Waimea Canyon State Park is home to the beautiful and vast canyon, but it’s also decorated with numerous trails weaving through the forest, ranging from serious hikes to short walks. Once you’ve gazed at the views on the drive up it’s worth it to take a walk or a long hike through the area.
Iliau Nature Loop
A perfect family walk, the Iliau Nature Loop begins off of Koke‘e Road and also marks the beginning of the Kukui Trail. Pull all the way off of the road between mile markers 8 and 9 to access the easy, quarter-mile-long trail, which takes about 15 minutes to complete. Views of Waimea Canyon and Wai‘alae Falls open up about midway along the loop. The self-guided trail sits at about 3,000 feet elevation and is home to its namesake, the iliau plant. The iliau is a relative of the silversword, which grows high on Haleakala on Maui, and the greensword, which grows on the Big Island. This rare plant grows only on the dry mountain slopes of western Kaua‘i. White-tailed tropicbirds and the brown-and-white pueo (Hawaiian owl) are known to fly through the area.
The Kukui Trail leads down into Waimea Canyon and is home to the Iliau Nature Loop, therefore starting at the same location between mile markers 8 and 9. This 2.5-mile trail takes about 60-90 minutes to complete just the walk in. It is strenuous, descending over 2,000 feet very quickly, which of course you have to climb up on the way out. Thanks to the steep grade, it takes longer and a lot more effort and energy on the way back up. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water if you’re planning on hiking all the way down and up. Water bladders are a good idea for this one; they weigh less than bottles and you can drink from the tube as you hike. There are gorgeous views of the canyon along the way, so don’t forget your camera, even though it may be tempting to leave extra weight behind. The Wiliwili Campground marks the end of the Kukui Trail. You can set up camp for the night with a permit and continue on other trails or head back out the same day.
Koai‘e Canyon Trail
From the end of the Kukui Trail, the serious hiker can head up the Waimea River for about a half mile, where you’ll have to cross the river to find the trailhead for the three-mile-long Koai‘e Canyon Trail. This trail has about a 720-foot loss and gain in elevation. If the river water is high and rushing, do not cross it. Flash flooding is always a concern here. The trailhead is near the Kaluahaulu Campground on the east side of the river. The trail leads you to the south side of Koai‘e Canyon, where there are many pools of freshwater, which are usually lower in summer than in winter. The canyon was once used for farming, as you might guess while walking the fertile and lush trail. There are two more campsites here. It is strongly advised to avoid this trail during rainy weather.
Waimea Canyon Trail
If you head south from the Kukui Trail, you can connect with the 11.5-mile, strenuous, and usually hot and dry Waimea Canyon Trail. This lengthy trail parallels the Waimea River through the canyon. It can also be reached by hiking eight miles inland from Waimea town. This trail is popular with serious hikers who enjoy a challenge, but many regard the trail as lacking in sights and views, and don’t find many interesting qualities along the hike. The hike is well worn and passes back and forth over the river, which usually has plenty of water, but it needs to be boiled or treated before drinking.