Hiking in Waimea Canyon in Kauai is one of the best outdoor activities on this wonderful island. In fact, Waimea Canyon is considered the top attraction on the Hawaiian island, or at least in the top three (along with Hanalei Town’s old-time Hawaiian market and the soaring cliffs of Napali Coast). There are many different hiking trails scattered around Waimea Canyon, ranging from easy to very, very challenging — but what is arguably the best view in Waimea Canyon is very accessible even for physically challenged travelers. This is Kalalau Lookout, with views of Napali Coast and the Pacific Ocean. Accessible hiking in Waimea Canyon, Kauai is more than worth the drive.
Anyone who has ever traveled with their family knows that the joys of happy company and strengthened familial bonds are often complicated by other family members’ varying travel wishes and desires. In my family’s case, one of my daughters is incredibly gung-ho (in fact number one on her bucket list is cage diving with sharks — help me!) while the other is decidedly less adventurous. This daughter is a very happy traveler, but she’s timid regarding outdoor adventure and she gets afraid of heights at times. One of our family travel compromises was to start our Waimea Canyon hiking day with the accessible Kalalau Lookout experience.
Rental cars are needed; there’s a very long drive to the top of Waimea Canyon here. The road is paved for its entirety, though, and as long as it’s not a very rainy day, visibility is never a problem along the winding path up. There is a parking lot, and a cement ramp to the viewing point. I saw a couple travelers in wheelchairs make their way to the ramp, and appreciate the view. The railings along the ramp here also make it a safer place to take young children, as the other hiking trails are unguarded with occasionally steep and sudden drop-offs. Kalalau Lookout’s accessible hiking in Waimea Canyon, Kauai is a wonderful feat. The view is iconic, and along with view from the ocean of Napali Coast, is among the most renown views of the island.
There are a couple of trails just off Kalalau Lookout in Waimea Canyon; swing north, and they become immediately apparent. It’s a testament to the beauty of the area that hikers here go slowly, gawking at the ocean to the east and valley to the west. We’re elevated here, and some clouds are below us. Hikers even walk right through some errant clouds, posing as fog, along the hiking trail. Now, Kauai is the rainiest of the Hawaiian islands, so travelers should get up and go early in case it’s clear in the morning and rainy in the afternoon. The views and hikes are spectacular. I try not to be hyperbolic, but I truly believe that a vacation in Kauai isn’t complete without at least a minimal hike in Waimea Canyon.
Even travelers to Kauai who aren’t big fans of hiking should get out of their comfort zones and explore Waimea Canyon; it might convert them into outdoor adventure lovers! Proof in point: my older daughter, who as I said approaches new experiences like these with trepidation. Initially she asked, “how much will I see, if I stay in the car?” Yeah, right. When that didn’t work and she begrudgingly walked up the first, short and well-paved accessible hiking pathway, we got to see her face light up at the sight of Kalalau Valley and the ocean beyond. On a clear day, the scents of ocean breezes and the thick verdant scent of the forest combine with the wide open views of the lush green valley, red cliffs and azure ocean to almost overwhelm the senses.
It’s a magical moment in travel and parenting to see our kids step up to their boundaries, love what they see, and raise those boundaries to new levels. She went hiking with us almost every day for the remainder of our vacation in Kauai. She even dared her more adventurous sister to go off the trail with her a few days later, tromping around in a rainforest. She wouldn’t have faced her fear and discovered her own bravery if it weren’t for us starting slowly, with accessible hiking in Waimea Canyon, Kauai.