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Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park | Guide To The Best Spots

Waimea Canyon View

Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park are two spectacularly scenic parks in Kauai.  These two neighboring parks are found along the same road and are a popular attraction for tourists and Hawaiian residents.  But there is no cell service or park maps handed out, so it’s a good idea to come prepared!

This guide will help you plan a perfect visit to these incredible Hawaii State Parks.

Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park

Waimea Canyon is an enormous dry canyon that cuts across the center of an otherwise wet and tropical island.  The deep canyon in the heart of Kauai was formed by a catastrophic collapse of the volcano during the formation of Kauai.  Each side of the canyon was formed by different periods of lava flows.

This arid canyon of colorful rock and sand lies in stark contrast to the rest of Kauai which is mostly wet and overflowing with greenery.  Waimea means reddish waters in Hawaiian, and visitors cannot miss the bright red colors on display here.

Waimea is often called the Grand Canyon Of The Pacific.  And while it’s nowhere near the size of the actual Grand Canyon, it is just as remarkable.

Kokee State Park

Kalalau Lookout in Kokee State Park - Photo by Paul Crook on Unsplash
Kalalau Lookout in Kokee State Park – Photo by Paul Crook on Unsplash

Kokee State Park (or spelled Kōke’e with proper Hawaiian diacritics) offers incredible hikes and viewpoints with glimpses of the legendary Na Pali Coast, Kalalau Valley, and Polihale.  You can also access the Alakai Swamp in northwestern Kauai, the largest high-elevation swamp in the world.

These two parks together have possibly the most beautiful and dramatic scenery in all of the Hawaiian Islands.

You can get a good experience of these two parks with just a day trip.  But if you want to try some of the longer hiking trails, then you may need more than just a day.  But this guide can help you get the most out of your visit whether you have several days or just a few hours.

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Scenic Drive

There is just a single road that accesses most of the attractions in Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park.  From Waimea town on the southwest coast of Kauai, you take Waimea Canyon Drive (Highway 550) up the winding switchbacks that climb along the canyon rim.

Or alternatively, you can take high Kokee Road (Highway 552) from Kekaha.  Though, both roads merge into one just a few miles into the park.

Visitors can mix in a few lookout points, hikes, and other attractions to experience these amazing Hawaii State Parks.

Cost For Entry

There’s no tollbooth to enter the park, but rather kiosks at the most popular parking lots to purchase your daily parking pass.  The price is $10 per car and an additional $5 per person.  They do accept credit cards.

The daily pass is good for both Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park.

Must-See Viewpoints

These are all the best quick and easy viewpoints.  Every visitor can and should make time for them.

  • Waimea Canyon Lookout (Mile Marker 10)
  • Waipo’o Falls Lookout “Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout” (Mile Marker 12.2)
  • Pu’u Hinahina Lookout (Mile Marker 13)
  • Kalalau Lookout (Mile Marker 18)
  • Pu’u O Kila Lookout (Mile Marker 19)

Waimea Canyon Lookout (Mile Marker 10)

Waimea Canyon View has the best panoramic views of the park.
Waimea Canyon View has the best panoramic views of the park.

All visitors should stop at Waimea Canyon Lookout. It’s the first major lookout you come to and it offers probably the best panoramic views of the entire canyon.  This is a must-do.  There are several paved viewing platforms just a short walk from the parking lot.  It’s one of the most spectacular vistas on the island of Kauai.

Waipo’o Falls Lookout “Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout” (Mile Marker 12.2)

Waipo'o Falls just after a rainstorm.
Waipo’o Falls just after a rainstorm.

This waterfall lookout is an easy viewpoint to check out.  This incredible two-tier waterfall stands out from the dry rocky landscape.  In the summer months, the falls can go dry, but it does have some flow for most of the year.

The actual lookout has a somewhat obscured view of the falls.

We honestly found the best view of the falls to be just before it at this pin. There is a small dirt pull-out and vista point from which to see the entire massive 800ft Waipo’o Falls.

This is the easiest and best place to observe Waipo’o Falls within the park. There is a hike to the top of the falls (mentioned below) but somewhat misleadingly, it doesn’t actually allow you to see the falls.

Right across from the lookout is the Puu Ka Pele Picnic area, a great place for a snack break.  There are some covered picnic tables and a bathroom.

Pu’u Hinahina Lookout (Mile Marker 13)

Pu'u Hinahina Waypoint, the view from the Cliff Trail.
Pu’u Hinahina Waypoint, the view from the Cliff Trail.

This is another popular lookout and the parking lot provides access to some of the most popular trails in the park.  It’s just a short walk up to the lookout where you get a different view of the canyon.

Positioned at the north end of the canyon, from here you can look down the entire length of the 10-mile canyon with its endless ridges and spines.  The Waimea River snakes through along the valley floor.

And for what it’s worth, we did get a few bars of Verizon service at this lookout, something we didn’t find anywhere else within both parks.

Kalalau Lookout (Mile Marker 18)

This viewpoint is close to the end of the scenic drive in Kōke’e State Park, but absolutely worth driving to.  From here you get a glimpse of the beautiful Kalalau Valley and the Na Pali Coast.  You can marvel at the fluted green peaks descending down to the ocean.

Pu’u O Kila Lookout (Mile Marker 19)

Pu'u O Kila Lookout - Photo by Jason Carnegie on Unsplash
Pu’u O Kila Lookout – Photo by Jason Carnegie on Unsplash

At the end of the road in Kokee State Park, you come to Pu’u O Kila Lookout.  This is one of the best vista points to see the entire Kalalau Valley and the NaPali Coast on Kauai’s north shore.  It’s just a short paved walk from the parking lot to the lookout.  If there are clouds blocking the view, just be patient because they often pass through quickly.

Best Trails In Kokee State Park & Waimea Canyon State Park

Canyon Trail - Waimea Canyon State Park - Kauai
Canyon Trail – Waimea Canyon State Park – Kauai

There are numerous hiking trails for visitors looking to explore further or get off the beaten path.  Depending on how much time you have and your fitness level, I would recommend adding some of these trails and extras to your Kauai itinerary.  You can find everything from easy, family-friendly day hikes to grueling overnight backpacking trips.

  • Awa’awapuhi Trail (Hard)
  • Canyon Trail To Waipo’o Falls (Moderate)
  • Iliau Nature Trail – Little half-mile trail with good views of Waimea Canyon
  • Alakai Swamp Trail (Moderate)
  • Kukui Trail (Hard)

Many of the longer hikes in the park begin with a descent, only to finish with a hard climb back up to the trailhead.  With your excitement and adrenaline, it’s easy to ignore just how much elevation you are losing.

So just be prepared for hikes that feel easy, to begin with, but end up being a challenge to get back to the trailhead.

Awa’awapuhi Trail

Awa'awapuhi Trail - Kokee State Park - Photo By Jimmy Conover on Unsplash
Awa’awapuhi Trail – Kokee State Park – Photo By Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

7 miles, 1,332 feet elevation

This is one of the most epic trails in Kokee State Park.  You will need to devote most of the day if you want to fit this one in.  The first portion of the hike begins through native forests, and then descends along a steep ridgeline.  The views of the NaPali Coast are incredible.  If you are feeling ambitious, it’s quite a challenging but rewarding hike.

Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls

3 miles, 1,066 feet elevation

This moderate trail is one of the most popular in the park with epic canyon views and a few waterfalls at the finish.  The hike takes you to the top of Waipo’o Falls, but you don’t actually get a good view of the falls.  So the naming of this hike is a little misleading.

There are a couple small waterfalls just above the falls which serve as a good place for a rest before turning around.  But the true highlight of this trail is the large vista point just above the waterfalls.

From here you get incredible views of the canyon. It is an excellent place to take some photos without any railings in your photos.  But don’t get too close to the edge because it’s a long way down.

There is a way to shorten this hike a bit if you have 4×4 and high-clearance. Just uphill from the Pu’u Hinahina parking lot, there is a dirt road on the right that leads to this alternate trailhead.

Iliau Nature Trail

0.4 miles, 52 feet elevation

An easy hike, really more of a walk.  This little half-mile loop trail has good views of Waimea Canyon.

Pihea Trail to Alakai Swamp

7 miles, 1,332 feet elevation

The trailhead for Pihea Trail begins at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout.  The beginning of the trail has views of the Kalalau Valley, but then turns inland to the Alakai Swamp, the wettest spot in the park.

It’s the largest high-elevation swamp in the world, and a very unique ecosystem to hike through.  It has very eerie gloomy vibes, especially when there’s fog or clouds (there almost always is).

The trail is only made possible by a manmade wooden walkway constructed above the swampland.  It’s difficult to work on, so be aware that the walkway is often in need of some repairs.

The trail ends at Kilohana Lookout, offering beautiful views of the lush green valleys below and Hanalei in the distance.

Kukui Trail

5 miles, 2,162 feet elevation

The best trail for hiking down to the Waimea River at the bottom of the canyon.  But be prepared for a very challenging hike, especially the climb back up to the rim of Waimea Canyon.

Bring lots of water because the climb back out is hot and exposed.  Bring a change of clothes if you want to swim in the river, and bug spray.

Other Notable Attractions

Red Dirt Waterfall - Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park
Red Dirt Waterfall
  • Red Dirt Waterfall – A small roadside waterfall set against a red dirt backdrop.  It’s not the most impressive waterfall compared to what Kauai has to offer.  But the red dirt setting certainly makes for a unique natural feature and is worth a 5-minute pit stop.
  • Oceanview Forest Trail – A moderate 3-mile trail that’s heavily forested until reaching a viewpoint of Polihale State Park and Niihau (a neighboring Hawaiian Island).  Hikers love the lack of crowds, but complain that it’s overgrown.  You need to drive off the main road to reach the trailhead.

Food And Lodging

Tent Camping in Kokee State Park Campground
Tent Camping in Kokee State Park Campground

Kokee Lodge

The Kokee Lodge Restaurant is a full-service restaurant and bar.  And there is also a little gift shop.  The food here is a bit expensive but very good.

However, if you can wait til you exit the park there are cheaper places to get a great meal in Kauai.  A couple of popular places to visit near the park are Porky’s BBQ and Gina’s Anykine Grinds Cafe. The Pork Moco Loco at Gina’s is incredible comfort food!

Accomodation in Kokee State Park

Kokee State Park Cabins

Kokee State Park has several rustic cabins for rent at $100-$200 per night.  They are a great chance to disconnect and enjoy the nature of the park (no phones, TVs, no Wifi, no cell service).

But be mindful that these cabins are at 3000 feet elevation, so it’s likely to be colder than you expect in Hawaii.  However, they do have wood-burning stoves, and wood for purchase at the lodge.

And you may also encounter bugs, spiderwebs, and other things of that nature.  So a stay in these cabins is certainly not the best fit for everyone.

Camp Sloggett Lodge and Cottages

The YMCA-run Camp Sloggett has a lodge, cottages, and a few other lodging options for rent.  


Kokee State Park Campground – 8 campsites are available by reservation.

Camp Sloggett – Tent camping (temporarily suspended as of January 2023)

Backcountry Campsites – These sites are available by permit: Waikoali, Sugi Grove, and Kawaikoi.  These sites can be reached by foot, or under good conditions, by 4wd vehicle.

Accommodation in Waimea Canyon State Park

There is no traditional lodging or accommodations in Waimea Canyon State Park.  The only places to stay overnight within the park are backcountry hike-to campsites (Wiliwili, Kaluahaulu, Hipalau, and Lonomea).

They require a permit.

These backcountry campsites are accessed by hiking along Kukui Trail.  It is a very challenging backpacking route into, and especially back out of the canyon.  Please only seek this option with adequate preparation.

If you are looking for other options outside the park, these are our best recommendations for cheap accommodations in Kauai. Or look here for all the camping options in Kauai.


A Helicopter Tour is an incredible way to see Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park.
A Helicopter Tour is an incredible way to see Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park.
  • A Helicopter Tour is a breathtaking way to see the island of Kauai, and especially Waimea Canyon.  These scenic helicopter rides soar above the stunning scenery, giving you views that cannot be matched! We booked our tour with Island Helicopters or you can find other tour operators here.
  • A Bike Tour is another popular way to experience Waimea Canyon.  Get shuttled to the top, then ride bikes downhill the whole way, while stopping at major viewpoints.

Prepare For The Weather / What To Bring

Looking down Waimea Canyon to the Pacific Ocean.
Looking down Waimea Canyon to the Pacific Ocean.

Weather in these two high-elevation parks tends to be cooler with a higher likelihood of rain and clouds.  But exploring the parks will take you through a variety of climates.

Beginning at sea level in the town of Waimea on the southwest of Kauai, the weather is almost always hot and dry.  But Waimea Canyon Road climbs over 3000 feet of elevation in 19 miles.

Frequent Rain Showers

The Alaka’i Swamp at the top of Kokee State Park is adjacent to Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest places in the world.  The Alakai swamp itself receives over 200 inches per year.  Rain showers are very common in Kokee State Park, and a little less so in Waimea Canyon State Park.

Clouds and Visibility

Clouds and Low Visibility are common in Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park
Clouds and low visibility can really hide the amazing views.

Both of these parks experience frequent cloud cover, especially at the highest elevation.  If low clouds are present, you might not be able to see more than 20 feet in front of you.  If you have flexibility, try to pick a clear day for the best views.  You sometimes need to be a little lucky and/or patient to find good weather.

We stayed up at Kōke’e State Park for several days waiting for the clouds to clear, and never got a chance to see some of the viewpoints.

Colder Temperatures

Bring some warm layers because the weather is typically about 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit colder than at sea level.

But it’s still Hawaii, so be prepared for sun exposure and heat.  Bring plenty of water, especially for longer hikes.

Best Time To Visit Waimea Canyon & Kokee State Park

The weather in Hawaii is quite stable year-round.  However, winter months bring more rain, which in turn brings more greenery to Waimea Canyon and stronger flow to the waterfalls.

But it also means a higher likelihood of clouds and low visibility.  Which means that epic viewpoints can be completely obscured.  And rain can also make hiking trails more dangerous.

Conclusion | Waimea Canyon & Kokee State Park Guide

Waimea Canyon State Park.

A visit to Kauai isn’t complete without seeing the incredible scenery of Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park.  These two adjacent parks make for an awesome day trip. Whether you just take the scenic drive and stop at a few viewpoints, or dive deep into the rugged hiking trails, you are sure to be amazed. The stunning geology of these parks is like nowhere else in Hawaii.

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Waimea Canyon and Kōke’e State Park Guide
Waimea Canyon & Kokee State Park Guide

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