Kauai has an abundance of waterfalls and a hike to a waterfall is one of the best ways to experience the unique natural beauty of the island. Here at the Kauai Travel Blog, we are frequently asked about hikes to the waterfalls on Kauai.
The questions include everything from the easiest waterfall hikes for beginners to the most difficult ones that are harder to access but provide more privacy. Here is a complete guide on hikes to help you see the beautiful waterfalls of Kauai.
1. Hoopii Falls
The most common question we receive is what is an easy hike to a Kauai waterfall. Often, a variation of this question adds that children will also be going on the hike. In almost all our answers to this question, our reply is Hoopii Falls in Kapaa.
The trails to the upper and lower falls are relatively wide and flat. Muddy and slippery surfaces, and tripping hazards including exposed roots, are the main concerns on this trail.
The Lower Hoopi falls is the best waterfall on Kauai for swimming! We recommend not going in or jumping in Upper Hoopii Falls. Serious injuries and deaths have occurred here. Lower Hoopii Falls has a nice pool with a rope swing that is a popular swimming spot for families and visitors.
The only concern at Lower Hoopii Falls is a somewhat steep slope from the trail to reach the bottom. However, this slope is easily managed by most all visitors to the falls. This is the best waterfall on Kauai for swimming, as the plunge pool is located away from the actual waterfall.
There are two waterfall hikes on Kauai that stand out for the question of best intermediate hikes to a waterfall on Kauai, and the answers include two of the most popular trails on the island.
2. Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls
First, the Canyon Trail takes hikers to the top of Waipoo Falls, the waterfall that is visible from the lookouts at Waimea Canyon. The hike to the falls is relatively easy.
What makes the trail intermediate instead of easy are some canyon ledges with precipitous drops near the end of the trail. The ledges could induce some fear of heights in some hikers.
However, the trail is plenty wide so that the ledges are not a real issue. Also, the trail becomes somewhat steeper near the falls. Though you can’t see the waterfall from the top, the view is truly amazing and even epic, making this one of our favorite waterfall hikes on the island.
Additionally, there is a smaller waterfall that is easily reachable just above the main falls.
3. Hanakapiai Falls Hike
The second intermediate waterfall hike that we recommend is the trail to Hanakapiai Falls off the Kalalau Trail. The hike is not necessarily difficult but it does require a fair amount of work and sweat.
Hiking to the falls requires a two-mile hike on the Kalalau Trail (Hanakapiai Trail) from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai Beach, then another two-mile hike on the Hanakapiai Falls Trail from the beach to the falls.
The first two miles have magnificent views of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. After reaching Hanakapiai Beach, you head inland and upstream on a trail that follows Hanakapiai Stream. You will cross the stream multiple times as you head towards the falls. Nearer the falls, the trail becomes more rocky, requiring more patience and effort.
However, all your efforts will be worth it once you reach the falls. At this waterfall, you will be at the base with a refreshing super-cold plunge pool and an amazing view of a waterfall so high you can’t even see the top. Please note this hike requires prior reservations.
For those individuals who are able to obtain a Na Pali Coast camping permit for the full Kalalau Trail (Kalalau Valley), two other waterfalls are reachable from this trail. The first is Hanakoa Falls, with a somewhat similar experience as Hanakapiai Falls.
From the Hanakoa camping area at about mile marker 7 on the trail, head inland for a mile-plus trek through the lush tropical forest.
For your efforts, you will be rewarded with a magnificent view of a 1000 foot waterfall, significantly taller than Hanakapiai falls but with usually less flow. Even more remote than Hanakapiai, visitors will often find themselves alone at the falls.
At the end of the Kalalau Trail is legendary Kalalau Beach, a mystical “Garden of Eden” paradise that includes an almost out-of-this-world waterfall at the beach. Campers use the waterfall water for cooking, showering and drinking water (that must be treated), but the presence of this beautiful waterfall at the base of the magnificent Kalalau Valley is truly awe-inspiring.
The waterfall is officially called Hoolea Falls, but the name is rarely mentioned.
(Please note that both Hanakoa Falls and the waterfall at Kalalau Beach have a difficult trail rating.)
4. Makaleha Falls
For the truly adventurous, a hike to Makaleha Falls offers an opportunity to visit a remote waterfall in a lush jungle setting. Located in east Kauai, the unmaintained trail follows a river upstream through bamboo forests and dense jungle terrain.
Hikers must navigate dense foliage, rocky outcroppings, multiple river crossings and a route that often disappears or becomes unsure in the overgrown vegetation.
The trail can be brutal and it’s not for the lighthearted. But for those who persevere, the destination is truly epic with a two-tiered waterfall and cliff-jumping opportunities into the plunge pool below. Beware of flash flooding in the area.
If it’s raining, or threatening rain, do not attempt as the river crossings could become impassable. A guide is recommended for this hike.
5. Blue Hole Hike
Perhaps the most difficult trail on the island, the Blue Hole hike takes adventurers to the fabled Weeping Wall of Mount Waialeale at the center of the island. More than a waterfall, the entire side of the mountain streams with water at a place that is considered the wettest spot on Earth.
The trail is truly arduous, with knee-deep mud, boulders, slippery slopes and precarious ledges along the way. The payoff is a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle that you will never forget. A guide is highly recommended for this hike.
6. Sacred Falls
This is one of the most popular paid activities on the island of Kauai. The adventure to Secret Falls involves both a kayak rental and trip on the Wailua River and a two-mile hike along a well-traveled path through a tropical rain forest.
Tip: Departing upstream via kayak from the Kamokila Hawaiian Village instead of the Wailua Marina saves about four miles of paddling.
7. Wailua Falls Hike
Not recommended because it is illegal to hike from the viewing area of Wailua Falls down to the bottom, nevertheless, a steady stream of visitors hike down daily, risking fines and serious injuries. More info.
8. Stone Dam Waterfall
More of a stroll than a hike, Kilauea’s beautiful stone dam can be easily reached with a short walk from the Anaina Hou Community Park or Common Ground Kauai, a cafe and marketplace.
Waterfall Safety Tips
Kauai is an island with many waterfalls both big and small. Depending on the rainfall the waterfalls can range from a trickle to powerful gushing torrents.
Kauai is so beautiful it’s easy to forget it can also be a dangerous place. Here are a few safety tips you need to be aware of about waterfalls on Kauai (and elsewhere) when going on one of these hikes.
First, there is the obvious. Do not go in the water at the top of waterfalls. Do not attempt to cross a stream or river near the top of waterfalls. Powerful unseen undercurrents could sweep you over the waterfall.
Do not walk on rocks near the top of waterfalls, or jump from rock to rock, as they are likely slippery. Even if you have amazing hiking shoes with strong grip, it’s too risky to do this.
Second, as tempting as it may be, DO NOT SWIM DIRECTLY UNDERNEATH WATERFALLS. First, there is the unseen danger. Waterfalls can create a churning effect in the water that can drag swimmers (even expert swimmers) to the bottom and keep them there. More than a few deaths have occurred at Kauai waterfalls in this manner.
Second, there is the unexpected danger. Water is not the only thing that goes over waterfalls. Pebbles, rocks, branches and logs can also go over waterfalls. This is especially true during and after heavy rains.