Iliau Nature Loop Trail

Iliau Nature Loop Trail: Easy 0.3-Mile Interpretive Path on the Waimea Canyon Rim
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The 0.3-mile Iliau Nature Loop Trail is among the easiest walks in Waimea Canyon State Park, and well worth doing for two reasons. First, you get acquainted with some fascinating and lovely native and endemic (only found here) plants of Kauai. Second, you goggle over magnificent views of Waimea Canyon and the tributary gorge of Waialae Canyon!

- The Local Expert Team

The loop trail is set on Waimea Canyon’s western rim and shares a trailhead with the much more strenuous Kukui Trail, which drops 2,000 feet down to the chasm’s floor. Both trails, incidentally, are named for emblematic plants, the kukui being a valuable nut tree spread widely around the Pacific by people during ancient times.

The Iliau Nature Loop Trail, meantime, is named after an eye-catching shrub in the sunflower family found only on Kauai. Biologists use the word “endemic” to describe plants like the iliau that are restricted to a very particular geographic location. A sort of Dr. Seuss-esque plant, the iliau sports a bare, spindly stem topped by a flourish of bunched, slender leaves. 

Closely related to the equally snazzy silverswords and green swords of Maui and the Big Island, the iliau has, like many native Hawaiian plants, lost a lot of ground in Kauai. Feral goats, for one thing, love munching it. Waimea Canyon is its stronghold, and it’s well represented along the loop trail. 

The iliau is only one of many native and often endemic plants you’ll get to know ambling this loop, which has signs identifying notable species. The ecosystem here is basically an example of Kaui’s upland scrub community. The plants identified to come in the full-size spectrum, from the sedge called uki—used by Native Hawaiians to line walls, among other things—to the towering koa tree.

Koas are one of the botanical symbols of Hawaii. They’re gorgeous acacia trees, common along the Waimea Canyon rims and instantly recognizable once you learn their typical profile and the color of their trunk and canopy. Koa timber was prized by Native Hawaiians, not least for making outrigger canoes. Today, the wood is treasured for the making of guitars. 

Another of the plants you’ll meet along the Iliau Nature Loop Trail is the aalii. The shrub grows red berries traditionally used for dyes and lei-making, and its wood was employed in the building. Native Hawaiians also treated skin irritation with its crushed foliage. The species is also admirably resilient in the face of wind. A Hawaiian saying goes: “I am a wind-resisting aalii; no gale can push me over.”

Then there’s the uki-uki, an herb whose leaves were used for housing thatch and whose berries provided dye. 

Besides all of this interesting vegetation, the Iliau Nature Loop Trail is fabulous on account of its vistas. You’ll get far-reaching views over the sharp ridges and cliffy walls of Waimea Canyon itself as well as the tributary gorge of the Waialae Stream. This is some of the most tremendous scenery in all of Hawaii—heck, the U.S. in general—and this gentle, red-dirt path is an all-ages way to soak it up!

Insider Tips:
-If you’re on Kauai between May and July, definitely consider paying a visit to the Iliau Nature Loop Trail. This is the season when the iliau flowers, so you may just luck out and see its extravagant blooms along the path.
-You can park along the side of the road off Hwy 550 between mile markers 8 and 9.
-The Iliau Nature Loop Trail is, as we’ve emphasized, an easy walk; there’s a mere 40 or so feet of elevation change along it. But bear in mind that in wet weather it can be slippery, just like so many Kauai trails. Sturdy hiking boots, shoes, or sandals are recommended in those conditions, and a trekking pole or two couldn’t hurt.