If you’ve been to Kauai, you know it’s heaven on Earth, and Uluwehi Falls (Secret Falls) in Kauai feels like a true paradise. We travel a lot, and Kauai is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. It’s so lush and green, and the waterfalls are plentiful and simply spectacular.
You can see waterfalls from afar and from the road, but there is a special secret, or not so secret place that you can only get to by water and followed by a short hike. It’s the amazing Secret Falls, also known as Uluwehi Falls! My husband and I recently took our first trip to Kauai. We researched things to do for several months, which led us to Secret Falls.
This was a must-see natural attraction when visiting Kauai. This waterfall adventure requires a total of 4 miles of kayaking, with 2 miles up the Wailua River and 2 miles down river. Then followed by 2 more miles of hiking (1 mile in and 1 mile out) and a nice little break to enjoy the falls.
Where To Rent A Kayak
You can either go on a guided kayaking tour that provides you with all equipment needed or you can do this kayaking and hiking expedition on your own. There are guided tours offered by several companies, but there are also businesses that will rent you a kayak and allow you to explore Uluwehi Falls all on your own. We chose to do the trip without a guide. Nothing against these Kauai tours, but this is a very doable trip for individual travelers. Of course, you can always go with them if you prefer to be led by an expert guide that can give you some background on the area.
There are several kayak rental companies to choose from. We rented our kayaks from Wailua Kayak & Canoe since they are located right by the Wailua River and near the boat launch. Because of this, we didn’t need to load and strap a kayak on top of the rental car, which made things more convenient.
The second reason is that they have an early morning pick-up time (as well as late afternoon) which allows you to get on the Wailua River and head to the Uluwehi Falls before any other tour group gets out there. Either way, you have your kayak for a period of 5 hours. Reservations are highly recommended, and we made ours about a month in advance. When you arrive, you are given a small cooler for snacks and a dry bag to store your belongings.
How To Get To Secret Falls
There were several couples and families heading out at the same time as us. Most kayak rental companies might give you instructions about how to reach Secret Falls if you simply ask. We were told where to go and were given additional information for those that might want to explore Fern Grotto. They have a map posted with directions as well, which you can see down below.
I suggest taking a photo of the map because there aren’t signs telling you where to go but you can always come back to this post. We felt comfortable with the instructions but still took a photo just in case. We also recommend taking a hiking pole with you if you have one.
If you don’t have hiking poles, you can grab a walking stick when you land the kayak. Fortunately, we brought hiking poles in our car and grabbed a set to take with us. After the brief instructions, everyone sets off to explore.
The morning we went it was overcast and a little breezy. You need to paddle upstream 2 miles and land the kayak. It’s simple to know where you have to go when on the river. The Wailua River forks, and you go to the right to go to Secret Falls. If you’re interested in checking out Fern Grotto, you can veer to the left at the fork rather than the right.
If you don’t bring any hiking poles, it’s easy to find walking sticks around the area where you land the kayak. The Secret Falls hike is mostly flat, but it can get really muddy in May and that’s when hiking poles really come in handy. Despite using the pole, I did slide and got muddy toward the beginning of the hike. Luckily I was able to rinse off.
One thing you’re guaranteed about this adventure is that you will get wet! There are two main water crossings. The first one is about 18 feet high and the second one is similar, but there is a rope to hang on to as you cross.
After, you will wind through an area of tall grasses. The path is narrow and the grasses are tall and it almost feels like you’re walking through a cornfield. A portion of the hike takes you across wooden planks along the water’s edge.
Towards the end just before the falls, there is a huge fallen tree which you need to either go over or under. In addition, there is a small amount of scrambling involved just before the waterfall but nothing too difficult.
When we arrived at the Uluwehi Falls the first group was already there, and another group arrived at the same time as us. At this point, you can cross over to the other side and find some rocks to sit on and have snacks. A few groups came and got in the water and took photos but left pretty quickly. We ended up having this beautiful waterfall to ourselves for about 15 minutes which was really nice.
On your way back, you will probably pass groups of other people from guided tours. This made me realize we were so glad we decided to do this adventure on our own time. With a group, you are only as fast as the slowest person.
What To Wear
Athletic shorts and a top/t-shirt are ideal, and a swimsuit if you plan to swim when you reach the waterfall, although caution should be taken when swimming. As far as shoes go you definitely want something that can get wet and muddy.
Hiking sandals work better than water shoes which have no traction. We wore Keen closed-toe sandals which were perfect for this trip and the rest of the hikes in Kauai.
One thing we noticed in the tour groups was that many of the guides were barefoot. I’m not saying I recommend that, but it was something we observed. So maybe it’s worth a try if you don’t have hiking sandals. It’s also worth bringing some bug bug spray since you will need it after you leave the river and start the hike. Bring a waterproof camera to get some beautiful pictures of the waterfall.
The trip to Secret Falls is a fantastic little adventure, and I recommend it to everyone. Overall, I think we spent about 3.5-4 hours and we’ll definitely hike to Secret Falls again when we return to Kauai.
Written by: Laura Hartline