacherous to reach, or can only be accessed by a particular mode of transportation. Of the dozens and dozens (and dozens?) of waterfalls found all over the 5-million-year-old island of Kauai, here are just a tiny few that are worth the extra effort to witness. Bring a friend. Bring a camera. But most importantly, bring your eyeballs and an open heart.
You, too, will be gushing.
(Note: Since conditions are ever changing, always check maps, weather and the most up-to-date hiking instructions and conditions before embarking on any of these trips. See endnotes for helpful resources.)
Uluwehi Falls (aka Secret Falls)
Uluwehi means “flourishing plants” and that is just what you will find in this tropical paradise found on the East Side of Kauai. Secret Falls, which are hardly a secret anymore, are reached only by waterways and then on foot. You could either take a guided tour or rent your own kayak or canoe and journey there yourself.
Drop your vessel into the water at Wailua River State Park and start paddling upstream. The palm-lined banks of fauna with the emerald mountains rising up behind perfectly set the mood. At the obvious fork in the river, head right and keep paddling on until you come to a flat sandy bank that makes a fine kayak parking lot. The trailhead along the Wailua River begins here.
A rope-assisted crossing of a rocky thigh-high stream greets you early on and for this reason, hiking boots are not recommended — water shoes or sport sandals work best and a few intrepid adventurers even go barefoot. The foliage here is lush, the rocks covered in velvety green moss and the hike can be quite muddy and slippery. Commune with the birds, lizards, and a confetti of tiny wildflowers as you follow the trail all the way to the base of magnificent Secret Falls!
The falls drop is about 120 feet and is truly a breathtaking sight to behold as it cascades into its vast plunge pool — said to be the bathing site of Kauai’s ancient Ali’i (or “king”) of the Island. You can swim, get up close and personal with the falls or just sit and gaze upon its majesty. The rocky base offers a tranquil, almost spiritual setting. The sights and sounds of the water splashing into the pool can calm and relax your mind and create a soothing therapy for the soul. (The chicken sitting next to you may or may not be equally entranced.) (Yes, there are plenty of the ubiquitous Kauai chickens here.)
Perhaps an oxymoron, but Uluwehi Falls is one of the most popular hidden waterfalls of Kauai. In any event, this paddle-hike-rest journey through water and woods will give you a satisfying sense of connection to the island. Aloha!
You hear it first. A low rumbly-rushing sound that grows louder as you approach — your anticipation rising. You can almost feel the mist on your skin.
The hike starts easily enough: After parking in the Kapahi neighborhood on the East Side of the island and staying respectful of the residents, you find the tiny, often easy-to-miss trailhead off Kapahi Road. You hike through the tall grass and canopies of sun-dappled trees until arriving at the water. You head right and follow along the Kapa’a gurgling stream. You decide to press on past the first turn out to the smaller “upper” Ho’opi’i Falls in the interest of getting to the bigger “lower” falls sooner. The terrain grows steep in a couple places and is quite muddy and strewn with fallen branches and roots — some to step over and others to duck under. As you get closer, the vegetation grows denser and even greener and the trail tightens, growing rockier and more uneven. In some places, the trail is quite overgrown and hard to find but you persevere. Now, as you pass the last of the trail and the sounds of water are even louder, you enter a clearing and there it is: lower Ho’opi’i Falls in all its glory!
Truly spectacular, the wide falls wash down the rocky mountain side into a cavernous swimming hole. You take a load off to rest on the rocky edge, quietly musing upon Mother Nature at her best and feeling both happy and a sense of accomplishment. After a drink and a snack you carefully find your footing to climb to the other side of the falls to test the waters for a swim. Your friend finds a rope vine dangling from a tree and gives it a low swing, plopping into the water with a splash before popping back up with a flick of the head, laughing.
Named the “Best Hidden Gem” by The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, the Ho’opi’i Falls is rarely crowded and you might even manage to enjoy it all to yourself. Soak it up!
Manawaiopuna Falls (aka Jurassic Falls)
As the helicopter filled with scientists hovers down the side of the ginormous falls in the opening scene of 1993’s Jurassic Park with John Williams’ orchestral score booming along, you can’t help but wonder if perhaps this beyond-belief water formation was simply the masterwork of Hollywood CGI artists. But Jurassic Falls, aka Manawaiopuna Falls, is very real, indeed. Considered one of the Garden Isle’s most spectacular sights and one of the top waterfalls in all of the Hawaiian Island chain, the water here thunders down from a 400-foot-tall cliff cloaked in emerald foliage and into the West Side’s glorious Hanapēpē Valley. Tucked deep into private property in a highly dense and undeveloped stretch of rainforest, Manawaiopuna Falls is a rare natural gem that only a lucky few get to witness in person.
Many helicopter tour companies will fly you out here past the falls, getting close enough for photographs. Some even offer a “doors off” adventure to create even less barrier between you and the mist. However, a single tour company (Island Helicopters) was granted permission to land at the base of these falls and allow folks to get out and explore — just as the scientists did in the blockbuster film (but with fewer dinosaurs). Guests are guided along the stream to feel the power and magnificence, feel the mist on their cheeks and learn about the vegetation, geology and history here. Because only one helicopter may land at a time, the few guests on any given flight will enjoy a truly private, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The best part? It is highly unlikely that a hungry raptor or T-rex will be waiting to give chase — so relax and enjoy!
The Wailua Falls are a breathtaking sight. The twin falls plummet more than 120 feet into a pool below, making for an impressive display. The waters are constantly churning, making the falls seem alive. The falls can be reached by a short hike from the parking lot. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy, although it can be a bit slippery in places. The falls are definitely worth the hike, and they provide a beautiful backdrop for photos.
The Wailua Falls are one of the most popular attractions on Kauai. They are a must-see for anyone visiting the island.
Opaeka’a Falls is a breathtaking sight to see. It cascades down a rocky cliff into a serene pool below. I have seen it many times, but each time it takes my breath away. The falls are located in the beautiful Wailua River Valley on the island of Kauai. The drive there is just as scenic as the falls themselves. The road winds through the tropical jungle, and there are beautiful views of the river and mountains along the way.
If you are lucky enough to visit Opaeka’a Falls, be sure to take a walk around the pool below. There are some great photo opportunities here, and it is a tranquil spot to relax and take in the beauty of Kauai.
Kalihiwai Falls is a breathtaking waterfall located on the north shore of Kauai. It’s a short hike to get there, but the view is worth it. The falls tumble over a series of rocky cliffs into a refreshing pool below, making it the perfect spot to take a dip on a hot day. Be careful, though, as the current can be strong. If you’re looking for a waterfall to take your breath away, Kalihiwai Falls is definitely worth a visit.
Hanakapiai Falls is a breathtaking sight to behold. The rushing water cascades over the rocks, the mist rising up into the air and cooling everything below. It is a serene and calming place, and it’s easy to see why it is such a popular destination for hikers.
The hike to Hanakapiai Falls is a beautiful journey in and of itself. The path winds through the jungle, crossing over bridges and streams. It’s a peaceful walk, and the sound of the waterfalls in the distance is soothing.
When you reach Hanakapiai Falls, you’ll be greeted by a thundering waterfall that is absolutely stunning. It’s definitely worth the hike to see it!
The falls in Kauai are one of the most beautiful places you can visit. The sounds and sights of these waterfalls will make your heart race with happiness, especially when they’re framed by lush greenery or cascading down into a pool below. These hidden gems offer visitors an escape from their daily lives for just a few minutes to enjoy the natural world in all its glory. When you’re ready to leave the hustle and bustle of tourist traps behind, be sure to add these secret falls in Kauai to your list.
Please note: The above is meant as an overview and not as a substitute for more detailed research on duration, skill level and exact access to each of these hidden waterfalls of Kauai. Like any wild wonderland, Kauai can prove dangerous, of course. Off-the-beaten-track adventures should naturally be undertaken only after checking on current conditions. Info can be found at Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Stop by and see our Koloa Landing® concierge for your next adventure, plus maps, local directions and rental equipment information. If you also need a rental car in Kauai, we can definitely guide you. For the perfect accomodation, stay at our resort in Hawaii! Aside from having the best pool in America, we also have the best amenities and food.
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