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Paddling down a winding river in search of a secluded waterfall sounds like an all-to-favorite scenario from network television. But on the north shore of Kauai, this dreamy Hollywood scene becomes reality at the Kalihiwai River. Kayakers enjoy paddling through a hushed tropical forest, which leads to Kalihiwai Falls; however, they can’t quite get to it, legally. It sits on private property and is considered trespassing, so the only way to see the falls is with a tour group.
Row, row, row down Kauai’s Kalihiwai River.
We spent a few days exploring the Kalihiwai valley, starting with a peaceful kayak to the back of the valley. You start with a sandy launch from Kalihiwai Bay before paddling under a bridge, where the river starts to get narrow. Be prepared to duck under a few fallen branches. My paddle actually got caught on one that was hidden underwater. The surprise splash of freezing river water made me thankful that we didn’t tip over.
Children and old folks welcome the quick, two-mile paddle in and out of the valley. The shallow waters signal the end of the expedition and is usually calm enough for swimming. The water’s usually pretty murky, so I can imagine that snorkeling the Kalihiwai wouldn’t be too exciting.
You can only access Kalihiwai Falls with a guided tour group.
The next day, we went on a guided tour to the long-awaited waterfall. The four-mile hike took us deep into the forest, which sits on the private Princeville Ranch, and required a lot of physical exertion. Anticipation continued to build as we climbed a few natural staircases, crossed several streams and then scaled a 10-foot rock wall. Three hours later, we found ourselves very much alone at this secluded five-tiered waterfall. We continued farther up the river to find a second waterfall swimming hole surrounded by fern-covered walls and a light misty morning. And talk about freezing waters…After cannonballing in, my body tensed up, as I found safety on an anchored inner tube.
Here’s the second falls you’ll see on your tour through Kalihiwai valley.
Remember that bridge we kayaked under? That’s another place to get a glimpse of the falls. Although, I wouldn’t recommended it. You have to park on the side of the highway then backtrack to the bridge by foot. Not to mention, avoid the traffic that’s whizzing by. And once you get to the bridge, it really is just a “glimpse.” The view from the bridge just doesn’t do the falls justice. It’s so far away that you can’t truly experience the essence of the falls, so be adventurous and explore the valley by foot or by kayak!
KALIHIWAI RIVER • North Shore Kauai • Access river by kayak; access waterfall with a guided tour