Time: 2-4 HOURS
Distance: 4 MILES
Elevation Gain: 2000 FEET
Foot Traffic: MODERATE
Challenges: Some steep and potentially slippery descents, Mostly shadeless
Sights: Waimea Canyon
What to Bring: Water, Snack, Sunscreen
Located on the island of Kaua'i, the Kukui Trail allows you to experience the full grandeur of the "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific," taking you from the top of Waimea Canyon all the way to the valley floor. That trek winds along a steep, sometimes muddy, and exposed trail as you make your way to the base. But that entire time, you will take in the beauty and majestic colors of Waimea Canyon. Once you reach the bottom, you can experience the solitude of Waimea River, maybe even take a dip if the water is flowing. The real challenge is the return trip, which is entirely up hill. The good news is you get to experience the beauty of the canyon one more time.
Day 1 of my second Kauai trip had gone off without a hitch... kind of. After arriving at Lihue Airport early in the morning, we had spent the better part of the day gathering supplies, searching multiple stores to find a very specific type of camp fuel, and spending far too much time debating which type of oatmeal we should buy. We finally made it to the western part of Kauai by the late morning, and even knocked out the beautiful Honopu Ridge Trail in the process.
But our main goal for the day, was to reach the Wiliwili campground, where we would be camping that night. To get there, we had to hike half of the Kukui Trail in order to reach the base of the valley. What a stunning experience that was!
A shot of the hike. It's simple--follow the narrow switchback trail down to the valley, and then hike back up. This hike is entirely doable as a day hike, but camping at the bottom wasn't a bad way to recover before the ascent.
Squad is ready for the descent.
You'd think we were camping for a week with the amount we were carrying. Really though, that was because we didn't want to leave anything in our car. This area is problematic for car break ins, so definitely do not leave any bags or valuables in sight. As you can see from the sign, there's a couple different trails around here. I recommend checking out this site if you want to plan a different trip.
And this is what you get to look at most of your descent, the gorgeous colors of Waimea Canyon. I had to keep reminding myself that somehow I was still in Hawaii.
Mind continuing to get blown.
There's even a few hidden gems in the beautiful landscape. If you look closely (and your vision is good) you can make out a waterfall in the distance. That is Waipoo Falls and is possible to hike to.
The trail as a whole is very manageable. It is mainly dirt, so I'm sure it gets slippery if it's wet, but overall it wasn't too bad. There were a few step sections, so it can be tough on the knees, but it is broken up with switchbacks.
And plenty of epic views to take your mind off the pain.
This part was probably the toughest, but also my favorite. It was an exposed dirt section with a relatively steep descent. But it is your best vantage point of the surrounding canyon walls with their massive beauty.
Makes you really appreciate the magic of this place.
That is also the last open section of the hike, because now we are headed into the trees. We would be making our way to the Wiliwili campsite, where we would be spending the night.
Not too much to worry about here, just follow the ribbons and the beaten down path.
A Sap stained tree off the side of the trail. Want to lick it (not recommended)?
And after an hour and a half we had reached the campsite. As you can see from this sign, there are other trails that stem from here. But I've heard they are extremely overgrown and (almost) not worth the trek.
The best part of the campsite, we are right next to a river! Water and showers for days!
Well kind of, some of the water here can be sketchy, especially if it has not been raining. Leptospirosis is a real risk anytime you enter one of these streams. Always make sure you find an area where the water is flowing if you decided to take a dip. And of course, filter your water.
But overall, this was an awesome camping spot. Hearing the soothing flowing river as we lay in our tents, resting our tired bodies, completely disconnected from the rest of the world, was a surreal experience. It's those moments that I feel most in touch with the beauty of the earth around me.
And after all that, the next day we get to experience that beauty all over again.
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Also Check Out:
- Kokee and Waimea Park Hiking Guide