As if Kauai doesn’t have enough going for it, the island also boasts a canyon so spectacular that it’s known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Waimea Canyon, located in Waimea Canyon State Park, is the Pacific’s largest canyon at more than 10 miles long and up to a mile wide and 3,500 feet deep. It is one of Kauai’s top attractions.
You will go through the town of Waimea to get there, a good place to stop before and after the drive to the canyon. Hanapepe Town is also a good place to stop before or after the visit. After Waimea, the two-lane road is pretty desolate, and the scenery on the way to the canyon is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere on the island.
It’s drier on this side of the island and there are vistas that look like something from the Lord of the Rings movies. Once you get to the canyon you’ll be amazed at how it really looks like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but with greenery.
There are several trails in the Waimea Canyon area, including the popular Canyon Trail that takes hikers to the top of Waipoo Falls. Nearby, and farther up the road, is Kokee State Park with more trails and more vistas, including the Kalalau Lookout (not to be missed).
Waimea Canyon is closer to the Poipu area but farther away from Kapaa and the Princeville/Hanalei areas. But wherever you’re staying on the island, a trip to the canyon is well worth it. (Visit Waimea Canyon on a Friday and catch Hanapepe Art Night on the way back.)
The must-see canyon is located on Kauai’s western side, about 11 miles north of Kekaha on Koke’e Road. The main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, leads you to the main overlook and several more lookouts farther up the road.
There are two routes to Waimea Canyon State Park. The shortest route is to take State Hwy 550 (Waimea Canyon Drive), starting in the town of Waimea, to Kokee Road, and continuing on Kokee Road. This route takes you past Red Dirt Falls, a popular attraction on the road. The other route, which is slightly longer, starts in Kekaha on Kokee Road.
We recommend taking Route 550 on your way to Waimea Canyon with a stop at Red Dirt Falls. For your trip back, stay on Kokee Road all the way to Kekaha. This return route affords nice views of the Pacific Ocean and the “forbidden island” of Niihau, along with beautiful views of Kekaha Beach.
The park is open during daylight hours.
Waimea Canyon State Park Fees
Effective April 19, 2021, out-of-state visitors to Kauai’s Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park will be required to purchase both entrance and parking permits. The fees are $10 per vehicle and $5 per person. The fees are good for all day at both parks. Payments are made at kiosks set up at several locations, including the Waimea Canyon and Kalalau Lookout parking areas.
Hiking Trails at Waimea Canyon State Park
The main Waimea Canyon Lookout has spectacular views of the canyon.
Vendors can often be found at the main lookout.
Here is the Waimea Canyon Lookout parking.
The Pu’u Hinahina Lookout, at about mile marker 13.5, has dramatic views of Waimea Canyon.
The Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout, near mile marker 13, has the closest views of Waipoo Falls.
Watch out for traffic at the Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout.
Here is a map showing the locations of Pu’u Hinahina and Pu’u Ka Pele Viewpoints. The drive to and from Waimea Canyon is steep and winding. Be careful!
The “forbidden island” of Niihau can be seen from Kokee Road. For your trip back from Waimea Canyon, we recommend staying on Kokee Road all the way to Kekaha.