Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park, Kauai

Tips for Visiting and Hiking in Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon in Hawaii.
  Colin Anderson / Getty Images 

Waimea Canyon on Kauai is ten miles long, two miles wide and 3,600 feet deep. Mark Twain nicknamed Waimea Canyon the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" because of its resemblance to the Southwest's most popular tourist attraction. In fact, with its deep reds, greens and browns, each created by a different volcanic flow over centuries, many feel that is much more colorful than the Grand Canyon.

Bordering Waimea Canyon State Park on the north and west is Koke'e State Park. Koke'e is over 4,000 acres with about 45 hiking trails some of which head into Waimea Canyon and some are of which are short hikes to non-canyon overlooks. For a donation, you can get maps at the Ranger's Station, which I suggest you do if you will be hiking.

Traveling to Waimea Canyon

We stayed in Poipu, which is on the south shore of Kauai. Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park are in western Kauai. The best way to get up to the canyon and parks is to take Waimea Canyon Road from the town of Waimea. This road has much better views than are found by going up by way of Koke'e Road from the town of Kekaha.

Choosing proper clothing for a canyon visit and hike can be tricky. If your journey to the Canyon will be mostly in the car and confined to the lookouts you may be a bit cool due to the elevation. It's recommended to bring a jacket or sweatshirt.

If you are hiking, you can leave cool weather gear behind. It can get very warm, especially down in the canyon.

Be sure to bring your hiking boots. Much of Hawaii can be muddy and Waimea Canyon is no different. Jeans are also recommended to protect your legs, but bring old ones that can be thrown away because hiking in Hawaii can be a dirty business.

It may rain on your hike, so consider bringing along an extra set of clothes to change into as well.

Tips on Visiting Waimea Canyon

There are many lookouts at which to stop. Many of these have restroom facilities. You will be able to see the Canyon from every angle and at various heights. Most of the lookout walks are short trips and all are handicapped accessible.

There is no charge to visit Waimea Canyon and it is open year round.

There are cabins and tent campgrounds. You will need a permit to camp. There are also cabins in which you can stay for as little as $75 a night.

One of the most popular lookouts is Waimea Canyon Lookout. The scenery is really gorgeous, and truly indescribable unless you have been to the Grand Canyon.

This is one of the islands where many people say the cost of a helicopter tour is worth it. Helicopters do get right into the canyon. If you can't hike into the canyon, it may be worth the price.

Hiking in Waimea Canyon

There are many trails that you can hike into the canyon. It took us a while to decide on which one would be best for us. We decided on a hike on the Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls. These falls are on two levels and are breathtaking. One guidebook calls this a family hike. Another book calls it moderately strenuous. A hiking stick was a necessity.

The way we got to the trail was by parking at Hale Manu Valley Road. Unless you have a 4-wheel drive, you'll walk 8/10 of a mile (and you'll lose 240' in elevation) to the trailhead. We headed to what is called Upper Waipo'o Falls. There will be a pool at the base of this small, gorgeous waterfall. The pool is cold, so if you are warm you'll enjoy a refreshing dip. We just sat on a rock and put our feet in and then headed to the second waterfall.

Hiking to Lower Waipo'o Falls was very difficult. We did see a few children but, my daughters would not have hiked this as children. If your children are great climbers and won't get tired, they can probably do it. Much of the path is rocky, not marked very well (if at all), and very narrow. The path is not maintained by anyone. It is totally natural. You will be inside the Canyon with the orange and red strata surrounding you. It was magnificent.

When you arrive at Lower Waipo'o Falls, you are actually on top of it. It is a waterfall that plunges 800 feet. We were there during the summer months, yet the water was flowing heavily. Apparently , there are times when there may only be a trickle. You won't be able to see the plunging falls from this angle unless you do what we did, but be very, very careful. Even if you don't venture close, the views are amazing. You will see a natural arch made of lava, for example.

Meandering on lava rocks, through and around some small flows of water, we made our way to the very, very edge at the top of the falls. I had never taken the risks with my life as much as I did on this trip, but it was worth it. If you go to the edge, which actually, once done, felt, fairly safe and secure, you can see the falls falling. You won't be able to see them all the way to bottom, 800 feet down, but you will see a good deal of them. This 3.6-mile hike will take about 2-3 hours.

Koke'e Museum and Lodge

On our way out of the canyon, we stopped at Koke'e's Museum and left a donation in the box. It is worth a stop to see how hurricanes travel, pictures of the birds and trees you will see or may already have seen, depending on whether you stop at the museum before or after your trip.

If you are wet you can warm up in The Lodge at Koke'e and have some delicious chili and cornbread.

There is a gift shop there as well, but the prices are steep. Unless you have an urgent need for something hold off on your shopping.

In Summary

Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park is a destination all its own.

Don't forget your camera, hat, sunscreen and bug repellent.

This trip will be a good time to invest in binoculars if you don't own them.

If you aren't mobile the lookouts are great and easy to maneuver, so don't let that stop you from seeing this gorgeous canyon. Have fun and be careful.