Island hopping and just reached Kauai? If you have a few days in Kauai, I highly recommend you hike the Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls (also called the Waipo’o Falls Trail).
I usually try to squeeze this beautiful, short hike into my itinerary for the island. It’s one of the top hikes in Koke’e State Park!
You can tick off so many Kauai bucket list items: hike the Waimea Canyon rim, a tropical rainforest hike, and a hike to the top of an amazing 800-foot waterfall!
Sculpted by the Waimea River and its many tributaries, Waimea Canyon is on the bucket list of most Kauai tourists to visit and explore, and is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii!
The Waimea Canyon Lookout (near mile marker 10) is the best lookout in Waimea Canyon State Park, and provides a perpendicular view of the Waimea Canyon, so you can marvel at the spectacular landscape that the Waimea River carved.
The 800-foot Waipo’o Falls is seen in the far distance, over the entire canyon, an excellent frontal photo opportunity.
The Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout (just after mile marker 12) provides a closer, but partially obstructed, view of the waterfall, again across the Waimea Canyon, over a distance.
The Waimea Canyon Trail (also called the Waipo’o Falls Trail) takes you to the top of the falls.
You are on the same cliff from whence the water falls down, so you can’t see the falls, unless you go to the very edge of the cliff and peer down (dangerous!).
A no-brainer hike that requires virtually no planning, the Waimea Canyon Trail hike is something you can add to your Kauai itinerary at the last minute!
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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Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail Hike: Fast Facts
Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail: Other Names
The Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls is actually a combination of two trails: the Canyon Trail which leads to the Waipo’o Falls Trail.
The Canyon Trail is also sometimes called the Waimea Canyon Trail or the New Spur Trail.
Sometimes the combination trail is simply called the Waipo’o Falls Trail.
Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail Difficulty
The Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls is rated a moderately difficult hike.
The last section of the trail requires a bit of scrambling or getting down on your behind, if you want to be cautious.
You are in a steeper, exposed mountain top incline where the trail almost disappears and the surface is deeply eroded by rain water drainage.
Apart from that section, if you are hiking in good trail conditions, the hike is relatively easy.
After rains is when the trail gets sketchy, with water-filled mud holes and slick conditions all down the trail.
Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail Distance
The Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls is a 3 mile round trip, out-and-back hike, a relatively short hike.
The trail has two forks, with spur trails to viewpoints. If you take these, and I recommend you do, the detours will add about a mile.
Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail Elevation Gain
The Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls elevation gain is about 750 feet.
You start from a higher elevation, and descend about 750 feet to the upper falls.
The slope downwards is gradual, except towards the end, close to the waterfall.
The hike back is almost all uphill, punctuated with flatter or minor downhill sections, so conserve energy for the climb back.
Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail Time Taken
The average time to hike the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls is just under 2 hours.
We took closer to 3 hours with the breaks, the time spent on the detours to the viewpoints and the time at the top of the waterfall.
What about Kids and Dogs on the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls?
Dogs are not allowed on the Canyon Trail.
The Canyon Trail hike is kid-friendly and popular with families. Older kids (8+) should do fine, toddlers will definitely find it difficult.
Carrying kids on backpack carriers will be difficult, given the climb back.
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Getting to the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trailhead
Waipo’o Falls Trail Directions
Though you are hiking the Waimea Canyon rim, the trail is not in the popular Waimea Canyon State Park but instead in Koke’e State Park, a more secluded and remote park just to the north.
Koke’e State Park is open daily during daylight hours.
You will need to pay a nominal entrance fee of $5 / adult to enter the Koke’e State Park, and $10 / vehicle to park in any of the Koke’e State Park parking lots.
You will take Highway 550 (Koke’e Road) to the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout (between mile markers 13 and 14), and the Waimea Canyon Trail trailhead is at the far end of the parking lot. Here the Spur Trail connects to the Cliff and Canyon Trails.
Alternatively, you can drive Halemanu Road (if you have a 4WD) to the start of the Cliff Trail (0.8 mile). Here you can also take the Waipo’o Falls Trail. You can also park by the Koke’e State Park entrance sign, and walk this dirt road to the trails.
Waipo’o Falls Trailhead Parking
The parking lot for the Canyon Trail trailhead and the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout viewpoint are the same.
The parking lot is small, but usually adequate. We went early and had no problems finding a spot.
There is also some parking by the dirt road off Halemanu Road if you opt for that option.
You can also park at the Koke’e State Park entrance off Koke’e Road and walk along Halemanu Road (0.8 mile one way) to the beginning of the Cliff Trail and Canyon Trail.
Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Reservations & Permits
Unlike the highly popular Kalalau Trail off the Napali Coast, the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls doesn’t need any reservations or permits (currently).
That’s why this hike is very popular with first-time visitors to Kauai, a no-brainer to add at the last minute.
Best Time to Hike the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls
Visiting Kauai in summer and fall? Flowers like the Kahili ginger and ginger blossoms are in full seasonal bloom and very pretty.
During the winter rainy season, the trail is lush, but not as colorful. Pick a sunny day if you can, the hiking the trail can be a slog if wet.
But then again, the Waipo’o waterfall is at its fullest during the rainy season.
Apart from the above, the hike is pleasant and open throughout the year, during daylight hours.
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Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Map
The below Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls map shows the trailhead and key viewpoints.
The Canyon Trail is variously called the Waimea Canyon Trail, the New Spur Trail, and the Waipo’o Falls Trail.
Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Information
The Waimea Canyon Trail trailhead is in the Koke’e State Park at the far end of the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout parking lot, where the new Spur Trail connects to the Cliff Trail and Canyon Trail.
Rainforest Section of the Waipo’o Falls Trail
The trail is a mud trail that starts at an elevation of roughly 3600 feet, and almost immediately you start descending.
The trail is covered with exposed, overgrown roots of nearby trees, so watch your step carefully, and note that the roots can be slippery when wet.
Not uncommon to duck under fallen tree trunks and navigate through boulders and large rocks on the trail.
You will cross multiple streams on your hike including the Halemanu stream and the Koke’e stream (which eventually falls over the cliff as Waipo’o Falls).
At about the half-mile point you will reach a fork for the Cliff Trail, a small detour to a viewpoint that looks out to the Waimea Canyon.
I recommend you take the spur trail, the views are phenomenal, and there is a safety railing at the rim.
If you look carefully, you can even see the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout high up on the cliff.
Canyon Rim Section of the Waipo’o Falls Trail
The next part of the Canyon Trail is more exposed and winds along the Waimea Canyon rim. The trail is wide so you can easily stay away from the steep drop-offs.
The canyon views are amazing, especially when the sunlight picks off the red soil coloration on the steep opposite walls.
You need some keen eyesight to locate mountain goats on the opposite wall, but you can often spot them nimbly navigating the canyon walls, or even jousting with one another!
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Waipo’o Falls Section
You will hear the roar of the Waipo’o Falls and the trail will come to an exposed, much steeper descent along a trail rutted with rain water drainage.
Be careful as you descend, and don’t be afraid to get down on your behind for the steeper sections.
You can see a smaller, beautiful waterfall with base pools and further down, the actual Waipo’o Falls.
Obviously you can’t see the waterfall itself, unless you go right down to the edge; very dangerous since you are looking down a 800-foot sheer drop with no safety railings
I saw a few brave souls muster up courage to lie belly down and peer over the cliff.
Far safer to see the Waipo’o Falls frontal view from the Waimea Canyon Lookout!
Hawaiian Birds to Spot on the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail Hike
Make sure you take a good pair of binoculars with you, the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail hike is an excellent hike to spot some beautiful Hawaiian birds, both introduced to the islands and some endemic birds (found nowhere else)!
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).
You’ll probably hear the white-rumped shama, before you spot them. They are the most skilled songbird in Hawaii, and frequent forest streams.
Hawaiian Plants, Trees and Flowers on the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail Hike
The Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls Trail is a forest hike through the rainforest foliage of Koke’e State Park, with many common and easily identifiable Hawaiian plants, trees and flowers to look for!
Among Hawaiian plants, you should be able to spot the ohi’a lehua tree, a plant species endemic to Hawaii, and quite common and widespread in Kauai’s forests, and in Koke’e State Park.
Other introduced Hawaiian plants, you’re likely to see are the eucalyptus trees and the highly invasive strawberry guava fruit trees, among many others! Sugi pine and redwood trees are also seen around the Koke’e State Park.
Tips for Hiking the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls
Check weather conditions before you start for the hike.
With 37 inches of rain per year, the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls is very often muddy and slippery.
In fact, you even see flash flood warning signs on the trail, for those rain storm deluges.
Bring a light rain jacket, and wear sturdy hiking shoes. Be careful where you step and use hiking poles for additional balance and the climb back.
As with any rainforest hike, make sure you carry and use bug spray and mosquito repellant.
Koke’e State Park is remote, don’t expect cell service or reception. Download all maps and brochures you need before you leave for the hike.
Carry plenty of water and snacks, though the hike is short, the return trip is mostly uphill.
What Else to Do Near the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls?
Koke’e State Park Lookouts
Since you have already paid the admission fee for Koke’e State Park, drive a bit further up the Koke’e Road to the Kalalau Lookout and the Pu’u o Kila Lookout.
The Kalalau Lookout, the highest point from the road, provides an epic view of the Kalalau Valley, featured in Jurassic Park and many other movies.
If you aren’t hiking the incredible Kalalau Trail to the Kalalau Beach paradise, you must stop here to take in the views!
The Pu’u o Kila Lookout offers a different view of the Kalalau Valley.
Koke’e State Park Alternate Trails
The Awa’awapuhi Trail is another popular trail in Koke’e State Park that descends along a ridge to spectacular views of the Na Pali coastline and the lush green valleys of Awa’awapuhi and Nualolo.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Waimea Canyon State Park is home to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon!
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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