This weekend we take a more difficult adventure into Guam’s central valley, home to most of the island’s larger waterfalls, river systems and an abundance of jungle oases.
Specifically, our destination will be San Carlos Falls, a 40-ft. drop of freshwater that also leads to an amazing emerald-shaded swimming hole just downriver. The hike is perfect for thrill-seekers as well as those who like to lounge in the sun.
This hike may not be the safest one for young children or pets, but it's a great feat for athletes looking for their next challenge or a group of regular hikers looking to try the next level.
Parking – from the North
Travel southbound on Route 1 en route to the Veteran’s Cemetery, which is just past Polaris Point and directly across from Jose Rios Middle School. Turn left at the traffic light by the cemetery and drive up toward Nimitz Hill. When you reach the top, take the first right turn onto “Larson Road.” At the curve of this road there will be a long fence walling off a playground and military housing to the left and a grassy field in front of you. Park in the field.
Parking – from the South
Travel northbound on Route 1 en route to the Veteran’s Cemetery, which is just before Polaris Point and directly across from Jose Rios Middle School. Turn right at the traffic light by the cemetery and proceed up towards Nimitz Hill. When you reach the top, take the first right turn onto “Larson Road.” At the curve of this road there will be a long fence walling off a playground and military housing to the left and a grassy field in front of you. Park in the field.
To begin the hike, continue on foot along the side of the road and up the hill, soon you should see a well-defined trail in between the jungle on the left side of the road. Turn in here.
At then end of this short path there will be a dirt road, turn left here and follow the road for about a mile. After about 10 minutes, you should see the path naturally curve to the right on to another path where there might also be truck or jeep tracks. Turn right here.
Follow this path to a paved road that winds left down a hill. Continue along this path for a while before turning right at a fenced-in valve unit. Here, follow the paved road down to an electric power tower.
To the right of this tower lies the straightforward trail that leads to San Carlos Falls. Take a break here before making the next leg of the trip, which includes multiple slopes with great views of the valley and a fresh breeze along the whole way.
From the ridgeline into the river valley
After taking a breather, continue along the well-defined trail for the next half hour of the hike, and enjoy the wide-ranging views of the valley around you.
On this part of the hike, you'll be walking through the grass-covered hills of central Guam on red-dirt paths. The sword grass here used to tower above the path, making it hard to navigate, but recent wildfires have cleared the brush and opened up the view.
After traveling over much of this open ridgeline, you'll soon come to where the trail drops down into the jungle.
This is the first of three steep stretches in this hike. Be very careful as you make your way down this 20-foot drop, most especially if the ground is wet. Use nearby tree trunks and ropes as firm handholds and mind your footing with every step.
Once all members of your party have safely made it down this muddy hillside, you will find yourself inside the pristine river valley that leads to San Carlos Falls.
Walk downstream, to the right of the river, keeping note of your footing along the slick and slimy river's edge. You will soon find yourself at the top of San Carlos Falls.
Steep paths through lush jungle
Take some time here to enjoy the view before embarking on the next two steep parts of the hike. It's a 40-foot drop to the pool below, and it's not safe to jump into its shallow waters from here. Be cautious of the slippery ground before getting too close to the edge.
To get to the base of the falls, find the path across the river that leads up another hillside. Use the provided rope, surrounding tree trunks as you climb up the short hill.
Once you reach the top, navigate the third and final steep section by continuing along the path down another steep flank of the hill – again with help of a rope – in order to reach the base of the waterfall.
After all the up and down – and safely reaching the bottom of the hill – settle your belongings and gaze upon the majestic San Carlos Falls, situated in this pristine central river valley and surrounded by towering jungle walls.
Take some time to swim in the cool and refreshing waters here. And if the river is flowing well after some good rain, park yourself under the falls for a cool water massage.
There should also be a nifty rope swing. Here it is safe and deep enough to let go and jump in.
Note that the flow over San Carlos Falls varies greatly – with just a trickle or no water at all during the dry season or after dry spells, and tons of gushing water after a day or two of constant downpour.
Continue the journey to San Carlos Swim Hole
After enjoying some time at the main waterfall, you might be interested in venturing down the river for another treat involving much less of a struggle than it took to reach the falls.
To get to San Carlos Swim Hole, about 15 minutes away, pack your belongings and head downstream, following a path along the right side of the river.
The river is pretty shallow and easy to traverse, but be cautious: Algae-covered ground and slippery rocks abound.
At the fork in the river, take a right and follow the river upstream for another 10 minutes to get to the swim hole.
The ledges surrounding the crystal-green pool are about 10 to 12 feet high. Travel around the left side of the swim hole to get on top of the ledges, and be sure to plunge into the waters before you for a quick thrill.
A dip in this remote oasis is a must before making the long and trying journey back to your car along the same path you came in. Happy hiking!