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Sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Kauai’s Waimea Canyon is definitely greener than its mainland counterpart. That green contrasts with the red, iron-rich soils found throughout the island, created by the erosion of the island’s lava base. Waimea Canyon is a mile wide, 12 miles long and in some places 3,567 feet deep. The Wailea River threads through the bottom of the gorge, sometimes barely a trickle, at others a raging torrent, fed by hundreds of impromptu waterfalls during heavy rains.
To get a bird’s eye view of Waimea Canyon, and to get into many of its nooks and crannies, try a helicopter tour. These nimble vehicles can hover close to waterfalls and high above the canyon floor, giving you plenty of photo ops. One, Island Helitours, takes you to Manawiopuna Falls, a backdrop for some of the scenes in “Jurassic Park.” The craft lands in a jungle clearing and the guide leads you to the pool at the fall’s base.
Another option is to make the drive to Kauai’s western end and follow State Route 550 to Koke'e State Park. The roadway ends at the Kalaulau Lookout, high above the deep gorges of the canyon. Sometimes the view is shrouded in fog, at others it is a panoramic mix of reds, greens and browns, with perhaps a waterfall or two thrown in. The park itself has 45 miles of trails leading through the jungle-like forest. Bring a backpack with food, water and some extra clothes and go exploring.
Or, spend the night in one of the rustic cabins at the Lodge at Koke'e. No phones or televisions but a restaurant, cocktail lounge and gift shop are onsite. Don’t forget the sunscreen and the bug spray; Waimea Canyon is in the middle of almost nowhere and humans need all the protection they can get.