If you’ve been doing your research for a trip to Kauai, the island being a vast paradise perfect for adventures of a lifetime is an image you’re most likely sure of by now. Kauai, also known among locals as the Garden Island, is surrounded by lush greens, gorgeous rock formations, and golden beaches with white sand shores that tourists love to flock to.
But of course, an island of Kauai’s formation and natural beauty is also bejeweled with majestic falls, which are must-sees for spirited adventurers. Finding some of these idyllic spots require careful navigation, so here’s a guide to locating them without trouble.
Our first spot on the list will be quite out of the way, but definitely worth the tedious trip. The Uluwehi Falls, also known among locals as Secret Falls, is a 100-foot waterfall tucked inside a vast rainforest along the Wailua River Valley. Being at the heart of the forest, this stunning beauty can be accessed by a kayak, and best done with a guided tour.
Normally, tours include a 45-minute kayak up the river, plus a quick trek through mud, wildflowers, and mossy rocks – so make sure to wear appropriate footwear and be ready to get dirty. The trail leads right into the foot of the waterfall, where you can eat with a group and have an energizing swim.
For guided tours, you can find Secret Falls adventure tours providers in Wailua and Kapaa town, where kayaking to the trail starts.
Back in the day, the locals of Kauai worked tirelessly to build irrigation canals by the Wailua River to support their agriculture. Today, a huge part of Kauai’s economy is still supported by farming, but modern solutions have allowed locals to now use the old handmade channels for recreation instead of irrigation. On your trip to the Wailua River, you should definitely jump into a unique freshwater adventure in the Wailua Canals, which involves a slow river ride through dark stone tunnels and end up at a refreshing swimming spot perfect for a riverside picnic.
Guided tours are also available for this one-of-a-kind experience, but spots sell out quickly! If you’re interested to try this interior trip of the island, be sure to book reservations weeks before your trip to Kauai.
Hidden up the north of Kauai is the 1,600-foot beauty, Hanakapi’ai Falls. This magnificent natural formation features a deep cold pool, all enclosed in a high claw-like cliff. To get there, you need to drive up to the end of Hanalei highway, where you can locate Ke’e Beach and the start of the Kalaulau trail. The path starting from the lifeguard tower should lead you to the first cliff of the Na Pali coast, which extends from Waimea Canyon down to the Pacific. Trek another 2 miles on the other side of this cliff, just along the stream, and you will be welcomed by a view of Hanakapi’ai’s powerful rush crashing into the dark pool at its foot.
Next up is a road trip stop we featured on a destination list we recently published – the Oepaka’a Falls. This is Kauai’s most famous waterfall, which can be easily spotted by the road and is fairly accessible compared to the other spots featured on this list. Oepaka’a is a 151-foot tall waterfall that flows over igneous rocks formed from volcanic eruptions that occured millions of years ago. The site features a parking area, a few restrooms, and tables where you can gather for a quick bite and enjoy an incredible view.
To get there, drive to Kuamoo Road between Lihue and Kapaa. It’s impossible to miss, with the other side being a cliff that offers a great view of the Wailua River.
Last but definitely the most challenging to get to, is the Guardian Falls located inside the great Mount Waialeale. Before you plan a trip to this spot, make sure you get a guide who can help you plan how to get there and lead the way on the trek to the foot of the falls.
The trail starts on a treacherous dirt road which is best conquered on a 4×4 vehicle. You may be interested to know that this road was featured in the popular Jurassic Park films, and is part of an open crater on Mount Waialeale. Further into the road, you will discover that no trail to the waterfall exists, and the only way to continue is by trekking through waist-deep mud and hop river rocks. When you reach the heart of the crater, you will find the Weeping Wall and the 1,000-foot Guardian Falls converge, and enjoy a swim in its reviving waters.
At the foot of Mount Waialeale, also known as Blue Hole, you can find locals who are trained adventure guides to accompany you to the falls. This is an adventure that’s sure to get you grimy and strained, so don’t forget to gear up.
And that’s a round up of Kauai’s big 5 – literally gigantic spots worth checking out for a break from the island’s salty waters. Most of these spots are best discovered in a guided tour to ensure your safety and save time. Lastly, make sure to gear up well to make all the climbing and trekking easier. You’re sure to be in for a rough time, but also a good time.
5 Best Freshwater Spots in Kauai [Infographic]