Visit Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks
Of all the forms of unexpected terrain on Kauai, the Waimea Canyon may be the most surprising. Perched above the town of Waimea on Kauai's Westside, this "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" is truly spectacular. The Canyon has formed due to over 5 million years of erosion and weathering. With plenty of pullouts and lookouts, you can make a supreme photo safari with a day spent exploring this park. The elevation gain is several thousand feet, so be prepared for a little cooler weather and perhaps even fog. The thick native forest that fills this park has amazing diversity of native and introduced species. Don't be surprised if you come across the native Nene goose, wild chickens or even the occasional goat, as all frequent the canyon rim.
At a Glance:
Highlights: Rich with deep earthen colors, the landscape of Waimea Canyon creates vivid memories. The landscape is truly epic and surprisingly close to great Westside beaches making for an excellent day trip when combined.
Location: above Waimea, Kauai
Activity Level: Easy to moderate to strenuous depending on choice of activities
Equipment: Sturdy shoes, layers for chilly temperatures, rain gear, water and food.
Warnings!: Follow all posted warnings within park grounds. Many of the roadside pullouts have little more then a guardrail keeping you from thousand foot tall drop offs so be cautious. If you have questions, consult the staff at the Kokee Museum as they have maps and valuable information about current conditions
Reservations: None needed.
The rare treat of driving from sunny balmy Hawaiian beaches to a mountaintop full of forests and wildlife is not to be ignored. The experience of visiting Waimea Canyon is a must do for any Kauai vacation. Come prepared for the cooler climate and the potential for rain showers and you will not be disappointed. Some of the best picture postcard views of Kauai are at the lookouts in this park. As you travel up the ridge road to Kokee (ko-kay-ay) you will cross between 2 conjoined state parks, the upper park is known as Kokee State Park and has a lodge and museum there represent the only staffed portions of the area. The upper Kokee lookouts are not to be missed. The road ends at Pu'u O Kila lookout and a high mountain panorama. When the clouds are lifted, the striking lush and green Kalalau Valley centerpiece of the Na Pali Coast wilderness is visible below all the way to the azure blue ocean. To the east the forests above Mount Waialeale (why-a-lay-a-lay) the reported wettest spot on earth, the source of the abundant water needed to make the canyon below.
This miniature version of the "Grand Canyon" is a small fraction of its age, forming just in the last 4 million years. First by a cataclysmic collapse of the volcano that formed Kauai, then erosion. The volcanic rocks forming the island are brittle and easily eroded, as millennia upon millennia of floodwaters wash down through the Waime River and its tributaries the crumbling bits of canyon have flowed down to the sea. Waimea (why-may-a) means "reddish water" in translation from Hawaiian, and this red is reflected bits of this brittle canyons walls pulverized into the river. The beaches and landmass from Waimea towns coast to Kekaha and Polihale Beaches was created by sediments eroded from the Waimea Canyon over time. This amazing fact helps in the understanding of the wonder and power of this special place.
Make this a day trip with as much time as needed to get the most out of the experience. If the weather turns bad, just head to the beaches near Kekaha and Polihale for a great reboot of your day. Often you will find the end of the road in Kokee Park gets cloudy more then the other portions of the parks. If the mountain summits look clear it is recommended to start at the top of the park and work your way down through the various lookouts. If you have questions, consult the staff at the Kokee Museum as they have maps and valuable information about current conditions
The Lodge in Koke'e is the only amenities, food and snacks in the area. They are open 9 am to 4 pm 7 days a week. The charming restaurant inside is a great place to warm up and dine while up in the park. Added bonus of a roaring fire in the fireplace in the center room is a plus if you get a chill.
Contact the Koke'e Museum for weather or info:
Phone: 808-335-9975 Website for Park amenities: http://www.thelodgeatkokee.net
Koke'e Park Trail Map Link:
State Park Website for Koke'e:
From HI 50/Kaumuali'I Hwy in Waimea look for junction of HI route-550 aka Waimea Canyon Road. Turn right and follow the road 6.7 miles uphill and merge with Kokee Road. Follow signs for pullout and scenic vista locations.