Waimea Canyon, on Kauai’s Northwest was one of the great joys and great frustrations of our trip. The scope of it was totally unexpected, and we needed at least one more full day to explore and hike the area. Waimea Canyon truly lives up to its nickname “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Koke’e State Park shows some of Hawaii’s landscape diversity. At over 3,000 vertical feet, it’s much cooler than at sea level. Some parts are lush and green, others have the color palette of Southern Utah.
We had planned to do a 10.6 mile loop of the Nua’lolo Cliffs and Awa’awapuhi Trails, but got to Koke’e State Park in mid-afternoon. We underestimated how long it would take to get from Hanalei to Koke’e- (nearly 3/4 of the way around the whole island; a long drive on 2 lane roads). We ended up “compromising” and doing a 6+ mile hike along the rim of Waimea Canyon.
The loop that we ended up doing a loop that was: Halemanu-Koke’e Trail –> Cliff Trail –> Canyon Trail –> Kumuwela Trail (with a few short dirt road connectors). We started near the Koke’e State Park Headquarters. We had rain on and off for the first half hour or so then it cleared up.
After a mile or so of walking through dense forest with on and off rain showers, we came to the Cliff Trail Overlook. The views changed from dense forests to wide open canyons in a hundred yards.
While the hike was great, we got more information about the Nua’lolo Cliffs and Awa’awapuhi Trail loop that was our original plan. That trail looks absolutely epic and spectacular, and we will definitely leave enough time to do it if (when) we make it back to Kauai. No regrets, though, because we got two surf sessions, and a great hike on Kauai. We still need 30 hour days sometimes.
Incidentally, road biking on Kauai isn’t what we’d consider great. We hadn’t come to Kauai for bicycling, but the climb to Kokee State Park would be great for visiting cyclists jonesing for a great ride with a lot of climbing. Western Kauai seems to have more lightly traveled roads and long climbs. If I absolutely couldn’t travel without my bike, I’d head straight to Western Kauai for riding. It would be easy to get some 30-60+ mile rides in with lots of climbing. 4,000′ vertical sustained climbs!
How to get there
Koke’e State park is in the far northwest corner of Kauai near the end of Route 550. You can’t miss it, there are several buildings and parking lots. There is a nice little museum in the park headquarters (along with a restaurant next door). Trail maps are available for $2 from the park headquarters (and well worthwhile). My biggest advice is to allow enough time to get out and see as many of the sights as you can (and of course to get out of the car and experience it for yourself). Getting to Koke’e and Waimea Canyon can be time consuming unless you are already staying in Southern Kauai. As with other hiking on Kauai, trails can be very rugged and slow. Adjust your mileage expectations accordingly. Temperatures will also be cooler since you are generally at 3-4,000 feet elevation. And, of course, do your own reality check with a map.