Opaekaa Falls Trail Still Closed

Paul writes to ask:

We were also hoping to hike to the bottom of Opaeka’a Falls via the short, standard trail/route that starts just upstream of the falls. However, I recently found out that the state closed this trail because two women fell to their deaths from the top late last year. Are folks still using this trail? Is the state serious about enforcing this closure? I have never been a fan of blanket trail closures by the authorities in an attempt to “save competent outdoors folks from ourselves”. Any insight you could provide on the status of the Opaeka’a Falls Trail would be greatly appreciated.

Here is a Honolulu Star Bulletin article about the closure.

The public land around Opaeka’a Falls is still closed by special decree of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Personally, I feel the closure is unwarranted, though I have been too busy to address my concerns to the state or even to blog about it. I don’t know what it would take to get it open again. When it was open, it wasn’t even a real trail and certain sections are hazardous, I guess it was just too close to the road and too easy for non-experienced hikers to get into dangerous situations.

OpaekaaFence1

The photo above shows the fence and signs that the state installed all along the trailhead area (with a memorial to the women). I have seen state rangers there enforcing the closure, and I assume fining the people they find. However, looking at these photos I took a while ago, there is no mention that the area is off limits. I have heard that residents nearby, for whatever reason, report cars parked there, so you don’t have much of a chance of sneaking in.

OpaekaaFence2

I think the DLNR made a big mistake installing the fence. It is obviously easy to hop over or go around. If you went around on the left side, you’d end up on the right trail. But if you went around on the right side as it looks possible to do in the photo above, you would find yourself on the steep slope with slippery vegetation that is precisely the spot where the women fell to their deaths.

One website I found suggests hiking to the falls from the bottom, after kayaking up the Opaekaa stream from the Wailua River. I have paddled up there, but the stream is blocked by trees in a way that seems to make it impossible to just get out and walk. There may be a way to hack through or maybe land elsewhere and walk up, but I haven’t found it.

Printed from: http://great-hikes.com/blog/opaekaa-falls-trail-still-closed/.
© 2018.

10 Comments   »

  1. Michael says:

    It still puzzles me how these ladies died. The directions I read many years ago led me no where near the top of the falls. Granted, the ‘trail’ is a bit rugged and clearly not defined but I continue to take new visitors to Kauai down to the bottom each time I go to Kauai twice a year. The people living in the houses across from the pullout will preach and scream at you that it is closed. Anyone that uses common sense and respects the land can safely hike this trail – including my friends who are both in their seventies! They felt this hike was the best part of their trip to Kauai. The peaceful serenity while at the bottom is indescribable. The State is wrong to ‘close’ the trail. My suggestion would be to have someone drop a few people off then return for a pick up later so one would not have a car parked at the trailhead.

  2. Kimo says:

    I think the trail should be open also for the many responsible and able hikers only if the state could be protected from law suits on all of the hiking trails throughout the state. The state is currently being sued by the families of those two women who fell to their deaths and that I feel is absolutely wrong. We as adults should take responsibility for our own decisions and actions.

  3. Dan says:

    Why bother…? There are countless waterfalls/hikes to visit here. So what if you think you are competent, the idea is to save the lives of those who are completely clueless.

  4. Jacquie says:

    This is an extreamly late post to those who DID not know the female hikers…..
    These ladies had hiking experienc and FOLLOWED the trail directions…..ALSO…they were NOT the first to have an accident falling from that area!
    BEFORE you post get ALL the info!!

  5. Andy says:

    Hi Jacquie, you bring up some good points, but I think you’re over-reacting to the “clueless” comment. I never did write up my opinion of the whole matter, but to summarize: the ladies were not experienced at hiking on Kaua’i (most visitors aren’t) and were misguided by poorly written directions in the Ultimate Kaua’i Guide book. I place most of the blame on the authors of that guidebook. If you’d like to elaborate on your comment, feel free to reply or email me: andy a t great-hikes dot com.

  6. bill says:

    To Dan. That there are other waterfalls/hikes to do is not the point. It’s not the business of the government to “save lives of the completely clueless”. At least 94 people have died hiking the Kalalau Trail. Should the State close that down? The State of Hawaii is simply scared of lawsuits by the families of victims who were irresponsible. There will be more restrictions on hikes and waterfalls in Hawaii’s near future, unfortunately.

  7. bill says:

    The women who went on the trail to the right of the top of Opaeka’a Falls simply made a fatal mistake. Al the State of Hawaii has to do is block off this right-side with a fence and a sign saying “Do Not Enter This Way, Take The Trail To The Left”, where it’s steep and has a rope but the hikers WILL NOT die. Problem solved. But the State will not do this because they want, out of sheer spite, to keep people away from the pool at the falls. Period. A “dangerous hiking trail” is just red herring and the State knows it.

  8. Andy says:

    Hi Bill, sorry I did not see your comments and approve them sooner. You bring up a common opinion, but without going into liability law (and not being a lawyer either), I don’t think what you suggest is possible. The state did not make any trails here (not official trails), people did. The state estimated that the steep trail down across the slippery stream above the falls, then down the ropes was too dangerous already and put up a sign saying so. People made new trails even more dangerous, guidebook writers couldn’t adequately describe the right trail, and people unfamiliar with Kauai died.

    The state can’t go back and now allow people on the old trail, it IS dangerous for the average visitor. Without creating a regular trail to official standards, which is impossible in this terrain, the state’s only option (from their point of view) is to close down the entire access and fence it all off. The real problem is the guidebook writer not being pono, not respecting the land. They will hide behind freedom of speech, but by putting dangerous hikes in their book to advertise how they reveal hidden gems, they created this situation.

  9. bill says:

    Hi Andy. Actually, any scapegoated guidebook writers are irrelevant to the matter at hand. Besides, how do you know that the people who died at Opaekaa Falls were ill-advised by the aforementioned literature? Plus, even if they were influenced by this guidebook, that’s their problem. The State is not and should not be responsible for the lives of individuals. This would only lead to the State taking more control of the people. I’m sure you wouldn’t want that. I noticed that you didn’t comment on what I said about the Kalalau Trail? Perhaps you will answer these questions. The Toilet Bowl at Hanauma Bay is closed for good because, the State claims, of injuries and drownings. But the bay itself remains opened even though it has had about ten times as many drownings as the Toilet Bowl up until the year 2005. Would you support the State closing down all of Hanauma Bay in order to save lives? If not, why not? What about numerous injuries and deaths due to dangerous shore breaks at Sandy Beach, Oahu? How is the State going to stop a shore break from happening? But I wont ask you about the many pedestrians, both familiar and unfamiliar with the islands, over the decades who were hit by cars while crossing a street in Hawaii. Lastly, I’d rather “hide behind freedom of speech” than hide behind authoritarian (but benevolent) government. Aloha.

  10. Andy says:

    Hi Bill, your comment misunderstands what I wrote, whether deliberately or not. I was taking the point of view of the State, that is the people who work for the State and have responsibilities and had to take action. I did this to explain why the State did what it did, not to agree or approve of what it did. Still, I published your comment and will respond. But if you do not write considerate comments that take the time to understand the other side of the discussion, I reserve the right to not publish any of your responses.

    To take your points in the same order: how could guidebook writers not be relevant? If a columnist of your town’s newspaper decides to promote the public park across from your house as a great hang-out spot, and soon everyone is parking there making it noisy and busy, you can’t say the columnist is irrelevant. You seem to want to restrict the discussion to absolutes, but I don’t see how that helps to either understand the entire situation or find a solution.

    I do not know for sure if they were influenced by this guidebook. I seem to remember it being mentioned in the press coverage of the accident and trial, but I don’t have to the time to go searching for quotes right now. But surely you can consider the general case, especially since there were 2 accidents, and it all happened before the rise of social media, so the guidebook was one of the few sources of information.

    You wrote: “The State is not and should not be responsible for the lives of individuals.” This mixes up both a wrong statement (the State is not responsible for the lives of individuals) and a wish/opinion (the State should not be responsible for the lives of individuals). The first statement is wrong because under current laws, the courts decided that the State WAS responsible for the lives of these individuals. You don’t have to agree with that interpretation, and I certainly don’t, but neither of us are lawyers or judges or jurors in this case, and neither of us got to make the arguments or decision that binds the State. When you say the “State should not be responsible for the lives of individuals,” that is certainly a strong and principled stand, and I tend to agree with you. But what is an opinion without any action? But like everything there is no black-or-white answer here, you have to deal with reality, and reality has thousands of shades of grey. That’s what I’m trying to analyze and understand in this discussion.

    For example, when you say “This would only lead to the State taking more control of the people,” what type of “control” do you mean? Is the State controlling us when it makes us wear seat belts? Are you controlled by the State when you can’t drive against a one-way road? Are you against the State controlling people on land that belongs to the State? You seem like the type of person who believes in property rights, so since the State owns the land in question, and the people have made laws that allow the State to close State land, where is the problem? Look at Kipu Falls, surrounded by private land. There were serious injuries there, and the land owner fenced it all off with barbed wire and security patrols. Is the owner of Kipu Falls “taking more control of the people” by closing it?

    You wrote: “I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.” Tell us, Bill, do you beat your wife? Because that is the type of hyperbole and putting words into my mouth that you are using here. I won’t tolerate or publish any more comments like that.

    I don’t have the time to go looking for your comments about the Kalalau trail or the situation at Hanauma Bay. This article is about the situation at Opaeka’a Falls, and I will stick to that here. I think my position is clear enough for the general case as well.

    To sum it all up: the current laws (State constitution and statutes) have been evaluated and determined to both make the state responsible for people’s lives on state land in this particular case, and to allow the state to close state land in this particular case. It seems you disagree with laws that allow both of those, and I will say that I disagree with those laws as well (but that doesn’t mean I agree with all of your opinions). I also think that other factors such as what I can only call misguided guidebook writers have exacerbated the problem by bringing the whole situation to the point where accidents were more likely and action was taken. Note that it was the private parties that sued the state and triggered the decision of responsibility, which inevitably led to the decision of closure. In essence it was certain people who asked the State to control them. For these reasons, I criticise the guidebook writers, find fault with the people’s actions, and wish that State laws be changed so that the State is not responsible for people’s lives and the State cannot close State land. Can I be any more clear?

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