Kauai Adventure: Waimea Canyon Scenic Drive

Do you want to see all the most beautiful sights on Kauai? If so, you need to take a scenic drive along Waimea Canyon. Across its 14-mile stretch, you’ll get to check out stunning cliffsides, waterfalls, and so much more. Plus, it takes you right in the range of two incredible state parks, allowing you to go on even more explorations. Ready to hit the road? Here’s what you can expect on this island road trip.   

All About the Waimea Canyon in Kauai

With its unofficial moniker of “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” how can you expect anything but perfection from Waimea Canyon? You won’t be disappointed either because it definitely lives up to its name even though it’s smaller than the real deal. While driving along the edge, it’ll feel every bit as big and wondrous though, especially if you stop at the lookout to admire the wide open landscape.  

The Waimea Canyon is 3,600 feet deep, after all, and stretches on for one mile wide. As you drive the 14-plus miles along its length, the canyon promises to delight you with phenomenal views. The canyon formed as the Waimea River cut through the shield volcano, so you can expect breathtaking cliffsides and other geological formations from end to end. On top of that, waterfalls spread across the landscape, creating a truly lush habitat for all the local birds and wildlife.

How to Get Ready for Your Road Trip Adventures

If you want to enjoy your Waimea Canyon scenic drive to the fullest, it pays to be prepared. Thankfully, you can do that quite easily by simply following these steps.

1. Plan to Pay the Fee

As a visitor to the island, you must pay for entrance and parking to visit Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park. You will need to cover the $5 entrance fee for each person in your car over the age of three. Kids age three and under are free.

In addition, you must pay a $10 per vehicle rate for parking if you’re driving a non-commercial vehicle. Drivers of commercial vehicles have to pay anywhere from $25 to $90 for parking.

You only have to pay one fee for the day, and it covers the drive plus parking at all of the overlooks, trailheads, and other lots. The pay stations are located in all the parking lots, making it easy to get your passes sorted.

2. Pack Up Your Ride

You won’t find any restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, or other stops once you start heading toward the canyon. So, take the time to pack up what you need and get the rest of your supplies before leaving the coast.

To maximize your road trip fun, you should bring:

  • Paper map of Kauai
  • Bottled water and protein bars
  • Emergency roadside kit
  • Space blanket
  • Flashlight
  • SPF 50+ sunblock
  • Locally sourced bug spray
  • Sunglasses

Don’t forget your camera as well, so you can take photo after photo of the magnificence before you.

After that, stop by the gas station to fill up your tank with fuel, and then go inside to get drinks and snacks. If you prefer to save a bit of money on your road trip eats, go to the Big Save Market for all you need.

You might also want to either eat a meal while you’re in town or grab takeout for the road. Popular restaurants near the start of the trip include Porky’s Kauai, Gina’s Anykine Grinds Café, and Island Taco.

3. Time It Just Right

The Waimea Canyon scenic drive is a delight year-round, but the vegetation hits its peak beauty in the late spring. The fall season is equally wonderful, especially if it has been raining a lot in the weeks prior to your visit.   

Want to beat the crowds and enjoy the best views possible? Time your road trip for the morning hours, for sure. You’ll also want to pick a clear day with mild weather conditions.

If you go out on a rainy day, the clouds will obstruct your view and the trails will be muddy and slippery. On a hot, sunny day, you’ll get overheated fast if you want to walk the trails for any length of time.

Once you’re ready to go, all that’s left to do is hop in your ride and hit the road.

What You Need to Know About the Canyon Drive

Although you can definitely take Kokee Road up to the canyon’s edge, Waimea Canyon Drive is the best way to go. The route is fully paved, but it’s still wise to take it slow because it’s a small two-lane road.

To get there, you’ll need to turn on the drive from Kaumualii Highway after packing up your ride. Then, continue on the route as it takes you through town and the fields beyond.

Before you know it, you’ll arrive at Kekaha Lookout, which provides the first glimpse of all the beauty ahead. From there, you will come across several more lookouts, including:

  • Niihau Lookout
  • Stream and Canyon Lookout
  • Lakoba Lookout
  • Hohonu Awawa Lookout
  • Puu Ka Pele Lookout

Puu Hinahina Lookout lies at the end of the canyon, but you must walk down the trail to take a peek. Fortunately, it’s well worth the effort as it allows you to look south along the full length of the canyon.

Since trees block the view along much of the roadway, take full advantage of every lookout to see every last inch of the gorgeous canyon. Each one gives you a minute to stretch your legs and enjoy the fresh island air as well.  

End Your Day with a Visit to the Nearby State Parks

Since you already paid for access to both Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park, it just makes sense to stick around and explore. As long as you’re prepared for the adventures ahead, you can go hiking, picnicking, backpacking, and picnicking to your heart’s content.

If you cannot bear to break yourself away from the beautiful parklands, consider coming back for a camping trip to remember. There are many excellent cabins and campgrounds in Kokee State Park, letting you spend the nights stargazing and wake up each morning to the sound of birdsong.