WAIMEA CANYON, A VA-JOURNEY by Danya Hakeem and Samantha Ruiz

Jane Baumgartner HAWAII Leave a Comment

Waimea Canyon. The “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Many have seen it from above or glimpsed at a picture, but have you been in the depths of her glory? Well, if you haven’t, you absolutely should…

Danya and Samantha share their breathtaking journey through the Waimea Canyon, river crossings and all, as they celebrate and revel in their strengths as individuals and as a group of women exploring Mother Nature. Enjoy their experience, and learn from their advice!

Thank you to these ladies for using OJz to rent the missing camping gear pieces they needed to enjoy their unforgettable weekend.


Waimea Canyon is a natural wonder like nothing else that exists in Hawaii. Very little compares to its majestic beauty. 14 miles of panoramic views and striking vistas, a mosaic of green, red and brown clay, and a mighty flowing red river at it’s base of which the Canyon is named after. Lucky for you, Waimea Canyon is so primitive you’ll finally find the camping solitude you’ve so desperately been seeking in Hawaiʻi.

We had the privilege of soaking in Waimea Canyon’s raw, unfiltered beauty, in late November. Four women set off on a “va-journey” of a lifetime – through the Canyon, all the way to the Lonomea campground. It was a women’s retreat of sorts. Just some badass wahine with 50 lb packs on our back and all the tasty camping treats anyone could ask for. Perfection.

Our va-journey began on Waimea Canyon Drive (rt 550) where we left our rental car. We picked up the Kukui trailhead about ¾ mile past mile marker 8. The trail began at around 2200 ft and consisted primarily of moderately maintained switchbacks on exposed lose soil. We were lucky enough to hike on a cloudy winter day (with a bunch of beautiful rainbows), but on a summer day with full sun, this would be a pretty brutal hike. Luckily, it’s a little less than 3 miles down to the base and the last ¾ mile is shaded by Haole Koa.

Once you get to the bottom of the Kukui trail, you will see the first campsite with a composting toilet and a sign to pick up Koaie Canyon Trail. Do that. Make a left and follow the path until you hit the river, of which you will cross several times before getting to the Lonomea Campsite.

This is where our va-journey got squirrely. The river was running high and pumping fast from weeks’ worth of heavy rain in Kokee State Park and across the islands. That being said, we made our first river crossing with only some light trauma and soggy clothes (Luckily all Outdoor Junkiez sleeping bags stayed dry). After our eventful river crossing, we decided to pit stop for lunch and recover, reminiscing on (and laughing) at the sheer terror in Sam’s face as she was swept in slow motion 20 feet down the river.

Triumphantly, we set back off on our way and what do you know, the trail bends and there is ANOTHER RIVER CROSSING. This was NOT in any of the materials we read. Thanks, Google. We spent an hour trying to make our way across this one, trying every possible way to navigate around, but the river was running so high we couldn’t find any ground to make it across safely.

This was the pivotal moment of the trip. Four ‘Type-A’ women, driven and committed to finishing every task they set out to do – stuck. After some scouting and traversing mountain sides, we came up with a plan B that we all recommitted to with some reservation. We set up camp after the first river crossing, and decided to take on a couple day hikes to further explore the canyon. It was a great plan – or at least that’s what we convinced ourselves.

The next day we set out on a day hike to our original campsite, Lonomea. This meant TWO MORE RIVER CROSSINGS. That’s 3 total. The last one was a breeze because the river had gone down significantly and we had no packs. Walk along another ¼ mile and right before you hit the river for the fourth time, make a right and walk along a dirt road on the side of the river (river is on your left) until you reach the next trailhead for Koaie Trail. IT IS EASY TO MISS. You have to veer to the right for a bit before you will see the sign. After that it is a pretty straightforward 2.5 additional miles to the campsite. The site has a pavilion, composting toilet and access to an amazing rock jump and swimming hole. The river was too high for us to jump, but it looked like a blast. We hiked back and hung out the next day at our campsite along the river, swimming, relaxing around the campfire, and doing all the things a women’s retreat has to offer. We’ll leave that to your imagination.

The hike out of the canyon was a pretty brutal ascent, so I highly recommend you are in relatively good fitness and try not to pack too heavy (we botched both of those). Oh and by the time we left, the river crossings were a total breeze. Definitely check the weather before so you know if it will be plan A or plan B.

It is highly recommended that you do at least 3-4 days in the canyon. The hike takes 5-6 hours to complete, so having some time to relax and enjoy the solitude and breathtaking beauty of the Canyon is an absolute must. Enjoy!

Here is some gear we’d recommend (beyond the usual goodies):
• Trekking poles. The hike down the canyon is tough on the knees and they are always helpful on the river crossing
• Drybags or Plastic Bags: To keep your critical gear dry if it’s been raining recently
• Hammock: Lots of great hammock trees. There are a crazy amount of ants (not the biting kind) in the canyon, so it’s nice to relax above ground. Also, who doesn’t love a hammock.
• Rope: If the river is high some webbing or rope to use to help get gear and people across the river would have been clutch.
• Badger Balm: the mosquitos are pretty gnarly down there (if you’re sweet) so bring some sort of natural bug repellant.
• Goodies for a Fire: there is a plethora of firewood in the canyon (because no one goes down there) so bring whatever you need to make it happen – plus some marshmallows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *