As the backdrop of Kauai’s famed Na Pali Coast, the Kokee State Park may not get as much press as those rugged sea cliffs far below. However, without those mountains the North Coast would certainly lose its luster. Located in northwest Kaua‘i above the natural wonder of Waimea Canyon, Koke`e State Park is home to those rugged mountains as well as incredible native plant life. Visitors here are treated to unique and stunning views of the scenic Kalalau Valley on the Na Pali Coast below, a vantage point you simply cannot find anywhere else.
Don’t Overlook This Overlook
Easy to skip when visiting the more famous park at Waimea, the secluded paradise of the Kokee State Park offers an incredible glimpse back in time to the pristine wilderness of wild Kauai. Visitors can enjoy an informative museum with exhibits on the local ecosystem, flora and fauna, and the unique weather systems that bring so much rain to Kaua‘i (nearby Mt. Waialeale is one of the wettest places on Earth). Scenic overlooks and hiking trails ranging from short walks to day hikes to full excursions allow visitors to explore the native forests and cliffside vantage points with ease, and are suited to all ages and abilities.
The End of the Road
The mountains dominate the interior of the island, and getting to them is relatively easy. In fact, at 4,000 feet, this is the highest elevation you can drive to in all of Kauai. The state park is located at the end of State Road 550, after it travels through Waimea Canyon State Park. Above the canyon the road climbs even higher until it reaches a plateau at 4,200 feet. Koke`e State Park consists of 4,300 acres of mountainous terrain, covered in native forests of koa and ohi`a lehua trees. Indigenous vegetation makes this an ideal spot for bird watching, and the forests are home to numerous native bird species. While the road ends at the breathtaking Kalalau Valley lookout, along the way a charming lodge offers visitors a hot meal, information, and a chance to pick up souvenirs. Cabins and campsites are also available.
Hiking the Kokee State Park
The terrain here may be rugged and mountainous, but that just makes for better views. A series of well-maintained trails allows hikers of all skill levels to explore the park and gain better vantages of the Kalalau Valley, Na Pali Coast, and Waimea Canyon. Here are some of the more popular Kokee State Park trails:
Canyon Trail (1.8 mi) – following the rim of the canyon and crossing the Koke`e Stream, offers incredible views of Waimea and Po`omau Canyons. Keep an eye out for wild goats!
Cliff Trail (0.1 mi) – a short spur that leads to the Waimea Canyon Lookout
Iliau Nature Loop (0.25 mi) – follows the road through native shrubland, with signs identifying various flora and fauna. Stunning views of Waimea and Waialae Canyons.
Alaka`i Swamp Trail (3.5 mi) – winds through damp forests to the rim of the Wainiha Pali (pali is Hawaiian for “cliff”), with panoramic views of the North Shore. Great for birding, the trail is often muddy and wet, with boardwalks in many places to provide much needed traction.
Awa`awapuhi Trail (3.25 mi) – Winds through mesic forests on the edge of the Nu`alolo and Awa`awapuhi Valleys on the North Shore, dropping a quarter-mile in elevation in the process.
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