If you’re visiting Kauai, hopefully you’ve done your research and know that the island is about more than pristine beaches and tropical tans. Kauai, perhaps more than any other Hawaiian island, is filled with stunningly beautiful landscapes that you’d miss by spending your entire day sipping drinks by the pool.
Aside from the beach, the most popular attraction on Kauai is the Nā Pali Coast State Park, which is best viewed by helicopter (more on that in a future post). But a day trip that should not be missed is visiting Waimea Canyon State Park on Kauai’s west coast.
How to get there
Getting to Waimea Canyon State Park is an easy drive. In full disclosure, I am a city kid and had not driven for 3 years before my recent trip to Kauai. I was nervous to drive, but my traveling buddy enjoys drinking a lot, and since I’m still focused on fitness while I travel, I agreed to take over some of the driving responsibilities while he imbibed.
With that as a background, getting to Waimea Canyon State Park is fairly pain-free. Because of how mountainous Kauai gets in the center of the island, the only way to get to Waimea Canyon is to take Hawaii Route 50 along the southern coast of the island up to Waimea Canyon Drive (the road is also known as Hawaii State Road 550 and there will be prominent signs for the turn-off). From there, it’s a straight shoot up, with various lookout points along the way and hikes for those who are more adventurous.
The southern route access makes it a bit harder for those staying on Princeville to visit, but for those staying in the southern portion of the island (particularly Poipu), you can expect a drive of around 20-30 minutes from beach to the top of Waimea Canyon.
What to expect
There are 3 reasons to visit Waimea Canyon State Park: views, hikes, and views.
To be honest, I did a short hike while in the state park and wasn’t impressed. But I also gave up within 20 minutes and might have missed a stunning vista.
But even without hiking, you can experience the amazing views which can be roughly compared to a smaller Grand Canyon. In fact, there are many bus services offering tours up to Waimea Canyon, and a lot of them are marketed towards seniors with limited mobility. The vistas aren’t from the parking lots, which have plenty of space for all the cars and buses making stops
Something that’s also great about Waimea Canyon State Park is that the weather is much cooler because of the rise in elevation. Of course, if you go to Hawaii you aren’t necessarily looking for cooler weather, but if you’re feeling exhausted from the Hawaiian sun, it’s sometimes nice to get a break while still being outside. Note that the altitude (about 3,600 feet up) can take a bit out of you as well, so be sure to bring plenty of water.
Because of the ease of access to Waimea Canyon State Park by road, it serves the perfect day trip in Kauai. From experience, you can wake up, go to the beach, drive to Waimea Canyon State Park, and still have enough time to go back to the beach for a few hours of prime sunshine before sunset.