If there's one site you shouldn't miss when visiting Kauai, it's Waimea Canyon. Also called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, this monstrous landmark offers gorgeous deep red and bright green views and is a great way to spend the afternoon. Located on the west side of the island, it took us about 45 minutes to get to the start of Highway 550 from Kapa'a where the journey begins.
Be sure to gas up before you start driving as it's only one windy road up to the top without any gas stations. We also packed some snacks and ate lunch at the halfway point of our hike. The weather can vary greatly and most guides will tell you to try and get there early as it can get quite cloudy which really hinders the views. We didn't get to the start of the drive until about 9:30 a.m. and had a clear view for the majority of the day. But don't fear, in true Hawaii fashion at one point the whole canyon was covered in fog on the way back from our hike only to clear out in 20 minutes.
Once you turn onto 550 you'll have to drive for a few miles before you really start to see anything worth stopping for. The first time we pulled over the car was just before mile 5 to see the famous red dirt waterfall. This waterfall is located just off the left side of the road and very easy to access - no hiking required! The other side of the road is also worth checking out and had hundreds of stacked rocked towers which I thought was so neat. After spending a few minutes wandering around we hopped back in the car to continue our ascent.
The first major lookout you'll come across next is the Waimea Canyon Lookout (just past mile 10). There's a large parking lot and a concrete viewing area which offers a great panoramic view of the canyon including a waterfall off in the distance. This is one of the most popular lookouts so there are usually quite a few people here at one time.
Don't let the picture above fool you, the higher you go the wind starts to pick up and it does get a bit chilly. I put a jacket on as soon as we got back to the car. Next up was the Pu'u Hinahina Lookout located at the 13 mile marker. This is a smaller lookout but offers a great view of the middle of the canyon and is also the start to the Canyon and Cliff hike which is very popular. We had another hike planned for the day so we opted to skip this one.
The Kalalau Lookout is located at the 18 mile marker and features a large lot offering views of the Na Pali Coast from afar. The final lookout of the drive is a mile further down the road. The Pu'u O Kila Lookout offers views of the Kalalau Valley. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of hiking first so by the time we were done we were exhausted and covered in mud and didn't want to drive further so we missed these two lookouts - big mistake! If you're planning to hike I would suggest driving all the way to the top and then coming back down to start your trek.
The big highlight of our day was hiking the Awa'awapuhi Trail (located at 17 mile marker). This is a 6-mile round trip hike that leads to views of the Na Pali Coast that are truly breathtaking. We even got to see a baby mountain goat on the cliffside. This view is something most people don't get to see when visiting Waimea Canyon and was worth every step. However, be prepared the trail is VERY muddy and rocky in places and I slipped more than once. By the time we reached the end we were covered in mud. The way there is mostly downhill and in my opinion the way back was a bit more strenuous. Bring lots of water and good shoes! The hike took us around four hours to complete with time at the top to enjoy the views and eat our lunch.
I love creating detailed travel guides to ensure you get the most out of your time. On this blog I'll be sharing some of my past trips in hopes that it helps you plan your next adventure. Pack your suitcase you never know where I'll be heading next!
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