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Perched between 3,200 and 4,200 feet above sea level, Kokee State Park instills its guests with a natural high.
To reach Kokee, visitors simply drive to Kauai’s far west side, then head for the hills. At the top await 4,345 acres of hiking trails, homespun hospitality and views of valleys and coastlines along the island’s north shore. Here’s a closer look at this gem of a destination.
Drive-Up LookoutsKokee lays claim to several inspiring views that are accessible by car. The photo ops begin during the uphill drive on Route 550. Just past the 10-mile marker is Waimea Canyon Lookout. On its walkways and platforms, clients gaze straight out to the 10-mile-long, 1-mile-wide, 3,600-foot-deep chasm.
At mile marker 13, Puu Hinahina Lookout regales guests with more canyon perspectives. It also delivers a clear shot of Niihau, the private island drifting 17 miles off Kauai’s western shores.
The road dead-ends at Kalalau Lookout, presenting a dramatic panorama of the Kalalau Valley and cliffs which flank the Napali Coast.
Hikes for All TypesWith 45 miles of trails, Kokee is a hiker’s heaven-on-earth. Footpaths ranging from gentle to challenging lead visitors through dreamy forests rich in wildflowers and endemic birds.
The half-mile Iliau Nature Loop helps clients get their bearings. The easy, 4-mile Berry Flat Trail heads into groves of native and introduced trees, including Hawaiian koa and California redwoods.
Tougher hikes reap additional rewards. Weather permitting, the 7-mile Alakai Swamp Trail fills the eyes with a coastal spectacle. The hilly Awaawapui Trail culminates in otherworldly cliff and ocean vistas.Kokee LodgeIn the heart of the park stands this unpretentious gathering place, serving breakfast, lunch and aloha spirit. A plate of its cornmeal pancakes starts the day off right, while a local beef burger hits the spot after a hike.
The lodge’s fireplace keeps folks cozy, as do coffees, cocktails and live music on Saturdays.
Although it’s called a lodge, there are no guestrooms here. However, Kokee does offer rustic accommodations, including 12 rental cabins managed by the lodge. Outdoorsy travelers can reserve campsites with grills, a comfort station and showers, albeit cold.
Kokee MuseumBefore exploring the park, visitors should stop by this snug museum, a hub of information on all things Kokee. Staffers share trail maps and hiking recommendations based on conditions.
The museum’s exhibits provide an in-depth examination of the park, from its cultural significance to its historical relevance. Clients can peruse botanical prints and touch samples of wood from the surrounding forest.
The gift shop sells souvenirs with a sense of place. Travelers can buy a Kokee cap or T-shirt, Kauai-made products such as shell jewelry and recordings by Hawaii musicians.
Special EventsWhile Kokee is worth experiencing any day of the year, clients might want to time their visit to the park with one of its ongoing events.
Each May brings the Banana Poka Round-Up, named after an invasive plant in order to raise awareness about Kokee’s precious environment. Hands-on crafts, kids’ games, a silent auction, food and entertainment make this a family-friendly affair.
In October, the annual Emalani Festival honors Hawaii’s adventurous Queen Emma, who visited Kokee in 1871. Dozens of hula dancers perform for the queen and her entourage, who are dressed in period costumes. Exhibits, crafts and snacks add to the fun.
Kokee also has hosted a fiddlers convention with jam sessions, square dancing and old-time tunes; and a wreath-making workshop to usher in the December holidays.