Hailey Minton

Writer. Photographer. Explorer.

January 27, 2018 · 4 min read

The Surreal Experience of Paddling Through a Rain Forest in Oahu

Rent a kayak or paddle board to experience this unreal valley!

Trees and leafy foliage extend from the banks and hang over the water up the Kahana River. You dip your paddle in, gently pull yourself forward, and lift it out of the water.


You alternate it from side to side like a metronome in slow motion. Each breath fills you with potent serenity that fills the valley.

You round a bend in the river and you see a rope-swing in an tree hanging over the river. You exchange the serenity for excitement as you pull your kayaks to the bank to swing from it.

You’ll want to rent a tandem kayak or paddle-board to get the full experience. If you are confident in your own skills and knowledge, book a rental. If you need extra help, more detailed info and digital/printed maps sign up for the Rainforest Kayak Self-Guided Tour.

This is a tree next to the first rope swing. You can climb the trunk of this tree and swing out from there.

Be sure to check the depth before you jump. The river is a moving body of water so it can push submerged branches around, especially after a heavy rainfall. My husband Bradley can attest that you don’t want to land on a hidden stick or log.

Navigating the river

The further you go up the valley, the more the rain forest encroaches on the river. There are parts that are pretty overgrown. Navigating a maze of trees sometimes requires doing the limbo or crouching down on your paddle board. Getting through it can be tricky, but it’s not impassable. It adds a fun challenge to the experience. The river will more than likely open up after a tight spot.


Here's the view you are rewarded with after you make it through the first patch of low overhanging trees.

How far can you go?

My husband and I went back as far as we could possibly go. The overhanging trees and thick rainforest opened up into grassy patches. It gave us a view of the mountains around us. We had to turn around at a spot where the river was probably four feet wide. There was a log in the way and the water was too shallow to go further. The water was moving faster than the rest of the river here too. There were many times I thought we had to turn back earlier in our trip and Bradley expertly navigated our way over, around and under trees and logs. This was the end of the river for us though. If anyone gets past this spot, let us know what you find and be sure to take some photos! And remember, the person in the back has control over where the kayak goes.

The mouth of the Kahana River where it empties into the bay.

Kayaking the Bay

On your way back, take the fork in the river that leads to the bay. The bay is usually has zero waves but when there is a northeast swell, you will likely find surfers dotting the northeast side of the bay. It has a fun surf break perfect for long boarding.

 Respect the land and the people.

It is up to each visitor to remember to have fun while being respectful of the people and environment. Kahana State Park is unique in that there are local families who live in the park. Just because you can’t always see the houses doesn’t mean the residents can’t hear you if the group is being rowdy.

Try to maintain the quiet serenity that pervades in this valley. Also, pack out what you pack in. To those awesome people who pick up trash others have left behind, YOU ARE THE BEST! Nothing detracts from a beautiful nature experience like garbage left by careless visitors.