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Waimea Canyon | Kauai, Hawaii: Full-Day Itinerary by a Local Mom (kid friendly!)

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

The "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" as it is called takes you to a completely different world. There is a 4,000ft elevation change and with that the temperature is 10-15 degrees cooler. The canyon itself is 10 miles long by 1 mile wide and more than 3,600ft deep. You will explore two different parks: Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park. Get ready to experience the Na Pali Coast from a completely different vantage point, the beauty of Waipo'o Falls, the expansiveness of the Waimea Canyon, a Red Dirt Waterfall, a cozy lodge in the middle of the park and delicious local food.


• water, snacks, bug spray, sunscreen


• hiking shoes, darker hiking clothing (dirt at waterfall stains)




Location: Midnight Bear Breads @midnightbearbreads | site

**CLOSED Sun-Tues, see below alternate restaurant recommendation**

Distance: 25 mins from Poipu

Why you need to visit: the cafe is located in the old town of Hanapepe that has all the charm of a Wild West main street. It is filled with art galleries and small shops. The cafe itself is French style with fresh baked croissants, pastries and breads. Get there early as they do sell out quickly (on Saturday's they sell out by 9am, all other days 9:30/10)—it is seriously that good! I LOVE the Everything Bagel Croissant, Ginger & Cinnamon Morning Bun, and the Avocado Tartine Sandwich. TIP you can order online through their site in advance, up to two weeks in advance!

How to get there: Google Maps

ALTERNATE RESTAURANT: if you are looking for a more sit down experience OR it is a Sunday-Tuesday, then try Kalaheo Cafe about 20 mins outside of Poipu on the way to Waimea. A great cafe serving traditional breakfast food. My go-to is the bagel & lox with a chai latte. Also, next door is Aloha Exchange, an awesome adventure/surf shop—if you want to dress like a local, then this is the place!


Location: Red Dirt Waterfall

Distance: 20 mins from Midnight Bear Breads

What to expect: the falls are small, but easily seen from the road. You can park on the side of the road right across from the falls. Kauai's famous red dirt is on display here with not much vegetarian to hide it. Kauai is 5.1 million years old and over time, the volcanic dirt has rusted into the red color you see today. This is where the dark clothing comes in handy—it stains! This is a popular spot to take photos, jump over the falls and even slide down the steep hills (my kids LOVE this!).

How to get there: Google Maps

STEP 3: HIKE **skip if you are traveling without kids**

Location: Iliau Nature Loop & Kukui Trail

Distance: 9 mins from waterfall

What to expect: this is a lovely and easy 1/2 mile loop trail. Half way through the hike (more of a walk) you get a great view of the canyon. It is the perfect hike for small children. It is not marked super well, but most likely you will see cars pulled over on the side of the road as this is also the trail head for the Kukui Trail.

How to get there: Google Maps


Location: Waimea Canyon Lookout

Distance: 5 mins from loop hike

What to expect: this is the best place to view the canyon and get a glimpse of Waipo'o Falls. You can park at the large parking lot and also stop to use the restrooms. You will need to purchase a $10 parking permit AND an entrance fee of $5 per person at the kiosk (pay box seen below). Take a picture of your license as you will need it when paying. These fees are good for both Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park. After placing your permit slip on the dash of your car, head up the path to the viewing deck. It is a short walk with a huge panoramic view of the canyon at the end!

How to get there: Google Maps


Location: Koke'e Lodge Cafe & Bar @kokeelodgerestaurant | site

Distance: 12 mins from canyon lookout

Why you need to visit: visiting Koke'e Lodge is like stepping into a completely different place—with a warm fireplace, cabin feels, hot food & beverages and lots of board games to play. You definitely do not feel like you are on a tropical island. I always order the vegan bowl and the corn bread, but hear that the chili is great! You can eat inside or sit outside on the massive and flat green lawn. This is a favorite for locals looking to escape the heat.

How to get there: Google Maps


Location: Kalalau Lookout and Kālepa Ridge trail

Distance: 7 mins from lodge

Difficulty: very adventurous, more experienced hikers only

Distance: approx. 1.25 miles EACH WAY or about 2-2.5 hours roundtrip

What to expect: This is an unofficial hike that is not maintained. This means that it is unmarked, no official length, and pretty treacherous. It is also one of the coolest hikes on the island, with panoramic views of the Na Pali Coast and Kalalau Valley. To get there park at the Kalalau Lookout and make your way to the viewing area. Follow the fence in front of the viewing area until it ends on the left. This is the start of the trail! It begins with a pretty steep decent (a lot of people slip) and it is almost always muddy. It can be very dangerous, especially when wet. Finding a hiking stick or using poles would be helpful. Once you pass this portion it levels out and you will then be hiking along the edge of very deep cliffs into the valley—watch your footing! Most people hike in about a little over a mile where there are views of the Kalalau Beach, but do not go further than you are comfortable!

How to get there: Google Maps


Location: Pu'u O Kila Lookout & Pihea Trail

Distance: 10 mins from lodge

- Stop 1: Pu'u O Kila Lookout

What to expect: This is the best location (besides the Kalalau Trail located on the North Shore) to view the Kalalau Valley in all its magnificence. The Valley can only be reached by an 11 mile hike (22-mile in and out) or by kayak as Kauai doesn't have a road all the way around. It can be cloudy, but if the conditions are right, the trade winds bring in clouds from the island and they disappear into humidity right before your eyes. Point being, if it is cloudy don't give up—wait a few and it should clear up!

How to get there: Google Maps

- Stop 2: Pihea Trail

Difficulty: intermediate hiker and/or elementary school aged kids

Distance: 1 mile EACH WAY or 2 hours roundtrip

What to expect: The Pihea Trail holds some of the most epic views and interesting terrain. It wraps around the Kalalau Valley upper rim and starts with the valley to your left and forest views to your right making it kind of like a 15' wide elevated path between the two valleys. You then go through the native fern forest and end with the whole valley in front of you with the ocean 4,000ft below in the distance. Few things to note: It can and most likely will be pretty muddy; hike as far as you want—even the first quarter mile is amazing; I have taken my 2 year-old and 4 year-old and was fine, BUT I was nervous and made them hold my hand most of the time (the 4,000ft drop on the one side should not be taken lightly).

TIP: if you are hiking with children turn around when you get to the fern forest—it gets very muddy and difficult past this point.


Location: JoJo's Shave Ice @jojos_shave_ice | site

Distance: 40 mins from Pu'u O Kila Lookout

Why you need to visit: a delicious way to treat yourself after all the hiking! JoJo's has over 15 different combinations to choose from. Their syrups and cream toppings are made in-house with real cane sugar. I love anything lilikoi and always get the Tropical Breeze (Guava, lilikoi, mango, macadamia ice cream)

How to get there: Google Maps

(images above are from the Kapaa location)


Location: Japanese Grandmas Cafe @japanesegrandmascafe | site

Distance: 10 mins from shave ice

Why you need to visit: it looks like a small counter style restaurant, but if you ask to sit outside you are ushered through the gift shop to their LA style outdoor patio with a bar, seating area and live ukulele music. The food is fresh, authentic and delicious—a real gem! Be sure to make reservations (on yelp or by calling) in advance as this is a popular spot!

OPTION: while waiting for your table or post dinner be sure to check out the Swinging Bridge a 2 min walk right behind the restaurant.

How to get there: Google Maps



Itinerary Graphics_Site_Waimea
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  • There are no gas stations after you leave the town of Waimea and you are about to embark on a 40 mile round trip. Last gas station is located here.

  • The elevation change is 4,000ft—and the temperature is 10-15 degrees cooler. I suggest packing a light rain coat.

  • The clouds are always moving through the Kalalau Valley. When at the Kalalau lookout wait a bit for the clouds to move—it is well worth it! It is best to go earlier in the morning for the best visibility.

  • Waipo'o Falls is best seen in the winter during heavy rains.

  • The Red Dirt Waterfall's dirt is a copper color and stains really easily—wear darker clothing.

  • When hiking in Hawaii always bring lots of water, remember to reapply sunscreen and pack some snacks. Trust your gut and don't test Mother Nature.

  • Take care of the ʻaina (land) and stay on the trails, pack-out what you pack-in, and use reef safe sunscreen 🐠 🧴 🐟—see some of my favorites below👇

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