Tips for Hiking the Waimea Canyon Trail – Kauai

Tips for Hiking the Waimea Canyon Trail – Kauai

The Waimea Canyon hike has some absolutely gorgeous views and is relatively easy. But do keep in mind, the hike isn’t about seeing waterfalls. It’s about the phenomenal panoramic view of the canyon – while standing on top of a giant 800ft waterfall. 

The Details of Hiking The Waimea Canyon Trail

Getting To the Trailhead

Drive up the 550 (you can just follow Google maps to Waimea Canyon visitor center) past the visitor center all the way to mile markers 14 and 15. Look for a dirt road and a small gravel/dirt parking area. There are often cars parked right out here on the road (unless you’re the first to get there).

If you are not in a 4WD vehicle (or your car is a rental) then you can park up on the road and hike in (just hike straight down that dirt road). If you do have 4WD, you can continue down this path to another dirt parking lot below. Driving this section will save you about 3/4 of a mile hike each way. Please be aware, it is considered a violation of rental car agreements to drive dirt paths. Do not attempt to drive this road without a 4WD vehicle. The hard-packed dirt road is filled with ruts and can be dangerously slick in/after rain.

Once you’ve reached the dirt “parking lot” below, look ahead for the Canyon and Cliff Trail heads. Once you’re ready to begin the hike, grab some snacks and continue towards the signs. You’ll soon see a fork in the trail where you choose between the Canyon Trail (left) or Cliff Trail (right). If you’re doing the hike discussed here – you want to follow the trail to the left (Canyon Trail).


The Hike to the View

Now that you’re following the Canyon Trail you’ll start with a short trail leading through the bush. The trail will then open up to reveal a dirt path with some nice views along the canyon edge. Keep going! These views are nice, but are nothing compared to your destination. As you continue along, the path will take a fairly steep slope downwards and you’ll start moving away from the cliff edge and back into the bush.

As you hike deeper, you’ll start to hear rushing water off to your left. If you’re following the trail there’s a small fork that seems to steer you left (you might not notice this fork) and will lead you to a small waterfall (20ft or so). If you notice this fork – turn right. If you don’t notice it, you’ll reach the small waterfall. It’s a great place for a swim or to enjoy a snack, but be sure to continue on to see the site you really came for.

If you do reach this small waterfall, backtrack up the trail about 100 yards or so. As you retrace your steps, you’ll come to a fork – turn left at the fork (it’s left now since you’re coming back up the trail) and you’ll be in for a treat!

If you’re going the right way you’ll hit a double waterfall that’s about 20 ft high or so. This is still not the end. Enjoy some time up here, but when you’re ready, go a little further along. You’ll scramble down some rocks (it’ll be obvious) and then you’ll come out on to a small ledge with a gorgeous panoramic view of the canyon. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even take the chance to dangle your feet above a huge 800′ waterfall.

Take in the view, and spend as long as you’d like. Take some time and go back to the small waterfall that’s tucked away and take a dip in the pool – it’s cold! When you’re ready to head back, just retrace your steps.


It’s also nice to bring a snack and enjoy a quick bite while you’re out there – or if you leave later, you can pack a lunch and enjoy the view.

Tips For Hiking the Waimea Canyon Trail

Start Early

Start this hike earlier in the day – getting there around 8am is perfect. Being early will get you there before the crowds and out of the sun for the initial hike in. You’ll not only have a better chance at parking, but more importantly, it’s much cooler in the morning.


4WD Vehicles

I’ve mentioned this above but I do want to call attention to it again. If you have a 4WD car you can drive in an extra 3/4 miles to the trailhead. The first part of the hike is on a dirt road (not interesting) and you’ll appreciate not having to walk the extra distance on your way out. However, if something happens to your vehicle while attempting this drive it is considered a violation of your rental vehicle contract. If you want to take the risk it’s up to you – but keep that in mind. DO NOT attempt this with a non 4WD vehicle, odds are you’ll get stuck. Just park up top and hike in.

Also note current conditions of the road (is it wet/muddy/slippery?) before attempting.


Bring Plenty of Water

As with pretty much any hike, bring plenty of water. Kauai can get hot and you’re going to get thirsty baking in the sun. The hike takes 2-4 hours depending on how much time you spend enjoying the views and how fast you hike. Make sure you have enough water to last you – a safe bet is 1.5-2L of water.


Have Fun

Enjoy the beautiful scenery. It’s a great hike, not difficult, and ends with a gorgeous view of the canyon. If you’re considering making this hike, chances are you’ll be able to do it. You really can’t go wrong – just make sure to bring plenty of water and put on sun screen.

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