Makaleha Falls Hike: A Muddy Adventure that is 100% WORTH IT!

Makaleha Falls hike in Kauai Hawaii
Cliff jumping at Makaleha Falls Kauai Hawaii

Makaleha Trail – Everything you need to know before going

In our household the Makaleha Falls hike is divisive.

I absolutely loved the hike and swimming at the falls while my husband hated it! I found it to be an awesome adventure and him a nightmare.

This four mile (yes four mile – other places falsely report it as less) has some unique challenges. I think those challenges make the hike amazing and fun, but those same challenges made my husband want to turn around and go back to the hotel.

The Makaleha trail is loosely marked and you will be slogging through mud and repeatedly crossing streams up to at least your knees.

I loved having to take time to navigate to make sure we didn’t veer off into a secluded rainforest. My husband prefers wide trails that you can jog on.

You cannot jog on this trail as you will be climbing over rocks, shimmying under tree branches, and stopping to make sure you are heading in the right direction.

Makaleha Falls Hike

Quick Facts about Makaleha Trail

  • Length – 4 miles (YES – definitely 4 miles, not shorter)
  • Difficulty – Hard
  • Challenges – Trail is Poorly Marked, very easy to get lost, multiple stream crossings, technical trail.
  • Facilities – None
  • Location – Near Kapaa and relatively close to the Kauai airport
  • Parking – Small dirt lot and street parking if needed
  • Known for – a challenging trek through the rainforest with a great waterfall you can swim inland cliff jump in.

Location

The trailhead is located about 25 minutes from the Kauai airport on the east side of the island. 

To get there, you drive to the Kapaa town area and then straight inland and up.

Makaleha Falls Hike Parking Situation

There is a mini lot, but even if it is full you can park along the street.

What to Expect on the Makaleha Falls Hike

Okay, make sure you read this part closely as you need to understand what you are getting yourself into.

The Trail is Poorly Marked

Even if you go slow you will not be able to follow the trail. At times you will feel like you are the first person ever to explore this rainforest. While I think that is part of the adventure, you need to be prepared to handle it.

I know a lot of people give up and turn around because it is too hard to follow.

Here are a few tips to help get you to the falls.

You Will Get Muddy and Wet

No doubt about it, you will get muddy and wet. Do not wear your nice shoes and don’t wear flip flops. Even if it hasn’t rained recently you still can’t avoid the mud and water.

Makaleha Falls Hike

Follow the Creek (generally)

The creek flows down from the falls so you can generally follow it. The trail will force you to cross it a number of times, though it isn’t always easy to know when you need to cross it.

My advice is that when you are supposed to cross you will be able to tell, meaning that you will see a wide well worn path.

If you aren’t seeing a wide path coming across the stream then it probably isn’t time for you to cross.

Know There is a Trail Amidst the Makaleha Mountains

The best piece of advice I could give is to know that there is a trail the whole time.

You will lose track of it and feel like you need to blaze your own, but don’t! When you are lost go back and look for where you went wrong rather than trying to push on.

The forest is too thick and gets too steep to do this. Trust me.

Stream Crossings Are the Most Difficult

Knowing when to cross the streams is the most difficult part. At times you may cross thinking the trail will pick up on the other side only to end up staring up an insurmountable Makaleha mountain wall.

At other times you may not cross and soon end up in impenetrable trees and bushes. The best advice I can give is when you think you might have to cross that you slow down and look closely at the opposite shore.

The places where you should actually cross typically have wide paths on the opposite shore rather than smaller one.

Makaleha Trail
Makaleha Trail stream crossing

When the Stream Forks ( IMPORTANT! This is where most people get lost)

The trickiest part of the trail where I saw the most people get lost is when the stream forks into two large branches for the second time about ⅓ of a mile from the end.

When you get to this part the trail ultimately heads up the middle, between the two forks.

Makaleha Falls is Worth It!

Makaleha Falls Kauai Hawaii
Makaleha Falls

When you actually get to the canyon with Makaleha Falls you will know that it was worth it.

If you want to swim the water pools up enough for you to be able to take a dip, just don’t expect to be doing your Olympic pool lengths.

I loved the cool water after sweating through the trees and bushes. Also, it is MUCH easier to navigate down the trail. It only took a third of the time to get back compared to the amount of time it took to get up.

OUR MOST POPULAR KAUAI BLOG POSTS

My husband and I have been to Kauai many times and have written up more blog posts to help you plan your trip. These are my most popular blog posts and Hawaii travel guides to help you plan your trip.

  1. 29 THINGS TO DO IN KAUAI
  2. WAILUA FALLS HIKE ON KAUAI – (AMAZING WATERFALL HIKE!)
  3. KE’E BEACH ON KAUAI – (SNORKELING, SWIMMING, HOW TO MAKE RESERVATIONS – it was a nightmare)
  4. TUNNELS BEACH IN KAUAI (AMAZING SNORKELING, SEALS, SWIMMING) – one of my personal favorite beaches own the entire island!
  5. MOLOA’A BEACH ON KAUAI – (INSANELY UNDERRATED) GILIGAN’S ISLAND WAS FILMED HERE!
  6. KALEPA RIDGE TRAIL – BEST HIKE IN HAWAII…SERIOUSLY. Trust me, don’t leave this one off your list! It’s GORGEOUS!
  7. QUEEN’S BATH KAUAI: COMPLETE GUIDE – Another must visit!
  8. SHIPWRECK BEACH ON KAUAI – (AMAZING CLIFF JUMPING BEACH)
  9. Read about all the hikes we have done in Kauai here.
  10. Read all other posts on Kauai here.

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