Time: 3-4 HOURS
Distance: 3.5 MILES
Elevation Gain: 700 Feet
Foot Traffic: LOW
Challenges: Very Slippery, Muddy, Finding path into Valley, River Crossings
Sights: Kalauao Falls, Waianae Range
What to Bring: Shoes to get muddy, Water, Snack
A muddy and slippery hike that stems from the popular Aiea Loop Trail and leads to a beautiful waterfall. You will be required to descend a steep slope to get to the base of Kalauao Valley before crossing the Kalauao Stream 8 times, but all that slipping and scrambling will lead you to one of the most beautiful and secluded waterfalls on the island.
So a quick confession (which may be obvious from this post's cover photo) the flow was NOT GOOD the day I ventured to these falls. It had rained heavily for two days prior to me attacking this hike, but that wasn't enough to turn on this natural faucet full blast. I have heard that these are some of the most amazing and beautiful falls on Oahu if you time it right. But alas, I did not. However, the journey into Kalauao Valley was quite the adventure itself and maybe some day I'll return to see the falls when they are really flowing.
Here's a sketch of the hike. You start on the Aiea loop trail for a short time before cutting onto an adjacent ridge. From here, you will look for the "Purple Tree" landmark that indicates your descent into the valley. Once you reach the valley floor, you will cross the Kalauao Stream roughly 8 times until you run into the falls.
The trailhead for the Aiea Loop Trail is located at the top of a hill in the Keaiwa State Recreation Area. Something to note is the gates to the park close at 6:45 pm. So it is possible to knock this hike out after work, but only if you get off very early.
Let's hike! You should be able to tell from this surface that the hike is quite muddy.
The initial part of the Aiea Loop Trail looks like this--a reddish dirt covered in tree roots. This trail doesn't provide panoramic or coastal views like many other Oahu hikes, but it has a unique feel and is one of the reasons I really enjoy this hike.
Another reason I like this trail, there's seating! Last time I was here, there was a beautiful rainbow just beyond this bench in the valley. No pics sorry, but it will always make this bench special.
On we go. The curvature of the trees create a tunnel-like feel to this path.
About 10 minutes into the hike you will see this powerline structure above and to the right of the path. Let's go up for a better look.
Ah a nice valley view! In the distance is the West side of Oahu and the Waianae Range, one of the two mountain ranges on Oahu. This powerline structure is also an important landmark for this hike. Head back down to the trail and walk a few minutes farther.
And you will come to a somewhat obvious opening in the trees on the left side of the trail. This is the fork you need to take to get to the valley. Many other posts about this hike indicate this fork as very obvious. Maybe I'm in my own little world when I hike, but the first time I went looking the fork, I totally missed it. So others like me may need to pay a bit more attention if you're a hiking space cadet.
After the fork you will walk through the trees for a short bit.
Then you will pop back out on this ridge underneath this powerline structure. Take in these ridge views while you can, because soon we will be heading into the valley.
Back into the trees one more time. It's getting muddier...
The trail will open up again. This is when you really need to start paying attention, because the fork to the valley is coming up. There are two spots where it looks like the trail might split off into the valley to the right.
Wait until the SECOND junction and look for this tree branch painted in purple. This signifies the path down. I reached this junction roughly 15 minutes after departing from the Aiea Loop.
To the right of the Purple tree, the path looks like this. Follow this to get to the valley floor.
From here the trail is well marked until you get to the valley.
But it is pretty steep and if you're lucky, slippery. I say lucky because it really needs to be wet for the flow to be good.
We've reached the bottom! From here, we are going to follow the river right and upstream to reach Kalauao Falls. You can see the stream bed in front of me is dry. Not a good sign...
This portion of the trail is very well marked, so there's little risk in getting lost.
And in reality, you're just following the stream. I DO recommend following these markers and crossing the stream where they indicate. In total you should cross the stream (I believe) 8 times. It may seem like zig zagging, but you are taking the path of least resistance and less chance of injury. Since I thought it was so dry, I got cocky and tried to head straight upstream instead. I instantly fell on my face. Even on a dry day, you really need to watch your footing.
After about 30 minutes, we reached the falls. Yes I know, this isn't a great picture. But it's all about the journey right?
Alright I'll give you a good picture. This isn't mine obviously, It's Exploration Hawaii's who also has a great writeup about this hike. But this shot really shows how beautiful this waterfall can be with good flow. I had to imagine this is what I was seeing, but it's just motivation to return. It's the thrill of the chase right?
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Also Check Out:
- Exploration Hawaii's Post about this hike