What are the best state parks in the USA? AFAR magazine took up that challenge and picked one park to represent each state for 2021. There are currently 10,234 state parks in America. Fifty of those are in Hawaii. Of those 50, Kokee on Kauai was picked the top choice.
Often times we’ve talked to visitors who went as far as Waimea Canyon and then turned back before entering Kokee. By doing so, they missed one of the most spectacular sights in all of Hawaii which is the view from the Kalalau Lookout. It is the highest elevation that you can drive to on Kauai at 4,000 feet. If you have more time to explore, there are some memorable Kauai hiking trails, a small museum, and an open field where many cultural events take place during the year.
But it is the jaw-dropping view of Kalalau that will be etched in your memory forever. Today the only way to visit the beach or valley below is hiking the Na Pali coastline from Kee Beach on the North Shore. From this vantage point though you can see its magnificence as the largest valley on Kauai stretches two miles wide in front of you. Our favorite time to visit is early in the morning for sunrise or staying for sunset when crowds are few. Sometimes it can be cloudy when you arrive. Many times, however, those clouds moved away when we just had the patience to wait.
At the lookout, you could start the hike to the Alakai Swamp and end with a view over Hanalei. To reach Alakai Swamp, you start from the lookout on the Pihea Trail. The total distance on both trails is 7.7 miles.
We also like the challenging but rewarding Awaawapuhi Trail where the above photo was taken. It’s a downhill hike from the trailhead. You’ll go from 4,120 feet to 2,500. There’s a place to picnic at the end with a beautiful ocean view over the valleys of Nualolo and Awaawaphui valleys. The distance is 3.2 miles each way. We find the uphill hike on the way back to be the most challenging.
There’s also the Kokee Natural History Museum which has a museum, restaurant nearby and grassy lawn that hosts many Kauai events during the year like the Emalani Festival in honor of Queen Emma.
Below is a short video from Hawaii DLNR for those wanting to see more of Kokee.
Please add your favorite Kokee experiences in the comment section below. When you visit the park, there is a $5 entry fee per vehicle.
I will never forget arriving at that viewpoint, took my breath away… it was 1980 and I had no idea what was at the end of that road…. a magical, mystical experience to say the least. No words can describe the magic of Kauai….forever etched in my heart 💜
Bob N. says
Hi guys! Been following your posts for years and have turned dozens of people onto your wonderful site. Mahalo Nui for doing what you do! I live Kauai and just wanted to make a small correction. The trail you’re speaking of doesn’t start at the Kalalau lookout. The Pihea Trail starts at the last lookout Puu O Kila..and hooks into the Alakai Swamp trail. Well worth the visit, as the Pihea Trail follows the rim of the Kalalau canyon, and one can go as far as one wants, then come back. Sometimes I’ve hiked the whole thing and come back and never seen the canyon, but then again, sometimes it opens up, usually a little at a time, and if it happens to be as the sun is setting the whole canyon is filled with an orange light…Magical!
Beat of Hawaii says
Thanks for that, for being a regular reader, and your first-time comment.
Roy H says
We go to see it usually once a year for a good many years. Your timing needs to right as to avoid the clouds. We’ve been all over the world and Kokee is one of the special ones. For me it’s the varied colors of greens/blues across the ocean.
I’ll never forget how disappointed we were when we got to the top and it was gray fog everywhere. Luckily, we stood there a few minutes and then a small quarter sized spot of blue appeared, gradually grew inch by inch until the whole Na Pali coast was revealed in all its magnificence. It was truly an amazing experience. Thank you Hawaii!
Mahalo for passing this along! Can we bring our RV over?? LOL We stayed in the Cabins at Kokee at the park and, while a little rustic by resort standards, they put us at the entrance to the canyon and at less than a C note per night, it was an experience we will always remember.
BTW we got frustrated of rescheduling our Kauai 2020 trip 3 times now, so we went and bought a motorhome to tour some other great state parks on the mainland. Someday soon….
Beat of Hawaii says
Makes sense on the motorhome travel alternative. We’ll see how things unfold starting next month. Thanks for your more than 30 comments.
Bill S says
I saw this for the first time in March 2020. Make sure you drive the rest of the way all the way to the top of the road to see this. If you heard the helicopter in the video clip, it is amazing to see one and how small they look when flying into the valley.
It was socked in with mist when we visited. Go EARLY in the day and hope for the best.
Maybe ‘next time.’ :0)
Beat of Hawaii says
See – you’ll have to come back.
Mary E says
Last time I was up there, some “daredevil” people went through a gate in the metal rail to the edge which is often soft from rain. Oh well, guess it’s called natural selection or survival of the fittest. Hoped they survive to come to that beautiful place again! They do put the rescue teams in some danger if they can be rescued. Have the same problem at Lands End in San Francisco as the firefighters are always having to rescue some fools.