Wailua Falls usually shows twinned streamers of water, though depending on streamflow there may be three—or, when the South Fork’s really roaring, just one thunderous flume pouring off the brink.
The falls lie in Wailua River State Park just a few miles below the South Fork’s official start at the confluence of the Waiaka and Waiahi streams. Below the falls, the South Fork winds through some canyon meanders before joining the North Fork; from there, the mainstem Wailua eases its way to the nearby ocean.
Fans of the series Fantasy Island will recognize this double- or triple-barrel waterfall from the show’s opening credits. (Yet another of the innumerable, high-profile TV and movie filming locations Kauai has provided.)
It’s definitely most responsible to savor Wailua Falls from the parking lot. Whether the river’s truly surging or running on the lower side of things, the waterfall’s always mighty photogenic. Indeed, it’s fun to visit multiple times if you’re in Kauai long enough to see how rainfall affects the flow.
There are several paths dropping headlong down a steep, jungly slope to reach the river just below its cliff-face tumble. Less than a mile round-trip, these are marked by closure and warning signs by Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. (The exact legality of using these user trails is not entirely clear; some sources suggest fines have been levied against visitors disregarding the “Keep Out” signs.)
Two paths close to the parking lot are readily seen and reinforced in places by support ropes. They are also risky routes: steep anytime, and downright treacherous when conditions are muddy. If you are going to attempt the hike, it’s best to do so during a stretch of dry weather. Wear sturdy shoes, no flip-flops! Many have fallen on these trails, some suffering serious injuries.
Many hikers go swimming below the falls, but avoid approaching the immediate base. After heavy rains, be aware there may be plenty of debris being carried over the falls and into the pool below. It’s also possible to carefully walk behind the waterfall along the banks.
Given how easy it is to appreciate Wailua Falls from the road, you should definitely make a pilgrimage. This is one of the great landmarks of Kauai, and a wonderful expression of the Garden Isle’s wild, world-famous beauty.
-A.M. to midday visits to the Wailua Falls overlook give you the all-around best lighting on this southeast-facing feature. You’ll often see rainbows forming in the mist in the morning.