Hikes and Rambles: Waimea Falls (North Shore, Oahu)

North Shore Oahu Waimea Falls

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My Aunt and Uncle live on Oahu only a few miles from Waimea Falls. This makes it a must-visit destination when we are staying with them on the North Shore! It especially helps that the hike to the falls is short and incredibly kid friendly!

When you turn off the Kamehameha Highway and into the Waimea Valley, you’ll have a short drive before arriving in a large parking lot. Aim for a spot in the shade or don’t forget to set up your car seat shade.

Before you can enter the botanical gardens, you’ll pass through a large building with a gift shop and cafe. As you walk by the gift shop, check out all the movie posters on display. Each poster represents a movie that was filmed right here in the Waimea Valley.

After the building, you’ll come to a ticket box where you can purchase tickets to explore the botanical gardens and waterfall. Tickets are $16 for adults and $8 for children 4-12. They offer discounts for seniors, students, military, and Hawaii residents.

While you’re at the ticket office, decide whether you are interested in the shuttle. It’s $6 one-way or $10 round trip. The total hike to the waterfall is only 3/4 of a mile and it’s paved the whole way. You can also rent a wagon for $10 if you’re bringing a lot of gear or small children.

After you buy your ticket you can start exploring the botanical gardens or make a bee line for the waterfall at the end. The botanical collection includes many native plants but also plants from nearby islands that share ancestors with the native plants. It’s always fascinating to see how the flora/fauna can differ just from one island to the next!

Waimea Valley
This photo was taken shortly after entering the botanical gardens, you can see the entrance building behind the trees.

The botanical gardens are open from 9-5, but when we entered at 3:30 we were told that we just needed to be out by 6. We still decided to hustle to the top and not stop to take pictures. We tossed both kids in the Tula carriers and headed straight for the waterfall. We didn’t notice any elevation change on our way there, but coming back there was a bit of climbing. It’s an easy hike no matter how you look at it! We saw lots of families with strollers

We didn’t notice the elevation change on our way there, but coming back there was a bit of climbing. It’s an easy hike no matter how you look at it! We saw lots of families with strollers.

When you’re almost to the falls you’ll pass by the Wailele Snack Shop and some vending machines. If you’re there around lunch time or just looking for a snack, it’s a very convenient location! Carrying cash in Hawaii is just a good rule of thumb, but we didn’t stop here and I can’t speak to whether or not it was cash-only.

After the snack shop, you’ll cross a wooden bridge and get your first view of Waimea Falls. Time to get your camera out!

Family at Waimea Falls
Chris thinks we need to invest in a selfie stick. I’m thinking there is going to be one in his stocking this Christmas. Also, this picture is post-swimming. We weren’t really that sweaty!


The first building on your right will be changing rooms and there’s even an outdoor shower complete with hot water. We skipped the changing rooms since we wore our suits under our clothes, but we used the shower on the way down.

At the waterfall, there is a seating area with shade and you can stash your stuff there while you swim. The lifeguard will be handing out the required life vests and you’ll have to listen to a 1-minute safety talk before you’re allowed in the water. I think the may rules change depending on the conditions, but when we were there the rules were:

  • Wear life vests.
  • No jumping off the rocks into the water.
  • Avoid the shaded area in case of falling rocks.
Waimea Falls with toddlers
A little pre-swimming apprehension from the little ones!

We had to be really careful scrambling down the rocks in our bare feet. Water shoes or Keens would definitely have come in handy here. We each took one child by the hand and led them to the water. Children have especially difficult navigating the rocks while wearing life vests and should be watched carefully.

I was expecting the water to be frigid! The last time we were here it was May and Chris wouldn’t even get in! In September the water was actually really pleasant. Perfect for a leisurely swim to the waterfall.

K agreed with me that the water was nice and the waterfall was awesome. HJ definitely did not agree and was very vocal about not wanting to get her splinter wet. (The splinter had been removed, but it still hurt.) I thought she was fine and just whiny so I made her touch the waterfall even though she cried most of the time. As I swam with her I told her that we should sing that ABCs but every time she cried I got confused and forgot the order. It went a little like this:

Mom: “A.B.C.D.E.F.G…”

HJ: *Whimpers and cries*

Mom: “Q.R.G.D.P.S.T…”

HJ: *Laughs*


It made for a very interesting mix of laughing and crying all the way to the waterfall. After she touched it I let her get out with Chris while K and I stayed to swim some more.

Am I a terrible Mom for forcing her to touch the waterfall when she clearly didn’t want to? Maybe. But she was really excited to tell Auntie and Uncle that she’d touched the waterfall though. She didn’t tell them anything about the crying or whining.

Swimming in Waimea Falls with toddler
Life vests make water activities so much easier with kids. Look at this guy, swimming like a pro!

After we returned the life vests I would have like to tip the life guard, but I didn’t have any cash. Again, carrying cash in Hawaii is always a good idea.

We all rinsed off at the outdoor shower. It’s brand new, has hot water, and an incredibly beautiful lush green backdrop. The guy in front of us was even taking shower selfies! (The reason I know that is the shower isn’t private at all, it’s right next to the path with no enclosure.)

The walk back to the car was more leisurely, but we didn’t stop to take many pictures like we’d planned. It’s difficult to get those good close up shots of plants when you have small children. Next time.

This was my third visit to Waimea Falls and I definitely think it should be on every visitor to Oahu’s list. It’s hard to beat swimming under a waterfall, no matter who you are.

North Shore Waimea Falls
We lucked out by coming so late in the day. There were hardly any crowds and the sun wasn’t quite as scorching.


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