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Waimea Canyon / The Grand Canyon of the Pacific

When visiting Kauaʻi, a trip to Waimea Canyon is often top of the list. Understandably one of the most popular tourist destinations on Kauaʻi, the massive canyon is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific for its likeness to the Grand Canyon. The spectacular waterfall-clad gorge can be seen by foot, river, helicopter tour, or at several look-outs on the drive up the mountain. Created by volcanic activity and thousands of years of erosion, Waimea Canyon is best known for its iconic red dirt coloring. Waimea in Hawaiian translates to “reddish water,” which makes sense when you see the red hues throughout the surrounding mountains and streams. The jagged breakdown of massive rock formations makes for a surreal view, with the Waimea River cutting through the mountains and flowing out to the ocean.  

Waimea Canyons

Kauaʻi photographer – Kit Furderer

The best part? Visitors can reach up to 4,000 feet above sea level to take in the view in roughly an hour. Beginning in Waimea Town, Waimea Canyon Drive winds up the mountain on a scenic drive through Waimea Canyon State Park and Kōkeʻe State Park. Popular for hiking, camping, or day trips to enjoy the sights on the mauka side, the short drive is well worth it.


On the drive up through the changing landscape of local flora, there are several lookouts to take in Waimea Canyon. The first comes at mile marker #10 and is the official Waimea Canyon lookout with parking and a full panoramic view of the canyon. Locals–don’t forget your HI state ID for a kamaʻāina rate. There is a $5 entrance fee plus parking for visitors which goes directly back to maintaining the parks.

At mile marker 13 you will see Puʻu ka Pele lookout, a small pull-over view of the canyon and Waipoʻo Falls. (Great for a quick photo op along the way!) Just about a mile further is the Puʻu Hinahina lookout with a view of Niʻihau in the distance. 

When you reach mile marker 23 you’ll see one of the drive’s more unique views called Red Dirt Falls. Less of a waterfall and more of a series of cascading streams flowing through a bright red dirt landscape, this foreign-looking pit stop is a fun one.

Waimea Kauai

Kauaʻi photographer – Kit Furderer


Once at the top, there are plenty of activities to keep  you busy during your time in the mountains. With trails ranging from easy to difficult, views of the canyon as well as the Nāpali Coast are just steps (or miles) away. Those looking to stay longer have the option to camp or rent a cabin up in Kōkeʻe to take full advantage of all of the hiking and biking trails.


Evidence of the first Polynesian settlements in Waimea Canyon and the surrounding areas live within ancient stone walls and structures dating back to 500 AD. A living representation of the island’s beginnings, the canyon is made of millions of years of red and brown volcanic rock peppered with lush greens. The history of this geological landmine can be understood in more detail at the Kōkeʻee Museum, which highlights the natural history of the area as well as the endangered species within the parks. 

In addition to a rich geological history, the canyon is rich in Hawaiian legends as well. According to local folklore, the sacred valley of Waimea Canyon is home to the spirits of the dead. The legend of Hiku and Kawelu’s love story depicts a long rope made of vines from the forest used to go deep into the valley as Hiku descended to retrieve his recently deceased wife. Another story describes a child who was saved from a fall to her death by the rainbow akua and raised under the safety of a waterfall in the canyon. 

Lehua blossom

Kauaʻi photographer – Kit Furderer


Yes, believe it or not, it can be chilly up in the mountains…so be sure to pack accordingly. For hikers, a light jacket will suffice. Overnight campers will want to bring extra blankets for that crisp mountain air. Of course the temperature will depend on the time of year you are visiting ranging from hot and sunny to cool, windy and rainy. Always remember your sunscreen, as the sun is strong year-round and sometimes those lower temperatures will trick you into a sunburn.


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