Waimea Canyon Trail from Kukui Trail to Waimea

On December 9, 2012 I revisited Waimea Canyon Trail via Kukui Trail.  Below is a writeup I did last year when I completed a one-way hike down the canyon to the town of Waimea.  Not much is available on this hike so I decided to post it since the information is still valid.   The big difference for this hike was the water level of Waimea River.  Last year I was crossing knee-hike  to thigh-high water that was murky red.  Although the water was warm, the 14 crossings were challenging.  I now know, from talking to an experienced Waimea Canyon hike leader, that the river only runs deep red when it is high, and should be crossed at these times by folks who have done these types of crossings before.  It is  probably not a good idea to do the hike under these conditions alone.

However, a year later the hiking conditions were totally different.  The hike down Kukui Trail was easy because it was dry, therefore, not as slippery when wet like last year.  However, it still drop 2,000 in 2.5 mile so it is steep in part and can be tricky.  When I reached Waimea River I was stunned with how low it was.  I had brought my Teva sandals in my daypack anticipated the river crossings, but the water was so low I could easily hop across rocks without getting my feet wet.  If I had hiked the Waimea Canyon Trail down to Waimea this time, the hike would have been moderate rather than strenuous.

Crossing the river last year 14 times when the river was high was tiring.  I had my car this time at the Kukui Trailhead so I hiked up Waimea Canyon instead of down.  I am taking an educated guess, that if you go down river when the water is very low you will not need to cross back and forth so much.  Please comment on my blog if you hike down the canyon.  I did discover why the river was so low —  up river the water was being diverted into a large drain/dam.  I have no idea if this is going to permanently impact the water level in Waimea River; however, locals in the town of Waimea did make comments about someone diverted the water and fish were now dying.  Who knows for sure.  Corn has now replaced the sugarcane crop.  Perhaps it is taking more water from the river on the dry side of Kauai.

Writup on Waimea Canyon Trail to town of Waimea:

On November 4, 2010, I hiked from Kukui Trail in Waimea Canyon to the town of Waimea.  I started at 8 am from the Trailhead which is located between mile marker 8 and 9 on highway 550.  The 2.5 mile hike down was uneventful, but a little slippery with mud, loose dirt and rocks.  Look for trail and stay off the cuts to switchbacks.  Once you reach trail marker 1.75 the trail enters the forest.  The trail was easy to follow but in spring could be overgrown.

At the bottom was a backpacking camp with a pit toilet.  The site was covered with cherry plums on the ground and smelled like rotting fruit. I walked straight down to the river and was dismayed to see how high the river looked.  however, this was not the trail. I backtracked and found a sign that had Waimea Canyon Trail down the road to the right.  Soon the first river crossing appears.  It took me some time to figure the best place to cross.  The entire trail down Waimea Canyon is mostly a soft, red dirt road.  However, there are 14 river crossings as the trail goes from side to side.  After a mile and six river crossings I came to a power station and found a man working would told me that there were 14 river crossings in total.  Also the river only gets slightly larger with most of the water coming from deep in the park and not from side streams.  So, no need to worry about that — just worry about the storms upstream that may cause flash flooding.  Watch on the river crossings to see if the water is getting higher.  I am not sure the total distance from the backpacking camp to the beginning of the paved road to Waimea but someone scratched 9.5 in the sign so I am using that.  There is one long section that climbs a bit on the left side of the canyon so feel free to put the hiking boots back on.  The road follows the ditch for quite a while and then the road cuts up hill after crossing a metal bridge.  Continue straight on a foot trail that follows the ditch.  it will join back up to the road in a half mile.

Soon the road takes a turn back down to the river.  The road is made of rock on this part as it drops 200 feet back down to cross the river again.  just when I was getting use to dry hiking.  A note on the river crossings –  the water is brown from the red dirt and hard to see the bottom so step carefully.  A hiking pole is really helpful.  Do not lift your foot up before you are sure the other is securely planted.  Look at the crossing to see where the vehicles are crossing so you can cross at the shallow part.  Not always easy to see, especially when the river runs red.Image

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2 thoughts on “Waimea Canyon Trail from Kukui Trail to Waimea

  1. Thanks for the awesome write up onthis trail Sparky! Ive been looking for information like this online. I am planning on backpacking the Kukui trail January 2015 with my boyfriend and camping overnight. (will obtain permits) I would like to hike out to Waimea town but there is so little information on this that it makes me wary. Can you help with a few questions? How long did it take you to hike from the campsite to the town? How deep are the 14 crossings? and are the crossings fairly easy to identify? You mentioned car crossings so i cant imagine the river would be all that deep. In regards to the campsite we have eno hammocks rather than a tent, do you recall if there are decent places to hang hammocks? I am an experienced backpacker so i am doing my research in depth before I go as I would suggest everyone do. thanks for helping me out here if you can!

    • Hi There!

      Yes, the Waimea Canyon hike from Kukui Trail is awesome! What is interesting about the river flow is it seems to be controlled by a diverting water system that drains the water out near an upriver fork. I was surprised when I went back a couple of years ago and the water level was so low it was barely flowing at Kukui. I could easily cross it by hopping rocks. The second time, I hiked upstream and found that there was this huge drain near the fork where most of the water was going into. You may want to find out in the town of Waimea if the water from the river is lower than usual. If so, it should be easy to cross. I was also told you should not do the river crossings “if the water is running red,” which refers to the upriver soil running down with the water. However, I crossed when it was “running red” and did fine but it did give me pause when I first looked at the white water at the first crossing. Once I braved that crossing it became a lot easier. If you are used to doing river crossings while backpacking you should be fine. Hiking poles will definitely help, especially if the water is murky and you don’t see the bottom. I found it less challenging then it looked because the water is warm instead of ice-cold like in the Sierra. Also, the trail along the river can change so it may not be 14 crossings if the water is low enough that you can hike farther on one side. Since you are going with someone I say, “go for it!” Although having a backpack will add a little to the challenge if the water is high.

      Regarding backpack camp, I found Kukui Camp by the river kind of “buggy” and full of rotting fruit because of the trees. Of course, I was there in December so do not know if it is better certain times of the year. I also hiked up stream to the other backpacking camp and it seemed like a much more pleasant campsite (although it had remnants of a dead boar hanging from a tree…the camps are used by pig hunters. You may periodically see a roaming dog who got lost during a pig hunt. It is sad but usually they won’t come to strangers.) It is a pretty easy hike to get to the higher camp, and if water is not flowing much at Kukui it is definitely flowing more at the upstream campsite which is above the water diversion system.

      Hope this helps! Email if you have other questions. I posted this hike because, like you, I found nothing online about the trail and the hiking books on the trail are not accurate. However, as I am sure you know, canyon river trails can always change!

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