Wailua River: A Self-Guided Tour
Kauai’s Wailua River is a special place. The only navigable river in the state, the Wailua was once the home of ancient Hawaiian royalty. Today it is an adventurer’s playground, snaking through waterfalls, a lava rock grotto and lush jungle forests. The river itself is wide and tranquil, which makes for ideal terrain for stand-up paddleboarders of all experience levels. And with Kauai SUP’s expert arsenal of stand-up paddleboard rentals, you’ll be gliding the river way in style. We recommend getting an early start so you’ll have ample time to enjoy the Wailua and the exciting destinations along its riverbanks.
Once you park, feel free to use the public restroom before heading to your destination. If you plan to hike to Secret Falls, you may also want to bring hiking shoes in tow. Once you seal your dry bag shut and attach the leash to the board and your ankle, it’s time to get on the water. CAUTION: Do not walk into the water via the boat ramp, which is very jagged and slippery. Instead, we recommend that you walk down to the water’s edge and enter the river from the spit of sand to the west (right) of the ramp. This makes for a safe and easy launch.
In order for us to keep prices low and equipment nice, we’d like to ask you to use caution and care when handling the equipment. For example, do not push off the ramp with the paddles, do not drag your boards on hard surfaces, only put your boards down onto the water or grass, not gravel or concrete do not put boards with fins down, etc. We highly appreciate it!
When navigating downstream, it’s important that you stay as close to the north river bank as practicable (the same side as the boat ramp), to give as much room as possible to any passing motor boat. When you reach a destination that you’d like to explore on foot, you will need to park your board. We recommend that you place your board up on the shore away from tidal changes as well as any other paddling traffic behind you.
As you approach the two-mile mark, just before the fork in the river, you will come across Kamokila Hawaiian Village. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Kamokila offers cultural tours of an authentic model Hawaiian village, complete with thatched-roof homes and many of the native plants on which early Hawaiians survived. On most days, there is a food truck at the village where you can purchase a bite to eat, a cold beverage or even a fresh coconut! Although, we cannot guarantee their presence so we recommend that you bring your own water and snacks, which you can pack in the dry bag we will provide for you. Remember to bring cash if you would like to take the tour of this four-acre property where King Kaumauli’i, the last reigning king of Kauai, once dwelled.
Upon departing the village on your paddleboard, you will immediately arrive at a fork in the river. The north fork (on the right) will take you to the trail head to the most popular adventure -Secret Falls. The south fork (on the left) will take you to the Fern Grotto and The Swimming Hole. Depending on your stamina, it is possible to visit all of these sites, or pick and choose one or two. Keep in mind that the return paddle will be more difficult because you will be fighting the wind. Don’t deplete all your energy trying to see every site along the river.
At Kauai SUP, we consider The Secret Falls or Uluwehi Falls the crown jewel of the river. If you only visit one spot, make it this one.
Once you have found parking for your paddleboard, you are ready for the hike to Secret Falls, 100-foot waterfall set in a tranquil, jungle-like landscape. The hike is a flat and relatively easy one-mile jaunt along a beautiful stream. If you find yourself uncertain as your traverse the trail, simply follow one of the many kayak tour groups coming and going to the falls. Depending on the trail conditions, it will take about 30 minutes until you arrive at the waterfall. The trail has recently been upgraded with a boardwalk for an even easier and cleaner journey. When you reach the falls, take time to enjoy a swim and a streamside picnic — but be sure to conserve some time and energy for other adventures along the river and the return paddle back to the marina on time.
Should you choose to explore the south (left) fork in the river, you will find yourself in a more quiet and peaceful environment due to the fact that none of the guided kayak tours traverse the south fork. That’s one of the upsides of adventuring on a stand up paddle board! Yet it’s here that you will find the Fern Grotto — a romantic lava rock cave that’s overgrown with gorgeous greenery. Unfortunately, one can not enter the dry cave anymore and there is no sufficient or easy parking for any paddlers. Moreover, there are boat tours that frequent this spot. For these reasons we don’t encourage people to go to there. If you choose to do so anyway, park your board at the sign that reads, “kayak parking,” and tie your leash onto one of the exposed tree roots. There is a paved walkway that will bring you to the grotto in less than two minutes.
From the Fern Grotto, The Swimming Hole is located about a 10-minute paddle upstream through a low jungle canopy that opens into a sunny sliver of paradise. Here you can bask in the sunshine or jump off your board and enjoy a dip in the water. You can also get off your board and climb a 15-foot cliff that’s safe for jumping. CAUTION: Before you jump, be sure to check that the coast is clear of shallow boulders and other jumpers. If the coast is clear, then bomb away!
On your return journey, you will be paddling against the wind. It will be the most difficult leg of your adventure, so be sure to conserve enough energy for an enjoyable glide back to the boat ramp. To make for an easier, more leisurely paddle, remember that you can always kneel or sit down on your board as you paddle back toward the rivermouth. Remember to stay on the north side of the river.
Upon returning to the boat ramp, we ask that you please clean your board by using the river water and your hands to remove any mud or debris that might have affixed itself to your board over the course of your adventure. Remember that the boat ramp itself can be jagged and slippery, so be careful coming back up. Once you secured the boards back onto your car, we will be waiting for you at the shop to unload and say our good byes. Please note: a late fee can be enforced.
We want to thank you for adventuring with us!