Koloa Gulch (Multiple Waterfalls)

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For years I had heard of a gulch that arduously snaked through Oahu’s Koolau mountains.  If you were brave enough to endure its trek, the valley would guide you to its floodgates.

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Even-though I put a bunch of research into finding this trail, I was still not confident enough to invite a bunch of people along. I would have felt terrible if I had brought friends and we just ended up wandering around in the woods…  Not to mention that this hike had eluded me multiple times already.  In the past we had been chased by dogs, turned around on private farms, and lost in a quarry while looking for this hike.  So that none of that ever happens to you, I will try to give some helpful directions at the bottom of this page.

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We were lucky to have done the hike at the beginning of September. Nearly every bush we walked by was flowering or fruiting.  These cherry guava made for a very distracting treat all along the ridge.  We kept sifting through the branches grabbing handfuls of the tart fruit (at the end of the hike we filled our packs and brought more home to juice them).

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Eventually the trail departed from the ridge and descended into the gulch.  I was a bit concerned at first because the trail took us down into a different valley than the one we had started hiking in. I thought that maybe I had missed a turn, but when we went back we never saw any other obvious turns. So we continued down into the other valley (which all worked out). Turns out we were right on track.  As we reached the valley floor and approached the Koloa stream, it appeared that the trail crossed to the other bank.  We used these conspicuous, epiphytic mushrooms as trail markers when we were on our way back.

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We tried to keep a count of how many times we crossed the stream.  But after a couple dozen crossings and no end in sight, we stopped counting them.  This hike should called “The Hike of a Googol River Crossings”!

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I’m not too sure who planted this dumb thing out here, but it was the only one that we saw in the gulch.  Be sure to keep a vigilant eye on what you’re grabbing. This sucker was right next to the trail.  I don’t even know what kind of tree that is.

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Perhaps an hour or so into the hike we came to a stream crossing that appeared to have some sort of old concrete structure in it.  Perhaps it had been used to divert the flow of water for irrigation purposes (who knows).

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I love this girl!  She didn’t even tell me till we were done hiking, but her ankle was killing her for the majority of this hike due to a skimboarding incident she had endured a couple days prior. She never complained once.  She showed nothing but stoke all day.

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You can try to keep your feet dry for as long as possible if you want, but if you go all the way, they will eventually get wet.  Sometimes it’s not worth the risk of slipping and falling off these stones when you could just walk through the water safely.  Trust me, if you want to go all the way to the waterfalls, you will be getting all wet anyways…

Hawaii, Oahu, Koloa gulch, shampoo ginger, Zingiber zerumbet

The jungle floor was riddled with these vivid ginger flowers sprouting through the leaflitter.  A common name for this plant is shampoo ginger.  They are not native to the Hawaiian Islands, but were a polynesian introduction.  The first explorers to discover and colonize this archipelago, nearly 2000 years ago, brought these plants in there canoes.  The fragrant fluid held within the flowers can be squeezed out and used as shampoo or left in the hair, like conditioner.  It was also thought that the rhizome (root) of the plant had medicinal properties.

Koloa Gulch, Hawaii, Oahu

I know stream-bed hikes can be rough on your ankles and knees, as they turns into one long balancing act, but I love them.

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Finding guava on a tree, before they fell and smashed on the ground, was quite a treat.  We indulged in every fruit the valley fed us.

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Although we were on a tight schedule, because we started hiking late (10:30am),  we did take a few breaks to soak in the beauty of the moment.  Taking a minute to contemplate how lucky we are to live here and how blessed we are to be in good health.  We are so grateful to go on these little adventures.

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Embracing the wet feet!

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As we made our way up the valley, it seemed as though the stones laying in the stream got bigger and bigger.

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A few prodigiously large boulders were resting in the stream.  But seeing them really made us vigilant.  Avalanches/rockslides were probably not uncommon on this area.

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Huge rocks seemed to be hanging precariously all around us. We moved on swiftly.

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Just seems like somewhere people would go fly fishing (I know nothing about fly fishing)…

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Clouds crept over us, giving us the false impression that it was getting late.

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On several occasions we had to climb our way through fallen trees that appeared to have just fallen, perhaps earlier in the week.  I’m sure the trail is constantly changing and adapting to the ephemeral landscape.

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After just over 3 hours, we made it to The Fork!  I had heard that the waterfall at the end of the right fork was quick and easy to get to (relatively speaking), but that the waterfall at the end of the left fork was epic.  I was not sure if we would have time to hike both.  Neither was I sure that the waterfalls would even be flowing that well.  Therefore, I opted for the easy falls of the right fork.  That way, if it was just a trickle, we could call it a day and go back.

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Some portions of the valley were super steep and narrow.  As beautiful as these spots are, they can also be very dangerous.  Rocks and trees can fall straight down without warning, so always be prudent.

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We finally made it to the waterfall. Totally worth the 4 hours…  JK!  This was just a sample.

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We eventually got around to a pool with a small waterfall.  Remember how I said you would have to get wet.  I knew the water was going to be freezing, so before my mind could talk my body out of it, I just jumped in.

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Peek-a-boo!!!  The water was super refreshing, after hiking all day.

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The clock was ticking and we were on a mission. So I wrapped up my splishing and my splashing, and got back to climbing.

Oahu, Hawaii, Koloa falls, right fork

As soon as you climb up the ropes for the previous pool, you are greeted by a gorgeous waterfall.  It only took us 30min to get to this waterfall from the fork, but it could probably have been done quicker.

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We relished our discovery of a whole new waterfall over lunch.

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At this point, it was 2:30pm.  I figured we would probably hike out faster than we did coming in. So we decided to attempt and reach the other waterfall.

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Of course, I had to  jump in one more time.

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We made our way around the fork and up the left side.  Now I had been told it would be more difficult, but never anything info about the distance.  As we had made it this far, we were feeling pretty confident that we could make it.

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The walls began getting wet around us, the valley was narrowing and the clouds were getting darker.  I was slightly perturbed that it could start raining on us and flood the valley (there was a hurricane just North of Oahu at the time).

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The sight of this little double waterfall took all of our anxiety away and encourage us to press on.  Surprisingly, we passed another couple of hikers that were coming back down as we were going up.  After asking them how far to the waterfall, they answered just 15min.  Now I don’t know if they were talking hawaiian time, or if they were just telling us 15min to this tiny twin falls, but it took us much longer to get to the final waterfall.

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We had to swim through this pool as well to climb on.  This waterfall had no ropes, but luckily we were able to shimmy our way up the right side of it, where it was a little more dry.  Progress beyond this point would likely be impossible if the water were flowing hard.

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We came across a fruiting of raspberry bush on this side. I was not brave enough to try them, but the wife didn’t hesitate to chomp some.

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As we got even closer, a series of cherry guava trees had fallen down and were blocking the entire valley.  We carefully balanced and redistributed our weight across the small branches to get over them.

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I guess the valley is not so generous to all… Some deceased grasshopper was completely covered in mold.  It’s the circle of liiiiife!!!!

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At long last, we got a glimpse of the waterfall!!!  It did not feel as though the left fork was much longer, in terms of distance, than the right fork. However, the terrain was much more difficult to navigate on the left side of the fork.  The hikers we met claimed we were about 15min away from the falls, but it took us about an hour to reach the waterfall from the start of the fork (~2hours there and back).

Koloa falls, left fork, Oahu, Hawaii

This waterfall did seem taller, but they were both amazing.

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I’m so lucky to have a partner in crime that I can share all these adventures with.

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This was a very loooooong hike. We made it out at 7pm. Just before dark and an hour before they could have towed our car.  This is definitely an all day trek.  It took us 8.5 hours to hike to both waterfalls and back. We hiked over 11 miles and gained about 1800ft in altitude.  I was glad that I brought plenty of food, snacks and water.  Even though we didn’t use it, I also brought my headlamp, my hammock and extra dry clothes. You never know if you might get caught hiking in the dark or spending the night. Best to just always be prepared.  This hike is amazing and I totally recommend it, if you are up to the challenge.  However, but sure to start early enough and check conditions before you go.  In 1994 a boy scout campout was cut short in the middle of the night due to heavy rains.  As the kids were hiking out, a flash flood swept away two boys.  One of them, Jonathan Adam Taylor, died from the incident. He was only 11 years old.  Now, permits are required to do this hike.  There should also be a book f0r hikers to sign in and out.  Let’s always be safe and not give the state anymore reasons to shut down more hikes!

Directions: For this hike you will want to park your car at the Kokololio beach park (crazy name).  Keep track of your time hiking, the signs in the parking lot warn that the gates will be closed by 8pm (cars with not permit will be towed).  You will need to walk up the road for a few minutes and turn left on Aakahi Gulch rd (first dirt road you will pass on your left).  Make sure to stay straight on this dusty farm road. Do not turn right or left into the private farms.  The farmers have dogs and its just easier to avoid them.  At the end of the dirt road you should see a chain keeping vehicles from driving any further up the dirt road.  Keep going around the chain. There you should see a sign with a map of Koloa Gulch on your left, a few instants later a memorial to your right.  Follow the trail onward. The dirt road will eventually contour a small pond (it could be dry and overgrown).  We were able to see an old overgrown trailer in the trees at the end of the dirt road. Begin looking on the left side of the dirt path for trail markers.  The hike will start by climbing up the ridge, then going down into the adjacent valley. I was worried at first because the trail took us down into a different valley than the one we had started in, but thats the correct trail.

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