We are often asked which hiking trail at Waimea Canyon or Kokee is best on Kauai. Our top choice is starting with a moderate hike like the Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls. At the end of your hike, you will be on a plateau in the middle of the canyon with many breathtaking Instagrammable views. You’ll soon see why this is often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. And because this is one of the few trails at Waimea Canyon with cell phone access, you can immediately send photos to your loved ones.
There are two ways to reach the trailhead, and the three-mile roundtrip will need about 3 hours of your time after you’ve driven up Waimea Canyon Road from the highway and arrive past mile marker 14 or start at Pu’u Hinahina lookout.
Before you start, this will not be the classic gorgeous waterfall hike. The incredible view of the tall waterfall, which can be spectacular at 800 feet height, is best seen from the road, with the first viewpoint before parking. Where you’ll end on this hike is at the top of the falls, but there’s no overlook to see it, but you will hear the water dropping below you.
As a consolation, you’ll be able to view the first of two tiers of Waipoo. It begins as a small waterfall, which is 25 feet high and has a swimming area. The second tier is Waipoo Falls itself which is the taller waterfall. For us, however, it’s all about the view in the heart of Waimea Canyon and not the short waterfall that makes this hike stand out. It’s the perfect vantage point.
Sometimes called the Waipoo Falls Trail, it’s actually the Cliff Trail.
The Cliff Trail to Waipoo Falls is a popular hike that requires proper footwear. Sometimes we see people attempt it wearing slippers or sandals, and it doesn’t go well for them. We’d suggest hiking boots or at least tennis shoes. And be prepared for mud in the wet season on this always rocky terrain. There’s an elevation drop at the beginning, and because of the shade cover, the trail is often muddy. So as you step down, your footing is imperative because it could be slippery with every step. Once you get through that first part and hike up for a bit, it gets better, but then you have boulders to deal with in two places, again going down, before the final hike up to the plateau.
Two ways to reach the trailhead and two parking areas for ease of access.
Our choice is parking along the side of the road after milepost 14 near the Navy sign. From there, you’ll need to hike about a mile on Halemanu Road to the trailhead. If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle and it hasn’t been raining, you can also drive it and save time. Your other option is paid parking at Pu’u Hinahina Lookout, where there are restrooms and plenty of areas for parking. From there, you’ll hike the Pu’u Hinahina trail, which also drops you at the end of Halemanu Road. The journey from here is the same, where you’ll hike some of the way on the Waimea Canyon Trail and then later turn right on the Cliff Trail to Waipoo Falls.
How to plan the time of day for the optimal Waipoo Falls experience.
Go early or later in the day, and you’ll see fewer people and have a less busy hike. During the middle of the day, this trail gets busy. The sun can also be intense during this popular time too. While the trail is mostly shady, at the end of it, you’ll be in direct sun.
Be prepared for Kauai hiking | What to bring
Bring water and wear sunscreen and a hat, and apply mosquito repellant. We love finding a rock at the plateau to enjoy a snack or packed lunch. Bring a bathing suit if you plan to enter the water at the end to cool off. Don’t forget your smartphone or camera. You’ll be in WiFi range most of the trail, which is unusual at Waimea Canyon or at Kokee except at Waimea Canyon overlook.
Per the State DLNR: All non-Hawaii resident visitors to Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park will be required to purchase both Entrance and Parking. For example, if there are two (2) passengers in your one (1) vehicle, you will need to purchase two (2) entry reservations and 1 (one) parking. These reservations will be available via the parking pay stations located in the parking lots.
The cost is $10 for the vehicle and $5 per person. When it comes to making purchases for parking at Waimea Canyon and Kokee, you’ll only be asked to do so once. Entry and parking will be good throughout both parks; you do not need to pay more than once to visit both.
Please share your Kauai hikes with us in the comments.