Part of the Hawaiian archipelago, or chain of islands, Kauai is also known as, ‘the Garden Isle’ due to the verdant rainforest that blankets large portions of its surface.
Full of stunning vistas of all different kinds, the island is a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts, nature-lovers and vacationers from all over the world.
With its dramatic geologic formations and the 300 to 600 inches of rain it gets annually, it’s one of the wettest spots on earth, and not surprisingly home to more breathtaking waterfalls per square mile than nearly any other place you’re likely to visit.
Below is a list of 11 amazing waterfalls on Kauai.
1. Wailua Falls
If by some stroke of bad luck you’ve only got time to visit one of Kauai’s many waterfalls, then making it Wailua Falls would be a wise choice.
Located near the Kalepa Mountain Forest Reserve, not far from the town of Lihue, the falls are where the Wailua River splits into two streams before cascading nearly 100 feet to a picturesque pool below.
The river’s flow varies depending on rainfall, and though it’s stunning at any time of the day, many visitors who visit in the morning are lucky enough to get a view of a rainbow caused by the sun’s rays shining through the fall’s mist.
Unlike other Kauai waterfalls, Wailua is visible from the road so you won’t need to leave the car, although you’ll probably want to.
2. Uluwehi Falls
Unlike easily accessible Wailua Falls, Uluwehi Falls, or Secret Falls, is best visited as part of a tour, and unless you’re game for a 50-minute kayak journey followed by a 30-minute hike through some dense rainforest, you may want to leave this one to those a bit younger and fitter. After all, if it were easy to get to it wouldn’t be called Secret Falls.
If, however, you’ve got what it takes, you’ll be amply rewarded for your exertion and determination.
Located on the Lower Wailua River on Kauai’s east side, the river is subject to strong winds and water flow that can vary greatly, making the kayak portion of the journey difficult and even dangerous for those who aren’t in tip-top shape.
If this all sounds like more than you’ve bargained for, consider one of the area’s helicopter tour providers.
3. Opaekaa Falls
Another one of the 11 amazing waterfalls on Kauai, and one of the island’s most accessible, this giant on the Wailua River drops over 150 feet before landing in foam and spray in a secluded pool below.
An easy 2-mile drive up route 580 from Wailua, the falls are easily viewable from a convenient parking and viewing area which also has picnic tables and restrooms that’ll come in handy if you’d like to bring a few sandwiches and sodas and spend the afternoon.
Though most visitors are more than content with the view from the viewing area, if you’ve brought your hiking shoes and want to get away from the crowds, there’s a trailhead nearby. If you follow it for 30 minutes or so, it’ll lead you to a more dramatic vantage point.
Don’t forget your camera, water and a raincoat just in case.
4. Hanakapiai Falls
If viewing a stunning waterfall with a nearly 300-foot vertical drop is worth working up a sweat over, then lace up those hiking boots.
Located near a beach of the same name, Hanakapiai Falls is about a 4-mile walk round trip.
The trail can be slick and treacherous in spots and is subject to rain showers that seem to come out of nowhere, so pack appropriately and don’t forget water and an energy bar or two as the tropical humidity can really suck the juice out of you.
The views of the falls will be well worth the effort, as will the scenery along the way as you hike through bamboo forests and tropical jungle.
For those who’d like to be led by a professional and learn of the area’s history and geology, guided tours are also available.
Consider spending a half-day at the falls and the other half at Hanakapiai Beach.
5. Waipo’o Falls
With a nearly 800-foot drop into the canyon below, Waipo’o Falls in northwest Kauai is a little hard to miss.
With multiple viewing areas from Highway 550 leading from Waimea Canyon, you’ll have ample opportunity to view these falls without burning any calories or even getting your feet wet.
If you’ve had a big breakfast and are brimming with energy, you can follow the Canyon Trail, which is only moderately difficult considering the elevation changes nearby.
The hike will give you better views of the nearby canyons than they will of the waterfall, but they’re striking in their own right.
You’ll get great views of the pools above the falls too, but remember that the water flow over the falls can vary greatly, and nearly dry up in the summer months, so plan your trip accordingly.
6. Ho’opii Falls
Considered one of Kauai’s hidden gems, Ho’opii Falls, located on the island’s eastern shore, drop nearly 600 feet from top to bottom, and it won’t be a place where you’ll run into mobs of camera-wielding tourists either.
Located on an unmarked trail off the beaten path, your reward will be undisturbed views of the area’s flora and fauna, and two waterfalls, both of which have the same name.
The hike is just a little more than two miles and considered only moderately difficult, but it can be hard to find, so ask around before you go.
The falls are on the Kapaa Stream near the town of Kapaa, and along with another of Kauai’s waterfalls, was used as backdrops for shooting Jurassic Park in the early ‘90s, putting them squarely near the top of the list of 11 amazing waterfalls in Kauai.
7. Mount Waialeale Falls
In Hawaii’s native language, Waialeale means ‘rippling waters,’ and considering the area’s nearly 600 inches of yearly rain, it’s probably an understatement.
Shooting up from the earth to nearly 3,000 feet, Mount Waialeale traps warm, moisture-rich clouds blowing in from the sea, forcing them to deposit their contents on the nearby mountains.
Also known as the, ‘Wall of Tears,’ these falls are among the most dramatic on Kauai, but unless you’ve got pockets deep enough to see them via helicopter, you’ll probably have to be content with seeing them on postcards and travel websites, as they’re nearly inaccessible by any other means.
Permanent emerald green moss on the sheer mountain face are more reminiscent of Ireland than Hawaii.
8. Kalihiwai Falls
Located on Kauai’s north-central cost between the town of Princeville and Kilihiwai Bay, Kalihiwai Falls are scenic multi-tiered falls that are accessible by car, but to get the most out of your trip consider seeing them on foot or horseback, as a major viewing area near the bridge over the Kalihiwai River has recently been closed.
If you decide on a guided tour, you’ll get an excellent overview of the area’s history, geology and wildlife, and some stunning views not only of the waterfalls, but also of the north shore and the area’s private ranches.
The lower-tier falls are great places to do a bit of swimming and exploring, or even take a picnic lunch and a book and make a day of it.
9. Hanakoa Falls
Also located on the stunning and popular Napali Coast, Hanakoa Falls is tucked into the scenic mountains at about the halfway point of the Kalalau Trail.
From top to bottom the falls are said to be nearly 1,000 feet, but due to elevation changes and natural obstructions, only partial tiers are visible from the viewing areas along the trail.
If you plan on hiking all the way to the falls, you’ll need to get a permit, which you can pick up at the government offices in the town of Lihue.
If you don’t plan on camping, you’re able to purchase a day hiking permit, and though it’s a pain in the neck dealing with a government agency while on vacation, the minimal time investment will be dwarfed by the views and experience.
10. Hoolea Falls
Though not as majestic as some of the more popular waterfalls on the island, Hoolea Falls’ true appeal is its location between Na Pali Coast State Park and the Na Pali-Kona Forest Reserve, just a stone’s throw from a world-class beach and resort area.
Even so, the falls are impressive in their own right and are relatively easy to get to from the well-marked trailhead behind Kalalau Beach.
There are even camping areas adjacent to the beach if you’d like to take in all the area has to offer and spend the night sandwiched between forest-covered mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
And on a more delicate note, the area is known as a place where it’s A-OK to go au-naturel, so don’t be alarmed if you see a bit more flesh than you’re expecting on the beach and hiking trail.
11. Kipu Falls
For those brave travelers who don’t mind trespassing and putting themselves at risk of a fatal fall from lofty heights, Kipu Falls may be just what the doctor ordered.
Though technically on private land, the falls are upstream from the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, and the area has been a favorite swimming hole of the locals for as long as anyone can remember.
The falls themselves can be very powerful, especially during the rainy season, making swimming an activity that should only be enjoyed by the fit and fearless.
Located on the Huleia Stream, the best view of the falls are from the bottom, and only accessible by a steep and slippery rock face from which a few have fallen to their deaths over the years.
If you’d rather not go home in a body bag, stick to the pool at the top portion of the falls.