The Grand Canyon of the Pacific
It’s claimed that Mark Twain dubbed Waimea Canyon “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Although much smaller in size, you’ll think it’s big enough as you walk along part of the 10-mile-long (16km) and 1-mile-wide (1.6km) Waimea Canyon, which is more than 3,000 feet (900m) deep. Here, you will find many of the colorful crested buttes, deep gorges, and rugged crags similar to those one sees in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Plus, there are those emerald-green slopes with the lush vegetation that helped give Kauai its nickname as the Garden Isle. A hike through this dramatic terrain is unforgettable. And with all the beauty that surrounds you, you’ll hardly notice your own physical exertion.
Waimea Canyon was carved by rivers and floods that flowed from Mount Waialeale’s summit eons ago. As you stand on many of the lookout points, you’ll be able to see the lines in the canyon walls that depict different volcanic eruptions and lava flows that occurred over the years.
Forty-five miles (72km) of trails wind throughout the canyon, which is protected by the Koke’e State Park, and the nearby Alakai Swamp. You’ll find trails for all types of hikers here. Many of the routes intersect, but they range considerably in difficulty. Before starting out, pick up hiking maps of the area at the Ranger’s Station located at the Koke’e Museum.
The Iliau Nature Loop is a short easy nature walk, with views of the canyon. The Kukui Trail, which begins off the Iliau Loop, is a difficult hike down a steep trail that drops 2,000 feet (600m) into the canyon. At the bottom, you can cool off in a swimming hole. The Cliff Trail leads to an overlook, where wild goats may be standing on cliffside ledges. The moderate Canyon Trail, which spurs off the Cliff Trail and follows the North Rim, is also popular. All of these hikes are day trips and you can do them without a guide as long as you are properly prepared for hiking and have a good map.
If you’re going to hike, bring plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Also keep in mind that the air at this elevation is 10° to 15°F (–12° to –9°C) cooler than in the valley and many spots are often shrouded in clouds by mid-afternoon. You’ll be smart to bring an extra layer of clothing such as a fleece or light jacket.
All of Kauai is a playground for outdoor and water lovers. In addition to hiking in the canyon, there are plenty of opportunities to hike Kauai’s rainforest. Beaches encompass the island, but check that you can swim off the shore near where you plan to book lodging. Some waters are more treacherous than others. The most popular way to see the steep cliffs plunging into the water off the Na Pali coast is by way of a Zodiac boat trip (see ). And when your adrenaline is tapped, but you’ve still got some energy, there’s ample opportunity to hit the links. The golf courses on Kauai range from expensive, tough resort courses, including the Prince Course (at the St. Regis Princeville Resort; see lodging below), to the 9-hole Kukuiolono (854 Puu Rd., Kalaheao; 808/332-9151), close to the South Shore. —LF
When to Go: Year-round.
$$$ Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, 1571 Poipu Rd. ( 800/233-1234 or 808/742-1234; www.kauai.hyatt.com). $$$ St. Regis Resort Princeville, 5520 Ka Haku Rd. ( 800/826-4400 or 808/826-9644; www.princevillehotelhawaii.com).