It wouldn’t be wrong to address Kauai as “God’s Own Land” as it is immensely blessed by the creator with extraordinary scenic locations on every corner of the island.
One such location on the western coast of Kauai is the Waimea Canyon. Tourists from all over the world specifically flock to the island to witness this geological gem. If this is your first time visiting the Waimea Canyon, we feel your excitement.
In this blog post, we will be shedding light on this gargantuan masterpiece and the different ways to explore it. Our intention is to equip you with all the essential knowledge so that your first time experience at the Waimea Canyon is a safe and memorable one.
About Waimea Canyon State Park
Waimea, in Hawaiian, means reddish water. Thanks to the sedimentation and erosion caused by the Waimea River, Waimea Canyon gets an unusual topography and colour combination, that makes it a visual masterpiece for admirers.
The Waimea River and volcanic activity that happened millions of years ago, collectively created the ten mile long, one mile wide and 3500ft deep canyon that we see today.
Popularly called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Waimea canyon is smaller than its counterpart in Arizona. But, unlike the completely dry Arizona Grand Canyon, Waimea Canyon is graced by ample greenery, streams and waterfalls.
How Can You Access the Waimea Canyon
You can see the Waimea Canyon by road and see many amazing scenic spots right from your car. To physically access it, you will either have to drive to the lookouts or take on a hiking trail.
The drive to Waimea Canyon is one of the most interesting road trips to have on the island. There are two highways you can take- The Waimea Canyon Road (Highway 550) that starts from Waimea Town and Kokee Road (Highway 552) starting from Kekaha which meets into 1 in just a few miles from the start.
The Waimea Canyon road is comparatively easier to drive and is more scenic. Waimea Canyon Road merges with the Kokee Road at mile marker 6. If you’re a first timer, we suggest that you take Highway 550 on your way to the canyon and head back via Highway 552 for a different view.
Few tips to keep in mind before heading on a drive to Waimea Canyon:
- Start early. As the day progresses, the Canyon region is prone to fogging, which may obstruct the views from the lookouts. This can deprive you of some of the most profound experiences on the trip.
- Be prepared for curvy roads. If you have motion sickness, make sure you take necessary medication before the trip.
- Gas up! The drive to Waimea Canyon, up and down, is roughly 36 miles and there are no gas stations in between for refueling.
- Get warm clothes if you’re planning to stay overnight at the Kokee cabins. The high elevation causes a dip in temperature in the region.
Waimea Canyon Lookouts
Although you’ll find several lookouts and photo opportunities along Waimea Canyon Road, the first paved lookout point is located at mile marker 10. It is called the Waimea Canyon Lookout, where the viewing area gives us a glimpse of the wide expanse and visually appealing color palette of Kauai’s Grand Canyon.
If you’ve hiking shoes and don’t want people photobombing your “picture of a lifetime,” you can tread downwards along the unpaved area as it sees less traffic and offers better views.
The Puu HinaHina lookout is located at mile marker 13. This is smaller compared to the earlier one, but doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the views. Along with views of the Canyon, there is a small section from where you can see the forbidden island of Niihau, provided the clouds have some mercy.
After Puu HinaHina, you can either head back or continue along Kokee road to explore further. At mile marker 18 and 19, you’ll find the Kalalau and Puu O Kila Lookouts. These lookouts offer a glimpse of the magnificent Napali Coast and the Kalalau valley, which, otherwise, can only be accessed via the 11 mile long Kalalau Trail.
The only thing that beats the stunning views from the lookouts is standing over a cliff and savoring a panoramic view of the Waimea Canyon. Hiking is an opportunity to get intimate with the canyon area and let it leave a lasting impact on you.
Rather than pursuing long and difficult hikes during your first visit, we suggest the following hiking trails as they are both easy and offer spectacular views of Waimea Canyon.
Cliff trail is a small and easy hike that is well suited for beginners and families and offers scenic views of the vista and canyon. The total distance, front and back, amounts to less than 0.5 miles and the round trip can be completed in less than an hour.
To locate the trailhead, you’ll have to take a deviation along Halemanu dirt road from Highway 550 (between mile markers 14 and 15) and continue for 0.75 miles to reach the parking spot. From here, it’s a steep walk, eventually leading to a fork with Cliff Trail going towards right and Canyon Trail towards left.
Canyon Trail to Waipoo falls
Canyon trail is alternatively called Waipoo falls trail. This trail is comparatively trickier as you’ll come across a few steep sections. Depending on your pace, the hike can be completed in two to three hours. Towards the end there is viewing point with fantastic scenery of the Waimea Canyon.
What most people don’t know is that the Waipoo Falls Trail doesn’t actually reveal Waipoo Falls. The final segment of the hike, from the viewing area, will take you to the top of Waipoo Falls and not below it. Start the hike with the right expectations and you will not be disappointed.
So, should you hike the Canyon trail or Cliff trail? There is no harm in doing both as they amount to under four miles of moderate hiking.
After an interesting and eventful day at the Waimea Canyon, you can head over to Kokee State Park and spend the night in one of its cozy, wood-burning stove equipped Cabins. If you’re a camping enthusiast and happen to have a camping permit, Kokee has well maintained camping grounds, located amidst a grove of redwood trees.
Kokee is also home to some of Kauai’s most challenging hiking trails that end with equally magnificent views. The Awaawapuhi trail and the Alakai Swamp trail are worth checking out. The Kokee Natural History Museum will help you out with information on the hiking trails along with an overview of the history and geology of the Waimea Canyon.
Summary and Infographic
Well, that’s a lot to cover in one visit and you better start your trip early. We hope that you find this post helpful and that these tips will help increase the fulfilment experienced from your first visit to the Waimea Canyon State Park.