Commonly referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific,’ a visit to Waimea Canyon was number one on my list of things to do when visiting the island of Kauai. The canyon is approximately ten miles long and 3,000 feet deep, a bit smaller than it’s mainland cousin, but don’t worry – it has it’s own uniquely majestic Hawaiian flair. Two parks span the canyon, Waimea Canyon State Park in the north and Koke’e State Park in the west. They are adjoined by a road and completely free to visit. The drive up from the base to the top of the canyon is just over a half an hour.
You’ll want to plan on coming early, and possibly during a weekday, for many reasons. Number one, fog often rolls in during the afternoon so an earlier arrival makes sure you get the best views! Two – it gets hot in Hawaii, so hiking and sightseeing is most enjoyable earlier on when it’s a bit cooler. Three, very important to me, beat the crowds! This is a very popular attraction. The earlier you come the less people are out and about and you will have the amazing scenery with a bit more seclusion. It’s worth waking up for.
In the north and west of Kauai, Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast are huge wild natural areas that prevent a road looping around the island. From where we were staying in the North, we had to drive all the way around the opposite side of the island to get to the canyon which took just under two hours. An added bonus for our leaving early was a gorgeous, flawless, sunrise over the ocean on the east.
Of course you want to wear good shoes, a hat, sunscreen, bring lots of water and snacks. The ocean always seems to be calling in Hawaii, so we decided to pick one major hike along with sightseeing in the park for the day so we could have the afternoon to hit the beach and explore the western region of the island.
Our first stop of the day happened to be at the very end of the park. We planned on working backwards. The Kalalau Lookout is startlingly beautiful.
The blue and green contrast, the stark ridges, this is an image that will stay in your memory forever. This overlook is fenced off, but there is a short path leading to a more intimate view. You can go a short distance further to the true end of the road, Pu’u O Kila Lookout. Here walk out onto the trail and you will find nothing between you and the view of the valley.
Both views are intensely awe-inspiring, once you collect your jaw you can hit the road to find the trailhead for your hike. There are many hikes we wanted to do, but with limited time we had to pick one. We thought about the Alaka’i Swamp Trail, it would be cool to hike around one of the wettest places in the earth. However, we read that it is not uncommon for the major viewpoint, at the end of the hike, to be completely shrouded in fog. We decided against it because we didn’t want to take the chance for our one hike to fizzle in the clouds. Another hike we discussed was the Kukui Trail into the canyon. It was tempting to take this trail because we remembered how drastically different the Grand Canyon looked from the rim than down in it. However, since we had recently hiked into a canyon, we decided to skip this too. Next time, Waimea. The trail for us on this day would be the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls. It was a bit difficult for us to find the trailhead, there is no blinking arrow pointing you there. You will park between mile marker 14 and 15, in the dirt lot across the street from the big Koke’e State Park sign, unless you have 4WD.
If so, you can take that dirt path down to a closer lot. If not, walk down the road, and be weary of cars. From where we parked the hike was a moderate four miles round trip, out and back leading to the top of the magnificent 800 foot falls, which you may have noticed at lookouts along the drive up the canyon road. When you get to the bottom of the dirt road, just as you may be thinking you went the wrong way, you’ll see a faithful sign pointing you in the right direction.
The path is tried and true, quite easy to follow. Initially you’ll hike through some lush land, then the flora gets a bit more arid, and finally things really seem to dry out as the canyon walls appear.
The distinguished patches of green on the canyon are a fantastic sight, there is so much more to come!
Follow the path and be aware of the sheer drop. Soon you will get to the end of a straightaway and bestow a truly one of a kind sight. A look deep into a rainbow valley and one distinct ridge is topped with intricate an arch and strange monuments.
Take in that view, and continue down the path. Soon you will hear flowing water in the distance. A little waterfall with an inviting pool appears.
Some locals were taking an invigorating dip. We spotted the cutest little mouse couple doing mouse things over here, and thus began my cover of Muskrat Love (if you don’t know the song, youtube immediately).
Continuing on we were happy to discover another waterfall, a double.
No swimming in this spot though, if you walk a few feet you’ll see why.
This is when we reached the top of Waipo’o Falls, and below it cascades for 800 sheer feet.
Amazing views, a waterfall, and great wildlife sightings, we definitely picked the perfect trail for us.
After we made our way back to the car it was off to the namesake lookout, Waimea Canyon Overlook. By this time the park was in full swing. We joined the herd and made our way to the view. That canyon is sure radiant.
And hey! Look at that, our friend Waipo’o in its full glory.
If you catch it at a certain angle you can see a trailing rainbow!
In this popular lot there comfort station, plenty of lovely roosters,
and when we visited, a snack stand! Local fruits and homemade treats sounded like heaven after our hike. We split a light snack of manapua and some fresh mango on the green grass, because we had a lunch spot picked out.
What an excellent reward, and such a fabulous day so far. Almost sorry to leave, but there is more explore on the western end of the island so off we went. While on the west side of Kauai consider trying these spots after your trip to Waimea:
Salt Pond for relaxation and a refreshing dip in the ocean after a great hike.
Ishikara Market – 9894 Kahakai Rd, Waimea, HI 96796
A market that has been around for over 80 years, with almost anything you need for a great Hawaiian picnic. We grabbed some amazing poke and quenching coconut water.
Jo-Jo’s is the perfect spot to cool down with some shave ice.
Polihale State Park is the best way to end your day with an unparalleled sunset from the western most part of Kauai.