Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park: Best Views and Hikes
Waimea Canyon State Park and Koke’e State Park are both incredible and very different state parks located next to each other along highway 550 in Kauai. Waimea Canyon State Park is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, with its red and green canyon walls, waterfalls, and river. Koke’e State Park has a lush rainforest and is at a higher elevation. Koke’e State Park has views of the Napali Coast, with several hikes and lookouts that take you to a view of the valley. It is worth spending one or two days in this part of the island, visiting Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks, hiking the beautiful trails, and taking in the breathtaking views.
How to Get to Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park
Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park are located on the west side of Kauai. State highway 550 takes you up through the parks, first to Waimea Canyon State Park and then to Koke’e State Park.
Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park Packing List
- Hiking Bag: Bring a comfortable daypack to carry everything you need for the hikes.
- Camera: Don’t forget your camera to capture these incredible parks
- Rain Jacket: This part of the island gets a lot of rain, especially Koke’e State Park. Make sure to bring a rain jacket so you can continue exploring.
- Waterproof Bag: You will definitely want to bring a camera but if it rains you need something to keep it dry. I bring this waterproof bag with me on any hike where it could rain. It’s extremely lightweight and barely takes up any space.
- Water bottle: Make sure to bring enough water with you for the day so you don’t have to worry about finding a spot to refill.
- Snacks: The only food you will find in these parks is at Koke’e Lodge, so make sure to eat a good breakfast before and bring some high protein snacks with you like cliff bars or trail mix.
- Hiking Boots: If you are planning on doing any longer hike I recommend wearing hiking boots. Many of the hikes can get muddy because of all the rain this part of the island gets.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Waimea Canyon is 14 miles long, about 1 mile wide, and over 3,500 feet deep. The canyon has red cliffs and green vegetation on the canyon walls, with the Waimea River going through the canyon and waterfalls along the ridges.
Waimea Canyon Lookouts
There are several viewpoints of Waimea Canyon as you drive up highway 550 through the park. Most of the lookouts only require a short walk to see the view. You should take the time to stop in several different lookouts to see the differing views. At some of the lookouts you can see the large waterfall, Waipo’o Falls in Waimea Canyon. At mile marker 13 you will find the popular Pu Hinahina lookout. This lookout has views of Waimea canyon and Waipo’o Falls in the distance.
Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls
The best trail in Waimea Canyon is the 3.2 mile moderate Canyon Trail. This hike takes you down through the forest for the majority of it until the trees start clearing out and you see views of the canyon. Eventually you reach a part on a ridge of the canyon with incredible views. You will continue to hike to a small waterfall and if you are not afraid you can continue to the larger waterfall, Waipo’o Falls, and stand right next to it. This trail is a little muddy, and could be a lot more muddy depending on the amount of rain this part of the island has had recently. I highly recommend hiking boots for this hike.
Koke'e State Park
Koke’e State Park is located at about 3,200 to 4,200 ft elevation, and is the perfect place to go for views of the Napali Coast. There are many viewpoints and hikes at Koke’e State Park where you can take in the beauty of the Napali Coast and the island of Kauai. Some of the most popular hiking trails at Koke’e State Park include: Alakai Swamp Trail, Awaʻawapuhi Trail, Kawaikoi Stream Trail, Nuʻalolo Cliffs Trail, Nuʻalolo Trail, Pihea Trail, Poomau Canyon Lookout Trail. If you only have time for one trail I recommend hiking Awa’awapuhi Trail which has incredible views of the Napali Coast valley. There is a $5 parking fee for Koke’e State Park for non-Hawaii residents.
There are great views of Napali coast in Koke’e State Park. Unfortunately, sometimes the view can be covered by clouds but the clouds come and go so you should keep trying. We tried to see the view before we started the Awa’awapuhi Trail and it was too cloudy to see anything, and then we came back to the viewpoints after and it had cleared up. The first viewpoint is Kalalau lookout which is also where the Kalepa Ridge Trail starts.
Pu'u O Kila Lookout
The next viewpoint is Pu’u O Kila Lookout which is further up the mountain. From here you can also see the cloud over Mount Wai’ale’ale which is one of the wettest spots on earth at elevation 5148 feet. This viewpoint is also where a hike called the Pihea Trail starts. It is nice to walk part of the trail to enjoy more perspectives of the Napali Coast.
Awa’awapuhi Trail is a difficult 6.2 mile trail to a breathtaking viewpoint of the Napali Coast and a ridge that you can stand on and take in the views. This trail starts at mile marker 17 on highway 550. The elevation gain is 1,180 feet, and you start the hike descending so the hike ends at 2,500 ft elevation. This trail can get very muddy so make sure you have hiking boots. It is significantly muddier in the beginning of the trail and then it gets better as the forest starts to open up. Most of the hike is through the rainforest but about 1.75 miles in it starts to open up and you can see views of ocean and surrounding mountains at different points through the trees. At about 2 miles there is an opening you can climb up a rock for a view of ocean. At the end of the hike there are multiple viewpoints. First there is the more obvious viewpoint on the ridge where all the people are, but there is another view where you can look down into a valley. You will see a sign that says Vistas and points left and straight, make sure to look at both viewpoints.
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