Kapena Falls

Honolulu / Waikiki, Hawaii, USA

About Kapena Falls


Hiking Distance: 1/2 mile round trip
Suggested Time: 20-30 minutes

Date first visited: 2007-01-12
Date last visited: 2021-11-25

Waterfall Latitude: 21.32524
Waterfall Longitude: -157.84573

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Kapena Falls is a tiny waterfall tumbling around 15-20ft, which was essentially an urban waterfall for all intents and purposes given its presence practically underneath the Pali Highway near the Nuuanu Cemetery.

What’s funny about this waterfall was that finding it was either a matter of walking along a high speed highway or walking through that cemetery.

Kapena_Falls_040_03072007 - Kapena Falls
Kapena Falls

Even funnier was that the first time we attempted to visit this waterfall, we ended up mistaking it for Alapena Falls, which was just downstream of where we needed to go.

Even though we saw a pair of teenagers jumping off a rope swing into the plunge pool beneath the falls, I cringed as I’m sure urban pollution probably infested the watercourse here with the leptospirosis bacteria.

That illness (born of bacteria transmitted by feces from non-native feral animals rampant on O’ahu) is not so funny as it has resulted in fatalities.

I had also read that this waterfall was featured in the TV series “Lost” as well as in the movie “The Rundown” featuring The Rock (Dwayne Johnson).

So even though this waterfall seemed to be somewhat obscure, apparently, lots of people (including those affiliated with Hollywood) still know about it.

Visiting Kapena Falls via the Nuuanu Cemetery

Kapena_Falls_066_11252021 - Looking back towards the Nuuanu Cemetery from the last 'switchback' or roundabout before the gate and the Kapena Falls parking lot at the end of the access road
Looking back towards the Nuuanu Cemetery from the last ‘switchback’ or roundabout before the gate and the Kapena Falls parking lot at the end of the access road

The most straightforward and sanctioned way to visit Kapena Falls was via the Nuuanu Cemetery (see directions below).

Once at the correct turnoff, we drove through the access road all the way to its end, where there’s a parking lot that appears to be designated for Kapena Falls visitors.

One thing to keep in mind with this access is that the gates close at 3:30pm (subject to change, but it was this way on our last visit in November 2021).

This means that sanctioned parking for Kapena Falls after this time is prohibited (though I did manage to find street parking and then walk to the Kapena Falls parking area and trailhead to make my visit).

Kapena_Falls_002_11252021 - On my Thanksgiving Day visit, we showed up pretty much right before 3:30pm, where the gate was open, but knowing that we might get locked in, we parked elsewhere and then I walked back to this spot where the gate was closed to cars
On my Thanksgiving Day visit, we showed up pretty much right before 3:30pm, where the gate was open, but knowing that we might get locked in, we parked elsewhere and then I walked back to this spot where the gate was closed to cars

Once on the Kapena Falls Trail, it’s a pretty straightforward path at the base of a small hill or cliff (some of which apparently had petroglyphs as well as graffiti; hard to tell which was which) going about 1/4-mile along the Nuuanu Stream.

Along the way were some intermediate cascades including one called Alapena Falls.

At the end of the trail, there was a large plunge pool as well as an angled view of the Kapena Falls.

That said, with the overgrowth it left a lot more to be desired of the view, and it looked rather steep to attempt to find a way to cross the stream and scramble up to the bluffs on the other side for a more frontal view of the falls.

Kapena_Falls_041_11252021 - This was the angled view towards Kapena Falls from the end of the sanctioned trail starting from the Nuuanu Cemetery
This was the angled view towards Kapena Falls from the end of the sanctioned trail starting from the Nuuanu Cemetery

In any case, this visit was pretty short, and I’d imagine 30-45 minutes is about right for a visit here.

The Other Side of Kapena Falls via the Pali Highway

When I first visited Kapena Falls in January 2007, we actually thought we were trespassing through the cemetery and tried to find a different way to access the falls.

This led us to a scenic overlook on the southbound Pali Highway right at the first pullout after the on-ramp from Wyllie Street.

At this pullout, there was a view overlooking a pagoda surrounded by tombstones (from the Nuuanu Cemetery) as well as a bunch of broken glass (bad omen in terms of car break-ins).

Kapena_Falls_016_01212007 - Looking towards the Alapena Falls from the other side of the Nuuanu Stream, where I had accessed it from the Scenic Overlook along the Pali Highway during my first visit here in Jaunary 2007
Looking towards the Alapena Falls from the other side of the Nuuanu Stream, where I had accessed it from the Scenic Overlook along the Pali Highway during my first visit here in Jaunary 2007

Once I got out of the car, I walked along the Pali Hwy (staying well clear of the oncoming traffic) then hopped over the railing just behind that Scenic Overlook sign.

From there, an informal use-trail descended towards a more satisfying and direct view of the falls as well as its pool.

While exploring this unsanctioned spot a bit further, I managed to scramble a crossing of the stream just downstream of the plunge pool for Kapena Falls.

So that brought me back to the trail described above, and thus, it might be the way to get a more direct view of the falls without hopping freeway railings if coming from the Nuuanu Cemetery.

Authorities

Kapena Falls resides in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. To my knowledge, it is not administered by any official authority. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) website.

Kapena_Falls_001_11252021 - Because we showed up pretty much when the gate was closed, I had to park in a legal spot and walk through the cemetery to the Kapena Falls Trailhead on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_006_11252021 - Starting on the short trail to Kapena Falls via the Nuuanu Cemetery on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_007_11252021 - Looking back at the empty parking lot for Kapena Falls from the trailhead during my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_009_11252021 - Walking beneath some impressive tall roots and vines accompanying what I think is a banyan tree or something along the Kapena Falls Trail
Kapena_Falls_011_11252021 - Context of an area by a small cliff harboring petroglyphs as well as graffiti (though truthfully, I didn't notice the petroglyphs and noticed more of the graffiti instead) on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_014_11252021 - Another look up at what I think is a banyan tree towering over the short Kapena Falls Trail on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_015_11252021 - Looking across the Nuuanu Stream and some tiny cascade along the Kapena Falls Trail on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_019_11252021 - When you have an urban waterfall like Kapena Falls, I guess it shouldn't be surprising to see urban blight like this (this was taken on my November 2021 visit)
Kapena_Falls_021_11252021 - Continuing on the lush and serene trail leading to Kapena Falls during my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_024_11252021 - Checking out Kapena Falls backing what I believe to be Alapena Falls as seen together on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_026_11252021 - Continuing on the short trail beyond Alapena Falls towards Kapena Falls in the bright afternoon sunlight on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_029_11252021 - I couldn't help but notice that someone was camping near Kapena Falls though I can't tell if this was sanctioned due to a local caretaker or if this was just someone squatting here during my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_042_11252021 - Full context of Kapena Falls as seen from the end of the short trail from the Nuuanu Cemetery as seen on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_048_11252021 - One last look back at both Alapena Falls and Kapena Falls as I was concluding my Thanksgiving Day visit in November 2021
Kapena_Falls_049_11252021 - Another view of Alapena Falls together with Kapena Falls as seen in November 2021
Kapena_Falls_053_11252021 - Looking downstream along the Nuuanu Stream as I was leaving Kapena Falls on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_056_11252021 - Weaving my way through some fallen rocks along the Kapena Falls Trail during my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_057_11252021 - More impressive vines and roots from what I believe to be banyan trees flanking the Kapena Falls Trail as seen in November 2021
Kapena_Falls_058_11252021 - Looking up at the full height of one of these impressive banyan trees along the Kapena Falls Trail during my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_061_11252021 - Another look at the cliff containing both graffiti and petroglyphs by the Kapena Falls Trail during my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_063_11252021 - An even closer look at the cliff in search of petroglyphs so I truthfully couldn't tell that from the graffiti on my November 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_064_11252021 - Making it back to the official trailhead or parking lot for Kapena Falls from the Nuuanu Cemetery to end my Thanksgiving Day 2021 visit
Kapena_Falls_050_03072007 - Looking back at the sign just after we hopped the guardrail to get onto the trail of use leading to the other side of Kapena Falls when we came here a second time in March 2007
Kapena_Falls_048_03072007 - Looking down at Kapena Falls as we approached from the other side in March 2007
Kapena_Falls_037_03072007 - Another angled look towards Kapena Falls from the other side on our March 2007 visit
Kapena_Falls_016_03072007 - Contextually direct look at Kapena Falls with Pali Highway bridge above it as seen in March 2007
Kapena_Falls_012_03072007 - Another direct look at Kapena Falls with Pali Highway bridge above it in March 2007
Kapena_Falls_002_03072007 - Another direct look at Kapena Falls with Pali Highway bridge above it and some kids scrambling around the falls using the rope swing there (as seen in March 2007)
Kapena_Falls_021_01212007 - A tiny cascade on the way to the Kapena Falls (I believe this is Alapena Falls), which was on the way from the trail starting at the Nuuanu Cemetery. It turns out that on our first visit in January 2007, we mistakenly thought this was Kapena Falls and so we didn't actually see the main waterfall on that visit
Kapena_Falls_003_01212007 - This was another look at what I believe to be Alapena Falls when we first tried to visit Kapena Falls during our January 2007 visit to O'ahu
Kapena_Falls_010_01212007 - Partial views of Alapena Falls as we explored around it thinking that this was the Kapena Falls during our January 2007 trip
Kapena_Falls_001_jx_01212007 - Frontal view of Alapena Falls that Julie was able to take on our January 2007 visit to O'ahu


The sanctioned way to visit Kapena Falls was from the Nuuanu Cemetery so that’s how I’ll describe the driving directions assuming you’re coming from Waikiki Beach.

It can get tricky leaving Waikiki to get onto the H1 (and traffic patterns change), but my preferred way to get there from the Sheraton Waikiki say was to take any of the small streets north to Ala Wai Blvd.

Waikiki_096_11242021 - Urban waterfalls like Kapena Falls can be deceptively tricky to find mainly because of the concrete jungle and maze of one-way streets, bridges, and ramps.  This is especially true if trying to drive in and out of the famed Waikiki area
Urban waterfalls like Kapena Falls can be deceptively tricky to find mainly because of the concrete jungle and maze of one-way streets, bridges, and ramps. This is especially true if trying to drive in and out of the famed Waikiki area

Then, turn left onto the one-way Ala Wai Blvd heading west but keeping right to make a right turn onto McCully Street.

Then, follow McCully Street north to Dole Street, where I’d turn left and then follow this low-key residential street to Alexander Street at a four-way stop.

Turning left onto Alexander Street, then I’d be going straight to the onramp for the westbound H1 Freeway.

Once on the H1 going west, I then followed it to the Pali Highway (connecting ramp on the right).

Kapena_Falls_067_11252021 - The last turn before descending to the end of the road at the Kapena Falls parking lot
The last turn before descending to the end of the road at the Kapena Falls parking lot

Then, as soon as I get on that ramp, I look for the Wyllie Street exit, where I can turn left at the light onto Nuuanu Ave.

In less than a quarter-mile, the turnoff into the correct road leading to the Nuuanu Cemetery and Kapena Falls was on the left.

If going south on Nuuanu Ave as I’m describing so far, then it’s the first left after the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii.

Note that if you’re going north on Nuuanu Ave, then it’s the first right after Craigside Place (this particular street goes to Honolulu Memorial Park).

Kapena_Falls_003_11252021 - The parking lot for Kapena Falls at the end of the access road through the Nuuanu Cemetery
The parking lot for Kapena Falls at the end of the access road through the Nuuanu Cemetery

Once on the proper access road, then take it to the end, which is where the Kapena Falls Trailhead is at, but you do have to keep in mind that the gates typically close at 3:30pm so don’t find yourself locked in!

Finally, if you’re interested in accessing Kapena Falls from the scenic overlook over the Nuuanu Cemetery by the Pali Highway, then as you leave the Nuuanu Cemetery onto Nuuanu Ave, turn right to go north.

Then, at about a quarter-mile, turn right at the next light to go onto the Pali Highway due south.

There’s a sign saying “Scenic Overlook 500ft”, and pretty much as stated, there’s a pullout area with a view over the greenspaces of the row of cemeteries here.

Kapena_Falls_065_11252021 - Walking back out of the parking lot for Kapena Falls, which was empty because the gates had been closed since 3:30pm
Walking back out of the parking lot for Kapena Falls, which was empty because the gates had been closed since 3:30pm

That’s where I was able to briefly park and seek out Kapena Falls before coming back.

For geographical context, Kapena Falls was pretty much in Honolulu / Waikiki, which was 12 miles (over 30 minutes drive) east of Pearl City, 11 miles (under 30 minutes drive) southwest of Kane’ohe, which was 12 miles (about 30 minutes drive) southwest of Kailua, 33 miles (about an hour drive) south of La’ie, and 31 miles (under an hour drive) southeast of Hale’iwa.

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Downstream to upstream sweep showing an angled view of the falls and some accompanying banyan roots


Sweep starting with an angled view of the falls from the end of the sanctioned trail then going downstream towards an intermediate cascade with a hint of the main falls above

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Tagged with: waikiki, honolulu, oahu, hawaii, waterfall, the rundown, the rock, nuuanu, lost, lepto, leptospirosis



Visitor Comments:

SA Teen Boys Manoa Cottage 1977-78 (Kapana Falls) December 27, 2013 7:49 pm by Erich Holmquist - I was in Salvation Army group Home in Manoa Valley during the years 1977-78. We use to come there often to jump off the falls. I never jumped; but I was pushed off. I thought it was pronounced Kapana falls. ...Read More
Memories of Kapena Falls July 25, 2013 1:13 am by Barbie Germann - When I was a little girl, in my early teens, we used to walk through the cemetery to get to Kapena Falls and it was my favorite place to swim along with San Souci Beach and the Natatorium in Waikiki.. How I miss my childhood in Hawaii as I had the best childhood a person… ...Read More
1973 Alpena falls April 10, 2012 4:37 am by Thomas Malley - In 1973 I was only 18 in the Navy than station on Wapahu panisula. Some friends of mine took me here. One was a Navy seal. There was a cliff about 30 feet at that time you could jump off. They told me that the water pool below was a lava tub and that it… ...Read More
Blast from the past… January 8, 2012 5:15 am by Sherry C. - The fond memories of Kapena Falls & Jackass Gingers... The memories will always be with me.... ...Read More
Old military brat (Kapena Falls) September 2, 2011 8:49 pm by Mike - Once a great hangout for teens and similar airheads! Jumping feet first into murky, clouded water was very risky. Once parked my car on the Pali shoulder to take a plunge. Gone 20-minutes. Returned to my car that had been broken into. Billfold stolen. Haven't returned since 1967!! ...Read More
Becoming Kama’aina at Kapena Falls May 24, 2011 4:39 am by John Lopez - I was very fortunate to be stationed at Sub Base Pearl in 1953 with my cousin Joe Rodriguez. As we are native Floridians, we both enjoyed the island of Oahu and its many beaches and sights. While hanging ten on Kuhio Beach with some local friends, they asked us if we would like to become… ...Read More
1967-1970 Kapena Falls October 9, 2008 5:30 am by Debbie - We used to swim here all the time while living in Hawaii during our teens. Parents were military and it was great fun at the falls. Not far from here, if I remember correctly, was a place called Jackass Ginger which was a place to slide down. I believe it was a half lava tube… ...Read More
Worst Place I’ve Found For Mosquitoes October 8, 2008 4:58 am by Tammy - Bring bug spray! Worst place I've found for mosquitoes. Easy, short hike, and the waterfalls weren't bad, but nothing spectacular. We heard hunters shooting close by, so we didn't stay long. ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Kapena Falls…with a bonus Alapena Falls October 8, 2008 1:58 pm by Peggy - We found Alapena Falls first. Tons of mosquitos, not a deep enough pool to swim, lots of litter from beer bottles to other trash around the shore. Not a spectacular falls. Then my friends tried to take a shortcut back to the car and found Kapena Falls. Much prettier, still lots of mosquitos, less trash,… ...Read More

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