The largest canyon in the Pacific, Waimea Canyon, on the Garden Island of Kauai, captures the eye of the beholder. Impressed by the magnitude of the “glorious gulch”, Mark Twain dubbed the remarkable natural wonder the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The colorful canyon is ten miles long, a mile wide, and 3,500 feet deep: admittedly smaller than the Grand Canyon, but nonetheless magnificent.
The history of the canyon inscribed in the red walls can be viewed as visitors explore the more than 45 miles of hiking trails. There are trails for novice trekkers and challenging jaunts for seasoned climbers and cavers. For the less adventurous, there are multiple overlooks that provide stellar views of the spectacular scenery. IIiau Nature Trail is a short .3-mile loop through native vegetation that leads to a lovely waterfall.
A drive around the canyon is unmatched for visual interest. Waimea Canyon offers countless breath-taking vistas along the 12-mile cleft carved into the island’s left flank. Higher up Koke rests in a cool, misty setting with awesome overlooks into the Na Pali Coast. The canyon’s geology is unique, formed not only by a continual process of erosion but also by a massive internal catastrophic collapse of the volcano that created the Island of Kauai.
The majority of the extraordinary scenery lies between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. Early morning is one of the best times to view the canyon. Swirling silver clouds tend to gather as the day goes on, wrapping the landscape in a gray shroud that hinders visibility. Early morning visitors are frequently treated to a view of multiple rainbows that form over the canyon as the sun lifts the morning dew.
Enjoy the view from three designated overview points along the Koke’e Road. Waimea Canyon Overlook, 11-miles into the canyon and located at an elevation of 3,120 feet, is the first of three viewing spots and offers the most open and dramatic frontal view of the main canyon and its three tributaries. Cloud banks drift in and out of the canyon, adding swirls of white in stark contrast to the deep green foliage and canyon walls streaked with red, yellow and brown.
The second overlook is located at Pua Ka Pele. The site provides a pleasant picnic area with picnic tables and covered shelter and a stunning side view of the canyon. At Puu Hinahina another spacious overlook provides a jaw-dropping coastal vista out to Niihau.
On a visit to Waimea Canyon, visitors will note brilliantly colored wild fowl, descendants of the original fowl brought to the island by the original Polynesian settlers. Generously fed by tourists and protected under state law, the colorful birds thrive. You will hear their clucking and cooing while seeing them everywhere.
The road around the canyon is remote, with little traffic. Locals advise visitors to make sure the gas tank is full and to bring along foul-weather gear as the mercury can drop and rain showers are unpredictable. The trails in the canyon can become dangerously slick in rainy weather. Sturdy hiking boots with excellent traction are recommended. When hiking in the canyon, be aware of the potential for flash flooding.