Exciting Kauai Excursions: Waimea Canyon and Koke'e Park
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
There are endless excursions on the Garden Island that will etch lasting memories in your mind. The places that you visit will become part of the stories you will share with friends and family! Whether a Kauai Honeymoon, well deserved vacation or special occasion, add a visit to Waimea Canyon and Koke'e Park to your list of Kauai Adventures.
If you have researched Kauai, then you likely have read about Waimea Canyon and Koke'e Park. Whether you opt for a challenging outdoor adventure that includes hiking the trails or prefer an easier outing by car with stops at lookout points, you will view natural landscapes like none ever experienced before. So, pack your water, camera, sun screen, snacks, and appropriate footwear and get out there!
Choosing proper clothing for a Waimea Canyon/Koke'e visit is easy. Make sure you have a light rain jacket and sweatshirt and a good pair of hiking shoes. Bring shorts and a t-shirt as well. While it can be warm, this area can also be cool and misty. The canyon is more open and dry and Koke'e is a cloud forest with a canopy of trees and dense understory. A lightweight pair of pants are a good idea to protect your legs when hiking this area. If you are leaving from Hale Kokio plan on about a 1hr 30 minute drive to the Canyon.
There are many lookouts from Waimea Canyon Road. Many of these have restrooms. Most of the lookouts are handicapped accessible. One of the most popular one is the Kalalau lookout. It is the only place on the island where you can see this remote valley via car. On a clear day, you can look down into the valley that is the end point of the 11 mile Na Pali Coast trail.
Trails in the canyon range from easy to difficult. Many trailheads can be found off of Koke'e Road, with some, including the Cliff Trail Lookout and the Waipo'o Falls Trail, accessible from the Pu'u Hinahina lookout point. For details of trails see a guide book for full descriptions. Your choice of trail will depend upon the members of your group, the appropriate level of difficulty and the amount of time that you want to allow for the excursion. Waimea Canyon Hiking Guide
Kokee State Park
While next to Waimea Canyon, Koke'e State Park has a completely different makeup. Koke'e Park occupies thousands of acres of rainforest, (the farther you drive up Koke'e, the colder it gets).
Travelers commonly explore the park via car since the main road through Koke'e cuts through the park.
Be sure to visit the Kalalau Lookout and the Pu'u O Kila Lookout for stunning views of the Napali Cliffs, above.
The forest is full of native plants, such as koa, mokihana berry, ohia lehua, and iliau (similar to Maui's silversword), as well as imports like Australia's eucalyptus and California's redwood. Pigs, goats, and black-tailed deer thrive in the forest.
The Koke'e Natural History Museum (tel. 808/335-9975; www.kokee.org), is open daily from 10am to 4pm (free admission). This is the best place to learn about the forest and Alakai Swamp before you set off hiking in the wild. The museum shop has great trail information and local books and maps, including the official park trail map. We recommend getting the Pocket Guide on Native Plants on the Nature Trail for Koke'e State Park
A nature walk is the best introduction to this rainforest; it starts behind the museum at the rare Hawaiian koa tree. This easy, self-guided walk of about a quarter mile takes about 20 minutes if you stop and look at all the plants identified along the way.
The restaurant at Koke'e Lodge is open for breakfast and lunch daily from 9am to 2:30pm. It has recently changed hands and now offers some great food, an espresso machine, and a bar. For information, contact the State Division of Parks, 3060 Eiwa St., Room 306, Lihue, HI 96766 (tel. 808/274-3444); and the Koke'e Lodge Manager, P.O. Box 819, Waimea, HI 96796 (tel. 808/335-6061).