Hiking to the Bottom of Wailua Falls in Kaua’i, Hawaii

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

If you’re looking for one of the most epic hikes in Kaua’i with incredible views for most of the hike, Kalepa Ridge Trail should be near the top of your list. Some hikes make you work for a view, not so with this one. This out and back ~2 mile hike will present instant satisfaction with out of this world views almost from the get-go. So why not hike Kalepa Ridge Trail? Read our Kalepa Trail hiking guide below and get ready for one of the best hikes of your life.

Overview of Wailua Falls

Located on the Eastern side of Kaua’i in Wailua River State Park, Wailua Falls is a popular spot to easily view one of the most beautiful falls in Hawaii. However, most people simply drive up, park, and view the falls on the observation deck parallel to the falls. This is fine and dandy, but if you want to experience the magic of these 173 foot waterfalls up close and personal, hiking down to the bottom is for you.

There is no trail map for this short hike, it simply goes down the side of the 173 foot cliff. It’s not as bad as it sounds, it’s quite doable and not very dangerous in my opinion. However, I do caution you to not take this hike lightly, be able-bodied (no kids, elderly), and bring the proper gear.

Where to Park

I parked on the street at “Wailua Falls” on the map. This is a dead end cul-de-sac with some parking spots. However, I’d recommend going before 10 AM as I could see this filling up quickly.

Distance Traveled

This is a VERY short hike, probably .2 miles total out and back. However, it’s muddy, slippery, and somewhat steep.

How Long Does it Take to Hike?

I arrived at around 9:30 AM and drove off around 11:00 AM. It took me 20 minutes each way, but I spent close to an hour at the waterfall marveling in its beauty. I had the entire waterfall to myself. The way back to the car was far easier than the way down. I would say this will be true for you too if you have some upper body strength.

Elevation Change

While I don’t have official numbers, I’d assume the elevation is close to the height of the falls, 173 feet.

Difficulty

If you exercise regularly this short hike is not too difficult. It’s not like a normal hike where a trail is obvious, however, you will notice a series of ropes someone has tied in between trees most of the way down. If you’re not sure which way to go, look around for a rope leading down. If you don’t have the proper footwear (no sandals!) and don’t have much upper body strength to use the ropes, you may struggle on this one.

Overall, I’d give this hike a 7 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

You don’t need any permits for this hike.

Cost

There is no cost to do this hike.

When to Go

You can hike to the bottom of Wailua Falls year round, even in the rainy season (like I did) in December. Like any of the trails in Kaua’i, it’s better to go when it’s not raining or didn’t rain heavily the day before. This trail is especially muddy as it’s mostly at steep angles in the jungle.

Recommended Gear

Hiking down to the bottom of Wailua Falls is a fun short little hike with massive payoff at the bottom of the falls. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: Depending on the weather, I’d recommend wearing layers. I wore shorts and a t-shirt because the weather was in the high 70s. If you do go and it starts to rain, you may want a light raincoat that can also be used as a wind shield. Also, make sure you wear your bathing suit or shorts that can be used as one.
  • Water shoes: While I usually use hiking shoes on most trails, I chose to use my water shoes I purchased on Amazon before the trip. These were lightweight, had surprisingly good traction, and most importantly, were waterproof. My shoes got considerably muddy, so make sure you wear at least hiking shoes.
  • Bug spray: This is one of the only areas I experienced quite a few mosquitos biting me. I’d suggest using bug spray while in the parking lot.
  • First aid kit: It’s a good idea to bring Band-Aids, a bandage, and some cut cleaning items. I have needed band-aids in the past from slipping on rocks, but I did not on this hike.
  • Sunscreen: While you’re mostly in the woods getting down to Wailua Falls, you’ll most likely be in some sun down at the bottom near the falls.

Water Shoes Hiking to the Bottom of Wailua Falls

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your Wailua Falls hiking experience even better:

  • Phone tripod: If you go alone or with a group and want great pictures, a phone tripod is key. I use one on every hike I go on.

The Play By Play: My Route Hiking to the Bottom of Wailua Falls

So what’s it like hiking down to the bottom of Wailua Falls in Kaua’i, Hawaii? I didn’t see much information online about it, but I went for it anyway. It’s a much safer route than attempting to climb down to Opaeka’a Falls, which I DO NOT recommend trying.

Getting to the Trail

Getting to the “trail” is quite confusing as there isn’t much information out there about it. As you walk along the observation area, you’ll see a fence that connects to the concrete ledge. Jump over the concrete ledge behind the fence and follow it about 50 yards. There is a fence that curves to the left and it appears that that is the correct way down, but you haven’t gone far enough yet. Duck under this curved fence and continue along the side of the fence another 20-3o yards. You should see (I believe) 2 signs before you start heading down the trail.

Hiking Down to Wailua Falls Entrance to Trail

Going Down the Trail

Once you get about 50 yards along the side of the fence, as pictured above, you’ll see these 2 trees, which is the area you’ll turn left and start going down the hill:

Hiking Down to Wailua Falls Hike Down Point

Here is the very first set of ropes you’ll see once you start going down (about 30 feet below the starting point – You can see the fence in the beginning of my video below):

There are moments on this short trail that you may not know which direction to go. Always look for ropes, as they mark the correct route down:

As you may be able to see, it’s quite steep in some areas. I went down backwards while grabbing the rope 1 hand a time. The final stretch of this mini hike is quite steep. You’ll know it’s the final stretch as you’ll hear the waterfalls getting louder and you’ll see an opening of light towards the bottom (it’s quite dark inside the trees):

I’d advise you to go slowly on the way down as it’s slippery, steep, and the lighting is dim.

Wailua Falls

So now at this point, you’ll have hiked down the series of ropes, and this is where the magic starts:

The surrounding area is stunning:

The sun decided to come out right when I was at the bottom, shining from the opposite side of the falls and creating a magical mist through the steam:

Sun Shining Through Mist at Wailua Falls in Kaua'i, Hawaii

About My Experience Hiking Down to the Bottom of Wailua Falls

Overall, hiking down to Wailua Falls was amazing. I was a little hesitant to do so because of the lack of information out there about doing so, and also the fear of the unknown. This trail was not that bad to go down because of the ropes tied down in between trees, which helps you climb down easily.

Favorite Parts

Here are a few of my favorite parts of hiking down to the bottom of Wailua Falls:

Repelling Down Using Ropes:

Repelling down parts of the trail was quite entertaining. Whomever tied these ropes did a good job, as they are sturdy and ready for use. The angles down and up aren’t anything too crazy, but these ropes definitely help you keep balance on the slippery surface.

Isolation:

I loved that I was the only person down at the bottom for over an hour. Everyone else visiting viewed the falls from the observation point and then drove off. This was the only location on the entire island of Kaua’i that I had complete isolation, which was a dream, especially soaking in such beauty as the Wailua Falls.

Wailua Falls:

Ok this goes without saying. Wailua Falls, while pretty cool from the observation point, is SO MUCH BETTER when at the base. It’s a magical experience to feel Wailua Fall’s raw power while soaking in the sun and mist.

Least Favorite Parts

Here is my least favorite part of this hike:

Slippery, Muddy Surface:

Okay so climbing down, it’s relatively steep and slippery. I didn’t fall, which is surprising by my standards. If you’re careful and watch your footing and balance, you’ll be fine on this one.

Mosquitos:

No one I know likes mosquitos. Maybe you do? If not, then be sure to wear bug spray. In the middle of the isolated jungle climbing down to the waterfall, there were quite a few of these little guys biting me. But surprisingly, once I arrived at the falls, they disappeared. So you should be in the clear near the water.

Recommendations After the Fact

Now that I’ve done this short hike, I’d recommend that:

  • You dress appropriately. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and wet
  • Get water shoes, or at least hiking shoes. Don’t use flipflops
  • Be able-bodied: If you don’t exercise at all, I wouldn’t recommend this one
  • No kids or elderly: This is a hike that I’d leave the kids at home and not take elderly down. It’s not a simple walk down

Overall Score

Hiking down to the bottom of Wailua Falls is amazing. I loved every second of this mini adventure. While I wouldn’t rate the actual hike highly as it’s short and somewhat not even a hike, the overall experience of Wailua Falls is a 9.5 for me. This was one of the most memorable moments I had while in Kaua’i, simply for the solitude of being down there alone and the excitement seeing the falls up close and personal gave me. If you’re able to, do this one!

Final Thoughts on Hiking to the Bottom of Wailua Falls in Kaua’i, Hawaii

If you need a quick adventure in Kaua’i, I highly recommend hiking to the bottom of Wailua Falls. Not only will you get amazing pictures and video, you’ll be able to recharge at the bottom of the falls with few to no people.

Happy wandering to you!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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