Hiking to Makaua Falls | September 2018 | Written by Curtis
When it rains heavily the night before a day off, it’s hard to feel motivated to get out and hike. The peaks are always cloudy, the trails treacherous and muddy. But rain does bring out the waterfalls, if only for a day or so.
After combing through the numerous waterfall hikes on the island – ones we’ve done, ones that are illegal, ones that are obscure, and some that are extremely popular – we finally settled in on a lesser known hike North of us off the Kamehameha Highway. Driving up, the Ko’olaus were well ensconced by clouds and as we got close to the ‘parking area’ a rain squall came in and put a damper on our spirits. But having not done any real hiking since Kauai, we were still ready to at least give the hike a shot.
We parked at a beach park immediately off the Kamehameha Highway and started walking through a neighborhood to the mouth of a valley that we had often driven by and wondered about. At the end of the road, a trail cut between two properties into the lush valley. The trail wound through the typical jungle growth and quickly came to a fork. The left fork leads up to the South Wall of the Canyon, a tempting hike, but as it was raining we decided to stick to our goal and headed right down towards a stream.
We crossed the mostly dry stream and started heading up. The foliage grew in close to the trail and there was much ducking and weaving between the trees and branches. The rain eventually quit about the time we reached a point where the trail seemed to indicate it would follow the stream bed itself. We were hesitant to continue on as we hadn’t expected to need to wade but threw caution to the wind and continued on.
At about the half-mile point, the canyon walls drew in close and the ‘trail’ was almost exclusively the stream bed which had more water now that we were further upstream. We rounded a corner and saw our first set of waterfalls, just a low set of cascades which we walked alongside. And then, just behind those, a nice 30′ double cascade with a considerable amount of flow. At first I thought we had made it to the end, I had only seen maybe one picture of the waterfall and could barely remember that. But then Jessica (who has done a lot more research on the trails here than I) pointed at a group of three who were climbing up the waterfall. The real waterfall was beyond here.
We stood in a grotto at the base of the falls and discussed the wisdom of climbing up the waterfalls. Ultimately, we decided that I would push on and take what pictures that I could while Jess stayed where she was. I took off my backpack and left my phone with Jess and then waded into the pool at the base of the falls. The water easily went mid-thigh but felt good in the warm morning. I grabbed the rope and started pulling myself up the waterfall. Realistically, the waterfall wasn’t that tall, nor flowing that fast, but it still felt pretty cool to be climbing up a waterfall.
Once at the top of the falls I waved to Jess then continued following the stream. I quickly caught up and passed the group of three. Not wanting to leave Jess all alone I hurried along, wading through a deep pool (waist high) and climbing along the steep stream bank. And then, just like that, I was at Makaua Falls. The trail ends at a circular box canyon (a cul-de-sac if you will) with near vertical walls on all sides except the one I came in. And there was the waterfall — nearly 100′ high.
I stayed long enough to take a good look at Makaua Falls, take a couple of pictures and then turned right around to try and convince Jessica to come join me. But once at the base of the falls again describing everything to Jess, I realized that it probably wasn’t a good idea. So we turned and went back down the canyon. In hindsight, the canyon at this point is very narrow and any sort of falling debris could be quite dangerous, which is why Sacred Falls (another nearby waterfall) is off limits. There has been at least one fatality on this very trail just a few months back.
Before & After
As we continued down the canyon following the stream, we noticed that the stream looked higher. Not a Flash-Flood-Dangerously-Higher, just fuller. And when we got to a crossing that I distinctly remembered was dry when we came up only to find it with a trickle of water going through, we took a closer look. Sure enough, the stream was filling up little by little. Not slow enough to be boring, and not fast enough to be dangerous. So for the next hour we slowly walked along the stream watching it fill up; watching trickles form into rivulets, form into cascades of water. Some may find it boring, but we found it very peaceful and relaxing to watch the water fill all the nooks and crannies of the rocks, guessing at where we would first see the water start to tumble down. It reminded us of the time 3 years ago when we watched an icedam break on a small creek off the Red Canyon Trail in Dixie National Forest, Utah.
Before & After
Eventually the trail turned away from the stream so we were forced to leave our little show behind. We made it back to the car shortly thereafter. Overall the trail is only 1.5 miles round trip, but we ended up taking almost 3 hours given all of our stopping. We drove home happy to know there were still little gems that we haven’t seen on the island.
If you’re interested the Makaua Falls Trail, check out our AllTrails recording here.