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The best waterfalls in Kauai
Kauai is known for its epic scenery, incredible hikes, and some of the most stunning views you’ll find anywhere. If you’re looking for the best waterfalls in Kauai, you’re in the right place.
If you’ve been here before, you might know that Kauai is my favorite island in Hawaii. Although Kauai has grown a lot over the years, it still remains less developed and more rugged than the other major islands, and we like it that way!
Kauai is known as “The Garden Island,” and it’s arguably the most beautiful island in Hawaii. The waterfalls in Kauai only add to its beauty. But before we get to the best waterfalls in Kauai, let’s clear up a common misconception about Kauai.
Does it rain a lot in Kauai?
Yes and no. I talk about this in my Maui vs. Kauai post, but Kauai isn’t as rainy as you think. The south shore is almost always sunny, but the north shore does get more rain. However, the rainfall makes for some of the most spectacular rainbows and lush scenery you’ll ever see!
Rainfall tends to be brief throughout Hawaii, even on the North Shore of Kauai, so it shouldn’t interfere with your trip. Just be prepared to put the top back on your Jeep or convertible at a moment’s notice.
Should I rent a car in Kauai?
Renting a car is an absolute must in Kauai. It would be a shame to waste your time on the beautiful garden isle in a resort (even though the resorts in Kauai are beautiful too.)
There aren’t many options for public transportation, so you don’t have much choice. I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You’ll find the best deals, and you don’t have to pay for your rental until arrival. By the way, I recommend a Jeep; it really is a lot more fun!
You can read more about why you need a rental car in Hawaii, but suffice; you’ll need a car no matter what.
The best Kauai Waterfalls
Now that you know not to worry about the rain and that you’ll need a car, let’s get to what you came here for the best waterfalls in Kauai. Finding waterfalls is one of the best things to do in Kauai, and I know you’ll have lots of fun.
How many waterfalls are in Kauai?
I’m not sure if anyone knows the exact answer since it varies depending on rainfall, but there are dozens and dozens of waterfalls in Kauai to be found. Today, we’ll talk about 12 of the most famous waterfalls in Kauai.
Wailua Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Kauai and one of the easiest to find! It’s located close to Lihue, and you can drive up and view this epic waterfall.
I recommend visiting the falls in the morning, where a gorgeous rainbow mist likely surrounds you. Some of Kauai’s famous chickens might even greet you.
Can I swim in Wailua Falls?
You used to be able to swim in Wailua Falls via a short and steep hike. Now it’s blocked off and very difficult to access. I don’t recommend it due to the steepness of the climb and difficulty accessing it. Although I don’t believe it’s illegal per se, it’s highly frowned upon due to being dangerous.
Uluwehi Falls (Secret Falls)
Secret Falls isn’t much of a secret, but it’s not easy to access as many Kauai visitors never see it. You’ll have to kayak and then hike to access Secret Falls. I recommend a guided small group tour.
Manawaiopuna Falls (Jurassic Falls)
Okay, play the Jurassic Park theme song in your head. Manawaiopuna Falls (more commonly known as Jurassic Falls or Jurassic Park Falls) can only be accessed by helicopter tour.
Don’t think you’ll be able to do some hike or something and get to these falls; they’re very far back into the island on private property without a road in sight. That said, I’d highly recommend a helicopter tour!
I personally love Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (that’s who I was flying with when I took these). Also, I’ve sent clients with Sunshine Helicopters and this private tour with Moana Loa Helicopters, and all have had rave reviews.
If you’re on a honeymoon or another romantic vacation, the private helicopter tour is a great option!
Found on the Kalalau Trail (so you’ll need a permit), Hanakapiai Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Kauai and is located on one of the best hikes in Kauai. It’s also near Hanakapiai Beach. The 300-foot vertical drop views on the trail are well worth the effort it takes to get here!
Check out the Hawaii Division of State Parks to get your permit for the Kalalau Trail. And yes, you now need a permit even if you only intend to go as far as Hanakapiai Falls.
The stunning 800-foot Waipo’o Falls can be viewed from the highway, by hiking the Canyon Trail, or by helicopter tour. Or, you can do all 3! The Canyon Trail is a moderately strenuous hike, so if you’re not up for it, fortunately, there are other ways to see this beautiful waterfall in Kauai.
You can also take a Waimea Canyon Tour if guided tours are more your style.
Mount Waialeale Falls (The Wall of Tears)
Another waterfall in Kauai that is only accessible by helicopter tour, The Wall of Tears, is multiple waterfalls! We talked about how not all of Kauai is rainy, but Mt. Waialeale is one of the rainiest places in the world.
Fortunately, this makes for some pretty spectacular waterfalls. Waialeale means “rippling waters,” and it’s a very fitting name.
Located on Kauai’s north coast near Princeville, Kalihiwai Falls are multi-tiered falls that are accessible by car. However, consider seeing them on foot to get the best vantage point.
Opaekaa Falls is probably the second most popular waterfall in Kauai after Wailua Falls. You can also see this waterfall from your car, but it’s even better to hike a bit for a better vantage point! While it’s not one of the taller waterfalls in Kauai, it’s still stunning and a must-see.
Ho’opi’i Falls is located via a moderate 2-mile hike. However, it is unmarked and difficult to find. Fortunately, you can do a tour if you’re interested in seeing this stunning waterfall.
Hoolea Falls are easy to access and are found behind Kalalau Beach near the trailhead of the Kalalau Trail. Although not as impressive as some of the waterfalls on the Kalalau Trail, you won’t need a permit (or stamina to hike 22 miles) to view them!
You’ll find Hanakoa Falls about halfway to the end of the Kalalau Trail. At almost 1000 feet, these are some of the tallest waterfalls in Kauai, although you won’t be able to see the entirety of the falls from the trail.
This is about as far as you should plan to go with only a day hiking permit as it’s over 5 miles down the trail (and 5 miles back!)
Kipu Falls is located on Huleia Stream in East Kauai. While it’s a beautiful waterfall, it’s no longer legal to access, and it’s very unsafe. There have been multiple drowning deaths at Kipu Falls.
Due to the drowning deaths, Grove Farms Company (the land owners) decided to block off the access route. So it’s better to look at photos of these waterfalls vs. visit!
So, why am I sharing this? On my blog, I try to make sure to promote responsible travel. There are other blogs out there recommending visiting this waterfall and other places that are highly unsafe (hello, Stairway to Heaven on Oahu…)
So, I figure I can try to counteract those websites giving bad advice by letting you know that it is both illegal and dangerous to visit here.
Photo from Wikipedia, I practice what I preach and have not seen this waterfall in person, nor do I recommend trying to access it.
Must-see waterfalls in Kauai
Those are some of the best waterfalls in Kauai. How many of them have you seen? What is next on your list?
For more Hawaii travel tips, check out some of my most popular blog posts:
- 20 things you should never do in Hawaii
- 10 best adventure activities on Kauai
- 7 day Kauai Itinerary
- The best restaurants in Kauai
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