Lunar landscapes were all the rage for a while, sending waves of people to trek out to Iceland to see barren volcanic lands full of pristine and isolated beauty (and if you’re planning on heading out to Iceland, make sure to check out our guide along Iceland’s ring road). But as cool and in vogue as Iceland is, lunar wonders pale in comparison to Martian outcroppings. And it is hard to find anything quite as Martian as the red soil at the aptly named Red Dirt Waterfall on the drive up to Waimea Canyon.
Just off the shoulder on Route 550 heading towards the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Red Dirt Waterfall can seem insignificant in comparison to the wonders ahead. Indeed, short of a heavy rain, the waterfall itself might be little more than a vibrant blue stream slushing its way through a riverbed on Mars. After any amount of precipitation, though—which is not rare on Hawaii’s Garden Island—the little stream grows to become a bubbling brook that cascades down some twenty feet; the water and the wild grasses growing alongside it become the only break in color from an otherwise brilliant crimson scene.
Pulling onto shoulder parking in the area, the base of the waterfall presents an unworldly staging ground for pictures, as people pop against red soil formed from millennia of iron-rich basalt rock breaking down and oxidizing. Clambering up the side of the waterfall and hiking up its headwaters presents an even more unique experience of climbing along ridges and within dried out channels—some at least six feet deep—mirroring the flow of the river.
Within these channels is a sole expanse of red rock, red soil, and blue sky—at least for us when we were there. Such colors and experiences dazzle the eye as you glance sideways, seeing the azure of the stream carving a new channel through time, flanked by wild grasses thirsty for support.
While the base of the waterfall can also become somewhat crowded based on time of day and the number of tourists present, hiking up the headwaters also presented Jen and myself with an almost total isolation—a welcome reprieve from the increasing number of other tourists who ply Waimea Canyon as the day progresses—and a profound sense of wonder at the beauty of Kauai.
Which is all to say, Red Dirt Waterfall—though hardly recognized as a place to visit in Hawaii—was perhaps the most wondrous location we visited on the islands.
Want to save this post for later?