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
TURN-BY-TURN FROM THE KUKUI TRAILHEAD
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.
CAMPSITE LONOMEA (MILE 6)
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 bit.do/ lonomea-permits. CUSTOM MAP bit.do/BPmapWaimeaCanyon ($15) CONTACT bit.do/waimea-canyon-sp
Distance 12 miles (out and back) Time 2 days Difficulty
Camp beside Koai’e Stream at Lonomea.