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Find par­adise in a sel­domvis­ited canyon in Kauai, sa­vor soli­tude on the Ge­or­gia coast, and do the Bound­ary Wa­ters in win­ter.

TWO RIB­BONS OF WA­TER, in­clud­ing one taller than 30 feet, fill the pool I’m float­ing in.

I lean back on my sleep­ing pad to take in the panorama: the wa­ter­falls, the river cours­ing down the val­ley, the foothills full of wild guava, av­o­cado, and mango. The brickred walls of Waimea Canyon rise above it all like the Colos­seum. Waimea is one of the most-vis­ited places on Kauai, pop­u­lar for its scenic over­looks, he­li­copter tours, and in­fras­truc­ture. But all that stuff is con­fined to the rim. Here, below the walls, it feels like—and is—one of the least ex­plored places on Kauai. The 6-mile route to get here is tough and barely marked, but that’s how it should be. It’s not the Hawaii you hear about, but it’s ex­actly the Hawaii I’ve been look­ing for. By Will McGough


1) Pick up the Kukui Trail and take it 2.2 miles into the canyon un­til it dead­ends at the Waimea River.

2) Turn north (hiker’s left) onto the Koai’e Canyon Trail and take it 1.1 splashy miles along the red-hued Waimea River to its con­flu­ence with the Koai’e Stream, be­neath the dome of 1,485-foot Po’okaeha.

3) At the fourth river cross­ing, don’t ford; in­stead, veer north­east, fol­low­ing the Koai’e Stream up­river to stay on the Koai’e Canyon Trail (this turn is poorly marked) 2.7 miles to Lonomea Camp. 4) Re­trace your steps.


Set up your tent in an es­tab­lished site be­side the Koai’e Stream (pic­tured). The river changes based on the sea­son, but ex­pect to find be­tween one and four swimmable pools near camp and wa­ter­falls be­tween 5 and 30 feet pour­ing down the ravine. In rain, snag the cov­ered shel­ter in the wooded area ad­ja­cent to the river—but it isn’t as pretty. Re­serve on­line.


Called the “Grand Canyon of the Pa­cific,” Waimea Canyon is 3,600 feet deep at its low­est, up to a mile wide, and

close to 14 miles long. Its name means “red­dish wa­ter,” de­rived from the ero­sion of ex­posed basalt, which weath­ers from its orig­i­nal black to brick red. Runoff from Mt. Wai’ale’ale, one of the raini­est spots on Earth, flows down the Waimea River, turn­ing it red.


Wear sturdy san­dals (such as Cha­cos or Tevas) for the hike in if you can—river cross­ings and swim­ming op­por­tu­ni­ties abound. If you pre­fer tra­di­tional boots for the rocky trails, bring san­dals or wa­ter shoes for ford­ing. Pack an in­flat­able pad (or a cheap in­ner tube) for float­ing in the pools at Lonomea.

DO IT TRAIL­HEAD 22.0515, -159.6601; 32 miles west of Li­hue on State Hwy 550/Waimea Canyon Dr. SEA­SON Year-round, but be­ware of flash flood­ing in the rainy sea­son (usu­ally Novem­ber to March). PER­MIT Re­quired ($18/night for non­res­i­dents); re­serve at lonomea-per­mits. CUS­TOM MAP ($15) CON­TACT

Dis­tance 12 miles (out and back) Time 2 days Dif­fi­culty

Camp be­side Koai’e Stream at Lonomea.

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