Stunning red-colored walls with contrasting emerald-green valleys and vegetation. Deep valleys with rivers and streams winding gracefully through the valley floors. Amazing waterfalls cascading over steep, towering cliffs.
Waimea Canyon is all the above and more! The most prominent geological feature in the interior of the island of Kauai, Waimea Canyon is a must-explore destination on every Kauai visitor’s bucket list!
Waimea Canyon sprawls over two different Kauai state parks: Waimea Canyon State Park and Koke’e State Park. You can use the same entrance fee and parking fee to visit both these adjacent sister parks.
And the best way to explore Waimea Canyon is on your own two feet, hiking the Waimea Canyon trail along the rim and deep into Waimea Canyon.
Hikes to view Waimea Canyon cater to hikers of all abilities, from easy, family-friendly hikes for kids, beginners, seniors and pregnant women, to hard, strenuous hikes meant for the experienced hikers in top physical condition!
Come join us on a virtual tour of Waimea Canyon, and select the best hikes most suited for you and your group!
Hey, by the way! Visiting Kauai? The only way to get a real feel for the rugged beauty of this incredible island is through a helicopter tour! Check out the five highest rated Kauai Helicopter tours for 2023!
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Best Waimea Canyon Hikes, Kauai
1. Waimea Canyon Lookout Trail Hike
Struggling for time? The Waimea Canyon Lookout Trail, not really a hike at 0.1 miles roundtrip, is your quickest option to fabulous views of Waimea Canyon.
As one of the easiest Waimea Canyon hikes, this is a trail you will appreciate if you have members in your group in wheelchairs or kids in strollers.
The bulk of the lookout trail paved concrete and is accessible for most wheelchairs and strollers, but note that there are stairs to the upper viewing decks.
You can expect stunning views of Waimea Canyon and the surrounding landscape from the lookout, which is at an elevation of 3,400 feet.
Look for the 800-foot Waipo’o Falls, the Alakai Swamp on the uplands above the canyon and Po’omau Canyon created from the swamp water, Wai’ale’ale and Kawaikini (highest peaks on Kauai), and the Waimea River (base of the canyon).
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
2. Iliau Nature Loop Trail Hike
The Iliau Nature Loop Trail is one of the best easy Waimea Canyon hikes, family-friendly and kid-friendly, and short at 0.4 miles roundtrip distance.
If you are carrying kids on backpacks or have seniors or pregnant women, this trail is ideal since you have minimal climbing (about 100 feet elevation change).
The Iliau Nature Loop Trail takes you on a mud trail through some forested sections with native vegetation, but also along the rim and offers amazing views of the Waimea Canyon.
The Iliau Nature Loop trailhead is along Koke’e Road (Highway 550) about 3/4 of a mile beyond the 8 mile marker (see the best Waimea Canyon hikes map below).
3. Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls
The Waimea Canyon Lookout and the Iliau Nature Loop Trail are relatively easy Waimea Canyon hikes, meant more for beginning hikers.
The Waimea Canyon Trail connects with the Waipo’o Falls Trail to provide a 3.0 roundtrip distance hike of easy to moderate difficulty, and is probably the one of the best Waimea Canyon hikes for most hikers wanting a real hike along the rim.
You reach the trailhead by continuing on Koke’e Road to the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout (between mile markers 13 and 14) (see the best Waimea Canyon hikes map below).
The Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls starts through a dense tropical rainforest, continues along the Waimea Canyon rim with fabulous views, and ends at the top of the 800-foot Waipo’o Falls that you saw from the Waimea Canyon Lookout.
4. Kukui Trail Hike (Hardest of the Waimea Canyon hikes)
Tired of hiking the Waimea Canyon rim and want to see what’s at the bottom?
With a roundtrip total distance of 4.5 miles and an elevation change of 2,200 feet, the Kukui Trail is one of the hardest Waimea Canyon hikes.
Named after the many kukui nut trees along the trail, the Kukui Trail starts off as a hike through a forest on dirt trail, with loose rocks. Pretty soon you will encounter steep switchbacks descending sharply down.
Along the hike you will get magnificent views of Waimea Canyon with contrasting red walls and lush green vegetation, see multiple waterfalls, and enjoy Waimea River at the floor of the valley.
Reserve a lot of energy and water for the challenging hike back up, a bit of slog!
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
Other Waimea Canyon Hikes
If you complete the best Waimea Canyon hikes listed above, and are looking for additional hikes in the area or to add onto an existing hike, you have many options.
There are two Waimea Canyon hikes at the bottom of the canyon, typically after the Kukui Trail hike down: the Waimea Canyon River Trail hike (10.4 miles round trip) and the Koaie Canyon Trail.
The Kohua Ridge Trail is a hike that starts on the other side of the canyon and along Kohua Ridge. It offers views of the west side of the canyon, unlike all the Waimea Canyon hikes described above.
There are multiple smaller trails, offshoots of the Waimea Canyon Trail and the Waipo’o Falls Trails like the Black Pipe Trail and the Cliff Trail. These are smaller hikes, some of which can be tacked onto the main hike, especially the Cliff Trail hike.
Best Waimea Canyon Hikes Map
The below map of the best Waimea Canyon hikes shows the locations of the trailheads, the trails and the nearby landmarks.
Hawaiian Birds to Spot on Waimea Canyon Hikes
Some of the common Hawaiian birds you can expect to see are the rose-ringed parakeet (a highly invasive bird species), the red-crested cardinal (pretty red-headed birds with a crest), and the warbling white eye (with a characteristic white ring around its eyes).
The ‘akikiki (Kauai Creeper) is found only on Kauai and mostly in the Alakai Swamp wilderness of Koke’e State park, and is critically endangered, with little protection to recent avian malaria disease carried by mosquitoes.
Check our detailed post on Hawaiian birds in Kauai and how to identify them.
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!
Hawaiian Plants, Trees and Flowers on the Waimea Canyon Hikes
You can spot many common and easily identifiable Hawaiian plants, trees and flowers on the forest trails of Waimea Canyon.
We saw many kukui nut trees on the Kukui Trail, and hence the name!
The Iliau Trail is named after the iliau plant, endemic to Kauai.
The Best Kauai Tours
Have you booked these top Kauai guided adventures yet?
Sunset catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast (relatively more stable ride, insane views on good weather days!)
Doors-off helicopter tour of Kauai (unobstructed views, chance to see more of the island than you can by land, no middle seats!)
Kayak on the Wailua River plus hike to a waterfall (a super fun activity for active travelers, albeit a little muddy sometimes!)
Raft trip to the Na Pali Coast plus snorkeling (prepare to get wet on this exhilarating adventure!)
Eurocopter ECO-Star helicopter tour over Kauai (the most booked Kauai helicopter tour on Viator with close to 2K reviews and a 5-star rating!)
Renting a Car in Kauai
The best things to do in Kauai are scattered all over the island.
Public transport options on Kauai aren’t great, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Kauai trip.
We always use Discover Cars to book Kauai car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Lihue Airport-Hotel Shuttle
Not planning to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport? Pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back!
This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Where to Stay in Kauai
Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Kauai you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.
Since you’ll likely want to base in a couple places on your trip to Kauai, we suggest starting your search for Kauai accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO.
We have stayed in VRBO rentals in both Poipu and Princeville and find that the choice and quality are generally great.
Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!
More Kauai Travel Inspiration
Considering a trip to the Garden Isle in Hawaii? You’ll definitely want to check out some of our other comprehensive Kauai travel and attraction guides!
If you are a first-time visitor to Kauai, start by discovering the best things to do in Kauai! From beaches and botanical gardens to cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls, Kauai has it all, and our round-up lists all of Kauai’s must-experience activities and attractions.
Read our in-depth guide to visiting the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. We give you the full scoop on the best ways to visit this stunning coast in the remote northwest of the island.
Discover our round-up of the nine spectacular state parks in Kauai, which house some of Kauai’s most treasured natural wonders.
Check out our round-up of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, from waterfalls you can view from the road to falls that require hiking and falls that are best seen from a helicopter or sightseeing flight.
Read our guide to Wailua River State Park to discover two easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls, and our trail guide for the easy hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. We also have an article on the best Kauai waterfall hikes.
And if a helicopter tour is part of your plans for Kauai, read our article on the top-rated helicopter tours in Kauai!
We also have a trail guide for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s scenic south shore, an article on how to hike the Sleeping Giant Trail, and a guide to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the easy hikes on Kauai.
Get the scoop on the best botanical gardens in Kauai, from Limahuli Garden on the north shore to McBryde and Allerton Gardens on the south shore.
Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei, the charming town that sits in the middle of Kauai’s scenic north shore.
Read our guide to the best swimming beaches on Kauai, from Hanalei Bay on the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south shore! We also have a guide to the best snorkeling beaches on Kauai, and a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches.
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