This guide to the best waterfalls you can swim in Kauai showcases the subset of the waterfalls in Kaua’i Island where you can go for a refreshing dip to offset the tropical heat of the Hawaiian Islands.
We’ve compiled this page as a result of a few trips to the Garden Isle so we have a handle on the waterfalls that you can legally visit let alone swim in. That said, if you are going to go spend any amount of time in any of Kauai’s swimming holes, you definitely need to be fully aware of the risks (e.g. leptospirosis, flash flooding, etc.).
By the way, in addition to the swimming hole waterfalls on this page, we also have a list of the Top 10 Best Hawaii Waterfalls where we showcase our favorites throughout all of the Hawaiian Islands as well as a larger compilation of Kaua’i Waterfalls. We even have a broader page of all the Hawaii Waterfalls that we’ve been to and made write-ups about. All of these lists include waterfalls that did not appear on this post.
In any case, for each of our write-ups, we show you how to visit the waterfall being discussed should it interest you in trip planning for your own waterfall chasing throughout the state let alone the Garden Isle.
The Best Waterfalls You Can Swim In Kauai
Let’s just cut right to the chase and show you what the best swimming hole waterfalls in Kaua’i are, how to access them, and pictures of what they look like.
So without further ado, here are the best of the Kauai Waterfalls that you can swim in that we’ve personally seen and shared with our write-ups…
ULUWEHI FALLS (SECRET FALLS)
If you’re looking to really get wet and have some fun while you’re at it, then this waterfall excursion is what you want. In reality, this waterfall isn’t really secret because it’s the destination of the very popular Wailua River kayak tours. Nevertheless, if you don’t get very wet getting splashed doing the kayak, then you’re likely going to get wet crossing rivers and streams on the hike, and you’ll definitely want to get wet swimming in the large plunge pool beneath the falls. All it all up, and it’s just pure fun for the whole family!
Visit Secret Falls.
WAIPOO FALLS (WAIPO’O FALLS)
Even though you can’t swim at the bottom of the towering 700ft waterfall deep in the heart of Waimea Canyon (also called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), you definitely CAN swim in one of the two smaller waterfalls on the same Koke’e Stream further upstream. That said, unlike the roadside overlooks where you can check out the entirety of the main drops, you’re going to have to earn your swim with a bit of a steep upside down hike along the Canyon Trail. Along the way, you get some different canyon views as well as that of an intriguing natural arch along the way…
Visit Waipo’o Falls.
HANAKAPIAI FALLS (HANAKAPI’AI FALLS)
Of the swimming hole waterfalls on the island of Kaua’i, perhaps this one within the scenic Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park requires the most effort to reach. Not only does its hike cover the first 2 miles of the famed 11-mile (in each direction) Kalalau Trail, it then gets really wet and muddy after crossing the Hanakapi’ai Stream as the remaining 2 miles of the hike involves more stream crossings, ledge scrambling, and a bit of route-finding along the way to the foot of this 200-300ft waterfall. Believe me when you’ll definitely feel that relief from all the hard work when you finally witness this beauty from up close and can’t wait to get in the water!
Visit Hanakapi’ai Falls.
HOOPII FALLS (HO’OPI’I FALLS)
One of the two waterfalls making up the Hoopii Falls (or Ho’opi’i Falls) has a swimming hole, and they’re both tucked away behind residences within the Wailua Homesteads community. For that reason, it’s one of the few waterfall spots left that remain uncommercialized though I’m sure it probably creates tension with the homeowners near its hidden trailhead. It definitely had that kapu feel when we first came here in December 2006, but over the years, I guess the availability of information through crowdsourced sites like AllTrails blew up this place’s popularity and made it even more of a bitter pill to swallow for locals. That said, hopefully, this place remains accessible given that it’s technically on state land though it’s definitely surrounded by lots of private property.
Visit Ho’opi’i Falls.
Doesn’t Kaua’i Have More Swimming Hole Waterfalls?
The short answer to this question is yes, and I’ll talk about some additional examples below. However, there are issues that you need to be aware of concerning these waterfalls.
Visiting Wailua Falls is totally legal, but accessing the South Fork Wailua River at the bottom of the falls is not. That said, as you can see in the photo above, the state-erected fencing didn’t stop determined visitors from making the somewhat sketchy scramble to get down here and truly experience this place. The state felt compelled to prohibit people from getting to the base of the falls due to liability fears, where a perverse incentive by irrational decision-making authorities essentially created a business case for certain lawyers and complicit slip-and-fall lawsuit accomplices to squeeze landowners out of money. Who knows what the future access of this place will look like as more barricades (making the scramble even more dangerous) gets erected and even more emboldened visitors find ways to bypass the countermeasures in an ever-evolving dangerous game of cat-and-mouse?
Read More About Wailua Falls.
OPAEKAA FALLS (‘OPAEKA’A FALLS)
This may be one of the easier waterfalls to visit because it has a sanctioned-but-distant lookout that’s roadside with a walkway leading across the busy Kuamo’o Road towards another lookout over the Wailua River. However, getting to the bottom of this waterfall was a whole other can of worms. That’s because just days prior to our first visit to Kaua’i back in December 2006, a pair of women died here trying to find a way to scramble down the feral pig trails en route to the base of the falls. It really exposed the tension caused by the ambiguous and often contradictory legal stance of trespassing laws, slip-and-fall lawsuits, personal responsibility, and landowner liabilities that plague all of the Hawaiian Islands. And you can see often-contentious discussions about this topic here and here). Needless to say, it’s better to stick to the sanctioned lookout with this one despite how it was once possible to do the hike provided you know what you’re doing.
Read More About ‘Opaeka’a Falls.
Kipu Falls was once a swimming hole on private property where the landowner tolerated public access, and we happened to be able to come here on our first visit back in December 2006. That was until increased notoriety and subsequent slip-and-fall injuries created pressure for the landowners to cut off access. As was too often the case with private waterfalls that had the aloha of landowners for the public to visit, all it takes is a few people who refuse to accept personal responsibility and complicit parties on the authority side to ruin it for everyone else. Sadly, for the island of Kaua’i, this was apparently exhibit A of such a swimming hole, and that’s why the landowners are now vigilant about keeping people away.
Read More About Kipu Falls.
As for Kalihiwai Falls, it was also once a waterfall that the public were able to access until Princeville Ranch enforced their private property boundaries and only allowed visits to the falls by a guided tour. The only public way to see the falls back when we visited in December 2006 was to walk onto the bridge and take in a distant view from there (kind of dicey when you consider how fast people drive on the bridge). That said, Princeville Ranch did offer guided tours to the base of this waterfall, where there were opportunities for a swim in the Kalihiwai River. However, when we tried to book a tour for our November 2021 return visit to Kaua’i, Princeville Ranch told us that they no longer offered tours to that waterfall. So that pretty much nixed this place as a possible swimming hole waterfall.
Read More About Kalihiwai Falls.
Finally with Kilauea Falls, we never had the opportunity to witness this wide waterfall as housing developments and private property encroaching on the once publicly-accessible road and trail pretty much made it kapu before our December 2006 visit. While I’ve seen examples where perverse economic incentives at trying to grab real-estate and/or resource extraction wealth would cut off once publicly-shared assets in California, this was a prime example of such a development in the island of Kaua’i. So there went this natural attraction and swimming hole as far as the aloha for the public to enjoy.
Indeed, as you can see by how the kapu waterfalls outnumber the ones you can legally visit, Kaua’i (and the Hawaiian Islands in general) have a rather complicated, convoluted, irrational and ultimately uncertain situation concerning what places can be visited versus what places are forbidden. I suspect this situation will continue to persist for as long as the legal posturing remain status quo.
Where Are The Waterfalls In Kaua’i?
Besides the detailed descriptions and directions to each of the waterfalls listed above, I thought I’d show you this map of the locations of Kauai Waterfalls.
As you can see, they are pretty much spread out throughout the island, but only a few of them dot the drier western side while the majority of them are found more towards the interior and the northeast side of the island.
That’s because Hawaii experiences trade winds that scoop up moisture from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and blow into the islands as northeasterly winds.
These moisture-laden winds ultimately hit mountains, which then causes the vapors to rise and condense into rain clouds in the center of the island.
It’s what makes Mt Wai’ale’ale one of the wettest spots on earth, and it’s also why the wetter northeast side of the island is considered the windward side while the drier southwest side of the island is considered the leeward side.
And as far as renting a car to enable exploring Kaua’i on your own, there is no road that allows you to go completely around the island thanks to the presence of the Na Pali Coast and the Alaka’i Swamp.
Thus, the road system has more of a crescent shape, where it can get quite busy in the middle between Lihu’e and Kapa’a. I’d count on at least 2 hours of driving to get from Waimea in the southwest to Princeville in the north.
When To See Waterfalls In Kaua’i
The Hawaiian Islands tend to experience a “Wet Season” and a “Dry Season”. The Wet Season tends to occur between October through April while the Dry Season tends to occur between May through September.
Of course, Nature is a chaotic system so it works in terms of likelihoods (or probabilities) of things happening and not in absolute terms. Therefore, these Wet Season and Dry Season variations are merely guidelines based on statistical data along with some anecdotal observations.
Moreover, with Global Warming and Climate Change, these seasonal patterns are prone to changing, and the severity of the rains (and conversely the droughts) are intensifying.
Besides, you can still have good weather during the Wet Season and you can have wet weather during the Dry Season.
Nevertheless, when there is wet weather, the differences in the watercourses (and thus the waterfalls) can be dramatic. It’s the main reason why you need to be cognizant of the flash flooding risk whenever you choose to be near or in the streams and rivers.
This is especially the case in and around (waterfall) swimming holes because they are conducive to inviting people to linger around these flash flood-prone areas.
In any case, I go into far more detail about Hawaii’s seasonal variations in this write-up.
Where To Stay In Kauai
There’s actually no shortage of places to stay on the island of Kaua’i.
However, given that island time (i.e. a mentality about the slow pace at which things can move) tends to conflict with a limited-time itinerary where we wish to fit in as much as we can before going home, there are advantages and disadvantages to specific accommodation locations.
So I tend to think of the logistics of Kaua’i’s accommodations in the following manner.
If you intend to spend more time in the North Shore of the island, Princeville seems to be the best spot to minimize the amount of driving, especially if you intend to spend time hiking the Na Pali Coast as well as boating there.
If you intend to do more activities on the East Shore of the island like the Wailua River kayak, more of the towns and businesses, Wailua Falls, and more, then it might be more advantageous to stay in Kapa’a, Wailua, or even around Lihu’e, which is where the airport is at.
Then, if you’re up for more of the resorts and beaches on the South Shore, there are quite a few of them in the Koloa / Po’ipu area. I know when we’ve chosen to stay there, we had to factor in additional drive times to get to the activities on the rest of the island because they were set back from the main road by at least 15 minutes.
Finally, if you intend to focus your activities more on the quieter West Shore, which is near Waimea Canyon as well as the tours leaving out of Port Allen or Hanapepe, then you might consider staying in Waimea.
This is the main reason why it might be difficult to do everything you want to do in a single trip unless you allow yourself at least about a week. Otherwise, you might be better off concentrating in a particular spot for a few days and leave the other things for a future trip.
Final Thoughts / Conclusion
I hope you enjoyed reading and seeing what we had to say about the best swimming hole waterfalls in Kaua’i (that you can legally visit).
More importantly, I hope you’ve been able to use this resource for your own trip planning needs so you can go out there and experience them for yourself!
If you have questions or comments, feel free to use the form below and tell us what’s on your mind!
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