Koke'e and Waimea State Parks are two of the premier parks on the island of Kauai. Inside these adjacent state parks exist some of the most stunning trails that exist in all of Hawai'i, and the diversity of the trails is unmatched.
Using the list below, you should be able to select the trails that interest you most. We have included the trail name, total mileage, time estimate, and a brief description with each listing. In the event we have photographs readily available for a specific hike (or have a third party source we like), we'll also direct you to the appropriate gallery.
Additionally, some of the major trails in Koke'e and Waimea State Park we'll post about in greater detail, so be sure to check our Kauai Hiking Trails section for additional information on these hikes (i.e.; Alakai Swamp Trail, Pihea Trail, Kukui Trail, etc).
As with many Kauai hikes, you may benefit from a guide who can educated you and your travel party about the history of the area, the plants, and animals of the trail. Where can you find such a guide? We highly recommend the team at Kauai Hiking Adventures; they have explored every nook and cranny of Waimea Canyon and Koke'e including many off trail locations. A day spent with Kauai Hiking Adventures is sure to be one of the highlights of your trip that you will remember for years to come.
Kokee and Waimea State Park Map
If you're looking for a good map of the area, we've created one (a PDF document) for you to download and print out at home. The Koke'e Lodge and Museum will also have maps available, but we'd definitely advise you to go ahead and review the map and become familiar with the area. The crisscrossing of trails and 4x4 roads can be confusing at first, but once you select your routes, it's not too bad. We'll be improving the map as time allows, and we'll also add additional maps here in the near future. Feel free to contact us if you have specific questions.
When possible, we have also attempted to rank the trails on this list. We based our ratings on views along the way, condition of the trails, and general popularity. We ranked each applicable trail using the following scale:
- Excellent Trail
- Great Trail
- Good Trail
- So-So Trail
- Poor Trail
- Bad Trail
These trails begin on the left side of the road heading up towards Koke'e, and then head towards the ocean, leading to views of extravagant valleys and cliffs along Kauai's northwestern coastline. We should also note that all of the other Koke'e trails start on the right side of the road, or towards the interior of the island. These are not your easily family trails, but are mostly tough trails for the well-equipped hiker. Many unwary hikers lured by the easy 1000 feet downhill descent, find themselves challenged by the steep climb back up to the trailhead. Don't be one of them. Since these trails head in toward the exterior cliffs of the island, they are usually drier.
DescriptioN & DIFFICULTY
Difficult trail. Starts at a parking area near the highway 17 mile marker. Rich variety of native dryland plants. The trail ends abruptly on the ridge top, at 2500 ft. elevation, affording spectacular cliff-to-ocean views into Awa'awapuhi and Nualolo Valleys overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Picnic grassy area at the end of the trail. Don't venture beyond the safety railing at the end of the trail because footing is extremely unstable, and the drop to the valley floor is over 2000 feet.
Honopu Ridge Trail
Extremely Difficult trail. One of the best, though roughest, hikes on Kauai is the one that leads to Honopu Ridge. While the trail is pretty short, about two miles in total, it is no longer maintained by the park (due to Hurricane Iniki damage way back in 1992) - so prepare to bush wack. The main trail can sometimes become vague and you might be mislead by several other smaller trails that branch off from the main trail. If you have a map of the trail before you set out you will more than likely be able to stay on the main trail. The good news is that on a good clear day it results in a view that is perhaps Kauai’s greatest. In any event, you may want to consult the rangers at Koke'e VC before heading out on this hike.
Difficult Trail. Trail starts just before the Koke'e State Park Headquarters. Used mostly as an access route for hunters, but also serves as an alternate route to cross over Nu'alolo Cliff Trail to connect to Awa'awapuhi Trail. Trail ends at 2234 ft. elevation at marker titled "Lolo No. 2." (No relation.)
Nu'alolo Cliffs Trail
Moderate trail. Starts near the 3 mile point on the Awa'awapuhi Trail and meets the Nu'alolo Trail between the 3 mile and 3.25 mile markers. For the experienced hiker, plan an all-day loop hike down Nu'alolo Trail, along the Nu'alolo Cliff Trail, and back up Awa'awapuhi, or vice versa.
These hikes offer rich scenery into Waimea Canyon, which is ten miles long, 1 mile wide, and 3600 feet deep. Mark Twain called it, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific". These trails are drier than the Forest or Swamp Trails, but not as dry as the Na Pali Trails seen above. There are easier trails for the beginner and more difficult trails for the experienced hiker.
Tip: We also want to alert visitors to one of Kaua`i's newest trails - one we just learned about ourselves in 2008. Many of the trails below are accessed via the dirt/gravel Halemanu Road, a semi-steep 4x4 road. If you want a nicer hike than going down Halemanu road, and more parking, go to the Pu`u Hinahina lookout a 1/4 mile back down the road (around MM 13.5). If you go to the back of the parking lot you'll find a trail that heads to the left. This trail actually joins up with the Cliff/Canyon trailhead right where the 4x4 cars park. Since it begins at a higher elevation and includes a dip into a side ravine it's more strenuous than the dirt road hike, but it's a lot more scenic; you actually cross one end of the Waimea Canyon. It's about 1/3-1/2 mi in length; and since it is still relatively new (about two years as of 2008) it isn't eroded yet and still has steps on the steep parts.
DescriptioN & DIFFICULTY
Moderate Trail. Serves as an access to the Canyon Trail. Native Hibiscus and iliau are among the plants found in the koa forest. The trail is so named because of the large black wooden pipe that hikers must cross.
Moderate Trail. Most popular, scenic trail spurring off the Cliff Trail to follow the north rim of Waimea Canyon. Half-way through, picnic at Waipo'o Falls. The trail ends at Kumuwela Lookout with its beautiful view which cross-cuts the island through Waimea Canyon, from the mountain to the ocean.
Easy Trail. A short, easy trail leading to an overlook of Waimea Canyon. Feral goats frequent the cliff walls. If you don't have 4-wheel drive, you can start at the Halemanu trailhead right off Koke'e Road, walk down the dirt Halemanu Road, and end at the Cliff Trail overlook, for a pleasant two hour round-trip stroll. The more ambitious can spur off to the Canyon Trail.
Moderate Trail. Gives a sampling of the mountainous, forested terrain. Vistas of the surrounding forest and the Poomau River are spread out along the trail.
Iliau Nature Loop
Easy trail. First trail on your right half-way up to Koke'e, between mile markers 8 and 9. Located at the start of the Kukui Trail, Iliau Loop Trail is a roadside, 15 minute, easy, quarter-mile nature walk with placards identifying plants, including the iliau which blooms in the late spring-early summer. There are views of the Waimea and Waialae Canyons, and there is a small, covered shelter.
Koaie Canyon Trail
Moderate trail. From the bottom of Kukui Trail, this trail starts a half mile further up the Waimea River. It takes you on a route along the south side of Koaie Canyon, with good scenery and swimming holes. Do not go during rainy weather due to flash floods. There are two backpack campsites, by permit only at Hipalau and Lonomea.
Difficult trail. 4-wheel drive down the Mohihi-Camp 10 Road and the trail starts approximately 2 miles beyond the Forest Reserve entrance sign. Serves primarily as a hunter access route for pig and goat hunting, but also provides views of Waimea Canyon and dryland koa forest. Do not venture beyond the safety railing at trail end.
Difficult trail. First trail on your right half-way up to Koke'e, between mile markers 8 and 9. Kukui Trail is a steep hike to the bottom of Waimea Canyon, which drops 2000 ft. in elevation and ends at Wiliwili campsite on the canyon floor. (See Waimea Canyon Trail)
Moderate Trail. A forest trail used primarily as an access to the Canyon Trail and to the Ditch Trail.
Easy trail. 4-wheel drive down the Mohihi-Camp 10 Road and the trail starts approximately 1.5 miles beyond the Forest Reserve entrance sign. This short trail leads to a grand view of the Poomau and Waimea Canyons.
Waimea Canyon Trail
Moderate trail. Starts at the bottom of Waimea Canyon at the end of Kukui Trail, this trail leads to coastal Waimea Town. This trail fords Waimea River several times. No camping south of Waialae Stream is allowed due to private ownership agreements. An entry permit is required from a self-serve box at the Kukui Trail register. Locals sometimes rubber tube out on Waimea River to Waimea Town, instead of hiking back up the mountain. (See Kukui Trail)
Nature lovers should really enjoy the various plant life found in the Koke'e rain forest, from redwoods and Japanese sugi cedars planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's, to native sweet smelling maile and mokihana, which are favored as lei making material. If you start our in the early morning, the walks offer glimpses of rare native birds. If you are an avid bird watcher like myself, make sure to bring the binoculars. These shady trails vary in grade from gentle to moderate, and some lead to fishing and hunting areas. These trails will usually be wet during the winter months when it rains more, so bring rain gear if hiking in that season.
The Mohihi-Camp 10 Road is a four mile long dirt road that provides access to many of the Forest Trails and Alaka'i Swamp Trails. The road starts 100 yards past Koke'e State Park headquarters, on the right side of Koke'e Road (Route 552) heading up. 4-wheel drive is required for passage, and only during dry conditions because of steep and exceedingly slippery, muddy conditions. As always, do not attempt to ford stream crossings during rainy or threatening conditions. Streams can quickly become dangerous torrents in Hawaii just like anywhere else. If caught stranded on one side, wait until the stream subsides, instead of risking a crossing.
DescriptioN & DIFFICULTY
Berry Flat Loop
Easy Trail. Interesting, easy nature trail leading through a variety of trees, including the redwood, ohia, lehua, eucalyptus, sugi pine, and koa.
N/A Difficulty Ranking. A short trail that accesses other trails in the Halemanu area.
Easy Trail. One of the better recreational trails. Easy hiking and a good self-guiding nature trail. The koa and ohia dominates the Halemanu forest. Some of the other plants are the mokihana, maile, pukiawe, the mountain naupaka, halapepe, aalii, ukiuki, as well as the forest's pests, the blackberry and the banana poka. Native forest birds include the iiwi, apapane, elepaio, and amakihi.
N/A Difficulty Ranking. A forest trail leading to a plum grove.
Kawaikoi Stream Loop
Easy trail. This is likely the most scenic mountain stream-side trail in Hawaii. 4-wheel drive down the Mohihi-Camp 10 road, and the trail starts .75 mile beyond the Forest Reserve entrance sign, upstream from "Sugi Grove." Well-maintained, easy trail which loops around Kawaikoi Stream. Trout fish during season. Camping allowed. (See CAMPING)
Maile Flats Trail
Moderate trail. This trail starts approximately 2 miles beyond the Forest Reserve entrance sign on the Mohihi-Camp 10 Road. It serves primarily as a hunter access route for pig and goat hunting but also provides views of Waimea Canyon and dryland koa forest.
Nature Trail (Koke'e Museum)
Extremely Easy Trail. A conveniently located, short trail behind Koke'e Museum, with 35 marked plants.
Pu'u ka 'Ohelo Trail
Along this trail are good examples of the impact that invasive alien weeds can have on native forest vegetation.
N/A Difficulty Ranking. A very short trail serving as an access to the other trails of the Halemanu forest. They should give this poor trail a name.
Water Tank Trail
N/A Difficulty Ranking. This trail provides a good example of native koa and 'o'hia forest.
Alaka'i Swamp trails are the wettest in Koke'e and thigh-deep mud is not uncommon here. It can slow a hiker's pace to one mile per hour through the swamp. Wear old tightly laced sneakers that you don't mind getting muddy.
The Alaka'i gray mud is difficult to wash off, so be prepared to trash your clothing and shoes, and wear your badge of courage on your skin until your next good bath.
The major eruptions that formed Kaua'i six million years ago created a huge caldera thirteen miles in diameter. The Alaka'i Swamp sits on the old caldera floor, layers of dense lava, thirty miles square, which receives hundreds of inches of rain annually. Few foreign plants invaded this weird world, where a wealth of native plants abound, specially adapted to swampy conditions.
The swamp's elevation at 4000 feet protects native birds from disease-spreading mosquitoes, so this is an ideal place for bird watching.
Fortunately, attempts to build a road through the swamp in the 1950's failed, leaving a wide scar along the first mile of the Pihea Trail along the rim beyond Pu'u O Kila Lookout.
DescriptioN & DIFFICULTY
Alaka'i Swamp Trail
Difficult trail. Trail starts at a parking and turnaround area .25 miles north of the Na Pali-Kona Forest Reserve entrance sign. This trail leads across the Alaka'i Swamp through scrub native rain forest and bogs. Excellent opportunities for birding and botanizing. Ends at a vista called "Kilohana" on the edge of Wainiha Pali. On a rare, clear day, the views of Wainiha and Hanalei Valleys provide an unforgettable experience. There is some boardwalk construction. A once in a lifetime, tough, muddy, surreal hike. Fog rolls in and you'll lose your direction and mind.
Difficult trail. Serves mostly as a hunter access route. 4-wheel drive down the Mohihi-Camp 10 Road, and the trail starts at the end. Crosses Mohihi Stream and follows Kohua Ridge into the "Alakai Wilderness Preserve." The occasionally maintained trail ends at Koaie Stream. The rivers get dangerously high during rainy weather. Camping is allowed by permit only at Koaie Stream gauge. (See CAMPING)
Moderate trail. Trail starts at the end of Koke'e Road (Route 552) at Pu'u o Kila Lookout (Second Kalalau Lookout). Highly recommended forest reserve trail for observing native forest birds and Alaka'i Swamp terrain and vegetation. Also, alternate route to Alaka'i Swamp Trail, which intersects Pihea Trail just before the 1.75 mile point. A short spur ends at the Pihea Overlook, the highest rim point of Kalalau Valley. Do not venture beyond the Pihea Overlook because the terrain get very steep. The Pihea trail follows the northwestern bank of Kawaikoi Stream and ends at Kawaikoi Camp. While there is some boardwalk construction, portions of the trail are slippery and muddy. For the less hardy, the first mile along the rim of the spectacular Kalalau Valley is an easy walk, then you can head back to the lookout when you start getting hungry.
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Article Edited/Contributed by: Victoria Derrick