Secret Falls (Uluwehi)

Length: 4 miles of river kayaking plus 2 miles of jungle hiking

Difficulty: Moderate


Getting There

You'll be bombarded on Kauai with Secret Falls advertisements. There are plenty of local tours that take visitors down the east coast's Wailua River to the falls. These tours are usually very entertaining and are a great way to meet new people, but it's possible to find the falls on your own. All you need is access to a kayak.

You might have free access to a kayak at your accommodation. You can also rent a kayak in nearby Kapaa Town even if you don't have a truck. Many kayak rental companies are glad to lash the kayak to the roof of your sedan or economy car, and it's very easy to dismount.

You'll need to take your kayak down to the Wailua River Marina. It's easy to find as the Kuhio Highway crosses over the Wailua on its way into Kapaa. Just know that the well-signposted marina on the Lihue side of the river is for the tours. You'll have to drop your kayak into the water on the northern side of the river towards Kapaa. It's not as well signposted, but it's fairly easy to find. The “boat ramp” is a dirt patch that drops into the river.

The Trail

Once in the river, you simply paddle inland. You'll likely be on the river with a few tours, so you'll quickly notice there's a flow of traffic. The wide river becomes narrower and eventually splits in a mile and a half. Make sure to stay right as the river continues to narrow as it enters a rainforest.

You'll find the trailhead to the falls when you simply cannot kayak any further. You'll likely see a tour kayaks lashed together and tied to a tree. Feel free to pull your kayak up onto the rocky beach. You'll know that you're at the trailhead because there will be a few metal signs posted with warnings for oncoming hikers.

Now it's a relatively flat and easy hike to the falls. The track is easy to follow, but you'll have to cross the river in the first quarter mile. This can be nearly impossible if the river is high, but it's usually pretty easy. The tour companies have even installed a rope that you can hold onto as you carefully step through the current on a bed of river rocks.

The other side of the river is where you'll be greeted by Kauai's slick red dirt. With so many tours operating in the area, the dirt is likely to become slick and wet. But here's a local tip -- don't try to avoid it. By gingerly dancing around the red dirt and its puddles, you'll slow down your hike, and, most importantly, you'll increase your chances of a fall. Embrace the mucky track. Just remember to bring a pair of shoes that you don't plan on bringing home with you.

You'll pass through open areas covered in flowers, but most of the track will take place under the rainforest's canopy. The trail meanders along a slow-moving river before turning inland past the remnants of an ancient Hawaiian settlement. This is where a tour guide would usually stop to teach you some history, but you'll likely pass right by the ancient site without noticing.

At the very end of the trail, you'll go up and over a short rocky ridge. That's where you'll find the falls. If you're a beer drinker, the scene may strike you as the image on Kona Brewing's Wailua Wheat bottle.

It's a picturesque falls dropping uniformly from the top of the forest canopy. There's a beautiful little pool at the bottom that is great for a refreshing swim, but you may be frustrated by the traffic. Those tours tend to fill this pool with swimmers of all skill levels. You'll likely have to wait to sit directly underneath the falls or to take a picture with the cascade.

If there's not a tour in the pool, you'll likely find a tour group eating lunch on the ridge. That's the best time to jump in the water as you'll have the scene mostly to yourself. But here's another local tip -- head out to the falls on Sunday.

No tours run on Sunday, so you'll only be sharing the falls with a few other locals. There is one caveat, though. Locals are allowed to use their speed boats down Wailua River on Sundays. You'll have to be careful as you kayak out to the trailhead, and you'll definitely have to fight the waves thrown up by the boats as you paddle. Don't make the Sunday trek unless you are supremely confident in your kayaking and swimming skills.

Another warning -- you can lose the trail in the rainforest, but, if you do lose the trail, just stick to the river and you'll eventually end up at the falls without turning inland. And it's a lot easier to follow the path on the way out. Of course, if any of this is intimidating, you can always join a tour with a knowledgeable, friendly and funny guide that'll feed you lunch.


  • Wear sunscreen as you'll be exposed to the sun during your two-mile kayak.
  • You may want to bring insect repellent as you may encounter mosquitoes while picnicking at the falls.
  • Do not try to cross the river if the water level is high or the current is strong.
  • The spray of the falls can sting when sitting directly underneath the falls.
  • Do not disturb the rock formations and floral arrangements at the falls. These are sacred sites set up by the locals.
  • Wear sturdy shoes for the hike, and you may want to think about packing in some water shoes. The pool has many sharp rocks that can be painful.
  • Always pack plenty of water for any hike in the humid heat of Hawaii.

Only attempt this hike on your own (by on your own we do suggest going with a friend, we just mean not with a tour) if you have access to a kayak, are an experienced kayaker and are a capable swimmer in case the boat capsizes. In fact, it's recommended to wear a life jacket as you kayak.


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Price: Free
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Wailua, Kauai