Are you planning a trip to Kauai and wondering what to expect on a Secret Falls Kauai kayak excursion? Do you feel uncertain about what to wear, what to bring, or how challenging the hike and kayaking will be?
As someone who has experienced this adventure firsthand in January 2022, I understand your concerns and aim to answer all of your questions about the Wailua River kayak tour in this article.
I will share my expertise and knowledge of this Wailua River kayak tour to help you prepare for your journey to Secret Falls.
Additionally, I will clarify the differences between a self-guided experience and a guided tour so that you can make an informed decision about which option is right for you.
By the end of this article, you will feel confident and ready to embark on your own Secret Falls adventure.
Kayak Kauai Secret Falls: What is it?
There is an abundance of Kauai activities that must be done during your time on the Garden Island, and kayaking along the Wailua River to Secrets Falls is one of them.
The falls are no longer a secret on Kauai because they can be accessed without too much difficulty and it is a relatively well-known activity to enjoy while in Kauai. This Secret Falls tour involves kayaking up the Wailua River and hiking to a secluded waterfall.
Secret Falls’ real name is Uluwehi Falls and it is a stunning 30 metre-tall (100 ft) waterfall. It is an impressive backdrop for photographs and worth the reasonable workout required to get there.
The Secret Falls kayak and hike tour is the perfect activity for those who love outdoor adventures, nature, and stunning waterfalls.
Find out more information about the east of Kauai in this article that will help you choose where to stay in Kauai.
Read on to learn further detail about what to expect on the kayak to Secret Falls Kauai.
How to Kayak to Secret Falls?
To get to the beautiful Secret Falls in Kauai, you first need to navigate the Wailua River.
The journey begins with a scenic paddle up the river, with lush, scenic views. You can use a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) to travel along the water.
Depending on your speed, the journey by kayak will take around 45 minutes one way. If you take a SUP, you will be much slower.
Then, you will arrive at the beach where you will leave the watercraft. After kayaking the Wailua River, you will embark on a moderate hike through the jungle, crossing streams and rocky terrain, to reach the waterfall.
You will hike through varying terrain for around 25 to 30 minutes until you reach Secret Falls.
Kayaking the Wailua River: With or Without a Guide?
It is your choice whether to rent a kayak (or another vessel) from a shop and find the Secret Falls on your own or if you want to book a guided Secret Falls kayak tour.
The decision to book a guided tour or rent kayaks and explore Secret Falls Kauai on your own will depend on your personal preferences and level of comfort.
Whether you decide to book a tour or rent kayaks for a self-guided experience, you need to be prepared in terms of clothing, footwear, and knowing your abilities.
Unless you already have water equipment with you, you need to arrange this activity in advance by renting or booking a tour.
Reasons to Book a Guided Tour for Secret Falls
Booking a guided tour to hike and kayak to Secret Falls can be an excellent option for those who want to experience this adventure with a professional.
A guided tour will provide you with an experienced guide who can lead you safely through the trails and waterways, and offer insights into the local history and culture. Without a guide, you have a higher chance of getting lost or encountering unexpected obstacles.
Moreover, with a guided tour to Secret Falls, you can meet new people, which may enhance your overall experience, particularly if you are a smaller group or a solo traveller.
If you are booking a guided Secret Falls tour, you should reserve this much further in advance to get the earliest start time on your preferred day.
An early start is preferable to beat the crowds because the kayak to Secret Falls is a popular Kauai activity. I recommend a 7:00 AM start.
Many tours offer a picnic lunch in the tour, but if you only have a few days in Kauai, you may prefer to book a tour without a packed lunch included so you can arrange an alternate lunch experience after.
After our Wailua River kayak self-guided adventure came to an end, my family and I went to Lava Lava Beach Club for their Grab and Go lunch menu. The beach-front restaurant offers table service and an assortment of tasty lunch options, such as fish tacos, fresh salads, and burgers.
If you decide to book a guided tour, I recommend the following option below:
✔️ Tour duration: 4 – 5 hours
✔️ Free 24-hour cancellation
✔️ Use of dry bag
✔️ Maximum of 12 guests
Reasons to Rent Kayaks for Secret Falls
Renting kayaks and doing the hike and kayak to Secret Falls Kauai on your own also has its benefits. You will have the freedom to explore at your own pace, take breaks when you want, and enjoy the activity without having to adhere to a schedule set by the guide.
Another advantage of renting kayaks is that if you and your group are faster than other groups renting kayaks from the same location, you can get to the Secret Falls first and experience the falls with fewer people.
Whereas with a tour group, you have to keep to the speed of the slowest person in your group, whom you may not know.
If you are renting kayaks on the Wailua River, make sure you call your chosen company a few days ahead to arrange your equipment.
See the next section for more information on who to rent with.
Where to Rent Equipment for a Wailua River Kayak Adventure?
Those wishing to rent kayaks and make their way along the Wailua River to Secret Falls without a guide have several options.
Some kayak rental shops on Kauai require you to transport the boats from the shop to the river edge. They will help you mount the boat on top of your vehicle to drive the short distance. Other shops are within walking distance of the boat launch zone.
🚨 You should note that Secret Falls kayak rental shops and tours are not allowed to operate on the weekends.
I rented my canoes from Wailua Kayak & Canoe. This company is located directly on the Wailua River, so no hauling is required.
I found this company to be a great option for Wailua River kayak rental.
To book with Wailua Kayak & Canoe, you can call the company directly and leave a voice message if necessary. Given that I had an international phone number, I asked the Grand Hyatt Kauai activities concierge team to arrange it.
You may find information on the internet and social media about renting canoes or kayaks from Kamokila Hawaiian Village. However, as of December 2021, Kamokila Hawaiian Village has closed and does not rent out equipment. There is a rumour that a wealthy individual has bought the village and it is set to reopen in the future.
Instructions: Kayak Wailua River Without Guide
If you go for the self-guided rental option, you will be shown a map of the route to get to Secret Falls. However, the kayaking route is relatively straightforward. The hike is even easier because everyone you see on the hike is going to the same place.
You can take a photo of the map to Secret Falls, but it is easy to memorise. Hug the North Bank of the Wailua River (right side on the way there). When you get to the fork in the river, you continue to follow it to the right.
There is only one route to follow for the hike to this secret waterfall, so follow the way that seems logical.
On the kayak back from Secret Falls, you need to stay on the same side (north bank) as the way there.
Stay out of the way of the Fern Grotto boat tour and other motored boats.
What to Expect on the Hike to Secret Falls?
Arrive bright and early at your chosen location to start the Secret Falls Wailua River exploration. You will hear a safety briefing, instructions on using the kayak (or other equipment), and some brief expectations.
The area for loading boats to the water is small and can get busy, so make sure you are one of the first members of your group to get there. There is an outdoor public washroom near the water’s edge, so try to be organised by using this beforehand.
Once you are on the Wailua River, the fun begins. Keep paddling as per the directions until you reach the beach area where you should leave your kayak or paddleboard.
Walk along the rocky edge of the water – see the image above. It may feel like you are going in the wrong direction over big rocks seemingly leading towards nothing.
Some people leave walking sticks around this area, or your tour operator may have offered you one at the rental shop. Take a stick if you are worried about the deep river crossing or have minor injuries.
If you need to find other activities for your stay in Kauai, there are plenty of things to do in the Poipu area.
Secret Falls River Crossing Advice
Now it is time to tackle the hardest part of this water and land excursion; the river crossing. You may find that the water comes up to your knees or hips, depending on your height. The water is cold and relatively fast flowing.
There are two techniques for tackling the river crossing. Firstly, you can shuffle your feet along the ground, feeling for and avoiding the large rocks.
The riverbed is not flat, so you need to be careful of any obstacles in the water. My family and I used this technique, and we did not have any trouble.
The second option, which I heard a tour guide advise, is to lift your feet extremely high with each step to go over the rocks.
On my return, I saw a lady in her 60s in said tour group take a frightful fall while wading through the river crossing. She was unsteady and tripped over one of the big rocks in the water. The lady was not using a stick, so we donated ours to her.
Once you have made it past this first hurdle, you will experience muddy paths, tall grasses, slippery rocks, and more stream crossings. Do not bother drying your shoes out on the walk because you will need to keep getting them wet.
There are boardwalks on much of the hike to Secret Falls. The boardwalks are narrow, and you take the same route to the falls as on the return.
Another reason why you should start the hike early is so that you do not have to wait for other people to pass on the boardwalk.
Upon arrival at Secret Falls, you may want to take some pictures, go for a swim, or rest. Some people eat their lunch there, but I recommend you go for lunch afterwards at a nearby restaurant or the food trucks in Kapa’a and leave before many tour groups arrive.
Bringing a snack in your dry bag may be worthwhile.
Be careful while at Secret Falls because the rocks surrounding the pool are slippery. Also, it is advised not to swim directly underneath the falls because there is a risk of falling rocks.
Keep to a tight deadline at Secret Falls because the Kauai kayak rental companies need you to be back within a certain timeline.
Who Will Enjoy the Kayak to Secret Falls Kauai?
Even though the Secret Falls kayak and hike are tough at times, you should not be afraid of it. As I mentioned before, it is a unique adventure and one of the must-do activities in Kauai.
However, there are a couple of minimum standards that you should qualify for to enjoy this experience to the fullest.
First, you should have a reasonable fitness level because the kayak and hike are relatively strenuous. You must be active for several hours in total.
Secondly, you cannot bring children under 6 years old, and under 16-year-olds need to be supervised. The rules vary across companies, so check directly with your chosen tour company.
It is not recommended for anyone with impactful injuries to take part in the Secret Falls kayak because you need to be able to get in and out of your kayak. Plus, you will need to walk across the potentially slippery and muddy ground during the Secret Falls hike.
You should consider your abilities carefully. My mum, who had knee surgery the year before, was able to participate in the kayak and hike to Secret Falls, but she is also active at home.
Finally, you should not kayak along the Wailua River if you are pregnant due to the risk of some bacteria in the river, although that is to ensure the utmost caution.
What to Wear for This Kauai Kayaking Experience?
The footwear you choose to wear needs to be able to endure several different scenarios.
You do not need to worry about the shoes you wear during any river kayaking in Kauai. Your feet remain in the boat and get a little wet, but it is nothing compared to what will happen later.
Conversely, the footwear you choose for the hike should be able to cross a pebbly beach, muddy trails, slippery boardwalks, and be completely submerged.
If you wear hiking boots or sneakers, they will be wet for a few days after, so make sure you have another pair of shoes to wear for the next few days. I wore hiking boots and I only just managed to dry them out before my flight.
I recommend wearing Tevas or Keens, or another brand of waterproof walking sandals. This way, the shoes have a good grip for the hiking part of the excursion, and then the shoes can handle being underwater.
Men – I recommend wearing a moisture-wicking t-shirt, such as this one from Lululemon. The t-shirt will help keep the sun off your back and shoulders. It is unlikely that you will get your shirt wet, but it is best to have a quick-dry option. You should also wear shorts or swimming trunks.
Ladies, you should wear bikini bottoms with quick-drying shorts, such as these shorts from Lululemon.
As I mentioned, you are unlikely to get wet on your top half; so you could wear a sports bra. Unless you plan to go swimming in the pool at Secret Falls, in that case, you should wear your bikini top or a one-piece swimsuit.
Remember, the water is very cold and the rocks surrounding the pool are slippery to walk on. If you plan to go swimming, you should already be wearing your swimwear because there is nowhere to get changed at the falls.
Gadgets and Accessories
Some kayak rental and tour operators provide a dry bag for you to keep some of your belongings in, such as your phone, key, water bottle and sunscreen.
In addition, I would advise you to bring a waterproof camera, such as a GoPro. I own the GoPro HERO 9 and I used it to take most of the photos in this article.
Make sure you have a GoPro handle to grip onto and a wrist tie attached to the camera to make it extra secure.
Otherwise, I suggest bringing your own separate waterproof phone bag that you can wear around your neck. This way you can take your phone out for pictures if needed.
Make sure you have at least one towel in your group with you at Secret Falls, especially if you dip in the water when you arrive. It will feel nicer to dry off before putting your clothes back on.
You should also leave a towel in the car for when you return from the excursion so you can dry off into a spare change of clothes to wear at lunch (if you want).
You should also wear a baseball cap to keep the sun off your face.
Read this Kauai packing list article to find out what else to pack for your vacation.
Things to do near Wailua River and Secret Falls
- Fern Grotto
- Smith’s Luau
- East Coast beaches
- Waterfalls: Wailua Falls and ‘Opaeka’a Falls
- Lava Lava Beach Club
Other Kauai tours I recommend include:
For those looking for other water tours, consider surfing or mountain tubing.
If you have incorporated your trip to Kauai with the other Hawaiian Islands, such as Oahu and Maui, I suggest spending at least 3 days in Kauai. However, if you are dedicating all your travels to Kauai, then you should spend between 7 and 10 days in Kauai.
FAQ – Kayak Wailua River to Secret Falls
How to get to Secret Falls Kauai?
To reach Secret Falls in Kauai, you need to kayak up the Wailua River and then embark on a moderate hike through the jungle, crossing streams, until you reach the waterfall.
You can take a guided tour or rent kayaks and do the hike and paddle on your own.
How long does it take to get to Secret Falls Kauai?
The journey to Secret Falls by kayak takes around 45 minutes one way and by SUP will be slower. The hike through varying terrain takes around 25 to 30 minutes to reach Secret Falls.
Can you kayak Wailua River without a tour?
Yes, you can kayak Wailua River without a tour. However, you must be prepared for the elements, have proper safety equipment, and follow all regulations and guidelines to ensure a safe experience.
You can rent equipment from various Secret Falls kayak rental companies. Be aware that access to Wailua River is limited on the weekends to allow the river to “rest”.
How hard is the hike to Secret Falls Kauai?
The distance of the hike to Secret Falls is relatively short. However, it is made more difficult because there are numerous river crossings where the water comes up to the knee or higher (depending on your height). Plus, there are several slightly steeper parts of the walk where you have to scramble up some slippery rocks.
The hike is manageable for most people with a moderate fitness level and without any injuries.
Can you swim in Secret Falls Kauai?
It is possible to swim at the base of Secret Falls. However, it is forbidden to go underneath the waterfall due to danger of falling rocks or other debris. There are many signs around the falls stating “danger of death”.
The rocks inside the pool at Secret Falls are slippery, so it is not advisable for anyone who is more fragile, with minor injuries for example, to enter the pool. I slipped a few times when moving around the rocks for photos.