Waialeale Blue Hole Hike
One of the wettest spots on Earth, Kauai's Mount Waialeale offers a challenging hike filled with misty lush green surroundings and movie-worthy sights. And if you're a hard-core hiker you'll enjoy an up-close-and-personal look at a series of enchanting waterfalls.
The base of Mount Waialeale, also known as the Blue Hole, is referred to as the Wailua Headwaters by locals; it's where you see the falls coming down the wall. This verdant wall is also known as the Weeping Wall; and if you see it, you'll understand why.
Our purpose here is to direct you to the weir (stream diversion), where you can see into the Waialeale basin; we do NOT intend to guide you to the Wailua Headwaters- a hike best left to only very skilled hikers. We have done the hike to the back wall and can say with certainty that the Blue Hole hike is extremely difficult and technical and is apt for experienced trekkers only. Please note that many people have gotten disoriented attempting to reach the Wailua Headwaters; even locals who are familiar with Kauai have been stranded and had to spend one or more nights out in the jungle with no supplies. Moreover, rain can come on hard and fast in this area; and if it does, the river will flash flood. If you are above Guardian Falls when this happens the way will be impassable until the water subsides. It is not uncommon for clear, ankle-deep water to turn into a chest-high raging torrent in under an hour. Therefore, it is imperative that you be aware of the signs that the environment is changing before it occurs; otherwise, it may be too late to get out before a flood.
We cannot stress enough the importance of safety and of having an acute awareness of the environment. Every year people die on Kauai in flash floods and hundreds get stranded and either have to spend the night or be rescued by helicopter. A helicopter rescue in the Waialeale Basin would be extremely difficult and dangerous and there is no guarantee that you would even be able to get help, as cell phone reception is spotty up in the basin.
If you want to take a good look at Waialeale, go for a moderate hike with knowledgeable local guides, and return home cozy and warm after a 1/2 day, we recommend our friends at Aloha Kauai Tours. They have been operating tours on Kauai since 1990 and have a wonderful rainforest group excursion that begins at the "Jurassic Park Gate" and takes you to the weir.
At the end of Hwy. 580, Kuamoo Road will end abruptly at the Keahua Stream crossing near Keahua Arboretum. You can park in the parking lot on your left and begin your hike (unless you have 4x4, then you can proceed at your own risk). The drive beyond the paved highway is very rough, bumpy, often muddy, and dangerous in spots (especially when crossing streams).
The road heads inland beyond Kuamoo Road and the Wailua Reservoir to the Keahua Arboretum. You will cross a second spillway just past the arboretum, followed by a series of power towers. You'll quickly see why it was a good idea to hike this versus using your rental car. Truck-swallowing pot holes and puddles the size of small lakes would surely slow you down and ruin your car. Continue along the Wailua Forest Management Road (maintained by Na Ala Hele). The road will bear right and continue for about 0.5 mile until you reach a major fork in the road. Here you will see a 'Hunting Unit C' sign nailed to a tree asking people to not pick up "lost" hunting dogs. If for some reason you have made it this far by driving, do not try to drive any farther unless it has been extremely dry recently (not likely), as the road gets even worse beyond this point. If you take the right fork for about one mile you will be at the Waialeale stream convergence. Here, the Wailua River is joined by two additional streams that also head to Wailua Bay.
But this isn't what you've come to see. Back at the fork, the left trail crosses streams and winds through the dense forest for about 1.5 miles to the 'gate,' used in Jurassic Park. During all of our visits between 2009-2012 the gate was open; which for us was a first. If it's open and you've driven this far, we suggest parking at the Waikoko (Jungle hike) trailhead, which is about 0.15 mile from the diversion/weir. Beyond the gate, you'll stroll for about half an hour through lush outcroppings of banana, Ti plants, and ginger to the water diversion- a hand-dug ditch and concrete dam/weir which helps divert water from the Wailua River. In front of you are the lush green walls of Waialeale box canyon etched with long trails of waterfalls. On those rare, clear occasions this is a great view. Or you can just sit for a while and watch the clouds drift in and out of the canyon and spot some helicopters. For those intrepid- not to mention fit and experienced- hikers who want to get up close and personal with the Blue Hole, expect to do a lot of stream crossing and boulder hopping (we recommend tabis or gumi shoes; which are felt-soled and hold onto rocks better).
Please be aware that a number of local Hawaiians have become upset with the amount of people now attempting to hike to the Blue Hole. This is a very sacred place and, if you go, you should only do so with a clear purpose and benevolent intent.
It's a long and strenuous trek up the streams to the back wall. As you boulder hop up the streams, you'll get to a three-way waterfall (what some call Guardian Falls or the "three-way convergence"). You'll have to find/climb your way up, continue via another stream, and cross over some small ridges before you reach the headwaters (the back wall, Weeping Wall, or true Blue Hole). We have found a 7.5' topo map created by the USGS of this route and we have cropped it accordingly: Waialeale Topo Map. The only real issue with this map is that it does not accurately represent the streams. It shows only two streams near the west wall, but there are really three there. Additionally, the topo map makes it appear that one creek originates east of Kawaikini and then meanders down a 45-degree canyon on the south end of the inner wall. These walls are actually vertical. If you can hike it, the following should provide additional details on how to get to the dam view.
The route in can be a bit confusing, so we are including a rough Waialeale Blue Hole route map to help. This map is NOT meant to be used for navigating yourself to the Blue Hole- it is for entertainment purposes only.
Drive 7 miles (all paved) to the parking lot at end of Kuamoo Road and park. Cross the first spillway next to parking lot. Keahua Arboretum is on your left. At 0.1 mile is the Kuilau trailhead on the right (also trailhead for Powerline). At 0.5 mile is the second spillway. Use caution crossing and don't cross at all if the water is up and/or moving fast. Continue 1 mile along the straight road until it makes a right toward the Waialeale basin. In another 0.5 mile you'll see a fork in the road. Take a LEFT at the fork (C-dog) sign. From here it's 1.5 miles to the gate. It's approximately another 0.5 miles to the diversion/weir where the Blue Hole hike begins.
0.5 (to second spillway) + 1.5 (to the road fork) + 1.5 (to the gate) = 3.5 miles one way/7 round trip, not including the half-mile hike to the Blue Hole viewpoint. So, figure about 8 miles total round trip if you stop at the weir. The distance will be much further if you continue towards the back wall.
Again, be safe, be aware of your surroundings, and pack your sense of wonder!