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West Kauai Region Sights, Tours, & Information

Things to Do & Visitor Tips for West Kauai

For the most part, Northwest Kaua'i is impassable, filled with mountainous terrain and valleys that make roads impossible to build here. This side of Kaua'i is most famous for the Na Pali coast (which we've split into its own region) and the trails and hikes that stretch far and wide across it. Specifically, our definition of Northwest Kauai is two state parks, Koke'e and Waimea State Parks along highway 550 to be exact.

John Derrick
Published on: 01-22-2020
Published by: John C. Derrick
Northwest Kauai

Northwest Kauai

Southwest Kauai

Southwest Kauai

Northwest Kauai

You've probably heard the most about this region because of Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain called, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific."

It is indeed a beautiful sight to behold, and you have several overlooks to enjoy it from. The region is a mecca to hikers, offering dozens of trails from the most challenging to quite easy. You can hike down into Waimea Canyon (all the way to the Waimea River), hike behind Kalalau Valley in the Alakai Swamp (the world's highest swamp), or head out on a trail to one of the back rims of a Na Pali valley.

The elevation of Northwest Kauai is significantly higher than that of all other Kauai regions and areas. While starting near sea level in Waimea town, highway 550 climbs to nearly 4,200 feet by the end of the highway at Pu'u o Kila overlook. This region is thus generally much chillier than the rest of the island, and a light jacket is a good idea for early morning adventures.

Weather wise, the Waimea and Koke'e State Park area is a mix of wet and dry, with trails toward the Pali coast being drier than those heading inland. The Alaka'i Swamp trails are typically on the wetter side, so don't be surprised by the occasional storm. The swampy conditions are also due to the rainfall that occurs on the mountains to the east of the swamp and then flows down into this area of Kaua'i. In the valleys of Na Pali, which are skirted by Koke'e trails on the rims above, rain can come down in buckets at any given time as clouds fill in between the ridged valley walls. These clouds often build up in the valleys and flow over the back walls, giving the "fog-machine" appearance in Northwest Kauai.

Southwest Kauai

Southwest Kaua'i includes the Waimea town area, Hanapepe town, and Polihale Beach State Park. The weather on this side of the island varies greatly. Here on the southwest side, it is incredibly dry. Just north, along the Na Pali coast (and within Northwest Kauai), the rain is significantly more substantial. On average, the weather at the coast and near Waimea Canyon is hot (75-80F) and dry with about 25 inches average rainfall a year.

The southwest is pretty remote in comparison to the rest of the island. It's usually sunny when you're not heading mauka (inland) and dry most days of the year on the coast. The town of Waimea leaves a lot to be desired for most visitors, but to the people that call it home, it's, well, home. The road from Waimea heading towards Polihale will leave you wondering what continent you're on. It turns to a dusty desert in this area. The Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range is also located on the west coast of Kaua'i. This is a naval base out in the middle of nowhere on an incredibly long and vacant beach. From near Polihale you can see where they've bored into the ancient cliffs to store military supplies - and we're just fine with not knowing what.

All the towns in West Kauai are within the southwest portion of the region - including Eleele, Hanapepe, Kamakani, Port Allen, Kapaka, and Mana.

West Kauai Top 5 Things to Do

Best Things to See in West Kauai

Polihale State Park & Beach

#5 Rated in West Kauai

The road to Polihale may seem less like a tropical island and more like a desert highway. On a bright sunny day, the flat stretch of Highway 50 between Highway 552 and Polihale State Park & Beach can resemble a scene that looks more suited to Arizona than Hawaii.

Polihale State Park & Beach is not the easiest beach to reach, but oh, what a beach it is! At over 12 miles long, it's the perfect beach to stake your own secluded spot.

Swimming is dangerous here and a military base actually occupies over seven miles of the beach, but the view of NaPali's ending cliffs is more than enough to make up for it. If you've got the right kind of vehicle, or if the road has been graded recently, then make sure to head out to this beach.

Honopu Ridge Trail

#4 Rated in West Kauai

Honopu Ridge Trail is one of the only trails we recommend that's not an official "trail" any longer. The trail was partially destroyed and lost back to the jungle of Kauai after a pair of hurricanes in the last couple of decades.

Fortunately, you can now make out most of the trail, though the very beginning of the hike can still get you lost if you're not careful. We highly recommend a guide for this hike the first time you make the trek, as they can provide guidance on what is the real trail versus what are fake spur or hunting trails. The key is to stick to what appears to be the main trail at the very beginning, but a guide is an asset, in our opinion.

The views from the end of the trail (weather permitting) are astounding. They rival the hike along Nualolo and Awaawapuhi, but Honopu is uniquely different and is definitely one of our favorites.

Nualolo Trail

#3 Rated in West Kauai

If you want sweeping views of the NaPali coast, along with up-close views into some of the valleys that grace this beautiful stretch of coastline, then this trail is for you. In our opinion, it's best done as a loop trail combined with Awa'awapuhi Trail.

It's not for the faint of heart; however, as it's a full-day hike that will push your endurance. My wife and I took my parents on this hike once (they were in their late 50's at the time) and it was a little too much for them. But it is certainly a trail we love because it offers amazing views of the NaPali Coast you won't get anywhere else.

Kalalau Lookout

#2 Rated in West Kauai

Kalalau Lookout isn't just another Waimea Canyon lookout, as many first-time visitors often believe. It's a view into the heart of the Kalalau Valley- one of the most-photographed and well-recognized valleys in all of Hawaii.

The surrounding coastline and valley, which is the largest valley on the island at two miles wide, has served as the backdrop for countless films including "King Kong" (the original), "Mighty Joe Young," "Jurassic Park," and "Six Days Seven Nights."

Kalalau Lookout is also the highest elevation most people reach in Kauai by road, at 4,000 feet.

Waimea Canyon

#1 Rated in West Kauai

Dubbed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific" by Mark Twain, Waimea Canyon is the largest canyon in the Pacific and truly a dramatic sight to behold at ten miles long, one mile wide, and more than 3,500 ft. deep.

Carved thousands of years ago by rivers and floods that flowed from Mount Waialeale's summit, the canyon is home to the Waimea River.

The river was named for the red hue of the water, as Waimea means 'red waters.' The red tint is caused by several natural processes that break down the ancient rock inside the gorge.

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