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Hiking to Waipo’o Falls on the Canyon Trail, Waimea Canyon
Waipo’o Falls is probably the most photographed place in Waimea Canyon. But most people photograph the waterfall from the other side of the canyon – and don’t hike to the top.
- Trailhead: Between mile markers 14 & 15, Hwy 550 (Kokee Rd) – Open in Google Maps.
- Length: 3.6 miles round-trip; 2 hours.
- Difficulty: Moderate. The trail descends about 500 feet to the falls and is quite slick the entire way.
- Usage: Hikers, 4WD vehicles for the first half. Entry into Koke’e State Park is free.
- Best Time for Photography: Morning will give you good light on the west side of the canyon.
- Trail Info Current: Oct 12, 2017
Canyon Trail Narrative
There are quite a few hiking trails in Waimea Canyon. Last time I was here I did the Awa’awapuhi Trail on the Na Pali Coast side. This time I opted for a hiking trail inside Waimea Canyon. I’ve always photographed Waipo’o Falls on every drive up Waimea Canyon but I’ve never hiked it. Now was the time.
Just so we’re clear on this trail, it won’t take you to the bottom of the falls. Most people like hiking to the pools at the bottoms of waterfalls. But this hike will take you to the pools at the top of Waipo’o Falls, and those are just as fun! As an added bonus you’ll get some outstanding views of Waimea Canyon on this hike.
The trail starts at a signed trail between mile markers 14 and 15. There’s a small parking area on the west side of the road, opposite an unsigned paved road going uphill. A dirt road at the same junction goes downhill, and it’s signed for the Canyon Trail. You may take 4WD vehicles part of the way down this trail and cut your hike way down, but it does get really slick and is not for low-clearance, 2WD vehicles.
The first half of the trail is rather unimpressive with the exception of a small field of ginger. You follow a dirt road through some forest and cross a small creek. After making the turn back to the southwest, the trail narrows and is only for foot traffic. About halfway in you’ll see a signed junction with a small trail going right, signed for the Canyon View, and left will take you along the Canyon Trail. Take a quick detour up the right fork 600′ for views of the canyon. You can backtrack and continue along the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls.
Continuing on the left fork, the trail starts to switchback down some singletrack covered in roots and rocks. Watch your footing! This whole trail is slick when wet but this section is especially treacherous. It’s actually more or less like this for the remainder of the trail, which certainly feels much longer than a mile!
You’re still in the forest until the very end of the trail, when you start to get more views of Waimea Canyon. You’ll find yourself on some orange dirt (mud when rainy!) that appears to drop off the side and straight down the canyon. And it kinda does in spots, so be careful! Follow this ridge downhill.
You’ll see a few trail spurs on the left side but just keep to the right. You’ll finally get to a steep, narrow section right on the edge of the ridge that will take you down to the river and top of the waterfall. It’s very lush in here and there are many pools you can dip in to cool off on a hot day. Waipo’o Falls drops 800′, so just stay away from the edge!
Tips for hiking the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls
- Weather, weather, weather! Check the forecast. I really wouldn’t recommend this trail after heavy rains or when heavy rains are forecast. Sections of the trail are tricky enough when dry, but this mud is exceptionally slippery when wet. It’s not just the drop-offs to be careful of but also the roots and rocks you’ll be climbing over.