Hiking in Waimea Canyon

Settling by the ocean and the cities of Kaua’i is a massive canyon and mountain range. The Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is a gaping gorge at the western end of the island and provides plenty of opportunity for hiking, exploring, and adventuring. It is about ten miles long, one mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep, and is something you should totally explore.

One of the viewpoints

If you are staying at the southern end of Kaua’i, the state park is accessible via Highway 550, which can be reached with nearly any type of car (from the north, it is a longer drive along the several highways along the coast). The road curves often and offers many beautiful viewpoints of the canyon and the ocean. Honestly, it is difficult trying to balance wanting to stop at all the views and actually getting to the canyon. A few of my favorite stops opened up views to the canyon, featured red and waterfalls, and many, many cairns stacked before the canyon. Aside from these, I would recommend you keep driving in order to get there in a timely fashion. 

One of the little waterfalls
All the little cairns

There is a big lookout point a few miles up. Here you can get out and stretch and take pictures of the double waterfall in the distance. Make sure to bring your camera! At this point, you will notice that there is an abundance of helicopters; I feel like we saw more of them than birds! If you want, there are many helicopters trips that take you up to the falls themselves, but if it isn’t in your price range, there are many beautiful views from afar. We had talked with a couple that took a helicopter to avoid hiking with their baby girl and they absolutely loved it!

A glimpse of the falls
One of the lookouts

If you keep driving, you will reach the trailheads of Waimea, which is where the one we took was. This path was simply named Canyon Trail, which was noted on the sign that also warns of poor trail conditions. Given that we were there in spring, “poor” was almost an understatement as recent rain created mass amounts of mud and exposed the roots of the towering trees. We persisted nevertheless. The first chunk of the path was almost all mud, making for a really exciting walk. Two of the four of us fell within the first quarter mile. After that, the trail becomes pretty steep and full of roots- be careful not to trip!

Entrance to the trail
The trail through the trees
Lots of photo opportunities!

At some point, you reach a downhill that ends in a small stream that you need to cross. There is a rope to help you, but it is almost easier without it. Afterwards, there is more uphill where the trail begins to dry out. Here is a great time to explore the flora and fauna, since there is lots of diversity in the plant life. However, keep in mind that very little of the island’s greenery is native; most of it has been brought in by imperialists and settlers. Plenty of species have been killed off by the invasive ones, making for a terrible history and drastic change to the landscape in comparison to thirty or fifty years ago.

Crossing the bridge
Views from the trail

As you continue upwards, you will eventually reach a dry and rocky area. If you hurdle over these rocks, you will eventually reach a gorgeous lookout of the canyon. For quite a few yards, there is an open area above the cliffside where you can see the beautiful red rock and steep sides of the canyon. There are plenty of opportunities for photos and you can spot many of the helicopters flying around, which detracts from the solitude but doesn’t obstruct the beauty. Here is a great spot to picnic, relax, and take pictures before continuing down to the falls.

One part of the view
A helicopter in the distance!

Once you continue down into the trail, it will get pretty steep, but then you come across the falls! However, these are not the big falls that are seen in the viewpoints (you’re actually above them!), so make sure you understand that in advance to avoid any letdowns. The waterfall that you are able to hike to is Waipo’o Falls, which is smaller, but has a little swimming access. For photos without people in it, you may have to be patient, but it is a good spot to catch your breath nonetheless. The water here is pretty chilly, but tolerable if you are used to colder temperatures like we were.

Waipo’o Falls
Swimming in the chilly waters

After getting soaked in the falls, the climb back will be a lot cooler (I would wear clothes that dry quickly to avoid chafing). The uphill climb to the lookout will be tough, but then from there, the climb is just as up and down as it was on the way there. If you took the trail earlier (I would recommend!), there will be lots of foot traffic so be patient. Since it will be hotter, make sure to stay hydrated as well.

View of the canyon

Overall, this trail was one of my favorites that I have ever hiked, aside from perhaps Sun Gate on Machu Picchu. The views were absolutely stunning and the trail allowed for diverse scenery and beauty. Additionally, this hike is well suited for people in moderate shape (would not recommend for people who can’t afford falling down) and is well marked for easy access.

For more video footage of this hike, check out my video compilation of our adventures in Kaua’i!

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