Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian Island chain, has long been called “The Garden Island.” 4,000 feet above sea level, away from the beaches and resort districts is Kokee State Park. Spread over 4,345 acres, there are 45 miles of hiking trails, camping and picnic areas, scenic lookouts, cabins for lodging, the Kokee Natural History Museum, and Kokee Lodge restaurant.
The best way to experience and appreciate Kokee’s beauty is to get off the beaten path and do some old fashioned hiking. When it comes to hiking in Kokee, the unofficial rule of thumb is the harder the hike, the better the payoff at the end.
We’ve rounded up a list of noteworthy hiking trails in Kokee, for the novice hiker to expert and everything in between.
Easy Hikes – Hikiwale
Puu Ka Ohelo Trail – 2.2 miles
Commonly referred to as the Berry Flat Loop, this 2.2 mile loop trail winds through a dense tropical forest with a mix of native and introduced foliage, including California redwood and eucalyptus trees, sugi pines. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for native birds playing about the forest.
Kaluapuhi Trail – 2.5 miles
With only 120 feet of elevation gain, and 2.5 miles Kaluapuhi Trail provides enough distance for an easy hiking workout. During your stroll, you will breathe in the aromatic Hawaiian ginger that grows wild throughout Kokee’s forests. Seasonal fruits such as blackberries, strawberry guava and Kokee Plums can sometimes be found for a light snack on the trail.
Cliff Trail – 0.2 miles
Starting at Halemanu trail head, directly off Kokee Road, this short and easy trail leads to a scenic lookout overlooking Waimea Canyon. You may be able to spot wild goats standing on ledges as you peer down into the canyon.
Moderate Hikes- Akahele
Waimea Canyon to Cliff Trail – 3.6 miles
There’s a reason this is one of the most visited hiking trails in Kokee. Waimea Canyon, made up of cliffs covered in reddish brown and orange colored crumbling dirt that sparkle in the sunlight, is often referred to as ‘The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” This trail can be easily accessed by parking on Kokee Road near mile marker14 and taking a short walk down Halemanu Road to the trailhead. To extend your hike, park instead at Puu Hinahina Lookout and enter through the Canyon trailhead. From there you can continue on go to the Cliff Trail lookout or continue to the stream crossing, which is actually the top of an 800 foot waterfall.
Pihea Trail – 2.1 miles
This trail can be as long or as short as you make it. The first mile, starting at the Puu Hina Hina lookout, offers expansive views from the ridge looking down into the lush oasis of Kalalau Valley and ends at the Pihea Overlook, which is the highest rim point of Kalalau Valley. While many choose to stop there, the more adventurous can continue on the Ala Kai Swamp Trail to the Kilohana Lookout. This additional hiking adds up to an 8-mile roundtrip trek.
For the experienced Hiker- Hana nui
Alakai Swamp Trail – 3.5 mi
If sloshing through mud and grabbing on to branches while ascending and descending through ravines sounds like your idea of a good time, the Ala Kai Swamp trail is the trail for you. Fortunately, the State has built a boardwalk system that allows you to walk above most of the swamp area pretty effortlessly. The trail ends at Kilohana Overlook, which is as close to the north shore of Kauai that you can get to from Kokee and when clear from cloud coverage, offers views all the way to Hanalei.
Nualolo Trail – 3.8 mi
There is no other word to describe this trail besides spectacular. After traversing through a dense forest filled with Hawaiian koa trees and fragrant Hawaiian ginger, you find yourself standing on a bluff in the middle of the 3,000 foot Napali Coast. Prepare to be awestruck as the views take your breathe away. The return portion of the hike is the most strenuous, as you make a high elevation climb in a short distance.
Awaawapuhi Trail – 3.1 miles
This trail promises to awe even the most experienced hiker. While not relatively hard except for the high elevation ascent on the return, this trail leads through a cool misty forest to a desert-like climate overlooking both Nualolo Valley and Awaawapuhi Valley. Na Pali’s evergreen spores point directly toward the heavens while seabirds float gracefully in the sky below.
Kukui Trail – 2.5 miles
This difficult trail will challenge you as you scale down the walls of Waimea Canyon on the path of wild goats. The trail takes you to the bottom of the canyon where you can rest at Wiliwili campsite or cool off in the refreshing stream water. Due to the 2,000 elevation drop and return climb, direct sun, crumbly red dirt and wide open exposure, heat can quickly become an issue and you should make sure to have plenty of water on hand.
Know before you go
Here are some things that anyone planning to hike Kokee State Park should remember:
- Stop by Kokee Lodge and the Natural History Museum to check on weather reports, trail conditions and get advice on which trail best suits your desires and fitness level before heading to the trail head
- Make sure to bring at least two liters of water (or more) and some simple snacks, such as fruit, granola bars, nuts and seeds, trails may take longer than expected
- Wear adequate footwear such as hiking or walking shoes and layered clothing for cool and hot weather
- Stay on the trail. Some trails have steep drop-offs and crumbly, slippery dirt. Staying on the marked trail will help keep you safe
- Don’t be afraid to turn around. Some of these hikes are steep and challenging. If at anytime you don’t feel comfortable, don’t push it
Lastly, have fun soaking in all the beauty Kokee State Park has to offer and don’t forget to bring a light rain jacket- there’s a reason why Kauai is the greenest of all the islands.
**Note: All trail distances are based on one way unless otherwise expressed.