Backpacker Magazine Kauai, HI: Wailua River Paddle 

Paddle 7 miles up the Wailua River to secret waterfalls, hidden swimming holes, and one of Kauai's best rope swings.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 7 Mar 2008 5:04:49 PM
Activity: Paddling
State: Hawaii (HI)
Distance: 7 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 1389 ft
Total Loss: 1429 ft
Net Change: -40 ft
Difficulty: 5 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Kapaa
Tags: Hawaii, Kapaa, Kauai, Top Swimming Holes, Wailua River State Park, Waterfall Hikes
Rating:   1 rating(s) Rate it

Start this 7-mile paddle at the Wailua Kayak & Canoe shop on Kuamoo Road. After launching your boat, paddle upstream through thick tropical vegetation and picture perfect views of Mount Waialeale. In 1.8 miles, dock your boat to explore the Kamokila Hawaiian Village, then continue up the south fork of the Wailua to Fern Grotto—a lush cave—and a hidden pool and rope swing (only accessible by boat). Take a dip, and then turn around and paddle back down the Wailua for .4 mile. Leave your boat on the river bank and hike to a majestic waterfall with small pools perfect for soaking. At the end of the day, retrace your steps back to the boat and glide down the river to your car.

-Mapped by Kari Bodnarchuk

TO TRAILHEAD: From Lehua St. and Kuhio Hwy. in Kapaa, HI, head southwest on Kuhio Hwy. In 2.6 miles, turn right onto Kuamoo Rd. Make an immediate left onto Wailua Rd. Continue 400 feet to parking lot.

Position Format: Datum:


Distance: 2.28 mi Points: 131
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi


Distance: 1.14 mi Points: 52
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 22.046917, -159.337738
Launch your boat on the cement ramp adjacent to the picnic tables. Paddle upstream, past dense vegetation and mangrove trees, keeping the boat within 30 feet of the north (right) bank; fast moving river is relatively calm.


Location: 22.044149, -159.353531
Keep waterproof camera handy-the skyline periodically opens up and provides occasional views of Mount Waialeale (5,148 ft.) nearly 20 miles away. Watch for riverboats and coconut trees on the north bank.


Location: 22.042999, -159.360184
Dock your boat at the Kamokila Hawaiian Village (look for a thatched hut and outrigger canoe on the north bank). Kamokila offers tours of a re-created Hawaiian village with a courtyard dedicated to Hawaiian bowling and spear throwing. Next, return to boat and paddle south.


Location: 22.041634, -159.360565
Stay left @ fork. Paddle up the South Fork Wailua River; pass Wailua River State Park.


Location: 22.036850, -159.362610
Paddle past Fern Grotto-a fern-covered cave-on the left. Continue several hundred feet to take a dip in a large swimming hole (with rope swing). Note: The dock is for commercial riverboats only. Next, paddle back to Waypoint 4, and turn left (east).


Location: 22.041784, -159.360931
Paddle through dense vegetation, then beach your kayak on the right bank 100 feet upstream. Next, head west on the path. In .3 mile, cross the North Fork Wailua River (use the yellow rope that runs across tributary as a stabilizer). Continue to hike northwest through the dense jungle and along a narrow embankment that is full of gnarled roots (watch your step).


Location: 22.048380, -159.369537
Continue rock hopping along the river bank and pass a cement tower with a water level marker.


Location: 22.049852, -159.371460
Turn left; head away from the river, and climb up a short, steep, and often muddy embankment. At the top, cross a small stream and turn right, continuing on trail.


Location: 22.049566, -159.372543
Wailele Mae Huna Falls: This natural hidden waterfall is the centerpiece of a large volcanic amphitheater blanketed with lush vegetation. Lose track of time and swim in the main pool; finish with a long soak in one of several smaller man-made pools. Keep an eye out for wild roosters that roam the banks. To return to trailhead, retrace your steps to Waypoint 6; turn left, and paddle north up the river.


Location: 22.049625, -159.372376
© Kari Bodnarchuk

Wailua River

Location: 22.047829, -159.349731
© Kari Bodnarchuk

Docking the boats

Location: 22.041813, -159.360870
© Kari Bodnarchuk


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