Are you looking for the ultimate guide to Kauai waterfalls? This article from a Hawaii local has everything that you need to know about the waterfalls on Kauai.
The island of Kauai receives hundreds of inches of rain every single year, making it one of the wettest places on earth. This also happens to mean that Kauai is filled with stunning waterfalls. It’s the perfect place for chasing waterfalls! While you have to hike to some, there are quite a few easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls that you can see just by driving. To make sure that you don’t miss sights on your waterfall chasing adventures, here are 14 of the best Kauai waterfalls that you need to see.
What Should I Bring to These Kauai Waterfalls?
In Hawaii, if there’s a waterfall, there are mosquitoes. And, trust me, you don’t want to get bitten. Sometimes the bites last three to four weeks! Instead of dealing with that, consider using some bug repellent. There are both traditional and natural options to help you ward off the little critters.
If you’re hoping to see the easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls (a.k.a. the ones that don’t require a hike), bug repellent is pretty much the only thing you’ll need for your waterfall chasing adventure.
Athletic Shoes (Or Hiking Boots)
If you’re planning on tackling one of the waterfall hikes on Kauai, you’ll need some athletic shoes at minimum.Despite all of my hiking, my Fila Women’s Day Hiker Shoes have held up very well. And there’s a men’s version too.
But if you’re planning on tackling some of the more difficult, muddy hikes on Kauai, you’ll want to get yourself a solid pair of hiking boots, rather than simple athletic shoes or hiking shoes.
Washable, Reusable Bag
There’s a good chance that you’ll get more than a little muddy on the Kauai waterfall hikes. Bring a washable reusable bag with you to dump your muddy shoes into so you don’t get everything muddy!
Flip-Flops (A.K.A. Slippers)
And after you dump those muddy shoes, be sure to have a pair of flip-flops (locally known as slippers) to wear.
You can actually swim in a few of the Kauai waterfall pools, so remember to bring some swimwear. If you’d like to support a local Hawaii brand, Sundaze Bikinis actually makes its swimwear from recycled fish nets.
Use the code BORDERS15 on the Sundaze Bikinis website to get 15% off your order!
If you’re going to get wet, you’ll want to bring a towel with you. One of my favorites is from the local artist Nick Kuchar.
It’s important to stay hydrated if you’re doing any sort of physical activity. So remember to bring some water, preferably in a nice reusable bottle.
To stay energized on your waterfall hikes on Kauai, be sure to bring a snack with you! Consider bringing something from our Hawaii food bucket list.
How Can I Get to the Kauai Waterfalls?
Since the public transportation and Uber situations on Kauai aren’t great, you’ll need a car to get to the Kauai waterfalls.
Kauai Waterfall Safety
These Kauai waterfall safety tips primarily refer to the waterfall hikes on Kauai, rather than the easy-to-access waterfalls.
Know Your Own Capabilities
The most important hiking safety tip is to know your own capabilities. Many of Kauai’s waterfalls are very difficult. Between the slippery, muddy slopes and sheer cliffs, several Kauai waterfall hikes require lots of hiking experience. But there are ones for beginners or intermediate hikers too, and they are wonderful as well!
Bottom line: Don’t try to tackle a trail that you won’t be able to handle. It’s okay to start with the easier hikes and work your way up. Besides, many of the easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls have stunning views too.
Watch for Trail Markers
On many of the Kauai waterfall hikes, the trails are pretty clear. However, there are a few with paths that can be a bit confusing, which is not ideal. Be sure keep your eyes out for brightly colored (usually orange, pink, or blue) flags tied around tree branches to guide you. If the trail has changed recently, the trail markers may instead be indicated with spray paint splotches or carved or hashed tree trunks.
In pretty much all of the fresh water sources in Hawaii, there is a type of bacteria called leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can only be harmful if it enters the body through an open cut (so if it’s scabbed over, you’re fine) or by drinking it (so refilling your water bottle in the stream is a definite no). While some cases of leptospirosis may have bad flu-like symptoms, others have no symptoms at all. I personally have not heard of anyone actually getting leptospirosis from one of the Hawaii waterfalls.
If you would like to read a bit more on leptospirosis, here’s a page from the CDC.
14 Best Kauai Waterfalls that You Need to See
Wailua Falls is at the top of everyone’s list of things to do on Kauai. It may be one of the best waterfalls on Kauai. This 140-foot waterfall draws hundreds of thousands of visitors its each year, particularly since it’s one of the easiest Kauai waterfalls to access. And if you want to get the best view of Wailua Falls, head over to this natural beauty in the morning, as, if the sunlight hits it right, you’ll get to see this powerful waterfall wrapped in a rainbow!
If you’d like to add a little adventure to your Wailua Falls experience, you can hike down to the base of the falls. Do know that any path down to the base is muddy and slippery! The easiest route (note that the term “easiest” is relative) begins right in the parking lot and is less than half a mile.
*Local Tip: The small parking lot for Wailua Falls can fill up quite quickly later in the day. So going in the morning will allow you to potentially see a rainbow and easily snatch a parking space.
One of the most amazing activities to do on the island of Kauai is hike the Kalalau Trail to explore the Na Pali Coast State Park. Due to the grueling nature of this hike, most people just decide to do the straightforward out-and-back trail, rather than taking a two-mile detour to see one of the most stunning Kauai waterfalls: Hanakapiai Falls. After following a path filled with bamboo and mountain apple trees, you’ll be able to bask in the beauty of this 300-foot cascade.
Do know that you do need a reservation to hike to Hanakapiai Falls – and the spots get filled up fast! Reservations become available on the Haena State Park website 30 days in advance, so it’s best to book it as early as possible.
Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls)
Secret Falls, officially known as Uluwehi Falls, is one of the best waterfalls on Kauai in my opinion, because of the fun adventure you must go on before reaching the falls.
To reach Secret Falls, you have to hike down the Wailua River for about four hours! Once you reach the end of your journey, you’ll be greeted by a stunning 100-foot waterfall. I recommend taking a tour to tackle this adventurous journey to Sacred Falls.
Full disclosure: Secret Falls isn’t all that much of a secret anymore. But it is still definitely worth a visit!
Book Here: Kayaking Tour of Secret Falls
After Wailua Falls, Opaekaa Falls is the most popular Kauai waterfall. This easy-to-access waterfall simply requires you to drive up to a lookout point. From there, you’ll be able to see the 150 feet of descending water from a distance.
The hike to Hoopii Falls is short, but still challenging. During the two-mile trail, you’ll tread through mud and hike through tree tunnels before reaching the three tiers of waterfalls. The first tier of Hoopii Falls has a pool that is good for cliff jumping – but, as with all cliff jumping, be sure to jump where the locals jump! There are a few hidden rocks beneath the surface!
The second tier is even more awesome than the first. With its wide appearance, the second tier of Hoopii Falls looks different from any other Kauai waterfall. As a matter of fact, its distinct looked allowed it to be featured in Jurassic Park! At this second tier of Hoopii Falls, you can also go for a swim and swing on a rope swing!
And there’s a bonus third tier of Hoopii Falls to those who have a little more exploration left in them after all the hiking, swimming, cliff jumping, and rope swinging.
Waipoo Falls is the iconic waterfall in the center of Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. (Some people refer to it as the Waimea Canyon waterfall.) It also happens to be the tallest Kauai waterfall at a whopping 800 feet!
You can see Waipoo Falls from the Waimea Canyon lookout and a couple pullouts along the road. But if you want to get your blood pumping, you can turn Waipoo Falls into one of Kauai’s many waterfall hikes. There are a few different ways to tackle this hike, all ranging from two to four miles. While these hikes do not give you an up-close view of the falls (you’ll actually end up at the top of the falls), you will get to explore the breathtaking landscape of Waimea Canyon.
The Weeping Wall is definitely the most dangerous waterfall on Kauai, but also one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Hawaii. If you REALLY want to enjoy as many of the Kauai waterfalls as possible, the Weeping Wall, also known as the Blue Hole Hike, the Waialeale Blue Hole Hike, or the Mount Waialeale Falls Trail, is an option.
Before I tell you any more information, I need to make it clear that hiking to the Weeping Wall is one of the most dangerous things to do on Kauai. The Weeping Wall is located at the base of Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest spots in the world. It receives over 300 inches of rain every year! Consequently, the Weeping Wall is frequently prone to flash flooding, which can create very dangerous conditions.
If the conditions happen to be ideal for hiking to Kauai’s Weeping Wall, you’ll still need to have a four-wheel drive and gear up for several river crossings. And you’ll also need a local guide (such as one from Kauai Hiking Adventures) for this full-day hike, especially since the path isn’t well-trodden, so it’s difficult to follow. If you actually make it to the Blue Hole, you’ll be able to see a picturesque scene unlike anywhere else in the world. The rock walls all around you seem to be “weeping” with waterfalls seeping down – now you know where this one-of-a-kind sight gets its name.
Red Dirt Waterfall
On the road to Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park, there is a stunning red dirt waterfall. In Hawaii, most of our dirt is a reddish orange color, due to the high concentration of iron. When this vibrant color is contrasted with the bright white of a cascading waterfall, it creates a stunning visualization. Because this Kauai waterfall can be easy to miss if you don’t know the exact location, the GPS coordinates are 22.009, -159.677. It’s kind of amazing that dirt and water can paint such a pretty picture.
Do know that the red dirt waterfall isn’t flowing all the time. If seeing this waterfall is a must-see for you, add it to your list of things to do on Kauai when it rains.
The movie Jurassic Park made many Hawaii waterfalls famous, including Manoa Falls on Oahu and Manawaiopuna Falls on Kauai. As a matter of fact, both of these waterfalls are often referred to and advertised as “Jurassic Falls” because of this movie feature.
Unlike the rest of the Kauai waterfalls, the 400-foot Manawaiopuna Falls can only be accessed by helicopter. As a matter of fact, there is only one helicopter company, Island Helicopters, that is allowed to land at the base of Manawaiopuna Falls.
Honopu Beach Waterfall
The Honopu Beach Waterfall is the most difficult Kauai waterfall to access – and with Hanakapiai Falls on the Kalalau Trail and the Weeping Wall on this list of Kauai waterfalls, that’s really saying something.
Let me paint a picture for you to explain just how difficult it is to reach the Honopu Beach Waterfall. To begin the grueling journey, you’ll have to make it to Kalalau Beach, which is only accessible by the already grueling 11-mile Kalalau Trail (the most dangerous legal hike in Hawaii). From there, you have to cross all of Kalalau Beach and then swim a little over a quarter mile in open ocean with a strong current (bring fins for sure!). After all, you’re on the northwestern part of Kauai, where the waves and currents are STRONG. As a matter of fact, this swim is pretty much only doable in the summer, because that’s when the water is the calmest. On top of that, it’s actually illegal to take any sort of boat, including a kayak, to Honopu Beach. Only then have you finally made it to the secluded Honopu Beach.
But you haven’t made it to the waterfall. To do that, you have to cross the beach and head under the famous Honopu Arch before you find the elusive Honopu Beach Waterfall.
If that sounds like too much of a struggle, you can also see the Honopu Arch, Honopu Beach, and Honopu Beach Waterfall on a helicopter tour.
If you’re looking for one of those picturesque Hanalei waterfalls, Hanakoa Falls may be the one you’ve been searching for. Just like Hanakapiai Falls, Hanakoa Falls is located on the Na Pali Coast, so the only way to reach it is by hiking part of the Kalalau Trail.
The trail starts at Ke‘e Beach and takes six miles to reach the falls. Along the way, you’ll be able stare at Kauai’s stunning Na Pali Coast, catch glimpses of sea caves, and watch the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Then, at the end, you’ll be rewarded with the 300-foot Hanakoa Falls (although some reports claim it’s actually 1,000 feet tall, which would make it the tallest waterfall on Kauai).
To get to Hanakoa Falls, you will need to obtain a Na Pali Coast camping permit (even if you are not camping). You can obtain one of these permits up to 90 days in advance, and it’s better if you get it sooner rather than later! (Sometimes these permits run out 60 days in advance!)
Kalihiwai Falls – PRIVATE PROPERTY
Kalihiwai Falls is a Kauai waterfall that can be seen from your car but should be seen from a hike. When heading from Kilauea to Princeville on Kuhio Highway, you can see Kalihiwai Falls for a quick second on the bridge after mile marker 25. However, this is such a quick glance, and you definitely should not stop on the highway for a longer look.
Instead, to get a closer look, you can hike to the 80-foot Kalihiwai Falls. However, because the falls are on private property, you must take a tour to reach the falls.
Wai Koa Loop Trail – PRIVATE PROPERTY
If you’re looking for an easy waterfall hike on Kauai, the Wai Koa Loop Trail is the one for you! Many of Kauai’s hikes are very difficult, but the Wai Koa Loop trail is flat and not muddy. While there is a lot to see on this 4.5-mile hike, the highlight is the Kilauea Stone Dam. Originally built in 1880 to help irrigate the sugar plantations, the Kilauea Stone Dam is now a beautiful Kauai waterfall.
The Wai Koa Loop Trail is on private property, so be sure to sign a waiver at the Anaina Hou Welcome Center before beginning your journey.
*Note: As of May 2020, the Wai Koa Loop Trail is currently closed for repairs.
Located along the Na Pali Coast, Hoolea Falls is one of the most under-the-radar waterfalls on Kauai. Many people who catch a glimpse of these falls either see it by boat or by helicopter. But you can hike to this Kauai waterfall if you would like.
You’ll have to hike all eleven miles of the Kalalau Trail until you reach Kalalau Beach. Then, you’ll need to travel towards the far end of the beach, where you’ll see the start of a trailhead or a small stream. Follow the trail or stream until you reach the end (about three-quarters of a mile) and see the 200-foot Hoolea Falls. The pool at the base of the falls is deep enough for swimming, so you can take a dip as a reward for your long journey.
Just like Hanakoa Falls, you’ll need a Na Pali Coast camping permit to visit Hoolea Falls (even if you are not camping). Remember to get your permit in advance! They do run out quickly!
*Note: Hoolea Falls is an unofficial nude area, just so you know in advance.
If you’re searching for a Kauai waterfall hike that’ll get your blood pumping, Makaleha Falls might be the one for you! Located near Kapaa, the nearly three-mile hike to Makaleha Falls is a surprisingly heavily trafficked trail, considering the fact that it is quite difficult. After plunging through mud, meandering through a bamboo forest, tackling a bit of rock climbing, and making several river crossings, the two-tiered Makaleha Falls becomes a refreshing oasis for adventurous hikers. There’s even a pool at the end where you can take a refreshing swim!
Know that the path to Makaleha Falls can be difficult to follow at times. Look for the hash marks in the tree trunks to guide you.
BONUS: All of the Temporary Waterfalls
Because of all of the rain on Kauai, there are tons of temporary waterfalls on the island. While some are named, most aren’t. So the best way to see some of the coolest Kauai waterfalls is simply by taking a drive with a view of Kauai’s mountains while it’s raining!
*Note: Before you head out, ensure that there are no flash flood warnings. If there are flash flood warnings, stay safe inside! The waterfalls will likely still be there even after the rains have calmed down a little bit.
Which of these Kauai waterfalls is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!
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