The Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls is one of the best hiking trails in Waimea Canyon State Park. The Waimea Canyon is the most popular state park located on the southwest side of Kauai. It’s also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” When you get to Waimea Canyon State Park, you can find several scenic drives, lookouts, picnic areas, and hiking trails.
Most people tend to do the Waipo’o Falls Trail since it gives you a beautiful Waimea Canyon overlook and you get to see some mini waterfalls. It took us about an hour to drive from Poipu to Waimea Canyon State Park. There is free admission into the park, but when you enter a lookout or want to park in the parking lot near a trail, it’s $10 per vehicle and $5 per entry for each person.
You have to pay at a parking machine with a blue “P” on it. They’re typically located near the entrance of each lookout and hiking trail. Once you pay with a card, you receive a ticket to place inside your car that is visible for staff to see. The ticket allows you to explore all the different parts of Waimea Canyon and park anywhere inside to explore the many other hiking trails.
Waipo’o Falls Trail Details
The Waipo’o Falls Trail takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete. You can expect to spend an equal amount of time getting to the falls and an equal amount of time coming back. At the start, you will see a sign that says the hike is 1.8 miles but it’s just the miles to get there. You have to hike the same 1.8 miles to get back for a total of 3.6 miles.
We would rate this as a moderate difficulty level since some parts of it are slippery and can get muddy when it rains. There is some upward hiking you will need to do going there and coming back. It’s family-friendly and we saw lots of people hiking the trail with young children, but I’d be hesitant since it’s such a long hike.
One important thing to note is that you don’t actually get to see the Waipo’o Falls since the hike leads you to the top of the waterfall. However, there are two mini waterfalls that are just as beautiful on top of Waipo’o Falls that you can see up close at the end of the trail.
Gear To Bring For The Hike:
We recommend wearing hiking shoes that have good grip on them. Bring lots of cold water, sunscreen, and bug spray. Carry a backpack with snacks because you will get hungry when you’re hiking for long hours. There were quite a few people on the trail eating sandwiches and other small snacks. Just remember to pack up everything you bring.
Consider bringing an extra pair of clothes since you will definitely get dirty from the hike and potentially get wet whether it’s on purpose or by accident. Martin accidentally slipped and went ankles deep into the pond by the waterfall. Other people purposely got soaking wet below the mini-waterfall for a fun photo.
Bring a camera to take scenic photos since you never know when you might want to capture. Don’t forget a credit or debit card to pay for the parking and entry fee. It looks like this was the only way to pay, and no cash was accepted.
The Canyon Trail To Waipo’o Falls Hike
To get to the trailhead of the Canyon Trail, ride your car up Waimea Canyon Dr road and drive until you see a sign that says “Pu’u Hinahina Lookout.” Turn into that road, which takes you to the parking lot for the lookout. The lookout is to the right of the parking lot, while the Waimea Canyon Trail starts in the back.
We had to pay the parking and entry fee (if you’re doing the lookout) in the parking machine. After, you can walk towards the back where it says “more extra flow parking”. Pass the sign and head to another sign in the middle that says “Canyon Trail” with an arrow pointing to the left where the trailhead starts.
Be careful when you walk on the trail. It’s very steep and slippery, with rocks and tree branches on the path. Make sure to walk slowly when you hit steep parts of the trail. At one point, both Martin and I embarrassingly fell on our butts and got dirt all over us in front of a group of people who were waiting to go up. As we were going back up, we saw another person slip in that exact spot.
We did the hike on a Sunday morning at noon, and there were several other people hiking the Canyon Trail and coming back from it. At times, you will need to stand to the side and let people pass since some parts of the trail are quite narrow. Most of the time, you’re surrounded by the lush jungle. But, near the canyon lookout it can be dangerous, so stay away from the edges since you can slip and fall.
Around 20-25 minutes into the trail, there is a sign that shows a way to continue the Canyon Trail or another path called the Cliff Trail. The sign has stickers and graffiti which makes it difficult to read if you’re not close to the sign. The Cliff Trail leads to a canyon overlook.
If you’re not in a rush, we advise you to do the quick Cliff Trail hike. It’s only a 5-10 minute walk from the trailhead to the lookout. The canyon lookout has a green railing along the edge which makes it a great place to stop and have a snack.
We sat down for a few minutes to eat our fruit and drink water. While eating our snacks, we saw two chickens looking at us and basically begging us to give them food. It’s not uncommon for chickens along the trail to walk up to you in hopes that you will give them something to eat.
After that, we walked back to the sign and got back on the Canyon Trail. We hiked for about an hour before we got to see another more scenic view of the canyon. Unlike the one before, this one does not have any railings at the edge of the trail which means you need to proceed with caution.
Be very careful because you can easily trip and fall down the rocks. The trail is wide enough for multiple people to walk on and take photographs. When you look at the canyon from a distance, you can see an entire 180-degree view of it. It was certainly a much better outlook than the other one.
As you continue the hike past the beautiful canyon scene, it gets very steep as you walk down toward the waterfalls. It took 5 minutes from the second canyon lookout to finally get to Waipo’o Falls, which has two waterfalls above it.
As mentioned, you can’t actually see Waipo’o Falls since you’re above it but there are two mini waterfalls you can see. When you reach the end of the canyon overlook, go to the left and you’ll see two paths, one going straight down and another going to the left.
They both take you to the waterfalls, but you should go to the path on the left. This trail takes you to the first waterfall and from there you can take another path that leads you down to the one that was straight ahead.
You can even walk on top of the first one where it’s more rocky. At the top of the waterfall, you can look downwards and see other hikers walking and see water flowing toward the edge where Waipo’o Falls begins.
The first waterfall is much smaller than the second waterfall. The waterfall flows into a pond that has clear water with a tan muddy bottom. The second waterfall is wider and has two waterfalls flowing on each side.
When you turn around from the waterfall, you can see another view of the canyon. This area is another perfect place for people to sit on the rocks and have snacks. We stopped here and had some watermelon while looking at the canyon in the distance and relaxing by the waterfalls.
On our way back to the entrance of the canyon trail, we had to walk uphill more. At this point, we were pretty tired since we had already hiked the entire trail already. Hiking the Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls took us about 2 hours and 40 minutes there and back.
On our initial way there, we asked someone how long it took them and they said the same amount of time. If you don’t hang out around the waterfalls as much as we did, you can probably do it much faster.
I think the Waimea Canyon Trail is well worth it, and I can see why it’s such a popular hike on Kauai. Apart from multiple lookouts of the beautiful Waimea Canyon, you get to see scenic waterfalls and meet different people along the trail. Waimea Canyon State Park lets you see the wilderness in a more natural environment and certainly teaches you to value nature more.