When compared to the sun-drenched beaches of Poipu or Hanalei, Koke’e State Park is a brisk mountain outpost where bikinis and boardshorts are replaced by flannels and hiking boots. Located at 4,000 feet in the uplands above Waimea Canyon, the air is cooler than down on the shoreline, and flocks of nene goose meander through the low clouds that linger on the forested mountain slopes.
In addition to being a mountain outpost, Koke’e State Park is known as having Kauai’s best hiking. No fewer than a dozen trails depart from the immediate vicinity, with trailheads leading either towards the colorful ravines of famous Waimea Canyon or into the lush interior which ranks as one of the wettest spots on the world. Still other trails lead towards overlooks which gaze down on the Na Pali coast, and the 3,000-foot, near-vertical drops are definitely not for the faint of heart.
For those who would prefer the dramatic overlook without having to hike to get there, the road which runs through Koke’e State Park reaches its upper terminus at the Kalalau and Puu O Kila overlooks where visitors can peer deep into the remote Kalalau Valley. Or, if you would prefer to learn about the island’s varied natural history, the Koke’e Natural History Museum outlines everything from the introduced game animals of the Garden Isle to the effect that Hurricane Iniki had on the island’s wildlife.
Camping is available for those who want to experience the early-morning calm of the mountains, and the entire park is a breath of fresh air where the crashing surf of the shoreline is replaced by whistles of native song birds as they flit their way through indigenous treetops. Rugged, rustic, and completely undeveloped, you can even make out the Forbidden Island of Niihau as it looms on the distant horizon.