Home family travel Kauai with Kids: Tips for a good family day trip to Waimea Canyon–even with a toddler in tow

Kauai with Kids: Tips for a good family day trip to Waimea Canyon–even with a toddler in tow

by Shelly Rivoli

If you’re like many travelers heading to Kauai for the first time, you’d probably like to work in a visit to scenic Waimea Canyon during your visit. But if you’re like many travelers heading to Kauai with kids–especially with a toddler in tow, you might be wondering if it’s worth the time spent in the rental car (and away from the beaches, coral reefs, salt water lagoon, and swimming pool) to go see the geologic landmark.

WAimea Canyon Overlook, Kauai

Waimea Canyon Overlook: “Yep, that sure is a beautiful canyon. Now what?”

I can tell you that I was glad to see the colorful canyon in person–and while I wouldn’t call it the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” as tour operators do, it did exceed my expectations and it was fun to see yet another side to the Garden Island’s personality. As for my children, however, calling on the canyon itself was clearly not a highlight of their Kauai vacation. So would I recommend you visit Waimea Canyon with your own kids?

If you’d like to see it, absolutely.

You should just be aware that for very young children, the number of minutes he or she will contentedly stare into the canyon is likely to correspond directly with their age in years. For my youngest, this meant 3.17 minutes. So you can see the importance of having a larger plan–in fact, an entire day trip–in place for a successful visit to Waimea Canyon during your vacation in Kauai with kids.

Fortunately, unlike Maui’s epic Road to Hana, you can reach the main overlook at Waimea Canyon in an hour traveling from Poipu, or in an hour and fifteen minutes traveling from the beach resorts along Lihue / Wailua / Kapaa. And with these rewards built-in along the way, your Kauai day trip east is sure to have something in it for everyone to enjoy.

Here’s how I recommend you plan your day trip to Waimea Canyon with young kids.

  1. Go in the morning, on a week day if possible. While you don’t have to be there at dawn, thank goodness, you will all be more comfortable visiting the canyon before the temperature reaches its high for the day. The parking and viewpoints will be less crowded as well. Not to mention, by visiting the canyon first, you’ll have the rest of the day to enjoy the stops along your return (rewards!).
  2. Bring an ice chest with plenty of water and snacks to help stay refreshed throughout your day trip. When touring Kauai, you can put in some distance before finding more shops and markets, and there are such lovely places to stop along the way for a picnic or snack.

    kids eating fresh sugarcane

    First fresh sugarcane: A favorite memory from Kauai (and yes, from the Waimea Canyon day trip, too).

  3. Don’t stop at every view point. With kids along for the ride, one will suffice. I suggest you make it the most established view point clearly labeled “Waimea Canyon Lookout,” which has large viewing areas and a wheelchair-accessible path your toddler can run up and down, or you can push a stroller up if need be. This is also where you are most likely to encounter people selling cold coconut, fresh pineapple, sugarcane, and with any luck… shave ice.
  4. After you get your photos at the overlook, treat the kids to cold coconut, fresh pineapple, or sugarcane (reward!). One of the happiest moments and memories for my kids from their visit to Waimea Canyon is that it’s the place where they first tried real sugarcane. That’s a fun memory.
  5. Let the kids climb the tree near the restrooms (after using them—reward!) and chase the chickens for a while before loading back into the car. As a flock of kids gravitated to each other around the easy-climb tree, an impromptu playdate ensued and was one of the unexpected highlights of our day trip.

    On the Iliau Nature Loop Trail, a short hike with kids at Waimeia Canyon.

    Hiking in Kauai with kids: On the Iliau Nature Loop Trail, a short hike with kids at Waimea Canyon.

  6. Do a short family hike on the Iliau Nature Loop Trail, but only if you are up for it and it’s not unbearably hot. Although it’s only 1/3 mile long, the sun and heat can make it feel much longer to young children or the parents carrying them. The trail begins near the mile 9 marker (about 3/4 mile past the mile 8 marker – watch for cars parked on the shoulder). While this is also the beginning of the 5-mile Kukui Trail, the direct tropical sun, heat, dry conditions and steep path is not a good combination for most families with young children. On the Iliau Nature Loop Trail, however, you’ll still enjoy a couple of nice views of the canyon, have a bench or two to rest on if needed, and if you’re like us, you’ll have the thrill of meeting an authentic Kauai wild pig hunter returning with his horse and hunting dogs along the way (another favorite memory my kids have from our canyon visit). Bring plenty of water, even for this short walk.

    Island Taco in kauai

    Dining in Kauai with kids at Island Taco: seriously good tacos for grown-ups, keiki menu for kids.

  7. Stop for lunch at Island Taco in Waimea (approx. 30 minutes from the Waimea Canyon Lookout). This small restaurant with outdoor seating is right on your path and has some of the best tacos you will find on Kauai, shaded outdoor tables, and even a kids menu. You’ll find it at 9643 Kaumualii Highway (a.k.a. 50), Waimea, 3 miles west of the turnoff for Waimea Canyon Drive). They’re open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

    Salt Pond Park, Kauai

    Low tide is best for younger kids visiting Salt Pond Park–see why?

  8. Hit the beach at Salt Pond Park (approx. 10 minutes from Island Taco). This is where you’ll be glad to have some good snacks and drinks with you as there are no markets or restaurants near this beach, but the swimming and tidepooling with kids can be fantastic, especially at low tide, and you may want to stay quite a while. Since Salt Pond Park is very popular with the locals, it can get very crowded on weekends—one more reason why I recommend you make this trip on a weekday if possible. You can read more about Salt Pond Park in this post.

Depending on the timing of the tides and your own family’s schedule (let jetlag work to your advantage here), you might want to mix up these points of interest and activities accordingly.

For more tips, advice, and recommendations for your vacation in Kauai with kids, take a look at these related posts.

The 411 on Kauai with Kids (written for our sister site Fmaily Travel 411)

Kauai’s Salt Pond Park: Beach Haven for Little Kids and Little Critters

Kauai’s best beach for babies and toddlers

Kauai’s best north shore beaches for kids

Kauai’s best playground (and off-airport waiting area for families)

Tips for visiting Kauai’s National Tropical Botanical Gardens at Poipu

Review of Castle Kaha Lani condominiums and resort

Review of Aqua Kauai Beach Resort

Juice truck at Hanalei

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Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks

Twitter     Facebook     Travels with Baby on Facebook     Pinterest

What?! Your kids aren’t babies anymore? Head over to Family Travel 411

Curious about this content? See my editorial content disclosure.

 

 

 

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14 comments

Bethaney - Flashpacker Family August 14, 2014 - 11:54 am

Doing this today and following your instructions!!!!

Shelly Rivoli August 27, 2014 - 8:25 pm

Awesome! Have fun & enjoy the cold coconut! 😉

Marina K. Villatoro September 18, 2013 - 2:25 pm

Good question – now what? That’s how my kids are about beautiful scenic spots too.

And tree climbing any where helps so much, especially when you have 2 boys that still can’t get that you can simply look at a place to enjoy it.

Wish my kids would find your snacks a reward, they aren’t big on fruit just yet. Hoping it will happen soon.

Shelly Rivoli September 18, 2013 - 8:38 pm

I think it’s mostly a canyon thing with them – giant redwoods we can all relate to with appreciation! (and the millipedes that thrive in gulleys around them)

Shaun Hoobler September 18, 2013 - 4:48 am

Beautiful shots. Especially the Waimea Canyon. It’s so picturesque.

Shelly Rivoli September 18, 2013 - 8:37 pm

Thanks, Shaun! I don’t know what happened with the lead photo here, but I’ll have to redo. The rest show the colors of the canyon so much better.

wanderingeducators September 17, 2013 - 12:28 pm

what a beautiful place! i’d LOVE to spend time and explore waimea canyon.

Elea September 17, 2013 - 9:17 am

Great tips and so true. Even at the Grand Canyon -with an 8 year old- there were only so many times we could stop to look at the view.

Shelly Rivoli September 18, 2013 - 8:36 pm

That’s actually something I remember from my own childhood road trip – and why we didn’t take the lengthy detour to the Grand Canyon this time around and headed straight for Bryce Canyon instead! 😉

Travelogged September 17, 2013 - 6:16 am

Wow — that’s amazing. I didn’t know that existed. As the mom of a two-year-old, a sympathize how they just don’t seem to care about natural wonders… He is, however, willing to stare at an active construction site for like 30 minutes.

Shelly Rivoli September 18, 2013 - 8:35 pm

(lol) Agreed – and garbage trucks working their way down the street… fortunately aquariums seem to please us all.

Micki at The Barefoot Nomad September 16, 2013 - 1:50 pm

Hi Shelly, it’s been while since we met at TBEX in Toronto, but it’s so nice to finally get a chance to check out your blog. 🙂
Island Taco looks fantastic. I’ve never been to Kauai, but it looks like the exact same relaxed island vibe as in the (less touristy) parts of Oahu.

Shelly Rivoli September 18, 2013 - 8:33 pm

Hi Micki! Yes, glad you could stop by – cheers! And definitely check out the tacos when you do make it to Kauai. The island is not without its glamorous hideaways, but overall its a perfect retreat for the barefoot nomad (and family). 😉

Heidi Wagoner September 16, 2013 - 12:01 pm

This looks like a fantastic plan to follow. I do love Hawaii, but have only been to 3 of the islands. I will remember this for next time.

Comments are closed.

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