Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a beautiful gorge on the southwestern part of Kauai. It’s one of the island’s top attractions. As a result, the canyon is a must see for anyone visiting the Garden Isle.

The Canyon’s Dimensions

Waimea Canyon is over 10 miles long, over 1 mile at its widest and about 3,000 feet deep. As a basis of comparison, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is over 277 miles long, 10 miles at its widest and over 1 mile deep. But this canyon still offers some of the same views of its larger cousin on the mainland, albeit on a smaller scale.

It is said that Mark Twain was the first who called Waimea Canyon the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. But others believed he never visited the canyon or even the island of Kauai. But whatever the case, many visitors would feel that calling it the Grand Canyon of the Pacific would be appropriate.

Forces Creating Waimea Canyon

As with most canyons, millions of years of constant erosive forces created Waimea Canyon. Kauai has one of the wettest spots on earth, with more than 400 inches of rain annually. This large volume of rainfalls feeds the Waimea River system which continues to shape the  5 million years old canyon.

But another factor that helped to create Waimea Canyon was volcanic activity. Two separate lava flows created the west and east sides of the canyon. The east side sank over a million years ago forming a depression which another separate lava flow partially filled. But the Waimea River and numerous smaller streams have continually eroded and shaped the canyon floor since then. Waimea in Hawaiian means red river and it’s an appropriate name. This because the river’s erosive forces have exposed the reddish hues of the canyon walls over the millennia.

One of the best ways to view majestic Waimea Canyon is to view it from the lookout area at Waimea Canyon State Park. Here, you can get the same type of views when the canyon was prominently featured in the 1963 movie Donovan’s Reef starring John Wayne. The park and the lookout are open to the public on all days during daylight hours. There is no fee for entering the park.