As the oldest and most weathered island in the chain, Kauaʻi has more waterfalls than anyone could ever visit thanks to its sheer, jagged peaks and abundance of rain. Below, we highlight the most accessible and impressive waterfalls to check out when visiting.
FAQ: What are the best waterfalls to visit for…
Which waterfall is best for your situation? Below, we answer some commonly asked questions.
When conditions are calm, swimming at Hoʻopiʻi is a popular choice. While a simple dip is usually okay, we advise against jumping off the cliffs.
List of accessible waterfalls
The following 9 waterfalls are our top recommendations for waterfall chasers on Kauaʻi:
- Wailua Falls
- Uluwehi/Secret Falls
- ʻOpaekaʻa Falls
- Hoʻopiʻi Falls
- Kipu Falls
- Waiʻaleʻale Falls
Description: Considered one of the best family waterfall hikes on the island, the 800-foot Waipoʻo Falls can be approached via the Waipoʻo Falls Trail at Waimea Canyon. The gigantic waterfall stands out from the dry, rocky background of the red-walled canyon. The trail also provides other great views of the canyon.
Good to Know: The trail takes you to the top of the falls, so don’t expect to swim at the bottom or be able to see the entire thing from the end of the hike (it is, after all, 800-feet tall). We advise looking at the falls from a distance, from the lookouts at Waimea Canyon, to gain perspective on it before hiking the trail and getting a closer look.
Description: Follow the Kalalau Trail along the Nāpali Coast for two miles and arrive at the 300-foot Hanakapiʻai Falls. The hike is not easy and can be slippery, but if you’re looking for the most adventurous waterfall, this is the one, located deep in a lush valley, far and away from any development. The hike to reach it is part of the allure, with spectacular views of the Nāpali Coast and ocean.
Good to Know: While the Kalalau Trail requires a permit to hike its entire length, you do not need one to visit Hanakapiʻai Falls on a day hike. Be aware of the new parking restrictions at trailhead at Keʻe Beach. Finally, do not attempt to swim at Hanakapiʻai Beach. Many people have lost their lives there.
Description: The 140-foot Wailua Falls is often featured on postcards and media images of Kauaʻi, and it’s easy to see why as it rolls over jungle-covered cliffs and flows into a large pool below. Wailua Falls is perfect for families or photographers and requires no hiking. Simply drive up and enjoy the vantage point from the lookout.
Good to Know: Parking is limited and this waterfall can get crowded, so best to arrive early or late in the day to avoid the rush. Though there was once a trail to the bottom of the falls, it is now closed due to unstable landscape. Please respect all signs and closures.
Uluwehi Falls/Secret Falls
Description: Located in Wailua River State Park, Uluwehi Falls earned the local nickname of “Secret Falls” because, well, before the Internet, there used to be secrets and, perhaps more relevantly, it is not easy to reach. In fact, you have to first kayak up the Wailua River, and then take a 20-minute hike.
Good to Know: Because you have to kayak and then hike to Uluwehi Falls, we recommend jumping on a guided tour that will take you there. Consider this one from Kayak Kauaʻi.
Description: Another classic waterfall of Kauaʻi is ʻOpaekaʻa Falls, located in Wailua River State Park. Viewed from a pullout off the road, visitors can see the 150-foot falls from a distance, backdropped by steep cliffs covered in green vegetation.
Good to Know: ʻOpaekaʻa translates to “rolling shrimp” and was named as such because, at one time, freshwater shrimp were found here in abundance.
Description: Hoʻopiʻi Falls is located in Kapaʻa and reached via the Hoʻopiʻi Falls Trail (1 mile each way). It isn’t very big – just 20 feet or so – but it is beautiful as it cascades down the rocky stream, and it’s a lovely walk and easy for families. Many locals come here to take a dip.
Good to Know: Hoʻopiʻi has an upper and lower falls. Most people stop at the upper falls, so consider continuing downstream on the trail for 15-20 minutes more to explore the lesser-visited lower falls.
You can see what to hike to the Hoʻopiʻi Falls in the following video. Skip to the 2 minute mark to see the falls:
Description: You may recognize this 400-foot waterfall from the movie Jurassic Park (when the helicopter lands at the base of it). For this, it is also referred to as “Jurassic Falls.”
Good to Know: Manawaiopuna is located on private property deep in the interior of Kauaʻi. The only way to reach it is via a helicopter tour. Some fly over top of it; others go as far as to land next to it. If you plan to take a helicopter tour while on island, you may want to consider one that stops at Manawaiopuna.
Description: Kipu Falls, once a popular tourist destination, is now closed to the public. Located on private land, the access point has been closed due to numerous deaths at the falls. Do not attempt to reach this waterfall on your own.
Good to Know: That said, you can still check out the waterfalls in this area on a tour with Kipu Ranch. Consider this one that visit multiple waterfalls.
Description: Also known as the “Blue Hole,” Waiʻaleʻale Falls is reached by a difficult 5-mile (one way) hike that takes you toward the center of the island, where a tremendous amount of water streams down a volcanic basin from Mt. Waiʻaleʻale, considered one of the wettest spots on earth.
Good to Know: This hike can be dangerous due to the amount of water, flash floods, and disorientation. This hike is for experts only, and great care must be taken to watch the weather, as conditions can change in a split second. For this reason, we recommend going with a guide. Consider contacting Kauai Hiking Tours for more information.
Important things to know before visiting our waterfalls
No matter the size or shape, waterfalls contain large amounts of beauty, and visitors will no doubt want to get up close and personal. As you’ll see, it’s possible to swim at many waterfalls, and we encourage everyone to enjoy this unique opportunity. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Please respect the posted signs. Even if other people are violating them, you should heed the advice of posted signs and warnings. Typically, the warnings exist because people have been injured or died in the past due to the unforeseen hazards associated with waterfalls (lack of visibility to see what’s under the surface, rockfall, slipping and falling, etc.).
- If you have open cuts, stay out of the water. Another reason to take posted warnings seriously is that many Hawaiian streams contain the bacteria that causes Leptospirosis. It can enter your body through open cuts and wounds. If you have a cut, it’s best to stay on shore and admire, even if it’s safe to swim otherwise.
- Do not drink the water. Bacteria can also enter your body if you drink contaminated water. Be sure to bring water along with you.
- Wear water shoes or secured sandals while in the water. Many waterfall pools have poor visibility, so water shoes can help prevent cuts or scrapes while in the water. It will also help you navigate the wet rocks, as they can be very slippery and sharp.
- Never jump from a cliff and avoid swing ropes. You may see locals doing this, but you’re not a local. They’re experienced and familiar with the pools; you’re not. Avoid serious injury by avoiding unnecessary risks.