Backpacking in Kauai
This hike begins where the Kukui Trail hike ended. After taking in the view, you go 1/4 mile farther and then reach a bare area where erosion has made the trail indistinct. Proceed downhill to a saddle and turn left, where you'll find the trail discernable again. (The trail does not go up hill 2009; see map.) You make a switchback, pass some pukiawe and aalii, and you soon reach a steep, long, bare slope of colorful soil that trends north-northwest toward Poo Kaeha, the prominent butte down in the canyon and to the north. Swamp mahogany and a telephone line border this slope. You're treated to constantly changing, breathtaking views as you carefully descend 540 feet on this slope by following the occasional duck and a beaten path that switchbacks across the slope to the forested edge of the next segment. If you haven't put on your mosquito repellent yet, do so before plunging into the forest!
Into the Forest
The trail bears east (right) into the forest and begins a steep, switchbacking descent under a dense cover of kukui, silk oak, and swamp mahogany. You emerge past some sisal plants at forested Wiliwili Camp 2 1/2 miles from the trailhead, where a striking dark-red cliff looms on the other side of the river. Look for the bright red, navy-bean-like seeds of the wiliwili tree here. The trees are covered with wood rose and blue morning glory, and the dense undergrowth is full of weeds with very sticky seeds. Wiliwili Camp has a pavilion, table, pit toilet, and room to pitch a tent. The river is a few steps away on the other side of the trail that runs along the canyon floor past Wiliwili C& that trail is the remnant of a road.
If Wiliwili Camp does not suit you, other tent sites may be hard to locate in all the vegetation. You may prefer to continue another 1/2 mile north and across the Waimea River to Kaluahaulu Camp if you are confident about toting a full pack over small cliffs. But to get there you must first cross the river, provided it is low. I don't recommend backpacking into Koaie Canyon. (Local pronunciation of"Koaie" is "KWY-uh.")
Backpackers will find that there are at least three good options for dayhikes from Wiliwili Camp: to the Waimea River, Koaie Canyon, and the Northern Dam. The inner-canyon views from Wiliwili Camp are unremarkable, so dayhikers may want to walk upriver 1/2 mile to enjoy some colorful inner-canyon views by going to the river crossing for the Koaie Canyon trail. Very sturdy dayhikers may want to combine this trip with Waimea River and go all the way downriver to Waimea town if the water is low and they can arrange the necessary shuttle.
Retrace your steps when you're ready to head back.
For dayhikers: If you plan to hike south down the Waimea River beyond Waialae Stream, get one of the permits from the self-issue dispensing box for the Mokihana Ridge Game Management Area at the hunter's check station when you sign in.
For backpackers: You must apply to the Division of Forestry and Wildlife in Lihue for permission to camp in Waimea Canyon. Their address is:
Department of Land and Natural Resources
Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Kauai District
4398 Pua Loke Street, Apartment D
Lihue, Kauai, HI 96766
Their phone number is 808 241-3396.
Identification is not required for the permit.
Waimea Canyon (Puu Ka Pele Forest Reserve) regulations currently limit your stay in Waimea Canyon to 4 overnights in any 30-day period. Pack out all your trash. You may not stay more than 2 consecutive nights at any one campsite. Open fires are not allowed, so bring and use a backpacker's stove. The use of the shelters (pavilions) at the four established campsites (Wiliwili and Kaluahaulu in Waimea Canyon itself, Hipalau and Lonomea in Koaie Canyon) is on a first-come, first-served basis. You may not camp down river south of Waialae Stream.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication