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.
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.
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.
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.
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 â€˜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.