The Tragedy of Sacred Falls, the most beautiful Park on the Island of Oahu

by Mary Ross
(Honolulu, Hawaii)

Prior to the Mothers day landslide that killed 8 people and injured 50 others, on Mothers Day of 1999, Sacred Falls State Park was my favorite hike on this Island.

Between the Years of 1989 and 1999 I, many of my friends, and my daughters, who at that time were between the ages of 8 and 18, (born Sept., 1980, & Nov., 1981) hiked up to this falls dozens of times. Probably at least every 3 to 6 months when we would find a time and a group to go with. It was, and is my favorite place to hike on Oahu.

The water was much deeper, cleaner and clearer, and the pool at the bottom of the falls, much larger than Manoa mudhole.

Sacred Falls is stunning. Much more beautiful than any other on this island. The trail itself is much more user friendly, than Maunawili Falls, which is the second best falls trail on Oahu.

Maunawili at that time, could only be accessed by hiking in from the Pali Lookout, or by running through a residential back yard to get to the trailhead from the end of Auloa Rd. (and hoping not to get yelled at by the residential property owner for crossing his yard to get there)

My best friend, Julie introduced me to this hike sometime around 1989. She had already lived here several years before I moved to Oahu from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and she is an adventurous spirited person. Since I've known her, Jules has always known the cool stuff to see and do, wherever she lives. Here, (Oahu), Florida, (before here) and now Henderson, Nevada. That's one of the reasons we're very close friends, more like sisters, both of us LIKE TO FIND THE GOOD STUFF. (Hiking, diving, mountain biking, kayak trips, exploring the amazing beauty of nature, whatever of nature's amazing grace that is
left to us in our constantly modernizing (paving over everything) world.

Whoever you are, who wrote this article for WORLD OF WATERFALLS, you aren't the only one who noticed that this 1100 ft. waterfall was by FAR, hands down the most beautiful waterfall on this little island. The others, Maunawili, Waimea, Manoa, are alright. This one was truly a gem. Amazing, Amazing.

According to the Hawaii for Visitors website, "Even before that incident occurred, the park was considered dangerous, because deaths had occurred on the waterfall trail when flash floods from rain storms in the mountains swept hikers down the canyon."

Shockingly, sometimes the world is not a very safe place. People may get injured or die doing many things. Like swimming in the ocean, for example. Or surfing. Or throwing their body on top of the spouting blowhole. OR walking across a crosswalk without LOOKING CAREFULLY IN BOTH DIRECTIONS BEFORE CROSSING.

As my friend, Vera, said it best. Sometimes stupidity is fatal.

People hiked up into an extremely steep sided narrowing canyon in a State Park. People chose to ignore, dismiss, or accept the risk entailed in entering this canyon, TEN CLEARLY MARKED signs, at or near the trail head, posted by the State of Hawaii, warning of POSSIBLE LANDSLIDES, slippery conditions, and prone to flash flooding, warned of danger. Sometimes the possibility becomes the reality in any endeavor.

A horrible and tragic loss of life ensued, as well as many injuries.

As unfortunate as that tragedy was, I believe that the larger tragedy is the loss of anyone ever getting the (legal) opportunity to hike up into this beautiful canyon in one of the most gorgeous locations on the face of this planet, never mind on the island of Oahu.

I wish I had photo images to upload, but this is one I never dragged a camera up to, and now it's too late.

Mary R.
Honolulu, Hawaii

Comments for The Tragedy of Sacred Falls, the most beautiful Park on the Island of Oahu

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Apr 08, 2018
by: Anonymous

I was deployed to Hickam AFB. in 1995. I was there for training for only a short time. On my days off I would travel around the Island looking for the natural beauty of the Island. Some of the places I got to see were Waimea falls, toilet bowl, Hanauma bay, blow hole, Dole pineapple factory and the North Shore. Leaving the North Shore I spied a small brown sign that read Sacred Falls. I turned my rental around, parked in the small parking lot and began the hike to the falls. I had no idea what to expect. The hike to the falls was very humid but very beautiful like an enchanted garden weaving in and out of a creek bed leading all the way up to the cliffs. The wild apples and black ginger root along the creek beds were an amazing treat during the hike. When I finally reached the falls I could not believe the incredible views from behind the falls looking down in the valley at the views of the ocean. I swam in the fresh water and took in the views for at least 3 hrs.
I left the Falls that day and was hooked. I have seen many beautiful places in my life time but the power of the falls, the sounds, the lush green natural setting and the view from high up on the mountain side were breathtaking. The next day I returned with a friend and we hiked the trail. At the falls I took at least 100 photos with a disc camera, of the falls, the cliffs and the views of the valley and ocean below. I wrapped the camera in a t-shirt and gently set it in the rocks. We swam in the cool water and behind the falls for hours letting the force of the water push you out into the pool. I have never ever experienced anything like this and probably never will again. As we were about to begin the hike down I grabbed my t-shirt to put it on and lost my camera in the water. I retrieved it but lost all the film and all the pictures I had taken will never be seen. Thank God for the camera of the mind these moments will forever be ingrained in my mind.
I went back to the Falls one more day that week and once again enjoyed another day in Paradise. I was truly blessed to have experienced 3 of the most wonderful days of my life. God had blessed my ignorance to the danger with 3 sun filled days.
The following day I was in my room at Hickam AFB. watching the news when the tragic story broke about a helicopter crash which had just taken place at Sacred Falls while searching for a hiker. I could hardly believe the timing of the entire tragedy. It makes me sad to know that such a beautiful place is closed but for safety sake I guess it makes sense. I was blessed to experience such a beautiful place one I will never forget.

Jun 24, 2017
$2500 fine for 1st violation, $5000 for 2nd, $10000 for 3rd
by: Anonymous

The city does not want you to get hurt. Anyone entering, including first responders, face great risks entering the falls. Don't go in (KAPU) or be prepared to pay $2500 fine for 1st violation, $5000 for 2nd, $10000 for a 3rd violation.

Message from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and first responders.

We are strictly enforcing this. The signs are not just for liability.

Jun 14, 2017
A Kahuna I spoke with about the falls
by: Anonymous

I spoke to a Kahuna who told me that people should not visit that place and that the original name is something different in Hawaiian. (He explained that the translation to English "Sacred Falls" is not a correct translation from the original Hawaiian name) The Kahuna mentioned that when he walked into the trail rocks would fall and he would lay tea leaves and make prayers before proceeding. I lived very near there for five years and remember the Mother's Day tragedy. I have a picture of the falls that I took in 1997 but I'm not sure I know where it is. My children used to hike there but not often. We knew it was a dangerous place so after hiking it once or twice we simply avoided it. There were better, safer, more beautiful places to visit instead.

Dec 04, 2016
Sacred Falls - 1969 to 1999
by: Alan Stachowiak

In 1969 I was stationed in the Marine Corps at Camp H.M. Smith on the island of Oahu until June of 1971. I met a lady named Denise who was an E3 in the Navy and a female corpsman (corpswave?) We hiked many places on the Island discovering sites of natural beauty, remnants of WW II, and other man made objects such as the irrigation flumes. We discovered places such as Waimano Canyon, Kaena Point, the Pali lookout, Crouching Lion Inn, Chinaman's Hat, Blow Hole, and many other wonderful places including the Sacred Falls. We hiked to the falls several times and swam in the pool and jumped off the ledge with the aid of a rope. Years later I met and married my wonderful wife Ann and told her I wanted to take her to Oahu someday and share with her some of the beautiful places that I had seen there. She surprised me with a two week vacation to Oahu, the big island, and Kauai for our 21st anniversary. One of the places we visited was the Sacred Falls. Two weeks later, the accident occurred and the Falls was permanently closed. I wanted to share the falls with my wife, and I did. We saw it and also swam in the pool, and then two weeks later lost the ability to ever do it again. I’ll have to say that I was a bit disappointed with my return to Oahu. In the 28 years that I had been away, the island had changed a great deal. There was trash including couches and other furniture, trash bags, and used baby diapers at Kaena point. Hanauma Bay used to have bright live coral that could be enjoyed while snorkelling. It is now gray, dingy looking, and dead from being walked on and touched. There were also signs all over the island stating that one should not leave valuables in your vehicle. I was told that this was because of the drug trade. We spent 7 days on Oahu, 3 days on the big island, and 4 days on Kauai. Kauai was how I remembered Oahu as being. It was beautiful and we enjoyed snorkelling and site seeing in general. I hope it does not go the way of Oahu in the future.

Sep 11, 2016
Happy to Hike, Never Asked for a Rescue
by: James and Kate

We made this hike in 2009. We knew the risks, avoided the gates and signs and enjoyed the waterfall. If we were killed or injured, no one would have known to rescue us... and that is fine. It isn't the government's job to save our dumb @sses. Now we have a 6 month old. We researched the hike and guess what? We CHOOSE not to go with him because we have a child. Hawaii and most of the US has successfully turned into a big nanny state. Let folks be stupid. Let folks live. Keep the public water running. Keep the streets usable and clean. Hunt murderers and thieves. Other than that the government needs to leave us alone.

Sep 06, 2016
Gratitude and to the others...
by: A visitor

I try to avoid pages like this. However, I want to express my GRATITUDE to all the Emergency Response teams that assisted. I also would love to thank to the military members who me with my daughter. I remember trying to lift a rock that had her legged pinned. I just couldn't get it off. A guy ran over and picked her up and took her to the side. Someone had given me a basketball jersey (I guess it was put on her.) I still have it. The firemen were absolutely wonderful. I know that they did everything they could to save Danielle. Thank you from the depths of my heart!

For the Emergency Response Worker who was one of the first to arrive and feels that the people there put his life at risk to safe others, I am sorry you feel that way. I am sure that the people there would never want to risk anyone's life.

For all the people who continue to say that the visitor's entered out of stupidity, I would say, this is something that was listed in many things as an attraction. I do not know what signs were posted in the 80's. What I do know is that the only signs posted for years warned only of flooding. We had planned several trips, on of which was with a science group of children that we canceled because of recent rainfall. Some of us had NO knowledge of rock falls. Of course, 20/20 is hindsight. None of the locals mentioned anything to me about it until after the falls. So, we didn't CHOOSE to ignore the locals or the signs.

YES! The Falls are beautiful. For me, it isn't worth another life. We lost a beautiful spirit and we all still struggle with remnants of the past.

Whatever they, the state, choose to do about the Falls, is up to them. However, there is no beauty, no tourist attraction that is worth a life.

My love, my gratitude and my heart goes to all who were there for us and for everyone involved.

Jun 03, 2016
We lived there
by: Dawn Emanuellive

On duty for the US Coast Guard, we lived in the Sacred Falls Apartments. The road into our apartments ran parallel to the Sacred Falls State Park trail back to the falls. We never had the opportunity to hike to the falls. There was aways a closed sign on the trail. That was in 1974-75.
Beautiful area to live.

Jan 01, 2016
A Truly Magical Place
by: Linda

My husband, daughter and our many visitors hiked in to Sacred Falls numerous times in the late 80' was such a beautiful hike and the reward at the end of the trail was the magical, clean falls coming down over the dark, dark rock into a deep, clean pool.

The loss of life was a prayers are with those who were hurt and their families...I can see how it could have happened. The trail was slippery and there were several signs warning of slides and flash floods...but I cannot help but feel blessed to have seen and experienced a place of such untouched beauty.

Oct 24, 2015
Oh, to be such a lucky young fool again...
by: Mark

I was just 20 years old when I was stationed in Oahu with the Army's 25th Infantry Division in the mid 1980s. Sacred Falls was one of my regular off duty adventures, along with the Toilet Bowl (now closed) and Hanauma Bay (now under ecological/state restrictions). Looking back I feel first and foremost a sense of profound gratitude for having been able to enjoy (and photograph!) my visits to these places but also, and especially, a gratitude to God and His Angels for protecting a young fool, who not knowing that he did not know, laughing and smiling ran obliviously into mortal peril! My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones there. I can not say why some, like myself, danced by the peril while others paid the ultimate price, seemingly at the whim of chance....but as I enter my 50s I assure you the joy of my memories is tempered by your loss.

Sep 06, 2015
SACRED FALLS - poem re: April 1986
by: SkyBlue Morin

It was a two-mile trek
into the dense jungle growth
from a round clearing
into a fast running creek
over round smooth slippery stones.
One had to bend low
to get into the dense jungle path
while stepping carefully
yet stumbling over tree roots,
into a path of tall jungle plants
a path pink from fuschia flowers.

Out into a clearing
dwarfed by immense rock cliffs,
where previous waterfalls had been
could be hear the Sacred Falls.
Another running stream to cross
wider steps to take
over faster moving water
and larger rock boulders.

There were the Sacred Falls
drowning out the sound
of human voices
spraying a cool mist
and plunging with power
to the waters below.

I held the Cornmeal to the skies
in meditative prayer.
Where is the Maid of the Mist,
the Keeper of the Sacred Falls?
The Cornmeal fell from my fingers
spreading itself among
the pools of water.

Many times I have returned
to those Sacred Falls,
to bathe in its showering mist
and envelop in its white light.
The white light of energy
energizing my mind, body and spirit.
(originally published in Writing the Circle, 1990, NeWest Press, Edmonton, AB and in 1993 by the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK)

Sep 02, 2015
Beautiful area
by: Anonymous

I and my husband and son went up to the falls on several occasions while there in the mid 80's. We were well aware of the risks involved and were always watchful of the weather on the days we went. Even a hint of rain and we did not go. Was well worth the effort. All that being said, it still had the potential to be very dangerous. Caught up there in a flash flood would have been fatal as the trail was very narrow and the walls very steep, no way to escape.

Aug 06, 2015
Don't hike it!
by: Anonymous

I was checking out information on Sacred Falls and found this sight. My heart goes out to the families of the people who lost their lives there. I wanted to take my siblings to the most beautiful falls I have ever seen, but, I will not go now. I hiked to the falls in 1990. It was actually a magical experience for me. We hiked and hiked with people coming down telling us just a bit further and when we thought we would never see the falls,there it was in all it's majesty and splendor. We picked mountain apples on our way up and saw the prayer rocks left by locals. I will never forget my experience. But, if the authorities say it's too dangerous and is closed - do not hike there. It is not worth your life!

Jul 30, 2015
My Ooinion
by: Anonymous

Individuals that choose to ignore the numerous posted warning signs, then become injured or worse, should not be compensated a single penny when or if they litigate the case.
Likewise, those individuals should be charged the entire cost of a rescue or recovery and be fined, as their stupidity puts our first responders at risk.

I was one of those first responders that was put at risk during that rescue and subsequent recovery mission.

Jul 10, 2015
I lost her that day.
by: Robert Graham

My Jenn gone. I still love her very much. Rest in peace Jenn Mark & Sara...<3 <3 <3

Apr 29, 2015
Hiked it closed
by: Buzz Lightyear

Honymoon hike, ten days before. The park was closed because of rain. But after trail running for decades, and seeing too many unneeded danger signs we went in.
The closer we approached, the more uneasy I felt. If anything started to fall, their is nowhere to run, as the canyon was extremely narrow.
A misty rain was coming down. We left just before reaching the waterfall.... Although we at least saw it.
So sad about the tragedy 10 days later.
Wasn't the park still closed then?

Mar 23, 2015
by: Anonymous

How do you repair a steep mountainside??

Feb 19, 2015
by: Hawaii DLNR

A newly released video from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources highlights the personal and legal perils of entering Sacred Falls State Park on Oahu. Intended to counter countless blogs and websites which encourage hikers to trespass into the park, despite dozens of warning signs, this video traces the tragic history of death at Sacred Falls and chronicles DLNR law enforcement efforts to try and curb illegal entry

Feb 19, 2015
Sacred Falls
by: Anonymous

I was one of the state enforcement officers responding to the Mothers days tragedy; yes 8-people were killed, but over 60 were injured some life threatening. 1 week prior to the tragedy My wife and some relatives visited the falls....after the mothers day incident I will never set foot there except to issue citations or arrest those foolish enough to trespass. Those killed we're pulverized, those injured looked as if they were hit by an artillery round...the base of the falls looked like a slaughter house, everything painted red with the victims blood. This incident is not the only incident that took peoples lives...a few years earlier HFD helicopter, its pilot and two police officers were killed after the chopper crashed in the valley trying to rescue a lost hiker who was never found....and before that a little girl was killed by falling rocks..... please stay clear of this kills people.

Feb 19, 2015
Reap what you sow
by: Anonymous

Hawaii should NOT rescue anyone who enters Sacred Falls illegally. Our boys and girls who work diligently as HPD, EMTs and HFD have better things to do than risk their own lives rescuing irresponsible fools.
Let natural selection work.

Oct 05, 2014
by: Anonymous

I grew up in hawaii,. I actually grew up on Kauai but my mom and dad being an Oahu natives we frequented there growing up. Sacred falls is one place I have never been. I have never had any desire to go. No matter how beautiful, the area around sacred falls has a mind of its own. In the 1980s my cousins died there one drowning and one having there neck snapped. It left a mark on my family that is still felt. Most people visiting from the mainland don't listen to the locals or pay attention to the signs. They don't pay attention to the land. Honestly even if they did sacred falls tells no one before she does something. There are no signs. Bad things just happened. I'm happy that no one can go there and that you have to sneak in to get there now. At least maybe the people that go have a little more sense. They know what they are risking. The aina and sacred falls are not for the faint of heart

Aug 28, 2014
I miss this place so much
by: Tony Pedretti

Now that it is closed, I have no desire to visit Hawaii ever again. I hiked there dozens of times with my girlfriend and eventually proposed to her on of the biggest surrounding rocks. She accepted and we are still together. That was 1995! Love is risk, and we are willing to risk it again. I want to renew my proposal there and renew our vows on the beach at Haleiwa. Why not do some repairs, make people sign waivers, something, anything??? It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I would welcome a guide back there.

Aug 02, 2014
A Memory Never To Forget
by: E M B

My husband and I were blessed to be one of the few to find Sacred Falls on our trip to Hawaii in August of 1977. We happened to see a sign that read"Sacred Falls" private property "Keep Out". I must say, this is one of the few times in life we have totally ignored signs. As we hiked the distance up the trail, we were meet from time to time by people returning from the falls. Each would encourage us forward, saying the hike was worth it and just a little farther. As we continued upward, on our hike, after what felt like forever, we began to hear the force of the falling waters of the Falls. I must say, my breath was taken away when I finally saw the Falls. The most wonderful sight I have ever seen.
To this date, I have never seen another spot of Paradise to compare with the splendor of Sacred Falls.
I am sorrowed to hear of the tragedy and the loss of life that happened in 1999.
I had always hoped of returning to this beautiful spot of heaven on earth.

Apr 17, 2014
Wonderful, Majestic place
by: R. Hawke

We discovered Sacred Falls State Park back in 1984 while on our honeymoon. We were driving out to the North Shore from Waikiki, that day at the falls park ended up being one of the most memorable days of our trip. It was quite an adventure! Between running into island natives early on the trail with machetes (hunting for wild boar) who did not speak English... Initially a bit frightening thinking, OMG run for your life!
But then we realized that they were only trying to tell us that the trail ahead was muddy and to be careful. Traversing through a beautiful Valley surrounded by towering giant mountains, then leading into dense tropical rainforest. Eventually the meandering trail revealed the Sacred Falls deep in the valley with a natural swimming pool, Wow! It was like heaven on earth...What a wonderful, memorable day. I'm sad to learn of the tragedy there many years ago and that the park is now closed, unable to be enjoyed any longer. Perhaps one day, this amazing place can once again be opened for adventurer's alike to enjoy her graces.

Mar 14, 2014
To lovesanimals

Please describe your husband's wedding band.

Send reply to my email address above.

Chuck Wilkinson

Nov 05, 2013
This is so sad
by: lovesanimals

My husband and I hiked up the trail to the Sacred Falls in September 1985 on our honeymoon. It was definately one of the highlights of our visit. I even have a photo of the sign at the begining of the trail that warned of flash floods, rock slides and slippery trails. We are planning to return to Oahu for our 30th anniversary and wanted to revisit this beautiful waterfall. I didn't realize until now that we would be unable to do so. Maybe we will go snorkling again in Hanama Bay-where my husband lost his wedding ring(on our HONEYMOON) on the coral.

Sep 18, 2013
Sacred Falls Engagement
by: Anonymous

4 of us hiked the Sacred Falls trail this past summer and my then boyfriend proposed to me there. It was absolutely beautiful, definitely the most beautiful waterfall on the island and the privacy was great for our situation. It was the perfect spot of natures pure beauty where 100 tourists weren't there messing it up.

We went when it hadn't rained in a few days and the first fall was dried up, which was where he proposed. It is not a bad trail if you are smart and careful. The pool at the bottom of the second fall was the perfect refresher after a decently long hike. We'll be going back for sure, you should consider it again, too!

If you'd like pictures of it, we have hundreds from that day! :)

Dec 30, 2012
park closure at sacred falls
by: ken leibert

Yes, it is a dangerous place, but I believe that people should be allowed to visit such places if they are willing to assume the risk. Unfortunately the state of Hawaii lost a very expensive lawsuit so they had to close the park to avoid future liability. It would be nice if the law were changed so as to shield the state from such lawsuits in the future. Then they might be willing to reopen the park. Unfortunately such legal changes are unlikely to occur. The lawsuit industrial complex profits enormously from the status quo, and they have enormous political power.
The lawyers win. The rest of us lose.

Aug 21, 2012
Pictures of the falls
by: Anonymous

I have a few pictures of the falls if anyone would like let me know

I lived in Ha'ula while attending school at BYU in Laie. I hiked to the falls from my house despite knowing it was illegal. It is still a dangerous place even for those who stay on the trail. The steep cliffs above have many falling rocks. We were sitting on the rocks right by the waterfall pool for a minute or two before we jumped in. As soon as we had all entered the water some pretty decent size rocks crashed down right where we had been sitting. They had fallen from the high cliffs above. It's usually rainy there and I'm sure rocks fall all the time. The rocks that fell by us were large enough to kill us especially at the speed they were falling.

So I guess I would say hike there at your own risk.

Apr 29, 2012
by: Anonymous

For anyone to write it was the people who walked past the possible landslide sign that day during the accident and not to think maybe something wouldn't happen.. that's so sad you would write that. I know people who lost everything that day and sk many loved ones. Its a shame you would ever blame innocent hikers for stupidity when you wish you could still hike there... sad

Apr 12, 2012
Pilot perspective
by: Mark

I was one of the UH-60 Helicopter pilots that flew the Sacred Falls rescue mission that day. We were from the 68th Medical Company of the US Army and had two aircraft on standby that day for the MAST Mission (Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic). When the call came into us at Wheeler, we were suprised to hear that the casualty estimate was over 20 people severely injured. I was on "First Up" duty so my crew immediately went to the aircraft and started the engines, but before we took off for the short 10 minute flight to the park entrance, we called the "Second Up" crew to immediately return to Wheeler and launch their aircraft as well. The LZ was tight since there were already so many emergency response vehicles and persons helping the "walking wounded" as they came out at the park entrance. It was a long trek particularly for the injured. But the one image I never forgot was that of the incredible folks that volunteered to perform CPR on a young female victim as they carried her the approximate 2 mile trek from the falls to the park entrance. Unfortunately their efforts were not successful at reviving her, but what a super-human effort to try to save a stranger. I'll never forget those nameless dirt covered stunned faces as I lifted off without that little girl. I flew two short trips from the park entrance to Queen's Medical Center and delivered 7 of the 11 patients that were MEDEVAC'd that day. 4 on the first lift, three on my last one. My comrades in the other aircraft crew flew one trip with a full carousel gurney of 4 that day. As I recall of the 11 we flew to Queens, only one did not survive due to the extent of injuries.

Long time ago, but remember it all too well. My heart goes out to those who suffered on that day.

Dec 08, 2011
I loved Sacred Falls
by: Anonymous

I lived on Oahu from 1975 to 1979 and have hiked to Sacred Falls on numerous occasions and swam at the bottom of the Falls. So beautiful.

I too have no pictures and now wished I would have.

Sep 09, 2011
Sacred Falls
by: Gary

I actually hiked down the 2 mile trail to sacred falls on Mother's Day, the year of the tragic rock slide. This was when I lived on Oahu, Hawaii from 1998-1999. Very beautiful area!!!!

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