Standing at the edge of the red bowl of Kauai’s Waimea Canyon, it’s hard to imagine a more spectacular sight. At 3,600 feet, the main lookout presents panoramic views of “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” a deep, colorful gorge accented by waterfalls, a snaking riverbed, frequent rainbows and goats teetering on rugged cliffsides as narrow as tightropes.
Waimea Canyon is easily accessible. There are numerous hikes that lead you to the canyon floor or along its rim. You can even drive a car right up to its edge. Or you can opt for an exhilarating downhill bike tour of the canyon, complete with scenic stops, photo ops and knowledgeable guides who spout fascinating facts about Kauai’s unique geology, history and modern culture. Only Outfitters Kauai offers this unique bicycle tour.
“It’s kind of like a nature walk on wheels,” says Nicole Maxwell, Outfitters Kauai’s quality assurance manager and a frequent guide on the Waimea Canyon downhill bike tour. “On top of seeing the incredible sights of the canyon, you get the experience of riding down the paved road on a bike versus driving down in a car. It’s totally different. On the bike, you’re out in the elements, you can hear the birds chirping, you can smell the flowers blooming and you get a better sense of what it’s like to be in nature there. There’s just so much more that the downhill bike experience offers that you can’t get from seeing the canyon from the inside of your car window.”
The tour, $108 for adults, begins at Outfitters Kauai’s Poipu office, where riders check in and ready themselves for a 4 1/2 hour adventure. Next, guests load into a van for a 45-minute drive to the top of the canyon. Along the way, guides dish interesting facts about the communities and sights along the route.
At the summit, passengers unload from the the vehicle and march toward the canyon’s rim, where guides assist in photo-taking. Then it’s time to mount a bicycle for the downhill journey back to sea level. Just a few cranks of the pedals provide all the manpower necessary to get your bike cruising down the hill at a pace of about 15 to 20 miles per hour. This is not a workout — it’s a slow and mellow journey.
On the way down, bicyclists make several stops. One is at a little-known vista with views not only of Waimea Canyon, but also of the island’s entire western shoreline.
“It’s probably my favorite viewpoint on the island,” Maxwell says. “You have this absolutely vast view of the coast, just miles and miles of coastline, and then at the same time you get to peer into the depths of the canyon.”
The final stop is at a lookout of the Forbidden Island of Niihau, to which there’s no permitted entry — unless you’re one of the isle’s Native Hawaiian residents or the recipient of a rare invitation from the private island’s owners. Niihau has no police, no paved roads and no currency of value. The 70-square mile island off the west coast of Kauai serves to preserve Hawaiian culture by keeping the archipelago’s original language and lifestyle alive.
Outfitters Kauai offers morning and evening tours, with check-in times at 6 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., respectively. The early bird bike tour includes fresh-brewed Kauai coffee and blueberry muffins hot out of the oven. On the afternoon tour, riders receive cold soft drinks, spring water and Hanalima Bakery cookies.
Riders must be at least 12 years of age. A light jacket is recommended and closed-toe shoes are mandatory. Cameras are strongly encouraged.
“For me, I guide a multitude of tours here at Outfitters Kauai and the downhill bicycle ride is the only tour where at the end of the day my mouth literally hurts from smiling so much,” Maxwell says. “You’re going through forested areas with ancient trees that are on the endangered species list and often you’re seeing birds on the endangered species list. It’s definitely the best and most fun way to see the canyon because you really get to be right there in it.”
Outfitters Kauai, Waimea Canyon downhill bike tour, (808) 742-9667, outfitterskauai.com.