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.
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.