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.