Waimea Canyon’s Breathtaking Views
Although Kauai is only thirty-three miles long at its widest point, the Garden Island is home to many different landscapes, from the rainforests of the north shore to the arid landscape of the west coast. Waimea Canyon is one of the most striking of the island’s many natural features--a one mile wide, ten miles long, 3,600 foot deep canyon formed by the Waimea River.
Waimea Canyon Lookout
Waimea Canyon Lookout is just past mile marker 10 on Highway 550. The lookout is always busy, but there’s plenty of parking and washrooms. The view is remarkable and shows off the red and brown layers of the canyon. Watch for tropicbirds soaring in the canyon, and if you listen you might hear the bleating of feral goats as they pick their way along the canyon’s sheer cliff faces.
Puu Hinahina Lookout
Further along the highway at mile marker 13 is the Puu Hinahina lookout. This smaller lookout offers a different perspective on the canyon and a distant view of Waipoo Falls. Hidden behind the parking area’s washroom is a short trail leading to a platform overlooking the ocean where you can see the Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau on clear days.
Hiking Waimea Canyon
Both Waimea and Koke’e State Parks offer hiking trails. Two of the most popular trails are the Waimea Canyon Trail and Cliff Trail.
Waimea Canyon Trail is the most popular of the canyon hikes. The hike is a 3.5 mile round trip, ending at Kumuwela Lookout where you can look straight down the canyon to the ocean below. Halfway along the trail is a view of Waipoo Falls. The hike is of moderate difficulty, with steep inclines and tree roots. Rain can make the trail slippery, so the best time to hike is after several days of sunny weather.
Cliff Trail is an easy 1.8 mile round trip hike leading to a canyon overlook. The hike starts at the Halemanu trailhead off Koke’e Road.
Check hiking conditions at the Koke’e Natural History Museum before you head out. The museum has trail maps and information on current weather conditions.
After viewing Waimea Canyon, keep driving down the highway until you reach the parking lot at mile marker 19. There you’ll find an entirely different view, looking down into the Kalalau Valley. While the Canyon looks like part of the American West was transported to the Pacific, Kalalau is a lush, rainforest-filled valley that plummets down to sea level, bookmarked by sheer, thin fingers of eroded cliff. For a second look at the valley, Puu o Kila lookout is another mile down the road.
How to See Waimea Canyon
To get to Waimea Canyon by car, take Highway 50 west toward Waimea town. Take a right turn on the Waimea Canyon Road just after mile marker 23. Bus tours are also available, as are bike tours that take you to the canyon lookouts then let you bike back down the mountain. Several helicopter companies offer tours of both Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali coastline.