Waipo’o Falls is an 800-foot waterfall on Kokee Stream dropping in two tiers. It is located in the heart of Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
The falls can be seen from various lookouts along the canyon road. Your first glimpse of the falls is at the Waimea Canyon Overlook, past mile marker 10 on Highway 550. There is a second (and much better) viewpoint a couple miles up the road at the unsigned Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout, a roadside turnout just before mile marker 13. Although still quite a distance away from the waterfall, it feels much closer.
You won’t be disappointed by this lovely hike that starts off amongst the forested bird-lands on the rim of Halemanu Canyon. This is a popular hike for families and is considered one of the outstanding hikes on all of Kauai. The hike to the top of the falls begins between the 14 and 15-mile markers. The beginning of this trail will take you from Highway 550 and along Halemanu Road for .75 miles to the trailhead of the canyon trail and Waipo’o Falls Trail. The only downside is that once you reach the end of the hike, you can’t really see the falls beneath you; however, the Canyon views are phenomenal. This beautiful hike will lead you along the canyon’s rim giving you a unique vantage point of the canyon and Kokee Rain Forest.
The flow rate of the falls depends on precipitation like most falls on the islands. During the summer months, there will not be much flow at all and it may even be dry. But, if you are fortunate enough to see it in the winter or after a lot of rain, it is really quite impressive.
This 151-foot waterfall is one of the island’s most accessible major waterfalls since it can be viewed from the road. At mile marker 6, Route 580 heads inland for three miles (5 km). Route 580 is called Kuamoo Road at this point, and it is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the Opaeka’a Falls’ parking lot and overlook (on the right-hand side). Route 580 goes through a notch in the ridge that the Wailua River has eroded.
The waterfall is located on the Opaeka’a Stream in Wailua River State Park. “Opaeka’a” means “rolling shrimp,” opae means shrimp and ka’a means rolling, which were once abundant in the stream. Walk uphill from the Opaeka’a lookout and across the road for another great view of the Wailua River valley and interior plains beyond. From this vantage point, you can get a good look at where Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed, along with Jurassic Park and Outbreak. If you look to the right, you can also get a good look at Kamokila Hawaiian Village.
The falls flow year round. Most of the time, it falls in a double cascade but the two sides may become one after a heavy rain. The falls are at their best in full sunlight (late morning usually).
Note: You may hear about a “hidden” trail to the falls that begins beyond the overlook, right around the two-mile marker past the guardrail. There are no state-maintained trails to either the top or the bottom of the waterfall from the Kuamoo Road overlook.
This hike is worth the many stream crossings and the up and down terrain. Start your adventure at the end of the road on the North Shore at Ke’e Beach, to hike the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail. The trail will climb steadily for the first mile to an elevation of 400 feet. Don’t let this discourage you, as soon as you reach the first ½ mile vista, you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the Napali Coastline and an aerial view of Kee Beach. As you continue on the trail, switching from ocean views to scenic valley beauty, you will see wonderful little waterfalls and all the beauty nature offers. In the final descent to the beach. your muddy, tired and hot feet will be very happy to see the Hanakapiai Stream that is fed from the waterfall 2 miles up. Wade across the stream to the beach, but before you continue on to the falls make sure to enjoy Hanakapiai Beach for a few moments, best spent sitting in the cold stream cooling down before the next portion of your journey. Note that the ocean here isn’t suggested for swimming. Even when it looks calm there is quite a current and shore break.
For those that continue on to the falls be ready for a 760 foot elevation gain from the beach. You will switch back and forth over the stream as the trail winds through bamboo forests, mountain apple trees and vines which are scattered throughout. Be careful towards the end when you get closer to the falls. There are slippery spots that are narrow and can be slightly dangerous if you’re not paying attention. When you arrive you are rewarded with a breathtaking 300 foot waterfall with a wonderful swimming area below, which is fantastic to cool off in after your hard work. Make sure to bring a lunch and some water so you can spend some time enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime view. When you are all ready to head back to the real world, just return back the way you came. The total trip is 8 miles and takes around 5 hours so make sure you give yourselves enough time on the day you choose to do this hike. Also be aware of weather as if it’s raining the stream will rise very quickly and this is how some get stuck in the valley and have to be airlifted out.