Kauai is Hawaii’s fourth-largest and northernmost island. With emerald valleys, rugged cliffs, and majestic mountains draping the island’s most scenic spots, it’s easy to see why its nickname is the “Garden Isle.” As you travel through the island, you will get to explore tropical rain forests, flowing rivers, and cascading waterfalls.
Kauai is also the home of various outdoor activities, including kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking. The island is the ideal place for those who love exploring the outdoors. If walking through beautiful natural scenery and taking a dip in the crystal clear waters of a fall is something you enjoy, here are the best Kauai waterfalls to visit.
Wailua Falls is just north of Lihue, the biggest city in Kauai. See these dramatic falls when you travel to the south end of the Wailua River. It cascades into two streams and plunges over 170 feet into a crystal clear basin.
Several movies often use Wailua Falls and other spectacular spots as the site of their film locations. If you watched Fantasy Island in the 1970s and 1980s, you might recognize Wailua Falls, featured in the opening credits.
With easy access from the roadside and parking lot just close by, you don’t need to hike to reach the falls. If you happen to come in the morning, you might even see a rainbow as the sunlight shines through the falls. If you feel hot and the water looks enticing, you can swim in the refreshing waters of the basin.
Opaeka’a Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai. It is located in Opaeka’a Stream in Wailua River State Park, situated on the eastern side of Kauai Island. The falls run over basalt created by volcanic eruptions years ago, plunging over 150 feet into a hidden basin. The word “Opaeka’a” means “rolling shrimp,” as these were once abundant in the river and would tumble over the falls.
If you want to view the falls, you need to head up Kuamo’o Road, until you get to the pullout for Opaeka’a Falls. Standing there gives you a spectacular view of the falls. The best time to go is in the late morning when the sun is high up in the sky. The falls flow steadily for the whole year round, so you can visit any time you want.
Cascading down 800 feet is Waipo’o Falls, a waterfall that you can see from various places along the canyon road. It is a popular hike for families and takes you through a forest on the rim of Halemanu Canyon. You’ll also get a unique vantage point of the canyon and Kokee Rainforest.
At the end of the trail is Waipo’o Falls where it plunges into a cool stream, lined with fragrant Awapuhi Ginger. You will find yourself perched high above the canyon with a spectacular view of the canyon below. Dip your tired feet into the cool water before you set out to go back.
Mount Waialeale Falls
Mount Waialeale Falls is near Lihue and is one of the highest spots on Kauai Island and one of the wettest in the world. The mountain is at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, and the falls cascade at least 2,950 feet.
Seeing it up close can be challenging as Mount Waialeale Falls is difficult to get to. There is no marked trail, making it easy to get lost along the way. If you do find it, prepare to witness one of the most mind-blowing views of your life. Another way to see it is by taking a helicopter tour of Kauai, as Mount Waialeale Falls is part of the tour.
Hanakapiai Falls is located along the world-famous Na Pali Coast—one of two waterfalls in the area. The trail starts at the end of Kuhio Highway, a few yards away from Ke’e Beach. You will find a signpost that marks the beginning of the Kalalau Trail. This trail will take you on a 22-mile round trip to Hanakapiai Beach and Hanakapiai Falls. If you decide to go further, you can see the second of the falls along Na Pali Coast—Hanakoa Falls.
A couple of miles from the Kalalau trailhead is Hanakapiai Beach, with steep cliffs and scenic coastal views. As tempted as you may be to plunge into the waters for a swim, Hanakapiai Beach has strong undercurrents that are extremely dangerous.
Two miles up the lush valleys beyond the beach lies the foot of Hanakapiai Falls. It plunges about 200 feet into a beautiful pool surrounded by tropical plants. While the hike isn’t easy, the views are beautiful, and there are a lot of wild fruits that you can pick along the way. When you get to the falls, you can relax and take in the beauty of your surroundings or take a refreshing dip in the pool.
If you already find the hike to Hanakapiai Falls challenging, the hike to Hanakoa Falls isn’t for the faint of heart. Most hikers will go for the day hike to take them to Hanakapiai Beach and Falls. This is as far as you can get along the Kalalau Trail without a permit. If you wish to see Hanakoa Falls, you will need to hike further along the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, considered one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world.
Hanakoa Falls is located in Hanakoa Valley—two miles from Hanakapiai Falls. As you hike through the marshy wetlands, you will come across a campsite by Hanakoa Stream or a larger one beyond that where you can set up camp for the night. As you go along Kalalau Trail, you’ll need to take a dirt track that deviates to the left while the Kalalau Trail continues to the right. Orange ribbons mark the trail, making it easy to follow. At the trail end, you will see the falls. It plunges some 1,000 feet through varying elevations and a curved cliffside.
Plunging from a height of 80 feet, the Kalihiwai Falls is a stunning multi-tiered waterfall on the Kalihiwai River, located between Kalihiwai Bay and the town of Princeville. The best way to see the waterfall is at Princeville Ranch, which provides information about Kalihiwai’s geology, wildlife, and history.
You can see the Kalihiwai Falls from the highway bridge, though only two tiers are visible. If you want to hike to the basin of the falls, you can do so as it isn’t hard. Several companies offer guided hiking tours and horseback riding. You can also kayak up the river near the falls. Kalihiwai Falls is also a popular wedding destination.
Known as one of the most gorgeous but most dangerous falls in Kauai, despite its mere 20-foot height is Kipu Falls, which spills onto a deep pool. You may know it as one of the filming locations of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Currently, the falls remain inaccessible to tourists. Grove Farms Company, which owns the land surrounding the falls, decided to block access to the falls due to the number of drowning deaths and injuries.
Uluwehi Falls, situated in the Wailua River Basin on the east side of Kauai, is also called the “Secret Falls.” Its easy access, however, makes it hard for the falls to remain a secret. Water from the falls comes from Mount Waialeale, the wettest spot in Kauai, and cascades gracefully from about 100 feet into a small, clear basin. This basin flows down a stream connecting to the Wailua River, one of the most scenic rivers in Kauai, with its distant views of Nounou Mountain and the Fern Grotto.
The falls are only accessible through a journey up the Wailua River. The best way to see them is through a guided tour which includes a 45-minute kayak up the river, followed by a 20-minute trek through a vibrant rainforest along Wailua River Valley. Go for a refreshing dip at the falls after your hike.
Ho’opi’i Falls is located near Kapa’a in Kauai, along the Ho’opi’i Falls Trail. The trail runs for over a mile and a half long, and if you are traveling with pets, you can take them along with you as long as they remain leashed.
Ho’opi’i Falls is a set of two falls—known as the Upper and Lower Ho’opi’i Falls. The Upper Ho’opi’i Falls is a 15-foot drop that empties into a clear pool. This is the more popular of the two falls, and you will often see people jumping off into the pool below.
The Lower Ho’opi’i Falls is about a mile downstream and cascades 30 feet into a basin. If you watched Jurassic Park (1993), you might recognize the falls, as they were featured in the movie.
Between Na Pali-Kona Forest Reserve and Na Pali Coast State Park, the most famous state park on Kauai is Hoolea Falls. Its stunning views and incredible location attract many visitors.
The falls sit on Kalalau Beach, at the end of an eleven-mile hike on Kalalau Trail that is well-marked and easy to follow. It can be quite a long distance to travel, so you need to be ready to spend a few days on the trail, depending on your pace. The trail crosses various beaches, caves, and lush valleys, allowing you to witness stunning views along the way. At the end of the trail is the 100-foot Hoolea Falls, with water rushing down a volcanic rock wall.
Hiking to the falls requires a valid hiking and camping permit, so be sure to secure both before going on your adventure.
Hinalele Falls is located on Wainha, the most remote and untouched area of Kauai, near the town of Hanalei. This tiny town is the gateway to Wainha Valley, Hawaii’s third-largest natural preserve. It spans over 7,000 acres and consists of one of Kauai’s largest river systems, several majestic mountains, and a part of the Alaka’i wilderness.
The preserve is home to many species, including rare and endangered Kauai birds, and over 40 species of flowering plants only found in Kauai. It is also the home of Hinalele Falls, fed by the Wainiha River.
Hinalele Falls is one of the most remote and rarely-seen waterfalls in Kauai. Most helicopter tours don’t feature it either. You can hike to the waterfall, but it isn’t always recommended due to the dense forest, abundant rainfall, and unpredictable water levels.
Plunging 400 feet down the lush Hanapepe Valley is the Manawaiopuna Falls—also known as the Jurassic Falls for its feature in the opening scenes of Jurassic Park. It is probably one of the most famous falls on the island of Kauai.
Located on private land, only a few people have seen these majestic falls up close. As of the moment, it is not accessible by foot or car. You can, however, choose to see the falls through a helicopter tour.
Queen’s Bath is a unique tidal pool, filled with water that falls from a 15-foot waterfall. Its easy access makes it one of the best falls to visit for those who want to hike waterfalls. On the way to Queen’s Bath, you’ll first see an eight-foot waterfall before the path opens to reveal the refreshing tidal pool and falls that empty into it. The views are incredible—with the shimmering blue waters of the Pacific Ocean providing a stunning backdrop to the falls. Be sure to exercise caution when you explore the area, as the rocks tend to be very slippery.
See The Best Kauai Waterfalls
Kauai isn’t called the “Garden Isle” for nothing. Stunning scenes of verdant valleys, lush rain forests, and incredible waterfalls do their nickname justice. See for yourself when you visit Kauai and explore its beautiful falls.