The Journey & Timing to Waimea Canyon area (west side of Kauai)
We started our day super early since the general research said to get there before the fog starts to roll into any parts of the canyon - and the rumors were true (despite our awesome weather, that does happen on and off throughout the afternoon - just as we hiked out of the earlier hike, we saw clouds roll in behind us).
Since we were staying in Poipu, so we estimated about an hour and left around 6:30am to get there by 7:30am, so that we could try and start our hike by 8am and finish up by noon (for lunch). The first part of the drive was pretty easy going. Lots of birds on the road early in the morning, so be careful, especially of the roads are slick from rain. But, as we started heading up the canyons, it got pretty windy with turns, so those that easily get car sick, beware! Because of this fog rolling in, we rushed all the way to the very last look out for the most iconic view - Pu'u O Kila Lookout.
As you can see from the photo above, the weather was great, but the sun was just in the wrong spot and the real photographer on our trip (not I) said this wasn't worthy of a print. But, there was a lot of potential in the shot, so we decided we could come back afterward if we had time/energy.
There are two areas to easily walk up to for photos at Pu'u O Kila Lookout, the fenced in section as you climb up from the parking lot a tiny bit, or this area in the photo above, which is just beyond. We found area more stunning. However, if it's wet, my guess is it'd be pretty dangerous feeling, those cliffs are for real. The Phia trail starts from here (see below for more on the trail).
The Awa'awapuhi Trail
This was my favorite hike of the week! It's true what they say, it's a bit boring on the way there and back; the gift is truly the destination. The full trail is about 3 miles out and 3 miles back. If it's dry, you can get all the way to the tip of one of those crazy looking ridges. I didn't realize it was a full 6 miles, so we ended the hike a bit later than we anticipated but it all worked out since we still finished the day up in the canyon area by 3/3:30pm.
From Pu'u O Kila Lookout, we drove down to Kalalau Lookout (about a 2 minute drive) - and there's a bathroom there, yay! And another great view that we decided would be better later in the day since it was a similar view to the above. After our quick bathroom stop, we tried to look for the awa'awapuhi trail. Since we were so early, there was only one another car in the lot - making it hard to find so we drove past it a few times before seeing it. If you're coming from the top of the canyon (the two mentioned lookout points), the dirt parking lot will be on your right, about 5 minutes past Kalalau Lookout. If you see the camp grounds on your right, you've gone too far.
Generally easy hike on the way out since it's mostly down hill (the first part is a bit uphill). It's not a straight up trail most of the way, so "easy" as in you're not using your hands. Not a leisurely walk on a flattened out trail. There were narrow areas that poked your legs and hit your face (they likely cut it back in Spring before tourist season in the summer and it grew out by the time we got there in the fall season).
Most of it was covered, so that was nice. But, it was super boring unless you like to see lots of jungle for long periods of time. The last mile perked me up a bit. There were these beautiful, tiny flower clusters when we went. And this overgrown, softer hay-like section right before the clearing for the incredible view.
Once you get to the clearing, you can head down to the ridge if it's dry - be careful! We were daring and went all the way to the tip, but DO NOT GO unless you feel super confident about it and it's totally dry. Wrong footing anywhere and it could mean going down one of those steep cliffs, eeeeek. The two sides of that pathway shoot straight down to the bottom of the canyon, and it leads to the second plateau and a great spot for some epic photos!
It's a special spot - you can tell since lots of boats and helicopters pass by. The helicopters actually fly in a bit lower than the trail's vantage point!
We met a couple that went out to another look out point for their hike and they got this awesome photo of us on this second plateau (see in the gallery below). I decided to head all the way to the tip of the ridge after seeing the couple do so and it was incredible - but really scary, and really shouldn't be done without understanding the risk. It got pretty narrow, about two shoulder lengths wide. Not too bad, but risky when the the ends of the path just jut down.
The hike back was grueling, and even more boring than on the way down since it's still not scenic and it's all up hill. Pace yourselves correctly and take water breaks. We both decided the hike was worth it, especially since the weather worked out for us. But, that we wouldn't likely do the hike again since we've gotten to experience the vista point now and the hike there and back wasn't that special.
The Kalalau Lookout
We did another bathroom stop here and decided to take photos as we ate some of our family sized Maui onion chips, nom. Our first stops at the lookout points were early and totally empty! It got crowded later in the day. We were pretty tired after Awa'awapuhi trail and were deciding between Canyon trail to the iconic waterfall (see photo from look out point below) or going back up to Pihia trail (2 miles shorter, but I don't think is actually easier because of the muddy conditions we hit). Here are a few photos from the gorgeous Kalalau Lookout point break that we took (below).
The Pihia Trail
We headed back up to the Pu'u O Kila Lookout for more photos and decided to do the Phia trail since we didn't think we could handle anything more than that. We were thinking that this would be a quick and easy out and back (2 miles total). But, it wasn't! Because of how the mud was drying on the trail, it deceivingly looked easy from the start, but we were doing some serious scrambling (full on use of hands) and trudging through mud. It was pretty dry at the start and we went further, it became more covered, read: wet! There were platforms built up in the worst places, but because we did get rain the week prior, there were areas of the trail in deep mud. Likely because of the rain we got, there were also what looked like mud slides toward the end of the trail where we were climbing with our hands up chunks of mud/trail, as high as our hips!
The view changes little on the way down, but the framing was totally different in certain spots and could feel quite different. It's definitely worth it to go at least partway down the trail. Toward the start of the trail you can see both sides of the ridge, inland and the ocean views. The fog rolled in and out as we were hiking and that was pretty stunning to see real time and happening so quickly.
Waimea Canyon stops
After 8 miles of hiking, we were tired! And we would come to realize, super sore for the next few days. So, we stopped by Waimea Canyon lookout for the iconic "Grand Canyon"-esque view and then realized we couldn't see the waterfall from there, so stopped once more (on the side of the road a bit further down the road) before heading home. It was around 3pm when we finished everything up for the day and we really wanted shave ice - Poipu/Koloa doesn't have one that's well rated so we went to Jojo's in Waimea town. Perfect end to a great day in the west side of Kauai.
Quit my non-profit career in a fit of YOLO rage. Blessed enough to go from wanderlust to wanderslut. Collecting cities & countries, not men.