Dramatic contrast between the red soil and green lush vegetation in Waimea Canyon from the Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls, one of the best Kauai hikes in Koke'e State Park

Best Waimea Canyon Hikes, Kauai: Easy To Hard Trails – 2024

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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 is huge, spanning 13 miles long by 1.5 mile wide by 2,500 feet deep. No wonder it is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii!

Panoramic view highlighting the red and green landscape from the Kukui Trail, one of the hardest Waimea Canyon hikes.
Panoramic view highlighting the red and green landscape from the Kukui Trail, one of the hardest Waimea Canyon hikes.

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!

Up for an active adventure on the scenic Wailua River in Kauai? Discover the Secret Falls kayaking + hiking excursion on the east side of the island!

White Hibiscus at the Waimea Canyon Lookout in Kauai, Hawaii
White Hibiscus at the Waimea Canyon Lookout in Kauai, Hawaii

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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.

Dramatic views of the canyon from the Waimea Canyon Lookout, one of the easiest Waimea Canyon hikes
Dramatic views of the canyon from the Waimea Canyon Lookout, one of the easiest Waimea Canyon hikes

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).

Waipo'o Falls from the Waimea Canyon Lookout, one of the best easy Waimea Canyon hikes
Waipo’o Falls from the Waimea Canyon Lookout, one of the best easy Waimea Canyon hikes

>> 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.

Red canyon walls from the Iliau Nature Loop Trail, one of the easiest Waimea Canyon hikes
Red canyon walls from the Iliau Nature Loop Trail, one of the easiest Waimea Canyon hikes

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.

Greensword at the rim of the canyon along the Iliau Nature Loop, one of the best easy Waimea Canyon hikes
Greensword at the rim of the canyon along the Iliau Nature Loop, one of the best easy Waimea Canyon hikes

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.

Waimea Canyon views along the canyon rim section of the Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls, one of the best Waimea Canyon hikes in the Koke'e State Park
Waimea Canyon views along the canyon rim section of the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls, one of the best Waimea Canyon hikes in the Koke’e State Park

The Waimea Canyon Trail to Wapo’o Falls is one of the best Koke’e State Park hikes and one of the best Kauai waterfall hikes.

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.

Cascade at top of Waipoo Falls in Kokee State Park, Kauai, Hawaii
Cascade at top of Waipoo Falls in Kokee State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

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?

The Kukui Trail, one of the hardest best hikes on Kauai, starts from the rim (use the best Waimea Canyon hikes map below) and takes you to the floor along the west side of Waimea Canyon.

Stunning canyon views from the Kukui Trail, one of the hardest Waimea Canyon hikes
Stunning canyon views from the Kukui Trail, one of the hardest Waimea Canyon hikes

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.

Kukui Trail, one of the hardest Waimea Canyon hikes, to the Waimea River at the bottom
Kukui Trail, one of the hardest Waimea Canyon hikes, to the Waimea River at the bottom

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.

Waipo'o Falls in Waimea Canyon State Park, Kauai, Hawaii
Waipo’o Falls in Waimea Canyon State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

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

Waimea Canyon trails are a great place to spot some of the pretty forest birds of Hawaii, some endemic to the island of Kauai, and not even found on the other islands!

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).

If you’re an avid birdwatcher, the adjacent Koke’e State Park is a better spot to find these and other beautiful Hawaiian birds, especially on some of the park’s best trails.

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.

Akikiki or the Kauai creeper, endemic to Kauai
Akikiki or the Kauai creeper, endemic to Kauai

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.

Refer to our detailed post on Hawaiian plants to identify and learn about these species, some endemic to Hawaii, and found nowhere else on the world!

The kukui nut tree or the candlenut tree was brought to the Hawaiian islands by the ancient Hawaiians in canoes, and the oil from the nut was used to light their stone lamps.

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.

In spring and summer, you’ll see pretty flowers along the trails, including ohi’a lehua red or yellow flowers and beautiful yellow kahili ginger flowers.

Hiking Gear Checklist

Many of Hawaii’s hikes are demanding, make sure you are well equipped and well prepared. Here’s what we typically take with us:

Hiking Safety Tips

Hiking in Hawaii can provide opportunities to get up close to its beautiful landscapes and allow you to observe local flora and fauna.

But hiking in Hawaii can also pose challenges you may not have encountered elsewhere. It is important to keep safety considerations uppermost in your mind as you plan a hike in Hawaii and as you are on the trail.

Here are some tips that may help:

  • If it’s your first time hiking in Hawaii, or you are a beginner hiker, you may want to consider a guided hike with an experienced local hiking guide. A local guide can help you pick a trail and hike with you.
  • Heed any posted signs at the trailhead or along the trail.
  • Minimize the potential for trailhead vehicle break-ins by locking belongings in the trunk, out of sight, and carry valuables with you.
  • Hike with a buddy or in a group, and stay together as you hike.
  • Leave information about the trail you plan to hike, and your expected time of return, with a trusted contact.
  • Obtain adequate information about the trail from official sources so you know your route, trailhead, etc. ahead of time. Download a trail map + bring a printed copy.
  • Carefully assess if a trail is suited to your hiking skill level and physical capability. Each island has a wide variety of trails from which to pick.
  • Get the latest weather forecast before you head out. Weather can change with little warning, so keep your eye on the weather as you hike.
  • Beware of flash floods in streams and gulches. Avoid crossing swollen streams.
  • Stay on the trail to minimize the potential for getting lost.
  • Start early and plan your turnaround time such that you can get back to the trailhead while it is still light out.
  • Call for emergency assistance if you are lost or injured.
  • For more detailed hiking safety information, seek guidance from Na Ala Hele, the official resource for Hawaii hikers.

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!)

Entire Kauai Island Air Tour (super popular, less expensive than a heli tour, large bubble windows for flightseeing!)

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.

>> Check availability and prices on Kauai car rentals now!

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!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Kauai now!

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.

>> Look for a Kauai vacation rental on VRBO now!

Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!

Colorful Kahili ginger flowers along the Waimea Canyon Trail, one of the best Waimea Canyon hikes in Koke'e State Park
Colorful Kahili ginger flowers along the Waimea Canyon Trail, one of the best Waimea Canyon hikes in Koke’e State Park

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.

Planning to split a week between Kauai and another island? We have a 3 days in Kauai itinerary article you must read to help flesh out what you would like to see and do!

Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei and Kauai’s scenic north shore, the best things to do in Poipu and Kauai’s south shore, and the most exciting things to do on Kauai’s Coconut Side or east side.

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.

We also have visitor’s guides to popular parks like Waimea Canyon State Park, which protects the namesake canyon, nearby Kokee State Park, and the remote but beautiful Polihale State Park.

Also check out the ultimate guide to visiting Haena State Park on Kauai’s north shore, and a full guide to hiking the epic Kalalau Trail.

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. We also have an article on everything you need to know to visit Secret Falls Kauai on an exciting kayaking and hiking tour.

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!

Hiking enthusiasts will want to read our article on the best hikes in Koke’e State Park: the trails here are some of the best hikes in Kauai!

We have detailed trail guides for the most popular Koke’e hikes, from the scenic Canyon Trail to the top of Waipo’o Falls, to the epic Awa’awapuhi Trail, challenging but very rewarding!

Also discover the best hikes in Waimea Canyon State Park, and the best hikes on Kauai’s north shore.

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. The botanical gardens are great spots to look for the birds of Kauai, as is Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

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, a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches, and an article on the best Kauai south shore beaches!

And if you love watching the sun go down in a burst of color, be sure to read our article on where to go for the best sunsets on Kauai!

Did you find this article informative? Pin it on Pinterest for later!

Discover the best hikes to explore Waimea Canyon in Kauai, Hawaii, from canyon hikes to nature trails and waterfall hikes!

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