Wailua Falls Fenced Off

Every now and then, I like to visit the tourist spots on Kauai, the places locals almost never go anymore. So back in January when I had an hour in Lihue between appointments, I drove to the famous Wailua Falls overlook. The falls were as pretty as ever, with plenty of runoff from the winter rains:

Not Yours!

I also discovered the secret to catching the rainbow in the spray below. You have to go when the sun is near the point directly behind your head as you look at the falls. In early January, this happens around noon. In late fall and early winter, the rainbow should still be visible in the morning, but during spring and summer, the sun is in the wrong place.
This time, I knew something was different even before I arrived because much of the road to the falls had been repaved. There is still a small section with potholes, and the rest is still narrow and curvy, but it makes the driving much easier. But I wasn’t aware that the State Parks department had entirely rebuilt the lookout area. The parking lot beyond and viewing area haven’t changed that much, but the addition of the rock wall and striping on the road give more security to pedestrians.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that to see the pool below the waterfall, as in the photo above, you need to stand on the wall. I suppose it’s easier to stand on the wall than the old fence, but it would be better if they trimmed the vegetation back instead.

Come to think of it, if the State went to all this trouble of fixing the lookout, they should’ve acquired another acre of land nearby and created a small loop with more parking and a physical barrier between the road and the walking area.

Another noticeable difference is the proliferation of warning signs. From the wording on them, they just left the old ones that mention the fence, and added new ones that mention the wall.

You can see in the photo above that there is a fence that begins just to the right of the wall. This fence existed before, and it blocks off an impossibly steep gully that you’d have to be crazy to think you can get down it to the base of the falls.

So far so good, there’s no harm in having more signs, and it may even do some good. But then I started exploring around, as I’m prone to do, and was quickly thwarted.

To the right of the chain link fence is one of the very steep trails down to the waterfall. This is not an official trail, but scores of people have made their way down using directions from the guidebooks. Now, there is a low, temporary-looking fence that runs along the whole area.

It doesn’t really keep people out, and indeed the fence is flattened in one spot giving easy access. But it really sends the message that the State Park administration doesn’t want people going to the pool at the base of the falls.

No problem, I think to myself, I prefer the other trail down anyways, it’s more scenic. A 1/4-mile back on the road is a large turnout, now nicely paved with a shiny new guardrail.

But the State Parks fenced this whole area off as well, and put up some new signs for good measure. Again, the barrier is more psychological then physical, but it does make the conscientious hiker pause and reconsider.

Just for fun, I went to see the top of the falls instead. I really must emphasize that standing at the top of waterfalls is dangerous, the top of the cliff can be slippery, and trying to cross the river there has deadly consequences if you fall in. But the hole in the old fence was still open, so I went to check it out.

This area is more secluded and less interesting than the pool, and there is no real trail. But sure enough, there was a new fence going all the way down to the river and more than enough signs for the State to cover its liability.

Update: A reader wrote to say that the little fences were not present last November when he hiked down to the falls from the turnout. He also makes it sound as if the wall was not built yet either, so all the work was probably done in December 2007.

Printed from: http://great-hikes.com/blog/wailua-falls-fenced-off/.
© 2018.


  1. Bill Rink says:

    Hi Andy!

    We were at Wailua Falls in April 2007 and the wall was built. I just checked our photos. We go to Kauai once a year in April, our spring break. Sure am enjoying your blog!


  2. Andy says:

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for the clarification. So the wall is about a year old, but the fences are recent.

  3. Peggy Kemp says:

    Andy, I don’t think the fences are particularly recent, either. Matt and I scoped it out last August before my mom came to visit, to see if the road was still as bad as it had been, since she doesn’t like to ride over bumpy roads. The wall was there, and at least some of the fences as well.

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