At long last, I got to hike in Waimea (reddish-brown water) Canyon, and with friends from the mainland, on the Canyon Trail no less! Two of my former coworkers came for a week’s visit to Kaua’i which happened to span our weekend getaway at Barking Sands, so a hike in the canyon was practically unavoidable. Our inclement weather plan was to enjoy wine on the lanai as we watched storms roll by, but as far as the weather we got lucky.
Former co-workers Sharon and Christi and me on a windy afternoon at the Waimea Canyon Overlook
We thought about taking the first trail we came to, the Kukui Trail, but after reading a few reviews online we thought better of it. The Illiau Nature Loop, between the eight and nine mile markers leads to the Kukui Trail which consists of 2.5 miles of switchbacks into the canyon—2,700 feet down. Because the trail is so steep and exposed, reviewers recommended continuing down through the canyon toward the ocean rather than hiking back up, and making arrangements for friends or family to pick you up in Waimea.
As we didn’t start out until after 2:00 PM, we proceeded to the Waimea Canyon Overlook (3,120 ft/951 m), just past the 10 mile marker for our first stop. At at the top of the walkway to the viewpoints, I looked to my left and saw two women who had climbed over a protective fence and descended beyond the WARNING sign along a steep slope strewn with loose soil to the edge of a precipice. I mentioned to my friends that I was reminded of Over the Edge, a book about foolish and unfortunate visitors to Grand Canyon National Park.
A little further on one of my friends spotted a beautiful small flower that she wanted a photo of (neither of my friends had remembered to bring their cameras or phones). I’ve searched but cannot determine what this little plant is, so I’ll just show it. Maybe one of you recognize it?
White blossoms bursting from rock
While we were at the Overlook, I also captured a panoramic view of the canyon. In the process I spotted what looked like Warner Brothers’ Roadrunner, just left of center, created from the pale green of the new understory as it grew out following April’s torrential flooding.
Panoramic view from the Waimea Canyon Overlook
We continued on up the road, just passed the 11 mile marker and stopped at the Pu‘u Ka Pele overlook (3,662 ft/1,116 m). The Hawaiian name loosely means a large protuberance where lava flowed forth. One of the best views of Waipo‘o Falls (headlong waters, 800 ft/244 m to be precise), as well as another perspective of the canyon, is available from here.
Waipo’o Falls and Waimea Canyon from Pu’u Ka Pele Overlook
Up the road another two miles, between the 13 and 14 mile markers, lies a more developed overlook, Pu’u Hinahina (3,606 ft/1,099 m), meaning gray or grayish outcrop. Beginning in the overlooks’s parking lot, a relatively new spur trail links up with the Canyon Trail. Halemanu Road, just beyond the 14 mile marker, is strictly for 4-wheel drive vehicles and leads to a dirt parking lot beside the original trailhead of Canyon Trail where the new spur ends.
Trailhead of the new spur trail to the Canyon Trail
From the onset, the new Spur Trail was deceptively easy looking, until we met mud spattered hikers near the first dip. While many of the flowers with which I’m familiar were well past their prime, and a few were showing early fruit, there was still quite a lot to take in along this undulating path. I say undulating because it did not merely switch back and forth in a steadily toward the falls, but rather rose and fell steeply, crossing two major streambeds. Philippine ground orchids had gone to seed on the slopes while guava were just beginning to blush and yellow ginger along the streambeds still bore fresh blossoms and were heavenly fragrant.
A very short distance beyond the clearing at the intersection of the New Spur and Canyon Trails the Cliff Trail branched off to our right. Since we were already a little behind our turnaround time, we decided to go out that way rather than proceeding a further steep mile to the falls.
A Long Way Down from the Cliff Trail Viewpoint
We could barely make out the light feathery red blooms on the Lehua (red ashes), the sensitive trees said in literature to be Pele’s sister.
More proof that everyone enjoyed hiking in Waimea Canyon – Sharon and Christi at the Cliff Trail Viewpoint
Descending from Pu’u Hinahina Overlook we headed back to Barking Sands. Sharon and Christi had brought wine so we enjoyed that and talked story over a lovely Italian sausage dinner that Laura had prepared. I’m grateful I got to make the hike into the canyon, and also that I got to do it with two good friends – it was a memorable day.