Update: Significant edits have been made to this post. I have removed directions at the request of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Please watch the video above for reasons why you should not do this hike. Mahalo.
Note: Sacred Falls Park and Sacred Falls trail has been closed since May 1999. The State of Hawaii has no plans to re-open the park. It is illegal to hike this trail and to do so would be cause for citation or arrest. There is also a risk of falling boulders, landslides, and drowning. As our disclaimer partially reads: “I’m not your daddy, these are dangerous as sh*t hikes, even the simple ones, if you got [insert applicable disorder, disease, or physical impairment] don’t even think about it yo.” Also, consider these tips on Hiking Safely In Hawaii. Mahalo.
Before the tragedy of 1999, Sacred Falls was one of the top tourist attractions for those visiting the island of Oahu. This all changed the month before I graduated high school, Mother’s Day 1999, when eight people were killed and 50 more were injured from a massive landslide. At its height, the popular trail and waterfall received up to 55,000 visitors annually. Since 1999, the park and the waterfall trail has been closed to visitors and hopeful waterfall seekers. In 2003, the State of Hawaii reached an $8.56 million settlement with those injured and the families of the victims. Regardless, Sacred Falls continues to flow and thrill-seekers continue to visit her.
Accessing Sacred Falls is not difficult. In fact, if you grew up in Hawaii then you probably know of its exact location and may have visited it prior to the 1999 tragedy. Odds are that if you visited Oahu before the tragedy then you too might be familiar with the falls as well. [Removed].
At 55,000 annual visitors, Sacred Falls trail received roughly 150 daily visitors – many of whom were tourists. With that said, the trail itself to the falls is not a difficult one. In terms of terrain, it’s similar to the Manoa Falls trail (fairly wide with little elevation gain) but longer and with a couple of stream crossings. Don’t let the Manoa Falls comparison fool you, though. The Sacred Falls trail can be quite dangerous. You should definitely not even consider this trail if it has been raining recently, simply because of the stream crossings that need to be completed. Also, the valley will narrow considerably once you are deep in the valley. To be stuck in the stream while the water is raging would be very bad. And let’s not forget, there’s always the danger of you getting cited for trespassing. There are rumors that residents near the park will call the police if they see people entering the park. Other people have said that sometimes there is an officer/state official waiting along the trail to issue citations. I did mention above that the park has been officially closed since 1999, right?
The potential physical dangers are not the only things that you should be worried about. Make no mistake, Sacred Falls is indeed sacred to the Hawaiian people. The falls, known to Hawaiians as Kaliuwa’a, means “leaking canoe.” And according to Greg Cleghorne, this place is filled with legend. Folklore says that the valley’s name is derived from the story of a mischievous demigod known as Kamapua’a. This demigod was able to take the shape of man and pig. Legend says that this demigod would often steal food from a local village. The village people became tired of the mischief and set out to hunt the demigod. The demigod then ran into the valley to create a double-hulled canoe to help with his escape. The demigod was only able to finish one-side of the canoe, leaving the other unfinished. The unfinished hull is what is now known as Sacred Falls.
Meanwhile, ghost hunters believe that the falls is the starting point for night marchers on the Koolauloa side of the island. And let’s not forget the many people that have died here. Let’s just say that the mana in this area is strong. I could definitely feel it as it sent chills down my spine.