Upper Waikani Falls

Hana Highway, Hawaii, USA

About Upper Waikani Falls


Hiking Distance: roadside; scramble to base
Suggested Time: 15 minutes (to base)

Date first visited: 2003-09-01
Date last visited: 2007-02-23

Waterfall Latitude: 20.83206
Waterfall Longitude: -156.13863

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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.

It’s kind of like the progression of papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear, so to speak.

Road_to_Hana_108_09032003 - Upper Waikani Falls in 'Three Bears' mode
Upper Waikani Falls in ‘Three Bears’ mode

However, we also saw this falls in high flow. In that configuration, the three bears become one giant bear.

I’ve also observed that this waterfall (like many others in East Maui) suffer from either being in low flow or in flood. There didn’t seem to be an in-between steady flow.

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.

Experiencing Upper Waikani Falls

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 because there was a giant, muddy step obstacle. Once misstep there, and the dropoff near it could be real bad (even fatal).

Waikani_Falls_006_jx_02232007 - The makai side of the bridge over the Waikani Stream
The makai side of the bridge over the Waikani Stream

That said, I found the mauka side was a decent shortcut on the way back up since it’s easier for me to climb that giant, muddy step obstacle.

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.

Authorities

Upper Waikani Falls resides on the island of Maui, Hawaii. To my knowledge, it does not belong to a formal authority. However, 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.

Waikani_Falls_005_jx_02232007 - The start of the scramble to the base of the falls
Road_to_Hana_047_09012003 - Upper Waikani Falls in high flow
Road_to_Hana_109_09032003 - Upper Waikani Falls in low flow
Waikani_Falls_009_02232007 - Upper Waikani Falls in an in-between state

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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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Tagged with: maui, hana, hawaii, waterfall, lahaina, kaanapali, east maui, paia, kahului, 3 bears, three bears



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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