About Waipoo Falls
Waipoo Falls (or Waipo’o Falls) is one of a handful of waterfalls within the Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
This waterfall is said to drop over a height of 800ft in a pair of visible tiers fed by the Koke’e Stream, which probably dries up in the Summer (like most waterfalls in Kaua’i).
Supporting this assertion, I recalled photos from a friend who went to Waimea Canyon in August and said this waterfall was dry.
Then, when we showed up in December of 2006 on what was said to be an unusually dry Wet Season, this waterfall was still flowing pretty well.
It did seem to have lighter flow when we came back in November 2021 so perhaps it was starting to have its watershed replenished since the onset of Wet Season hadn’t really kicked in at this time.
Nevertheless, these observations further support the notion that this waterfall may only put on a show during the Wet Season.
Views of Waipo’o Falls from the Road and the Air
Anyways, we had no trouble seeing this waterfall during our visits as it was pretty much viewable from the road from a handful of overlooks.
It was even visible from the busy Waimea Canyon Lookout (though it wasn’t the best viewing spot from here).
Perhaps the best viewing spot for this waterfall was between the lookout by the Pu’u Ka Pele Picnic Area to the north and the popular Waimea Canyon Lookout to the south (see directions below).
As for the viewing experience, the photos you see on this page were taken with a regular zoom lens.
However, since the roadside views were still a bit distant from the falls itself, I reckon a telephoto lens would really be helpful in bringing in the falls even closer in photographs.
During our first trip to Kaua’i, we also did a helicopter flight, which flew us closer and over the impressive Waipo’o Falls.
That said, I thought the roadside views were probably best when it came to this waterfall because of the Waimea Canyon context, especially considering the contrast between the red soil and the green vegetation.
Canyon Trail to the Top of Waipo’o Falls (Difficulty: 3)
While the roadside (and even chopper) views of Waipoo Falls were convenient, they were still distant.
So in order to get a more intimate experience with the Koke’e Stream, I had to go on a roughly 3- to 4-mile upside-down hike to the top of the main pair of drops of Waipo’o Falls.
Throughout this trail, I wouldn’t be seeing the main drops of Waipo’o Falls, but I did end up getting close to two smaller waterfalls just a bit further upstream on the Koke’e Stream.
One of the waterfalls made for a nice swimming hole, while the other waterfall just downstream of it offered a precipitous view towards an unusual natural arch as well as the rest of Waimea Canyon from the very brink of Waipo’o Falls’ upper main drop.
I did the hike from the Pu’u Hinahina Viewpoint, where the minimum round-trip hiking distance to the top of Waipo’o Falls and back was about 3 miles with a roughly 660ft elevation loss.
However, I also pursued short detours to overlooks as well as to both smaller waterfalls so the overall hiking distance was on the order of 3.6 miles or more.
If you have a high clearance vehicle (preferably with 4wd), then it’s possible to take the Halemanu Road to an alternate trailhead, which would cut roughly 0.6-mile (or 1.2 miles round-trip) and around 300ft of net elevation loss.
Anyways, from the Pu’u Hinahina Viewpoint and parking lot, I went to the far eastern end of the lot, where the Canyon Trail went past a shoe brush area (to wipe off invasive species).
Almost immediately, the trail descended steeply, which really made me not look forward to the return hike because I knew the climb back up would be brutal.
Shortly after the alternate 4wd trailhead, the trail then reached a fork, where the path on the right went around 0.1-mile leading to an overlook towards the cliffs of Waimea Canyon.
It appeared that people used to hike beyond the end of the fencing towards a bluff lower than the end of this spur trail, but I didn’t pursue that unsanctioned path so I can’t say anything more about it.
Back on the main trail, it continued to undulate through a gulch on the Nawaimaka Stream before climbing to an open cliff-top section with views back towards the main road and parts of Waimea Canyon.
Continuing forward, the trail then descended a potentially slippery slope of packed dirt that apparently used to have steps but now was more of a friction pitch.
During this descent, I could already see a small and attractive natural arch across the Koke’e Stream.
Anyways, the descent ultimately veered left and returned to the jungle where it descended until the next trail fork.
At this fork, the path on the left led to a plunge pool and what I’m calling the “First Waterfall” on Koke’e Stream.
At this waterfall, there was a fairly large plunge pool that was perfect for cooling off.
According to Gaia GPS, the continuation of the Canyon Trail was further to the right of the plunge pool, but I didn’t go that way so I can’t comment further on it.
Continuing on the path to the right, the trail descended towards the top of a second waterfall.
It was possible to cross over the top of this second waterfall via one of the trails, but I sought out a more frontal view of this falls, which required a fairly dicey scramble down an eroded rock wall.
Once I reached the bottom, then it was pretty straightforward to stand in front of the double waterfall.
Looking downstream from the base of the falls, I was able to see the natural arch atop a cliff though it wasn’t possible to see any bit of the main drops of Waipo’o Falls.
Once I had my fill of this spot, I then hiked all the way back to the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout where I had to gain back most of the 660ft elevation loss, especially in the last half-mile which was relentlessly uphill.
Overall, I spent a little over 2 hours to do this hike, which included all the spur trails and lookouts in addition to the pair of small waterfalls on the Koke’e Stream.
Waipo’o Falls resides in Waimea Canyon State Park in the island of Kauai, Hawaii. 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.
The most notable roadside views of Waipo’o Falls is from the Waimea Canyon Lookout and the Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout.
The Waimea Canyon Lookout is between mileposts 10 and 11 about 10.3 miles north of the junction between the Kaumuali’i Highway (Hwy 50) and the Onaona Road (Hwy 550) in Waimea Town.
The Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout (officially known as the Waipo’o Falls Viewpoint) was about 2.5 miles north of the turnoff for Waimea Canyon Lookout just south of the 13-mile post on the Hwy 550.
Along the way, there were other more frontal views of Waipo’o Falls from various pullouts between mileposts 12 and 13.
For the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout, that was another 3/4-mile further to the north along the Hwy 550.
If you’re interested in seeing Waipo’o Falls by helicopter, there are tour companies that leave from Lihu’e, Port Allen, and Princeville.
The Kaua’i Helicopter Waterfalls write-up has more detail about that option.
Finally, for geographical context, Waimea was about 18 miles (about 30 minutes drive) west of Koloa / Po’ipu, about 24 miles (over 30 minutes drive) west of Lihu’e, about 32 miles (under an hour drive) west of Kapa’a, and about 53 miles (under 90 minutes drive) southwest of Princeville.
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