A Steep Climb Down Into Kalauao Valley In Search of Kalauao Falls

For many Hawaii hikers, rain is a sign that it’s time to go hunting for waterfalls. Over the last week or so, I’ve been doing just that. One of the waterfalls that I decided to check out was Kalauao Falls, located off of the Aiea Loop Trail. It was a lazy Sunday. Joel drove down from Waialua to pick me up in Salt Lake. From Salt Lake, Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area is a short five-ish minute drive away. We drove to the end of the park and then set off looking for the junctions and side trails that would lead us to Kalauao Falls.

Soon after passing the first junction, you'll encounter these powerlines. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Soon after passing the first junction, you’ll encounter these powerlines. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I counted six torn off shoe soles as we hiked this trail. Proper footwear is key. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I counted six torn off shoe soles as we hiked this trail. Proper footwear is key. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Flashy hiker. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Flashy hiker. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Starting from the top of the Aiea Loop Trail, we quickly made our way past the water tank at the start of the trail. About 15 minutes into the hike, you will reach the first crucial junction. This was actually the first visible side trail that I noticed, and it was quite obvious. It will be on your left hand side and will come directly after, what Stuart Ball refers to as, a reverse S curve. You’ll encounter a narrow pathway through strawberry guava and then you will encounter an open area with a power-line tower. Continue past the power-line, passing even more strawberry guava and eucalyptus. You’ll slowly descend for about 30 minutes or so before you reach the second, and most crucial, junction.

Joel at the second junction. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel at the second junction. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

It's a steep climb down. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

It’s a steep climb down. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Had the GoPro mounted on the GoPole and then strapped to my back to give a "third person shooter" perspective. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Had the GoPro mounted on the GoPole and then strapped to my back to give a “third person shooter” perspective. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Tree trails. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Tree trails. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Of black socks and wet shoes. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Of black socks and wet shoes. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The second junction will be on your right, with the major landmark being a mango tree. For many, this is where they’ll get lost or go off trail. In fact, a few moments after we hit the junction, a father with his maybe 8-year-old son, slowly passed us by. We asked where they were headed, since they were bypassing the junction, they told us that they were headed to the waterfall. We told them that this was the junction, and so they followed us down.

As we were making our way down, I told the father that this portion of the hike is considered to be the most steep and most dangerous. Indeed, there were parts during the descent that were a little hairy. A misstep here and you would go tumbling down. Fortunately, there are many trees and branches for you to grab a hold to. These are very useful. Although a quarter of the way down, there is a rope installed, you’re on your own for the rest of the descent. It probably took us a good 25 minutes or so to reach the stream. Once we hit the bottom, we waited a bit for the father and son to make it down. When they did arrive, I told them that there would be about 8 or so stream crossings, and to be on the lookout for ribbons. He said “ok,” and then we parted ways. We never saw the father and son again, I assume that they gave up somewhere along the stream bed.

The standard GoPro "hey, look at me" photo! Shot with a GoPro Hero 3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The standard GoPro “hey, look at me” photo! Shot with a GoPro Hero 3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Gushing along the stream. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Gushing along the stream. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Mega boulder. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Mega boulder. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Shooting Kalauao Falls. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Shooting Kalauao Falls. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The only shot of Kalauao Falls that I was able to get before my battery died on the NEX-5N. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The only shot of Kalauao Falls that I was able to get before my battery died on the NEX-5N. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Walking along the stream was fun, especially since it was flowing nicely. Large boulders and mini waterfalls and rapids persisted along the idyllic stream. As mentioned earlier, there will be many stream crossings. I counted 6 crossings before we simply cut our way directly to the waterfall. Once at the waterfall, both Joel and I were in awe. It was beautiful. And we were both happy to be there while it was flowing hard. This waterfall is known to be very dry and has recently been found to not be flowing at all. Therefore, it’s best to visit after it has been raining. A good indication as to whether the waterfall is flowing would be the stream. If the stream is dry then there’s a good chance that the waterfall at the end will bed dry as well.

Since we started the trail fairly late in the day at around 1:30pm, we didn’t have much time to spend at the falls. We reached the Kalauao falls at around 3:15pm and I gave us a thirty minute time limit to enjoy the waterfall. The last thing that I wanted was to be stuck down in the stream or to be working our way up the steep hill while the sun was setting. The plan was to be back at Joel’s 4Runner by 6pm or earlier. There was no need to worry, though. The hike out out ended up being faster than the hike in. I’m guessing all the time spent taking photos of the stream was the cause for the lost time during the hike in. We ended up reaching the 4Runner a little before 5:30pm. To our surprise, there were a few people just starting the Aiea Loop Trail. I hope that they brought flashlights with them.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo.

Kalauao Falls. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Kalauao Falls. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

That's me. In retrospect, I should have moved that stupid fallen branch. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

That’s me. In retrospect, I should have moved that stupid fallen branch. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Joel admiring Kalauao Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel admiring Kalauao Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Satisfied. Shot with a GoPro Hero3.  Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Satisfied. Shot with a GoPro Hero3. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Distance: 3.5 miles roundtrip.

Total Time: Between 3-4 hours roundtrip.

Kalauao Falls Tips:

  • If you would like to see Kalauao Falls flowing, then go and visit it after heavy rainfall.
  • As you cross the stream bed, the rocks will be slippery. Watch your step.
  • There will be roughly 8 stream crossings.
  • Don’t be one of those people who have their shoes fall apart while hiking this trail. Appropriate footwear should be worn, such as waterproof hiking shoes or felt bottom tabis which will help with the stream crossings.

Directions to Kalauao Falls: Follow H-1 to Moanalua Highway (Hwy. 78). Take the Aiea cutoff to the third traffic light, make a right turn at ‘Aiea Heights Drive and follow it about 3 miles up to the end of the road. The trailhead to the Aiea Loop Trail is located at the end of the road. Kalauao Falls is a side trail that veers off of the Aiea Loop Trail. Refer to write-up in regards to the two critical junctions to get to Kalauao Falls.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

7 comments

  1. Actually the branch makes the picture more interesting. The standard Go Pro monopod self-shot is a puzzled look with a slight frown (as if unsure if the camera is going to fire). Not sure why but that’s the norm.

    • LOL, Will! That’s because they’re waiting for that 5 second timed shot! Not sure if it went off or not so they’ve got that puzzled look, haha.

      Still getting used to the Hero3, the settings had me shooting 10 shots per second, or something crazy like that. But the positive with shooting 10 shots per second…. it’ll definitely catch your smile!

  2. ^^^ You guys are hilarious! Me, I just take a bunch of pics and review later. Rarely do I snap single shots.

    …. and yeah I too get the frown pics.

  3. This was a really great hike and even better falls! I never would have found it without your directions, especially the 2nd junction. There was no marker or ribbon I only had your picture to go off of (and the Mango tree, however I saw a few Mango trees in that area). But I found it with ease so thank you so much, it made for a great day! Keep posting new ones!

    • Glad you enjoyed the trail, Heidi! Yeah, it’s the lesser known cousin of the Aiea Loop Trail. And I am happy that the mango tree pic helped!!!

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