Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” (though no one knows who coined the phrase), Waimea Canyon Kauai is a natural wonder that perfectly personifies the rugged wilderness of Kaua‘i’s mountainous interior. This 14-mile long canyon stretches up to a mile wide at its widest point, and drops to a depth of over 3,600 feet. Its colorful walls are a dizzying array of vibrant colors that tell the island’s history and the story of the island’s volcanic birth. As they play out before you, a natural palette of reds, browns, yellows, and greens, they reveal the source of Waimea’s name (“red earth”) and how the canyon was carved over the centuries by the ever-changing track of the Waimea River, which is in turn fed by the heavy rainfalls on Mt. Waialeale. Visit the learning center and look for signs of the ancient collapse of the volcano that birthed the island.
Visiting Waimea Canyon Kauai
Located in western Kaua‘i on a high plateau, Waimea Canyon State Park is accessed from the town of Waimea (90 minutes from Princeville, 45-60 minutes from Līhu‘e) via Waimea Canyon Road. This scenic 18-mile drive winds along the canyon rim and brings visitors to two scenic lookouts, plus various trail heads for some good Kauai Hawaii hiking. From here hikers can descend into the canyon and the forest preserve below, before ending at Kokee State Park. Both parks are open daily during daylight hours, and are free to the public.
Scenic Views and Beautiful Hikes
Attracting thousands of visitors every year, the lower lookout and the Waimea Canyon Kawaii Overlook afford breathtaking, panoramic views of Kaua‘i’s rugged interior. Here you can see for miles, with the emerald heights of Mt. Waialeale above and the red, yellow, and brown stripes of the canyon splayed out before you. A well maintained series of hiking trails descend from the rim into the wildlife preserve within the canyon, passing through marshes, forests, and high desert zones. The Cliff Trail is a popular and relatively easy walk along the canyon rim. Wild goats might join you for portions of this hour-long, 1.8-mile hike, taking in the stunning views right alongside you. More advanced hikers will want to detour on the Canyon Trail (4 miles) which follows the North Rim to Kumuwela Lookout. At the halfway point you can picnic at the base of Waipo`o Falls, enjoying beautiful views of the canyon crisscrossing the Kaua‘i landscape all along the way. (An alternative trail goes to the top of the falls). Longer, more difficult trails include the Kukui Trail (a 5-mile, 2,000-foot descent to the canyon floor) and the 11.5-mile Waimea Canyon Trail from the canyon floor to Waimea town.
Whether you go for a morning of incredible vistas or a day of exhilarating Kawaii Hawaii hiking, Waimea Canyon is a must see. If you venture on to the stunning views of the Na Pali Coast at Kokee State Park, be sure to bring a light jacket as temperatures drop quickly at elevation, even in Hawai‘i.