Waimea Canyon Travel Guide
Please Note: There are now park entrance fees for Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks. Parking costs $10 per car and entrance is $5 per person. You must pay the parking AND entrance fees (parking does not include entrance).
There are several areas in Hawaii known as Waimea, but in this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to experience Kauai’s Waimea Canyon State Park. Sometimes known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is located in western Kauai, south of the Na Pali Coast.
This surreal canyon is over half a mile deep, a mile wide, and fourteen miles long. You’ll have several options for experiencing the canyon by car or on foot. The scenic overlook is an awesome way to take in the canyon but there are also tons of trails in and around the park, which also stretches into Kokee State Park to the north.
The hikes in and around the Waimea Canyon are unlike anything else in Hawaii. The canyon itself is absolutely massive and the tropical vegetation separates Waimea from canyons you may have visited in other parts of the world.
Between Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park, there are tons of hikes in the area which also include views of the Waimea River and several waterfalls.
The Iliau Nature Loop is a short stroll and offers views of Waimea and Waialae Canyons. For a longer hike, check out the five-mile round trip Kukui Trail which treks into the canyon along the western wall. And for an even longer hike, you can try the ten-mile Waimea River hike. The Waimea Canyon trail in Kokee State Park is about five miles long and offers wonderful views of the northern end of Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park’s landscape.
On our Waimea and Na Pali Driving Tour, we'll take you to a few of our favorite hikes in the park!
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ben Ono
Driving Waimea Canyon and the Lookout
If you’d rather not hike, there is an outstanding lookout from which to see Waimea Canyon. Along Highway 550, a couple of miles north of the Iliau Nature Loop, you’ll see a short access road to this awesome overlook. The lookout offers sweeping views of the canyon and is one of the best places to take in the massive size and beauty of this gorge and the Waimea river below.
If you're visiting the park on our Waimea Canyon & Na Pali Tour, we'll guide you to a few scenic viewpoints with entertaining and informative narration along the drive.
Most of Hawaii only has two seasons: a rainy winter and a dry summer. The dry summer occurs April to October, while the wetter winter runs from November to March. Monthly average high temperatures for Waimea Canyon State Park sit between the mid-60s and mid-70s, depending on your altitude and the weather. Lows can get into the upper 40s at night during cooler winter months. We recommend bringing a sweatshirt in the car just in case.
The massive 3,600 foot Canyon was formed by the Waimea River, which was able to cut through the land thanks to runoff from one of the wettest places on earth, Mount Waiʻaleʻale. This gushing river adds a beautiful layer to the already jaw-dropping scenery. If you’re looking to get down into the river, you can take the two-and-a-half-mile Kukui Trail or the ten-mile Waimea Canyon River Trail.
Camping in the Canyon
The best place to camp in Waimea is definitely the Wiliwili Campground at the bottom of the canyon. To get to the campground, take the Kukui Trail about two miles. There’s a 2,000-foot elevation change, so take your time and avoid this trek when rainy. The campsite sits right along the Waimea River with awesome views of the canyon walls.
Waimea Canyon Fees?
The Waimea Canyon stretches across two parks: Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park. As of April 2020, non residents are required to pay a $5 entry fee, per person to enter the parks (one entrance is good for both parks). This is in addition to a $10 parking fee per car (also good for both parks). Residents can park and enter for free.
What to bring?
Be sure to bring plenty of water since there are no potable water facilities along any of the trails. You’ll also want sunscreen and a hat since much of the canyon’s rim is in direct sunlight.
Campers will need a rainfly since rainfall patterns can be somewhat unpredictable in Hawaii. Bring a coat or windbreaker, as well, since you’ll likely feel some windchill in this area. If you’re headed down to the river, you’ll also want to bring bug spray.
How long to spend?
How long you spend is totally up to you. You can certainly drive through the area and stop at the overlook with a couple of spare hours. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can reserve a campsite for up to five days. However long you decide to spend, we can guarantee that you the Canyon’s views will be a highlight of your stay on Kauai.
No matter where you go in Hawaii, please remember to travel responsibly. Hawaii's natural resources are precious must be preserved for generations to come. You can do this by taking out your trash and respecting the wildlife and animals.