Upper Waikani Falls is one of the more famous waterfalls on the Hana Highway.
Affectionately dubbed the “Three Bears Falls,” Julie and I believe this is one of the few waterfalls where less is more. That’s because when the falls are in the “Three Bears” mode (as pictured at the top of this page), we could see three parallel cascades with successively lower heights from left to right (just like papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear, so to speak).
However, we also saw this falls in high flow, and in that configuration, the three bears become one giant bear. I believe the feast or famine state of the waterfall might have more to do with EMI irrigation ditches further upstream to feed the thirsty sugar cane crops in Central Maui.
Our first couple of visits to the falls were basically from a roadside pullout, which was real easy to spot since you can’t miss the falls and the bridge fronting it as you drive the road heading towards Hana. However, on our third visit here, we finally figured out a “fairly” tolerable route to scramble beneath the Hana Highway bridge and continue on a use trail right to the pool before the falls.
The key for us was to look for a way to scramble on the makai side (i.e. the side facing the ocean). The mauka (mountain) side looked slippery and risky going down (but it was a decent shortcut on the way back up since it’s easier for me to climb that giant, muddy step than go down it when scrambling).
As of our 2007 visit, there was a slab of concrete underneath the makai side of the road so I was able to descend without my feet ever being left in the air (and having to take that leap of faith from which you might never come back up again). I don’t know if that concrete slab would still be there over time though.
Once I was on the concrete slab, I was then able to walk underneath the road bridge and continue on the trail of use towards the base of the falls, which was very misty at the time of my visit. I haven’t been to the base of the falls when it was in a lighter, less turbulent “three bears” state, but perhaps that might be something to shoot for on a return visit to Maui.
Like I mentioned earlier, Upper Waikani Falls is difficult to miss. Heading towards Hana, at about 0.3 miles past the 19-mile post, Hana Hwy winds towards a gully and bridge and the falls will be directly in front of you.
Sometimes you have to wait your turn to park in the pullout near the Waikani Stream bridge. I recalled that this was the case when we came here the first time back in 2003 as there was a traffic jam both in front of us as well as behind us (as we were patiently waiting for a spot to open up).
For a bit of context, we generally stay on the west side of Maui in either Lahaina or Ka’anapali. The drive from say Lahaina would require us to take Route 30 to Route 380 (taking roughly an hour without traffic). Once we’re near the town of Pa’ia, we’d then be on Hwy 36 (becoming the Road to Hana or Hwy 360). Getting to the 19-mile post took us over an hours drive (30 miles) east of Pa’ia.
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