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Hawaii’s Grand Canyon: Visiting Waimea State Park On Kauai

Waimea Canyon Kauai
Exploring Waimea Canyon in Kauai
Kauai, Hawaii

While the garden island of Kauai is certainly a lush green tropical paradise, it also boasts a massive red & orange canyon called Waimea — the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Waimea Canyon is not the kind of landscape most people associate with the islands of Hawaii. Stretching 14 miles long, one mile wide, and around 3,600 feet deep — it’s quite impressive.

One of the reasons Kauai is my favorite Hawaiian Island is because of the diversity of things to do there. You could easily spend a whole day just visiting the different viewpoints and hiking trails in Waimea Canyon State Park if you wanted to!

Grand Canyon Of The Pacific

Waimea Canyon State Park
Beautiful Volcanic Gorge

Carved by the Waimea River over millions of years, the canyon’s name means “Reddish Waters” in Hawaiian. The river water is stained red/orange by the canyon’s red, eroding volcanic walls.

While much smaller than Arizona’s famous Grand Canyon, the views are equally impressive — which led writer Mark Twain to nickname the area “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” after he saw it for the first time.

Waimea Canyon Lookout Points

Waimea Canyon Lookout
Lookout Platform at Waimea Canyon

Red Dirt Waterfall – To the right, Waimea Canyon opens up below. To the left is a quirky little waterfall pouring over red volcanic dirt with a few short trails.

Hohonu Awawa Lookout – The first large established platform overlooking Waimea Canyon State Park.

Waimea Canyon Lookout – This lookout probably has the best view of the canyon. They’ve built a large viewing platform here.

Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout – One of the best viewpoints of Waipo’o Waterfall.

Pu’u Hinahina Lookout – A final stop that gives you some more great views, with a slightly different perspective. Also the start of the popular Canyon Hiking Trail which I mention below.

Kalalau & Puu O Kila Lookouts – These aren’t technically part of Waimea Canyon, they are located in Kokee State Park a few miles further North. Just make sure to keep driving and check out these incredible viewpoints of the famous Na Pali Coast!

Waimea Canyon Hiking Trails

Canyon Trailhead
The Popular Canyon Trail
Hiking Waimea Canyon
Views for Days…

Iliau Nature Loop – A short 1/4 mile loop hike that showcases some of the area’s plant life and bird watching. Keep an eye out for the local Iliau Plant! If it’s in bloom, you’re super lucky.

Kukui Trail – This trail takes you down to the river at the very bottom of the canyon. It’s steep, and can get very treacherous when wet due to the red clay. Recommended for experienced hikers who might want to camp at one of the campgrounds at the bottom of the canyon.

Canyon Trail (Waipoo Falls) – This hike takes you to the top of Waipoo Falls, the stunning 800 foot waterfall you see as you drive along the canyon rim. Standing at the top isn’t the best place to be for a photo of this waterfall, however the hike still has great views, and only takes about an hour round-trip.

Flying Over The Canyon

Waimea Canyon Helicopter
Doors Off Helicopter Flight
Waipoo Falls
Waipoo Falls From the Air

Another cool way to experience the immensity of Waimea Canyon is flying through it in a helicopter! The gorge is often part of island helicopter tours, and whipping through the canyon, especially with the doors off, is pretty amazing.

Flying up close to the massive Waipoo Falls was fantastic, and our pilot flew super close to the canyon walls, which was quite a thrill too.

Getting to Waimea Canyon State Park

Car Rental Kauai
Our Rental Jeep on Kauai

There are two routes for driving up to Waimea Canyon from the town of Waimea — Waimea Canyon Drive or Kokee Road (Highway 550). They eventually meet before you enter the canyon rim, so it really doesn’t matter which you choose.

Entrance into Waimea Canyon State Park is free (no permit required), however there may be a fee for parking in certain popular areas near viewpoints.

Rental Car

The best site to book your car is with Discover Cars. They search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best possible price. This is the easiest way to rent a car and drive on Kauai.

Renting a car offers the best flexibility to explore remote spots on the island. Kauai has two major highways, Kaumualii and Kuhio. It can take an hour to get to the other side of the island.

Red Dirt Falls
Red Dirt Falls

Useful Tips For Visiting Waimea Canyon

  • The temperature gets much cooler on the high canyon rim. Bring a rain jacket or windbreaker. Wear shoes with traction to handle rocky, muddy terrain.
  • Parking spots at lookout points can fill up fast, as it’s a popular tourist destination. Try to arrive early, before 9am if possible.
  • How much time do you need to explore? I’d set aside at least half a day, but if you want to do a bunch of hikes, you could easily spend a full day here.
  • After exploring Waimea Canyon’s trails, continue driving North and visit Kokee State Park. If the weather’s good, you’ll have awesome views looking down on the Na Pali coastline!
Travel Planning Resources For Kauai
Packing Guide
Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip.
Book Your Flight
Ready to fly? Here’s how I find the cheapest airline flights.
Rent A Car
Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find a deal.
Cheap Accommodation
Learn how I save money booking hotels & vacation apartments.
Protect Your Trip
Don’t forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read why you should always carry travel insurance.

READ MORE HAWAII TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide to Waimea Canyon on Kauai! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:


Have you ever heard of Waimea Canyon? What’s your favorite Hawaiian Island? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Richard Lee Smith

Monday 7th of June 2021

That's great Matthew. I love hiking and after reading this article and watch these photos I think Waimea State Park is the best place for hiking. It's now on the top of my bucket list to visit. thanks for sharing your experience and off-course these photos.

Ayesha Bukhari

Saturday 13th of February 2021

That's really impressive and that flying view is just great, I just can't wait to visit Hawaii's grand canyon. I think waimea canyon is the best place for hiking and all the pictures are very beautiful.

Kiran Sankar Sarker

Saturday 30th of January 2021

Hi, Mathew I am a retired forester from Bangladesh. Grateful thanks for so nice and informative article having beautiful images. This article will be a very useful for me as I have a dream to visit Hawaii’s Grand Canyon. I will share with you my experience if I can make it possible. Warm blessings to be with good. health.

Matthew Karsten

Sunday 31st of January 2021

Glad you enjoyed the photos Kiran! Waimea is a cool spot for sure.

Geoffrey

Saturday 30th of January 2021

I never knew Hawaii had something like this, Waimea looks incredible. I haven't seen the original-flavor Grand Canyon yet, so I might need to work my way up to it!

Matthew Karsten

Sunday 31st of January 2021

Yeah I didn't either, until I started looking into things to do on Kauai. It was a wonderful morning adventure.

George

Tuesday 26th of January 2021

Never thought that the mountains in Hawaii could be that interesting and beautiful. I've been to Maui once but all I did was heading to the ocean and seaside parties. Maybe I should have participated in some hiking and sightseeing...

Matthew Karsten

Sunday 31st of January 2021

I hear Maui has a lot of great hiking and waterfalls! I haven't been yet, but would love to visit one day.

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