Waimea Canyon is Kauai’s most singular, commanding landmark. Reaching more than 2,500 feet and spanning in places some 2.5 miles from rim to rim, it’s long been touted as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” (Despite what you often hear, though, American author Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, did not give Waimea Canyon that label. In fact, although he did pass through the Hawaiian Islands, Twain never made it to Kauai and never saw this fabulous chasm.)
“Waimea” in Native Hawaiian means “reddish-brown.” Although much of the canyon could be described as that hue, the reference is to the color of the Waimea River itself. That reddish-brown tint comes from the natural acids leached out of the lush vegetation of the high Alakai Swamp, headwaters of the Waimea.
Waipoo Falls is a roughly 800-foot plunge of the Kokee Stream in the far northwestern corner of Waimea Canyon. (The northeasterly arms of the canyon extend quite a bit further into the highlands.) Although the Canyon Trail is often called the “Waipoo Falls Trail,” it’s actually not a good route to see the double-tier waterfall itself.
That’s because the trail passes above the head of Waipoo Falls, offering a partial view of the uppermost cascading tier but not a look at the showstopper pour-off. If you want photo-op views of Waipoo Falls, vantages such as the Waimea Canyon Overlook and the Puu Ke Pele lookout are your jam.
But that doesn’t mean you should skip the Canyon Trail. This path provides outstanding prospects into Waimea Canyon and the exciting feel of walking one of its brinks. Without expending a ton of effort or time, you can actually say you hiked into the canyon, away from the blacktop—and that’s pretty cool!
Although you can reach the Canyon Trail from a Highway 550 trailhead to the southwest, many opt for the shorter approach from the north via the dirt Halemanu Road. You’ll soon reach the turnoff for the Cliff Trail, a short route taking you to a nice canyon view. It doesn’t add much to your hike, so consider making that brief detour.
The Canyon Trail continues southeast, crossing the ravine of the Nawaimaka Stream. There are a couple of extra-special views into the canyon, perhaps the most impressive being an overlook above a red-dirt slope dropping into the depths.
When you reach the Kokee Stream above its 800-foot plummet, you may not get to savor any knockout look at Waipoo Falls, but you do have a fine tropical pool to enjoy.
As with many trails on Kauai, the Canyon Trail can get muddy indeed after rain. It’s best not to tackle it in actively wet weather. A trekking pole or two can be super-helpful.
Some hikers who haven’t done their homework end up a bit disappointed by the Canyon Trail, expecting the “Waipoo Falls Trail” delivers an up-close view of that Waimea Canyon landmark. But if you know what to expect, you’ll come away bowled over by the grand vistas!
–You can park off HI 550, up the Halemanu Road towards the Canyon Trailhead. This trail will eventually lead to the wonderful falls!
The Canyon Trail is a popular route and can get quite busy. If you can, time your hike for earlier in the morning for a better chance of avoiding the crowds.