Kauai's Canyons. Waimea, Olokele, Loli Waialae, Koaie, Poomau, Iliiliula, more.

Intro to Waimea Canyon

Millions have stood on the several "Waimea Canyon" overlooks and looked out on what they believe is just Waimea Canyon. Actually, what the guidebooks call Waimea Canyon is a maze of unique canyons: Olokele, Koaie, Loli, Poomau, Waialae, Kahana, Mokuone and much more.

Perhaps because it's too much to take in at one time or you just gotta move along, it's hard to appreciate the complexity of the view. At least, I never took the time my first ten or twenty times to the lookouts. On a clear day, if you know where to look, you can even pick out the summit ridge and especially Kawaikini.(Kawaikini is often visible from Kapaa to the Kalalau outlook and is the obvious summit. "Waialeale," the location of the raingage is never prominent from any angle.) Of course, it'd help if the state would put up a display naming the gorges, peaks, formations as the feds do at the lookout in the National Parks. Well, I will.

Kukui Trailhead view of Waimea, Koaie, Waialae Canyons and Loli and Hihinui Falls.
View from the top of the Kukui trail. Click here for large rez, unannotated photo.
View of Kawaikini Summit from Waimea Canyon Overlook.

Of the millions who've looked out from the overviews, how many venture into the canyon? Few, and the vast majority of them venture a ways down the Kukui Trail. Some even go as far as Lonomea Camp.

Too bad, because they're missing scenery and adventure that surpasses the overpopulized, overpopulated, over-everythinged "in", "must do" Kalalau Trail. But do do the Kalalau though.

Trust me. To those who've explored only the Kalalau trail, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Take just the waterfalls of Waimea. Thousands take trips to "hidden" or "secret" rinky-dink waterfalls, swim in lepto infested pools, oblivious of the dozens of larger waterfalls and pools in the canyons of Kauai. And the canyon water is undoubtedly cleaner before it runs though the rat, cat, dog, chicken, pig, horse and cow dung infested lowlands and runs over falls like Kipu.


At the northern edge of Waimea Town, the Waimea River splits. The right branch, the Makaweli/Olokele River heads northeast to the foot of the Pali below Kawaikini. (streams in Hawaii often change names as you follow them to their source. So Kawaikoi Stream becomes Poomau Stream then the Waimea River.) The left branch heads north into what's commonly called Waimea Canyon.

A terminology note. When I say "unclimbable," I mean normal humans without the aid of hardware. Nothing is really unclimbable. Most Dry Side Canyons are unclimbable in this sense. All can be descended Canyoneering style.

The Waimea Canyon Complex.

Waialae Gorge is the first substantial side canyon. Waialae Stream's source is the west slope of Kapoki crater. It has a few minor falls and little loss of elevation until it starts its big drop at Waialae Falls. From below, its gorge and falls are unclimbable. A short distance above Poachers Camp, it is joined by the Loli River that flows out of a side gorge.

Hiking upstream from the Waimea River, it's lower reaches are a spectacular, narrow gorge with several passable waterfalls until you reach a amplitheater where Waialae Stream jumps out of a slot to one side.

Next upstream, Koaie Stream enters from the east. Koaie Gorge splits the Alakai Plateau in half, north/south. It's source is the west end of Sincock's bog, and by Kauai standards, it makes a steady drop (puntucated with a dozen or so waterfalls) all the way to the Waimea River. All it's waterfalls (below Koaie Cabin) can be bypassed with varying degrees of difficulty and it's possible in a few spots (with great effort and risk to life and limb) to bushwhack north to the Mohihi-Waialae Trail

After it passes Koaie Cabin where there used to be a streamgage, it enters a long gorge, where it's collects many tributaries that join the canyon in spectacular waterfalls (at least during wet periods during which you shouldn't be in the canyon like we were). In its lower reaches it is lined with terraces. There are two campgrounds in the lower Koaie Gorge; Lonomea and Hipalau.

A short distance above the Waimea/Koaie junction is Waiahulu cabin, with a weir diverting part of the river into a tunnel/ditch to the powerplant downstream, and a tunnel enters, carrying water from Koaie stream. Further north/upstream, the Waimea forks into Waiahulu stream to the west and Poomau to the northwest. It may be possible to climb out of the Waiahulu drainage west of Waipoo Falls, the prominent (when it's not diverted for irrigation) falls visible from the upper lookout and Kokee Road before it leaves the canyon edge.

Waiahulu Gorge below Waipoo Falls
The entrance to Poomau Canyon just east of Waipoo Falls

Poomau in turn splits into Kawaikoi and Mohihi Canyons. It's probable that both these canyons can be hiked a short distance before they're waterfalled out.

Upper Kawaikoi Falls
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