Koloa Gulch: Wonderful Windward Waterfall in the Wet and Wild West

Koloa Gulch is an 8 mile roundtrip waterfall hike that leads to a massive waterfall (or 2 if you have time) in back of this Hauula valley on the windward side of the island. While long, the hike is not difficult as there are no strenuous inclines or declines save for the very beginning of the trail. Caution is warranted as flash floods would be extremely dangerous at certain portions of the hike and one must be careful of falling rocks as well. It is still a fairly tiring hike but delivers an excellent waterfall for those who make it to the end.

Massive waterfall at the end of the 4 mile hike

Many streams will be crossed

This was another hike set up by OHA. Quyen chose this hike while Laredo led us. Only 3 of us signed up, as the recommendation of felt bottom shoes and crampons may have scared away potential hikers. Like La’ie, a permit is required for this trail. Stuart Ball tells us how to get there:

At Punchbowl St. get on Lunalilo Fwy (H-1) heading ewa (west). Take Likelike Hwy (exit 20A, Rte 63 north) up Kalihi Valley through the Wilson Tunnel. The highway forks. Keep right for Kahekili Hwy (Rte 83 west). Kahekili Hwy becomes Kamehameha Hwy (still Rte 83), which continues up the windward coast. Drive through Kaaawa and Punaluu to Hauula. Pass Hau‘ula Beach Park on the right and Hauula Shopping Center on the left. On the right look for Kokololio Beach Park with its long rock wall. Turn right into the lot there and park at the far end.

Continue along Kamehameha Hwy on foot. Pass mile marker 20 and cross a small culvert marked by yellow poles. Almost immediately turn left on a dirt road across from house number 55-147. Another dirt road comes in on the right through a gate. Continue straight, along a short row of ironwood trees.

Ball, Stuart M., Jr. (2000-09-01). The Hikers Guide to the O’ahu, Rev. Ed. (Kindle Locations 3966-3980). Latitude 20. Kindle Edition.

Right before making a left onto the trail from the dirt road, we encountered some dogs. While they seemed fairly mean, Laredo was able to subdue them with some dog whispering.

Some rock hopping will be needed

The trail begins with a slight descent on a muddy track and soon you will encounter a steam to cross. Get used to it as you will be making 40 or so stream crossings throughout the hike. Unless there is a flash flood, the water will not be too high. One can simply walk on the water to cross most of the sections. This will be less risky than rock hopping, but neither is particularly difficult under normal circumstances.

The surroundings get narrower

Keep an eye out for ribbons as they will tell you when to cross. If you do lose the trail, simply go upstream until you find a trail again. You will never be too far from the stream on this hike. And as long as you are going upstream you are going the right direction. Towards the second half of the trail, the walls will close in a bit and some danger emerges. Here, it will be more difficult to climb towards high ground if there is a sudden flash flood. The water can rise quickly.

Beginning of the boulder section

The second portion of the hike also presents boulders. Now some rock hopping and slight bouldering is needed rather than simple stream crossings; although nothing here requires great effort to pass.

One of the sections you’ll cross

During the summer months, you should also find abundant mountain apples on the trail, especially in the boulder section. There are also a couple GeoCaches to be found if those interest you.

Laredo makes a new friend

Eventually, you will reach a fork in the stream. Continue right to follow the traditional trail. If you go left, you will also find a small pool and waterfall. As you go right, you will encounter a nice pool with a massive waterfall in the upper area. To climb to the higher waterfall, find the rope on the left side of the pool and use that to go up. You will be in about 5 feet of water before you start climbing and this requires a fair amount of upper body strength to complete. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a waterfall (possibly 100+ ft) and a nice pool.

Yellow ginger and treasures from the GeoCache

If you take the left fork, which I haven’t done yet, there is supposed to be another massive waterfall after the initial pool that you will find. I believe this takes more time to get to so pace yourself well if you decide to go left or towards both.

Quyen posing by the falls while allowing us to see the scale of the falls

Koloa Gulch is a rewarding waterfall hike and a fairly easy trail. It does require a lot of time, however. This took us just under 6 hours but I have heard 8 hours is also typical. On the trip back, you can simply walk down the stream if it is dry enough to speed up the trip. There will also be a somewhat steep climb as you return out of the gulch at the end that should prove to be the most strenuous part of the hike. Take precautions on the hike and be prepared for possible flash floods. Hauula is the wettest spot on Oahu and expect a strong flow right after it rains.

Explorers: Marvin, Quyen and Laredo

About Marvin

Endurance hiker and our resident daredevil with a heart of gold. Extreme chocolate raisin eater and master of sensory dominance.