9 Key Tips for Hiking the Beautiful Ta-Taki Falls in Okinawa, Japan
If you like to hike, climb, swim (or at least get your feet wet) and have a sense of adventure, a great hike awaits you in Okinawa, Japan.
Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu Islands located between East China and the Philippine Sea. We went there to spend time with our military son, Mike, who was stationed there. We had planned 2 weeks in the Naha area (south), and we did this hike during our week in Okuma, in the northern part.
The hike is 3 miles round trip (there and back) in the town of Ogimi, near Kunigami-Gun. It’s an amazing combination of hiking, trekking across the Henan River (yes, you’re hiking in the river), and rock climbing, all in a lush tropical setting. The payoff is the secluded 50-foot-tall Ta-Taki waterfall.
Here are my top tips for hiking to these magnificent falls.
1. Know the weather
I hate to start with such serious advice, but I have to. You can not be wrong.
This hike is amazing, amazing, amazing and all other awesome superlatives when the weather is good, but when the weather is not good this hike is just as treacherous, dangerous and even deadly. This is why the weather is the first starting point.
Watch the weather. Know the weather. Be certain. This area is prone to flash flooding when it rains, and you don’t want to worry about that. In September 2020, two Marines went from this adventurous trek to rescue more than a dozen hikers in a flash flood here.
We hiked this in February and had a dry day without a drop of rain in sight.
2. Go early to avoid the crowds
It was a Friday and we arrived at the parking lot at 10am when they opened. We paid a small fee to the parking attendant and parked our car, and had the place to ourselves.
This sign in the parking lot showed the hiking route – you can hike it all on the river, or you can hike the road first and then enter the river downstream (we chose the second option). The red haired character on this sign made it look like a fun little getaway, but to be honest I was a little nervous.
The panel gives the basic rules, and luckily they have also been translated into English:
- Stay out of the river when it rains. Flash floods can occur.
- Do not touch or bring any creature home. [There was no one to ask about this curiosity.]
- Don’t leave trash behind.
- There are houses in the neighborhood. Please be respectful and keep the noise down.
- The town of Ogimi is not responsible for accidents. Thank you for your understanding.
3. Have a guide
It’s not a must-have, but it’s a nice-to-have. It’s even better if the guide is your beloved military son who was stationed in Japan. He had done the hike before so we knew we were in good hands.
In the absence of a guide, common sense prevails (see other tips). Since the route is round trip, you can’t really go wrong.
4. Enjoy the initial hike (but it won’t last)
If you’re doing the road hike to begin with, this part is innocuous. We walked along a narrow rural road with the Henan River to our right in very thick wooded surroundings. To the left, beyond a black picket fence, we saw a residential area with blooming plants and flowers. Mike was carrying a drawstring bag and Dean was carrying water. I was a free agent, carrying only my camera (Dean always tells me to “travel light” and for once I was).
There is another large sign at the entrance to the river. He reiterates the importance of Weather Tip #1: “Precaution for high water in the upper Henan River during rain. Even when it is not raining in the lower reaches of the river, there can be heavy rains upstream. There are incidents every year where people are left behind due to sudden swelling of the river due to rain. We ask visitors who are river trekking or participating in other activities to be well informed of weather reports.
Pro tip: Since you’ll be hiking in a river, bring a dry bag or plastic bag to keep your phone dry along the way (reception might be weak, anyway). Another packing tip that didn’t apply to us is to bring heavy duty insect repellent. From what I’ve read, this wooded river hike can be buggy.
5. You’ll be glad you wore the right clothes and shoes.
And so – in the river we go. The water is low and shallow and rather warm. And it looked completely clear and clean!
Mike had told us to wear bathing suits under our clothes as we would be hiking in a river. We wore absorbent clothes that dried quickly if they got wet. Dean and Mike were wearing tennis shoes, and I was wearing my JBU by Jambu shoes (like these) with good steps on the bottom.
I had read online that sometimes the river reaches waist high! It was ankle deep for us – a nice little hike in the river.
6. Use available ropes and vines
Sure, it’s a nice little river hike…until it’s not. The hike was up and down, in the river (mostly) and out of the river – over and over rocks and roots. It’s a rugged hike. There were ropes and vines in place to help us navigate the more rugged areas and several cliff-like areas.
7. Take your time and get a helping hand if you need it
The key to this hike is to take your time and lean on each other when needed. Grab a hand to help stabilize yourself, if necessary. There’s no shame in that! The hike is steep in places. It’s sturdy. It’s incredible.
8. Bring a snack to enjoy at the waterfall
It took us about half an hour from the entry point into the river to get to the waterfall. Dean and Mike went into the water. I guess it was a bit chilly! Great father-son bond, but I passed on this action. I enjoyed hanging out there, taking photos and listening to the waterfall echo roar against all the calm.
Mike stayed in the water even after Dean got out and just waded around a bit and enjoyed the break. It was good to see him relax and have fun. When he came out of the water we sat on the rocks and talked and laughed. We drank water (the day was not hot, but we walked enough to know the need for water even without thirst) and shared a snack.
9. Be careful when hiking
Depending on physical condition and energy level, it is easy to get sloppy when hiking. Remember those earlier tips about taking your time and grabbing ropes, vines, and helping hands? Everything applies again. We got back to the car safely and chatted about this unique experience.
Pro tip: You might realize that all those river rides have given you a mighty appetite. It’s almost a crime to be in Okinawa and crave a burger, but if so, Captain Kangaroo Burger is the place to stop. Take your pick from a classic burger, or jazz it up with a taco burger, a teriyaki chicken burger, or try the fried onion/bacon combo of a Sparky burger. This place draws a crowd, so try to go at an off-peak time.
Bonus tip: stop at Shioya Bay for incredible views
About 4 miles north of Ta-Taki Falls, don’t miss Shioya Bay Viewpoint, rated one of Okinawa’s eight best views – and it’s easy to see why.
We parked the car and followed the short path up the mountain, past a trellis, to a viewing platform. We saw a big sign in Japanese, which we couldn’t read, but it could have said, “Drink in this beautiful view and be happy to be alive.” In effect.
The trek across the Henan River to the magnificent Ta-Taki Falls is another bucket list, memorable adventure. These kinds of activities always make me grateful for the time, money and health needed to travel. It is such a gift! And it was especially wonderful to see the father-son interaction between my husband and my son. i soaked it everything in.
When you go to Okinawa, check the weather, and if the skies are clear and you’re in, follow these nine key tips and take this hike through the crystal clear Henan River to the magnificent Ta-Taki Falls. You will be so glad you did.