The next time you visit Hawaii, the Waimea Canyon must be on your to-do list. It is a true gem nestled on the lush island of Kauai. Visiting the Waimea Canyon and traveling around through the landscape is a majestic experience. And it truly showcases the unique geological diversity of Kauai.
Before you travel to the canyon, here’s a quick look at the geology and how to make the most of your visit by foot and air.
If you’ve ever heard someone refer to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, they were talking about the Waimea Canyon. This natural wonder is located on the western side of Kauai, one of Hawaii’s oldest and most legendary islands.
The name Waimea is actually Hawaiian for "red water," which is an allusion to the water created by the canyon’s red soil. The tall, red & orange canyon walls resemble what you might see in Arizona’s Grand Canyon. However, the Hawaiian cousin is not as big or old as the one in the lower 48.
The entire Waimea Canyon stretches for about 14 miles long, 1 mile wide, and over 3,600 feet deep. The vista truly goes on for miles, inciting a sense of infinity in the viewer.
The adventure begins in the town of Waimea. From there, take either Waimea Canyon Drive or Kokee Road. Both roads will eventually meet, so choose either one. However, Waimea Canyon Drive is the main road and will be most traversed by visitors.
Once you get there, you can take your pick at the beginner or advanced trails and see the deep valleys and gorges on foot.
If you opt to explore Waimea Canyon by foot, you can hike several trails that boast impressive views. There are also numerous lookouts spaced across the “rim” of the canyon. Each one provides a unique look at the landscape along your hike.
For example, the Puu Hinahina Lookout (mile 13) provides a parallel view of the deep canyon. Experience a glimpse of its winding river, cutting through the rocks as it pours into the Pacific.
Another viewing point, Waimea Canyon Overlook, provides dramatic views of the landscape’s edge. For those who would rather not take a long hike, this is the main lookout you should visit.
The easiest and best way to get a good look at Waimea Canyon is by air. There are several tours that will take you on a helicopter ride above the canyon. The splendor of what you’ll see in the air vs on foot is unmatched.
Catch sight of cascading waterfalls that can’t be seen on foot. And get a bird's eye view of the deep richness of Waimea that goes on for miles. You’ll be able to look down into the canyon as if you are soaring above it all.
Gazing at the high cliffs and dramatic valleys on land is one thing, but seeing them zoomed out really helps capture how huge and glorious this natural wonder is.