Kokee State Park on the west side is one of Kauai’s most scenic drives, with thousands of people flocking to the mountain region to view its breathtaking grandeur. From the rental car, cascading waterfalls, flowing mountain streams, towering pine trees and colorful flowers can be viewed at every exhilarating turn.
However the best Kokee moments should be experienced out of the rental car, with Kauai’s unmistakable red dirt beneath your feet and the fresh cool air blowing through your hair. We created a list of unique Kokee experiences that will take your visit to this State park from interesting to incredible.
Take a selfie at the Waimea Canyon and Kalalau Lookout
You won’t want to miss the opportunity to show off to your friends (or Snapchat followers) a quick video of yourself basking in the sunlight at the 10 mile long and 3,000 feet deep Waimea Canyon, nicknamed The Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Next stop at the top of Kokee State Park is Kalalau lookout, where clouds swirl around your head as you peer down into Kauai’s most renowned valley, only accessible by boat or an arduous 11-mile hike on the Kalalau Trail. Selfie sticks recommended, but not necessary. Ready, set, snap!
Make a wreath in Kokee Park
Kokee is teeming with amazing plant life. Hui o Laka holds an annual wreath workshop for a small fee at the Kokee Natural History Museum. What better way to incorporate all the lovely flora and fauna in to a souvenir than to weave a wreath that will guaranteed smell as good as it looks. From redwood pines, sugi cedar, native ginger, and other indigenous plants, such as the hard to find maile vine and mokihana berries (the official Kauai flower), there’s enough inspiration throughout the park to get your creative juices flowing.
Attend a festival for a queen
Hawaii’s beloved Queen Emma once journeyed from her vacation home in Lawai to visit the Kokee uplands and Kilohana vista, bringing nearly 100 people with her as she offered oli (chants) to the gods to express her appreciation of the area’s magnificent beauty. The Eo e Emalani i Alakai festival is held every fall in the Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow at Kokee Park to commemorate Queen Emma’s voyage to the Alakai Swamp. Queen Emma was a beautiful leader of the people and each year a respected woman in the Kauai community is selected to represent the queen, as hula halau (school) perform hula and chant in offering to the queen. For information on this annual event, visit www.kokee.org.
Test your limits at 3,000 feet above sea level
Some hikes in Kokee are best left to the adventure seeking folk who are sure footed and in good physical condition. The 3.8 mile Nualolo Trail and 3.1 mile Awaawapuhi Trail are two of those hikes. Both trails lead from the forest to a hot and dry desert-like climate out on the Napali Coast, where piercing green spores and cathedrals point towards heaven while red dirt crumbles on the narrow path beneath your feet. These hikes are not recommended for the faint at heart or those with fear of heights. But the view – 3,000 feet of absolutely spectacular ocean cliffs, where you are perched right on top.
Weave baskets with the vines of one of Kauai’s most invasive plants
While most people on Kauai flock to the beaches for sun and surf over Memorial Day weekend, volunteers gather in Kokee State Park to gather the vines of one of Kauai’s most invasive plant species at the annual Banana Poka Roundup. Banana Poka is one of the most harmful species threatening Kauai’s forests and plants, however their vines make excellent materials for basket weaving. This annual event has turned into a full blown festival with live music, games for keiki, lei making and food booths.
Hike through a swamp near one of the wettest spots on earth
The weather forecast usually calls for rain when hiking the Alakai Wilderness Preserve, known as the Alakai Swamp. After all, it is about as close as you can get to Mount Waialealae, which is one of the wettest spots on earth (the other being in India) and sees over 400 inches of rain each year. Fortunately, the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources has built an elevated boardwalk system that allows you to travel through the 3.5 miles of swampy area with some ease. The trail stops at Kilohana Overlook, with views of Kauai’s north shore from Wainiha Valley to Hanalei Bay.
Go on a nature-filled group date
When playing outdoors on Kauai, we always recommend having a buddy or a few buddies come along. If you are traveling alone, a group hike with the Sierra Club Kauai might be just the right opportunity to make new friends and explore new trails. There is a recommended donation of $5 per person or $1 for ages 18 and under. For the list of upcoming hikes, visit https://sierraclubkauai.org/kauai-group-hikes-clean-ups-service-projects/.
Spend time off the grid in a State cabin
Leave technology behind, get engrossed in a good book by the fireplace or remember how to have a conversation that does not involve texting with a stay in one of the five State cabins available for rent. The cabins are newly updated and rent for under $150 per night. While staying there, dine at The Lodge at Kokee, the only restaurant in Kokee that happens to serve the best Portuguese bean soup and cornbread around. Information on these cabins can be found at https://www.westkauailodging.com/the-cabins-at-kokee-park/kokee-park-waimea-canyon.htm.
There is so much more to Kokee than what meets the eye and the best part is discovering what feeds your soul. Careful planning and preparation, especially when hiking, will ensure that your time in Kokee State Park will be well spent and most of all, memorable.