The Wailua Falls Hike is a short, steep, and prohibited trail that takes hikers to the bottom of Wailua Falls. The trail is inherently dangerous and there are signs from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources that say “Danger Keep Out Hazardous Conditions!”
Wailua Falls is a 173-foot waterfall that is a short drive down a country road from the town of Lihue. The falls can be seen from a roadside viewing point at the end of Maalo Road (583). The waterfall is featured in the opening credits of the television show Fantasy Island. The convenient location, combined with the waterfall’s grandeur, makes this one of the most popular waterfalls on the island.
There is a trail to the left of the viewing area that goes down to the top of the waterfall. This guide will cover the hiking trail to the right of the viewing area that goes down to the bottom of the waterfall (plunge pool).
Why you should do it: Due to the warnings from the state and the inherent dangers of this trail we do not recommend this hike.
Trail length: .3 miles (one way)
Nevertheless, despite the warnings, a steady stream of visitors make the hike daily. Many of the visitors do the hike on a whim after seeing people at the bottom of the falls from the main viewing area overlooking the falls.
The start of the trail is approximately 100 feet to the right of the viewing area behind a guardrail and a fence. When we were there last there was a hole in the fence. If there is no hole, one must walk to the end of the fence and backtrack to the start of the trail where it is marked by the warning signs.
The trail is approximately a third of a mile long but the crux of the trail is down a very steep and slippery slope. Hikers must hold on to roots, limbs, and handy ropes if present to safely navigate the slope. The trail can be completed in about 15-20 minutes each way.
An alternate trail, to the left of the ropes, when going down and to the right when coming up. It’s considered to be much easier by some hikers and the start point is below the left end of the fence. Serious injuries have occurred on this slope, including broken arms, necks, and backs.
Another trail, to the left of the main viewing area, takes you down a short distance to the top of the waterfall. This trail is also behind a fence in a prohibited area. It’s not the only hike in Kauai that leads to a waterfall by the way.
As with all waterfalls, safety is of paramount concern. Visitors should not swim near the falling waters. Swimmers could be pulled underwater or be hit by debris such as rocks and logs that come over the falls. The logs that surround the plunge pool are from the falls. Flash flooding should also be a concern.
We do not recommend this hike due to the warning signs from the state. Nevertheless, for those who would risk injury and fines (up to $500) from the authorities, the hike provides an opportunity to see one of Kauai’s premier attractions from a forbidden, unique, and powerful perspective.
The bottom of Wailua Falls can also be reached via a “legal” hike from points farther down on the Wailua River that does not involve the steep, prohibited slope.