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Friday, April 26, 2013

     Waimea Canyon State Park on Kauai's West Side encompasses 7.5 km² and provides an unprecedented wilderness area with numerous hiking trails. Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is a 16 km long and up to 900 m deep canyon created by unique geological process of a catastrophic collapse of an enormous volcano that has risen the Island of Kauai from the ocean floor. It was then carved for thousands of years by rivers flowing from Mount Waialeale's summit, one of the wettest places on earth. The lines in the canyon walls depict lava flows that have slowly occurred over the centuries while the river had carved a deep incision reaching the floor of the canyon and eroding the red soil giving the whole plane the name Waimea - "reddish water". The canyon is now protected by the Kokee State Park which encompasses 4,345 acres of land and has 45 miles of trails that run through the canyon and the nearby Alakai Swamp. The deep, red and dry walls of the Waimea canyon are in stark contrast to Kauai’s overall lushness and dark green interior, and are an inevitable part of any Kauai's adventure.


     Take the highway 50 west from Hanapepe toward the town of Waimea. From Waimea, the Waimea Canyon can be accessed on Hawaiʻi state road 550, which is 18 miles long and leads up to Koke'e State ParkWaimea Canyon Drive is on the right just past Mile Marker #23 and leads you to a lower lookout point and the main Waimea Canyon Overlook, offering views of Kauai's dramatic interior. The road continues into the mountains and ends at Pu'u o Kila Lookout in the Kokee State Park. Makaha Ridge Road runs off Waimea Canyon Road just before Mile Market #14 and travels to more scenic lookouts.

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     By combining the following shorter and very popular day hikes with longer, rougher and more challenging all day adventures you can create numerous itineraries that will take you deeper into Kauai's wilderness where you can enjoy the remoteness in all its beauty.

1. Kukui & Waimea Canyon Trail

     The Kukui Trail in Kokee State Park will take you on a journey into Waimea Canyon, known as Grand Canyon of the South Pacific, as it descends 2000 feet to the canyon floor. This 5 miles round trip will offer you incredible views across countless valleys of the canyon covered by all shades of green and red with many cascading waterfalls. The Waimea Canyon Trail (11.5miles) starts at the bottom of the Kukui Trail and follows the bends of the Waimea River to the historic town of Waimea.

2. Pihea & Alakai Swamp Trail

     Beginning at Pu‘u O Kila Lookout over Kalalau Valley in Kokee State Park, Pihea Trail follows the back rim of Kalalau valley 4000ft above the ocean to Pihea Vista lookout that offers amazing panoramic views of the Napali coast below.

     The trail is uneven, a little bit rough and can become slippery and muddy after the rain. Weather generally changes very quickly and the ever-present clouds often obscure the views, however that only adds to magic of the place while hiking through one of the highest swamps in the world sitting on top of the mountain.

     The trail then heads towards the crossing with the Alakai swamp trail and these two can be combined for an all-day hiking adventure. As there is a boardwalk over the swamps, the trail is easy to follow and the views from the cliff edge at the end of the trail are just breathtaking, overlooking the Wainiha Pali and the Hanalaei town in the distance.The inland views stretch all the way to the western face of the Mt Waialeale.

3. Awaawapuhi & Nualolo Cliff Trail

     The Awaawapuhi Trail (6.5 miles circuit track) in Kokee State Park offers some of the best vistas on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast as it takes you on an ultimate journey descending from 4,120 feet elevation in the Kokee State Park to the valley rim of Nualolo and Awa'awapuhi valleys at 2,500 feet. The trail head is about 1.5 miles past the Kokee Museum at Kokee State Park in parking area near the highway 17 mile marker.

     The trail leads you continuously downhill through unique ecosystems of Hawaiian dry forest and high desert like terrain  to grassy clearings overlooking the valleys. At about the three mile mark there is a track junction with the Nualolo Cliff Trail which adds about 5 miles to this hiking adventure although you will have to walk 1.5 miles on the road back to your car.


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