Whilst staying in Kauai, you cannot miss the drive to Waimea Canyon and also Kokee State Park. There are two ways to drive to Waimea Canyon, turn up Waimea Canyon Drive (Hwy. 550) at Waimea town; or you can pass through Waimea and turn up Kokee Road (Hwy. 55) at Kekaha. I would suggest taking one way up and the alternative drive back down. We went up via Hwy. 550 and down to Kekaha. Along both roads, there are epic views that will take your breath away and keep you peering out of your window. Don't limit your views to staying in the car though, as there are many lookouts at which to stop and explore at the many places along the route.
Waimea Canyon is a dramatic scar ten miles long, two miles wide and 3,600 feet deep in western Kauai. Mark Twain nicknamed Waimea Canyon the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific", because of its resemblance to the Southwest's most popular tourist attraction the Grand Canyon.
Some however say, that with its deep reds, greens and browns, each created by a different volcanic flow over centuries, that it is much more colourful than the Grand Canyon. Check some of my photos from the Grand Canyon and see what you think.
WHAT IS WAIMEA CANYON STATE PARK?
Waimea Canyon has been carved over millions of years by the river and floods pouring down from the summit of Mount Waialeale and it is considered one of the wettest places on earth. At the center of the Kauai canyon is the Waimea River. Waimea stands for “red waters.” It’s not hard to understand how it got its name once you see the amber tones of the surrounding canyon walls.
WEATHER AND WAIMEA CANYON
Weather can change quickly at Waimea Canyon, so be prepared, as it can get windy or rainy, especially up near the Na Pali coast. If your journey to the Canyon will be mostly in the car and confined to the lookouts you may be a bit cool due to the elevation. We travelled in May and did not find it cool at all. If you are hiking, you can leave cool weather gear behind. It can get very warm, especially down in the canyon. Be sure to bring your hiking boots. Much of Hawaii can be muddy and Waimea Canyon is no different.
KAUAI BY HELICOPTER
Kauai is one of the islands where many people say the cost of a helicopter tour is worth it. We opted to take a Helicopter flight the day before and then drive and hike the Canyon the next day. Helicopters do get right into the canyon and can give you such stunning views and perspective of the size of the Canyon and also the Nā Pali Coast.
HIKING WAIMEA CANYON
There are many trails that you can hike into the canyon. I could list them all here, but it's easier to do a quick recent search of the trails and whether they are open or not. This way you can decide on the difficulty of each trail and the time factors involved. Some of the Waimea Canyon hikes require permits, so you would need to check at the ranger stations.
You will be able to see the Canyon from every angle and at various heights along your road trip. Most of the lookout walks are short trips and all are handicapped accessible.
WAIMEA CANYON LOOKOUT
One of the most popular lookouts is Waimea Canyon Lookout. The scenery is really gorgeous, and truly indescribable unless, as some say, you have been to the Grand Canyon.
The first good vantage point is Waimea Canyon Lookout, located between mile markers 10 and 11 on Waimea Canyon Road. From here, it's another 6 miles to Kokee. There are a few more lookout points along the way that also offer spectacular views, such as Puu Hina Hina Lookout, between mile markers 13 and 14, at 3,336 feet; be sure to pull over and spend a few minutes pondering this natural wonder. (The giant white object that looks like a golf ball and defaces the natural landscape is a radar station left over from the Cold War - unfortunately I did not get a photo of this)
A massive earthquake sent a number of streams into the single river that ultimately carved this picturesque canyon.
If you are short on time, I would suggest to head straight to Kalalua viewpoint and then make you way back down. On the day we went, there was heavy low cloud coverage, as such it was rather difficult to take any photos from the various viewpoints. Even if you have cloud cover, the viewpoint is remarkable and you can do either a long or short hike which covers some magnificent scenery.
Today, the Waimea River -- a silver thread of water in the gorge that's sometimes a trickle, often a torrent, but always there -- keeps cutting the canyon deeper and wider, and nobody can say what the result will be 100 million years from now.