Kauai is by far the wettest island in the state of Hawaii, so it’s only natural that its lush tropical rainforests and massive sea cliffs are practically bursting with gorgeous waterfalls. The island’s own Mount Waialeale receives more than 400 inches of rain each year on average.
Since Kauai is famous for its dense vegetation and epic mountain terrain, many of the waterfalls are difficult to access, either requiring a taste for extreme hiking or a helicopter ride with a hefty price tag. However, the island also provides a number of falls with less restriction that are much easier to view via car, lookout or a short walk.
So, with all of the breathtaking options for viewing waterfalls on Kauai, how could you possibly choose? We’ve rounded up where to find the 10 best waterfalls on the island (and the best ways to see them) so you won’t have to!
Located in Wailua on Kauai’s east side, Opaeka’a Falls is known as one of the most accessible waterfalls on the island. The best way to see these 150-foot cascading falls is from the convenient lookout, complete with picnic tables and restrooms. Starting on the east side of the island from Highway 56, drive about 2 miles up Route 580 (aka Kuamoo Road), and you’ll see the signs for the Opaeka’a Lookout right around mile marker 6. Opaeka'a translates into “rolling shrimp” and dates back to when the river below was abundant with little crustaceans bouncing under the weight of the falls.
Sometimes referred to as “Secret Falls,” Uluwehi Falls ceased to be a true secret many years ago. With its location along the Wailua River Basin on Kauai’s east side, the best way to access these falls is by kayak. Experienced kayakers familiar with the area may want to rent a kayak to explore on their own, but most visitors will opt for a guided tour. The journey will consist of a 45-minute paddle up the river, followed by a 20-minute hike through the jungle of the Wailua River Valley towards the falls.
A 300-foot waterfall located within Na Pali Coast State Park, the trail to Hanakapiai Falls is part of the famous hike to Kalalau Valley. Start at the trailhead at Hā'ena State Park and hike about 2 miles to Hanakapiai Beach before following the signs to Hanakapiai Falls. The whole hike will take about 8 miles round-trip through multiple stream crossings, so hiking experience is recommended. Unexpected rainy weather is not uncommon on this part of the island, and can result in heavy stream flow that seems to come out of nowhere. If you choose to invest the time and effort, this unique rainforest waterfall will make the journey well worth it.
Fans of the original "Jurassic Park" film will recognize Manawaiopuna Falls from the early scenes of the movie where a helicopter lands at its base. For this reason, these falls are now commonly referred to as “Jurassic Falls.” Located on privately owned land within the Hanapēpē Valley on the west side of the island, the only way to recreate the movie at Manawaiopuna is through a reputable helicopter company with permitted landing access. Others are allowed to fly near the waterfall (which make for some pretty spectacular views on its own), but you’ll have to book a flight with Island Helicopters to land.
With its 85-foot double-tiered falls and 30-foot pool below, Wailua Falls may just be the most recognized waterfall on the island. Looking down you’ll see patches of Kauai’s famous greenery peeking through the rocks, and frequent early morning drizzles of rain often result in wisps of rainbows from the spray of the falls. The parking lot is located just north of the town of Lihue about 3 miles up Maalo Road, and the lookout overlooking the falls is easily accessible on foot from there. Also noteworthy is the proximity of Wailua Falls to the Lihue Airport (about 6 miles), so it is a great first stop after grabbing your rental car.
At a massive 800-feet tall, Waipo’o Falls can be seen from pretty much anywhere you look in Waimea Canyon on the northwestern side of Kauai. On Highway 550, view the falls from the Waimea Canyon Overlook near mile marker 10, or from Pu'u Ka Pele lookout about 3 miles further. Many choose to take the Canyon Trail to the top of the falls, a moderate, rocky hike of 3.6 miles roundtrip (note that we say “top” of the falls, not to the base of the falls as a majority of waterfall hikes go).
A hike along Kapa’a Stream in east Kauai will take you past all three waterfalls that make up Ho’opii Falls. You’ll enter the trailhead from a residential area down Kapahi Road, but don’t worry, all of the land within about 10 feet of the water is on state territory and not private property. Still, remember to be mindful of signs and be respectful of the neighborhood. At just over 2 miles to get to the first falls through dense jungle (don’t forget the bug spray), this trail is a hidden gem that won’t disappoint.
Mount Waialeale Falls
With an elevation of 5,000 feet, Mount Waialeale is the highest spot on Kauai and one of the wettest spots in the world, so it’s easy to imagine what kind of falls this area has the power to produce. Mount Waialeale Falls (Waialeale meaning “rippling waters” in Hawaiian) is also referred to as the “Wall of Tears” or “Weeping Wall” due to the dramatic lengths of gushing water pouring down the eastern face of the verdant mountains. Much too dangerous to pursue on foot, the only way to see these falls up close is via helicopter.
While it’s technically possible to view Kalihiwai Falls from a distance off the side of the road near the Kalihiwai River Bridge, the overlook which previously made the falls more accessible was closed a while back. Now, the only way to get up close and personal with Kalihiwai Falls is through a hiking tour from Princeville Ranch, the owners of the property. Apart from the ability to swim under the falls at its base, the tour will also provide interesting history about the surrounding area and some other great views along the way.
Just over 6 miles into the notorious Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s north shore, Hanakoa Falls can reach a whopping 1,000 feet in height depending on the rainfall. Though it is possible to hike there for the very experienced and fit, a permit must be obtained in order to access this part of Hanakoa Valley on the way to Kalalau due to the hazardous drop-offs and rocky hills. If you choose to view Hanakoa Valley from the sky, however, you’ll be able to see the multiple tiers that wouldn’t be visible from the ground below—this waterfall is truly that massive.