Wailua River Kayaking
Uluwehi Falls, located in the lush Wailua River Basin, is often referred to as Secret Falls; however, thanks to its relatively easy access and stunning beauty there isn’t even a modicum of “secret” left here. That said, Uluwehi Falls deserves a stop on your Kauai must-see waterfalls list.
Accessing Uluwehi Falls is best done via guided tour. Generally, tours include a 45-minute kayak up the river, followed by a 20-minute trek through the lush rainforest along the floor of the Wailua River Valley. Then you can enjoy a refreshing swim and a snack at the falls. Several tour companies offer guided tours of Uluwehi Falls and kayak rentals are also widely available. We recommend Kayak Kauai for the best guided kayak experience.
If you do opt for exploring Uluwehi Falls on your own, note that many kayak rental companies will not rent to visitors on Sundays. Also, be aware of weather conditions as heavy rainfall upstream can bring about flash flooding. Significant rainfall will also affect the water quality in the lower Wailua River, as debris and silt will be washed downstream.
Prevailing winds can also greatly affect your paddling experience. The lower Wailua River is located on Kauai’s east side- a wide and open area exposed to trade winds. Many people simply assume that paddling downstream will be much easier than upstream; which is often the case. However, along this stretch of the Wailua River you may encounter an easy paddle upstream only to be faced with 20-30 knot headwinds on the return downstream, which can present a bit of a challenge.
Should you find yourself in this scenario, try staying close to the river’s edge and paddle at a pace that is comfortable and easily maintainable, rather than starting and stopping. This should make your paddling experience easier.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for commercial motorized traffic on the river. For your safety, keep to true river left at all times (the left side while looking downstream) so as to avoid tourist barges headed to Fern Grotto.
If you’ll be renting a kayak independently, access the river at the boat ramp on Kuamoo Rd. As you turn onto the road from the highway, look for a left turn uphill from the heiau (Hawaiian temple). Parking and launching from the boat ramp are easy from here.
After about a 30-minute paddle upstream you’ll arrive at the Kamokila Hawaiian Village on the right. Just beyond this point there is a fork off to the left that will take you to Fern Grotto where you can tie your boat off and walk around a bit. Fern Grotto can be enjoyed in about 10 minutes, so try to time your visit between groups of barge visitors.
Afterward, head back down to the confluence and then up the northerly fork. Be careful, as you’ll be paddling through low-hanging hau bushes. About 5 minutes in the river will become quite shallow and you’ll need to pull your kayak off to the right. Be sure to pull it entirely out of the water and secure the paddle, as a bump from another canoe could leave you stranded! Note that is area can become quite busy, especially during the week.
After securing your kayak, follow the trail upstream and you’ll soon arrive at the river crossing where you’ll see a long rope. Be very careful when crossing, as people have been swept away and drowned here. A good rule is to not cross if the water is waist deep or higher. If you happen to be on the other side and the river suddenly rises, simply wait for the river level to subside a bit before crossing. Do not risk crossing if you’re not certain it’s safe to do so!
After you cross the river, follow the trail upstream for about 15 minutes and enjoy the sights and sounds of the rainforest as you go. Uluwehi Falls is located along a side creek coming in from your left-hand side off the main river. Right after you cross the creek bed, which is only about 15 feet wide, you’ll follow a smaller trail off to the left away from the main river. There may or may not be a sign here, as Mother Nature has been known to occasionally reclaim it.
You’ll continue up the creek for abut 5 minutes and cross it once before arriving at Uluwehi Falls. The pool at the bottom of the falls a popular place to swim when conditions are right, but when rain has been scarce, Uluwehi has been known to dry up. Even so, it’s a beautiful location to visit; but be aware that if your main goal is to see the flowing falls you’ll need to check conditions before you begin your adventure.