Kokee State Park in Kauai is worth visiting for the great views it offers!

Visiting Kokee State Park, Kauai: The Complete 2024 Guide (Best Things to Do, Tips!)

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Kōkeʻe State Park is, without a doubt, one of the best Kauai state parks to visit. In combination with Waimea Canyon State Park, Kokee State Park is a must on any first-time visitor’s Kauai itinerary.

Located in the remote northwest of the island of Kauai, you’ll find Kokee State Park just south of the legendary Na Pali Coast and just north of Waimea Canyon State Park, home to the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Kokee State Park encompasses 4,345 forested acres on a plateau set 3,200 to 4,200 feet above sea level, and the scenery and the setting are both gorgeous.

With some of the best hiking trails in Kauai, a plethora of native Hawaiian flora and birds, and fabulous views into the Na Pali Coast, Kokee State Park is well worth visiting.

In fact, exploring Kokee State Park is one of the best things to do in Kauai!

View of the Kalalau Valley and the Pacific Ocean from the Pihea Trail in Kokee State Park, Kauai
The Na Pali Coast from the Pihea Trail in Kokee State Park

Given its somewhat remote location, visiting Kokee State Park does require some planning, though, especially if you plan to hike.

In this article, we describe everything there is to see and do in Kokee State Park, along with a full guide on how (and when!) to visit for the best experience.

If you love visiting state parks, be sure to also read our guide to visiting Haena State Park, which requires advance reservations, our guide to Polihale State Park, and our article on Wailua River State Park!

Visiting Kauai? The only way to get a real feel for the rugged beauty of this incredible island is through a helicopter tour!

Now let’s get started discovering how to visit Kokee State Park in Kauai, Hawaii!

The Kalalau Valley and the Pacific Ocean from Kokee State Park in Kauai, Hawaii
A view of the Kalalau Valley and the Pacific Ocean from the park

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Want to visit Kokee State Park on a guided tour?

This highly-rated tour combines Kokee State Park with Waimea Canyon State Park and includes lunch. With several pick-up locations, the tour allows everyone in your party to sit back and enjoy the views.

>> Check price and availability for this Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks tour now!

Things to Do in Kokee State Park

Take in the Views from the Kalalau Lookout

Most, if not all, visitors to Kokee State Park stop at the two roadside lookouts the park offers, for the epic views.

The Kalalau Lookout is the first lookout you’ll encounter in the park, at mile marker #18 (see map).

The lookout offers a sensational view into the Kalalau Valley, one of the widest valleys in the Na Pali Coast. You can see the Honopu and Kalepa ridges.

It is a much photographed view, and, on a clear day, it will take your breath away!

View from Kalalau Lookout in Kokee State Park, Kauai, HI
Looking down into the lush Kalalau Valley from the Kalalau Lookout!

The valley, which can today only be accessed via the very strenuous Kalalau Trail, has featured in many movies, including Jurassic Park.

The Kalalau Viewpoint is also the highest point you can reach in Kauai by road.

Arrive early in the day (but not super early), for your best chance of clear views and good light in the valley for photos. Later in the day, clouds are apt to roll in, and very early, the valley is in shadow.

>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!

And Admire the Views from the Puʻu o Kila Lookout

The second of the two lookouts in Kokee State Park is the Puʻu o Kila Lookout, which is literally at the end of the road in the park, at mile marker #19 (see map).

The Puʻu o Kila Lookout also offers a view over the Kalalau Valley, but it’s a different view from the one you get at the Kalalau Lookout, and you can catch a glimpse of Kalalau Beach as well.

It does tend to get cloudy here, but if you are lucky enough to arrive at a time when the skies are clear, you will be treated to one of the most magnificent views on Kauai.

 View over the Kalalau Valley from the Puu O Kila Lookout in Kokee State Park, Kauai

The Pihea Trail starts at this lookout, and you can a little ways along the trail for additional views if you wish before heading back.

Also from here you can look down upon the Alakai Swamp, which goes all the way to Waialeale, one of the wettest places on the planet.

Arrive in the morning for your best chance of a clear view, but don’t be surprised if you arrive to find the view socked in by clouds.

Sometimes the clouds will dissipate for a bit, or clear out, so if you have the time, wait a while to see if conditions change.

If you are really lucky, you may even catch a rainbow draped over the ridge!

Hike the Many Trails in Kokee State Park

Avid hikers will definitely want to allow for more time at Kokee State Park, because the park offers some of the best hiking in Kauai.

The 45 miles of hiking trails in Kokee State Park include a variety of moderate and challenging day hikes.

Do your research ahead of time to plan your hiking because some of the trails are long, and you will ideally want to hike Kokee State Park when it is dry (and has not recently rained too much).

Here are some of the trails you’ll want to consider hiking in Kokee State Park:

The Alakai Swamp Trail is a unique and very scenic trail that’s a must-do if you’re up for a challenging hike.

A red-crested cardinal at the Alakai Swamp in Kokee SP, Kauai
A red-crested cardinal at the Alakai Swamp

It is 3.5 miles each way, and takes you through native scrub rainforest and swamp to an amazing viewpoint, Kilohana, on the edge of Wainiha Pali, from where the views of the Wainiha and Hanalei Valleys (on Kauai’s north shore) are stunning on a clear day.

This is an excellent trail for birding!

The Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls is moderate, at about 1.6 miles each way. The trail takes you through the Waimea Canyon to the top of the waterfall.

Cascade at top of Waipoo Falls in Kokee State Park, Kauai, Hawaii
The cascade and stream at the top of Waipo’o Falls

Although you can’t see the 800-foot drop of Waipoo Falls full-on during this hike, it offers fabulous views into the canyon, with its red and green hues.

At the end you can take a refreshing dip in the little stream and enjoy the small but picturesque cascade at the top.

The Awaʻawapuhi Trail is on the bucket list of many experienced hikers that visit Kauai. It’s a little over 3 miles each way and strenuous, with an elevation change of over 1,100 feet. The way back is all uphill!

A view from the Awaʻawapuhi Trail in Kokee SP, Kauai, HI
A view from the Awaʻawapuhi Trail

This trail ends at a ridge top that’s 2,500 feet above the Na Pali Coast, with breathtaking views into the Awaʻawapuhi and Nualolo Valleys, and the Pacific Ocean.

Be sure to heed the safety warning at the end: it’s a 2,000-foot drop if you lose your footing and fall.

The Pihea Trail is moderate, and just under 4 miles each way. It’s a forested trail that offer great views, along with opportunities to view native vegetation and look for Hawaiian birds.

Lush vegetation along the Pihea Trail in Kokee State Park in Kauai, HI
Lush forest along the Pihea Trail

You can also do the short spur trail to the Pihea Overlook, the highest point along the rim of the Kalalau Valley.

>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!

Stop by the Museum

The Koke‘e Natural History Museum, Hui O Laka, makes for a great stop on your visit to Kokee State Park.

The small museum (not a government facility) showcases the natural and cultural history of the area. The botanical prints are beautiful!

Kokee Museum at Kokee State Park in Kauai, HI
The Kokee Museum is small but worth visiting for the info it provides!

You can shop for books, trail maps, and souvenirs of your trip to Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks.

Birding enthusiasts will love the exhibits that describe native birds and introduced birds. You can also buy birding books here.

The museum is open daily, weekdays from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and weekends from 10.30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

You will find the museum just past mile marker #15 on Highway 550.

Good to know: You’ll see lots of wild chickens at the lookouts, around the Lodge, and by the Kokee Natural History Museum. Don’t feed them — feeding has increased their population with some undesirable consequences!

Observe the Local Flora

Kokee State Park is an excellent place to get up close to a variety of native Hawaiian flora. Many trails are forested, and a large number of trees and plants thrive here.

You’ll likely see lots of ohia lehua trees: they are a type of flowering evergreen with lovely red flowers. The tree is endemic to the six largest Hawaiian islands, and the park is an excellent place to photograph the delicate blooms.

Ohia lehua bloom along the Pihea Trail in Kokee SP, Kauai, Hawaii
An ohia lehua bloom along the Pihea Trail

Also look for endemic acacia koa, a variety of ferns, vines, and mosses, and a few varieties of wildflowers in the spring.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!

And Look for Birds!

Kokee State Park is an excellent birding destination in Kauai. The park is home to many of Kauai’s endemic birds.

So be sure to bring your binoculars or zoom lens when visiting Kokee State Park!

The elepaio, a bird in Kauai
Look for the elepaio in Kokee State Park!

Look for the bright red ʻiʻiwi , a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper, the ‘apapane, also a small crimson species of honeycreeper, and the ʻelepaio, a species of monarch flycatcher.

You may also see the ʻanianiau, the smallest Hawaiian honeycreeper, or the yellow-green ‘amakihi, yet another species of Hawaiian honeycreeper.

The Pihea Trail is one of the best birding trails in Kokee State Park. You may also spot birds at the Puu O Kila Lookout area, if you are lucky.

The Alakai Swamp Trail is also great for birding, and you may even have a small chance of spotting rarer birds such as the puaiohi and the akikiki, both of which are very rare and endangered, and endemic to Kauai.

Have Lunch at the Lodge Restaurant

After a morning spent hiking and exploring, have lunch at the restaurant at the Kokeʻe Lodge!

The menu offers eclectic choices, from burgers featuring local grass fed beef patties and a plate lunch featuring slow-roasted pork to a grilled cheese plate and vegetarian chili.

Burger at the Kokee Lodge Restaurant in Kauai Hawaii
Burger at the restaurant at Kokee Lodge

There’s also a full bar.

The restaurant is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 4.30 p.m on weekdays and from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. on weekends. The kitchen closes at 4 p.m.

On several days a week, the restaurant offers live music from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., from Hawaiian to Country.

The restaurant can be found just past mile marker #15 on Koke’e Road in Kōkeʻe State Park.

Good to know: There are no other food options in the park, so if you plan to stay here into the evening or overnight, bring food for dinner, or plan to drive to Waimea, the nearest town, for dinner.

Book a Cabin to Stay a Couple of Nights

If you are planning a longer trip to Kauai, consider renting a cabin to spend a couple of nights (or more!) at Kokee State Park.

Being ensconced in the mountains here is a unique experience that you will cherish.

There are cabins of various sizes, from a studio that sleeps two to larger units that sleep four or five people.

Each cabin has kitchen appliances and utensils, and they are furnished.

Expect a rustic ambience, with wood burning stoves and basic amenities, and no TV or internet. The key reason to rent is the ability to spend late evening and early morning in a stunning natural setting.

While there’s a minimum 2-night stay required, you may be able to book for one night if the calendar has such an opening.

Cabins here are popular so reserve well ahead of your visit!

A koa tree in Kokee State Park, Kauai, HI
A koa tree in Kokee State Park

Or Camp!

Prefer a campsite?

The campground at Koke’e State Park offers tent camping sites with minimally developed campsites.

You’ll find the campsite 15 miles north of Kekaha on Highway 550, adjoining Waimea Canyon State Park. It is located at an elevation of 3,600 feet above sea level.

The campsite offers amenities: restrooms, drinking water, trash cans, and picnic tables.

Hawaii residents pay $20.00 per night, while non-residents pay $30.00 per night. You can book a maximum of 5 nights.

One site can accommodate up to 10 people, while all other sites can accommodate up to six.

Reservations open 90 days in advance and can be made here.

Koke’e State Park Kauai Map

Getting to Kokee State Park

Kokee State Park is located in a somewhat remote location, in the northwest part of Kauai, but it is accessible by road.

Take Highway 50 West to Highway 550 (see map). The road is well paved and usually in good condition.

Kokee Road in Kauai, Hawaii
Kokee Road in the park

Here are the driving distances to Kokee State Park from various parts of the island:

Koloa (or Poipu) — 33.3 miles, one hour and 6 minutes
Lihue — 40.5 miles, one hour and 20 minutes
Hanalei (or Princeville) — 71.6 miles, 2 hours and 10 minutes

The nearest towns are Kekaha and Waimea.

As you can see, it’s easiest to visit Kokee State Park (and Waimea Canyon) while you are staying in Koloa or Poipu, on the sunny south shore of Kauai.

The parks and lookouts are well signposted.

If you are making the drive in the spring, look for the orange flowers on the silky oak trees en route! Silky oaks, along with eucalyptus and black wattle trees, were planted in the 1930s to control erosion caused by cattle grazing.

Don’t want to drive? Check out this highly-rated guided tour of Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks! There are multiple pick-up locations, and lunch is included.

>> Check pricing and availability for the Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks tour now!

Kokee State Park Hours and Admission Fees

Kokee State Park is open daily during daylight hours.

While reservations are not required, the park does charge an entry fee and parking fee for visitors that are not residents of Hawaii.

The entry fee is $5.00 per person. Kids 3 and under are free.

The parking fee is $10.00 per standard vehicle for non-residents.

The fee, paid once, is valid for all parking lots within the park, and the entry fee and parking fee are valid also for adjoining Waimea Canyon State Park, if you visit both parks on the same day.

Residents of Hawaii enter free and park free with a valid Hawaii license or state ID.

Feral chicken at Kokee State Park in Kauai, HI
You’ll likely see “junglefowl” at Kokee State Park!

The Best Time to Visit Kokee State Park

You can visit Kokee State Park year round, but ideally you will want to avoid rainy days, when views are obscured and trails can get muddy and slick.

Check the weather forecast for the area, and pick a bright clear sunny day for your visit, for the best chance of unobscured views!

The canyon walls tend to be much greener in the winter months, when it rains more, so your photos will be prettier, but on the other hand, you will have a higher likelihood and clouds and poor visibility.

Kalalau Valley from the Pihea Trail in Kokee State Park, Kauai, HI
The Kalalau Valley and the ridges of the Na Pali Coast from the Pihea Trail

Tips for Visiting Kokee State Park

Visit in the morning for better visibility!

The views are one of the biggest reasons to make the long drive to Kokee State Park. And you’ll want to give yourself the best shot at seeing those views by timing your visit well.

Usually, mornings are a better bet when it comes to visibility. Don’t go too early (before 8 or 8.30 a.m.), as the Kalalau Valley is in shadow then, but anytime after, until about 11 a.m. usually offers the best chance of unobscured views.

Clouds usually roll in later in the morning or in the early afternoon, blanketing the valley.

Also, be sure to check the weather forecast before you head out, to make sure it’s not a super rainy day.

Wait if you arrive to clouds

The weather in Koke’e State Park can be notoriously fickle. Even on a generally sunny or partially cloudy day, showers (sometimes heavy!) can occur through the day, and the viewpoints can change from cloudy to clear and back again in the span of a few minutes.

If you arrive and the viewpoints are socked in, don’t despair!

If you are patient, the clouds may part for a bit or disappear entirely, so if you have the time, wait 20-30 minutes to see if conditions get better. If you arrive to a shower, wait it out in your car.

Generally, if the wind is blowing from the land towards the ocean, you stand a better chance of the cloud cover dissipating.

Clouds hanging over the ridges of the Na Pali Coast in Kauai
Clouds draped along the ridges at the Kalalau Valley

Wear layers and bring a rain jacket

Kokee State Park is at quite an elevation above sea level, so the temperature in the park is usually quite a bit cooler than in Poipu or even in Waimea.

Year round, a light warm jacket is a great idea when visiting Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks.

And, since showers are frequent and the park gets quite a bit of rainfall, bring a rain jacket for exploring outdoors.

Wait to visit if you’ve gone scuba diving!

If you go scuba diving in Kauai, wait at least 24 hours after your dive to visit Kokee State Park.

Since Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park are at an elevation, waiting a day minimizes the potential for decompression sickness.

Allow time for the scenic drive

The drive up the west coast coast of Kauai, through Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park, is very scenic.

Give yourself enough time to enjoy the scenery en route!

A viewpoint in Kokee State Park, Kauai
A view over the Kalalau Valley from a lookout in Kokee State Park

Know that the road is windy and climbs

The road to Kokee State park, and within Kokee State Park, climbs from sea level to about 4,000 feet.

It is a winding road, and if you are susceptible to motion sickness, you’ll want to bring some dramamine for the drive.

Wear proper shoes for hiking

Hikes in Kokee State Park are moderate to challenging, and you’ll want to arrive prepared if you plan to hike.

Definitely wear broken-in closed-toed hiking shoes with good grip!

Bring binoculars or a zoom lens

Kokee State Park is an excellent birding location in Kauai. If you enjoy birdwatching, be sure to bring your binoculars.

A zoom lens is perfect for capturing photos of birds in the park.

ferns at Alakai Swamp in Kokee State Park, Kauai
Ferns at Alakai Swamp

Don’t expect cell service in the park!

Cell reception is spotty to non-existent in Kokee State Park, so download or print any trail maps or brochures you need prior to heading out.

No park maps are handed out in the park. You’ll have buy maps at the museum if it is open when you visit.

Stop in Waimea on your way back, for shave ice!

Waimea makes a great pit stop en route to Kokee State Park, or on the way back.

While it’s a convenient stop to fill gas or get supplies, one of the best reasons to stop here is to get shave ice at JoJo’s!

The Waimea location of JoJo’s is open daily from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., so you must stop here on your way back after your Kokee State Park adventure.

No, you don’t need reservations to enter!

Currently, you do not need advance reservations to visit Kokee State Park (or Waimea Canyon State Park) for the day. Camping in Koke’e State Park, or staying at one of the cabins, does require reservations though, so book ahead1

The Best Kauai Tours

Have you booked these top Kauai guided adventures yet?

Sunset catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast (relatively more stable ride, insane views on good weather days!)

Doors-off helicopter tour of Kauai (unobstructed views, chance to see more of the island than you can by land, no middle seats!)

Kayak on the Wailua River plus hike to a waterfall (a super fun activity for active travelers, albeit a little muddy sometimes!)

Raft trip to the Na Pali Coast plus snorkeling (prepare to get wet on this exhilarating adventure!)

Eurocopter ECO-Star helicopter tour over Kauai (the most booked Kauai helicopter tour on Viator with close to 2K reviews and a 5-star rating!)

Entire Kauai Island Air Tour (super popular, less expensive than a heli tour, large bubble windows for flightseeing!)

Renting a Car in Kauai

The best things to do in Kauai are scattered all over the island.

Public transport options on Kauai aren’t great, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Kauai trip.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kauai car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kauai car rentals now!

Lihue Airport-Hotel Shuttle

Not planning to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport? Pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back!

This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Kauai now!

Where to Stay in Kauai

Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Kauai you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.

Since you’ll likely want to base in a couple places on your trip to Kauai, we suggest starting your search for Kauai accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO.

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in both Poipu and Princeville and find that the choice and quality are generally great.

>> Look for a Kauai vacation rental on VRBO now!

Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!

Nualalo Valley and the Na Pali coast from the Nualolo Trail & Awa'awapuhi Trail loop, one of the best Kauai hikes in Koke'e State Park, Kauai
Nualalo Valley and the Na Pali coast from the Nualolo Trail & Awa’awapuhi Trail loop, one of the best Kauai hikes in Koke’e State Park, Kauai

More Kauai Travel Inspiration

Considering a trip to the Garden Isle in Hawaii? You’ll definitely want to check out some of our other comprehensive Kauai travel and attraction guides!

If you are a first-time visitor to Kauai, start by discovering the best things to do in Kauai! From beaches and botanical gardens to cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls, Kauai has it all, and our round-up lists all of Kauai’s must-experience activities and attractions.

Planning to split a week between Kauai and another island? We have a 3 days in Kauai itinerary article you must read to help flesh out what you would like to see and do!

Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei and Kauai’s scenic north shore, the best things to do in Poipu and Kauai’s south shore, and the most exciting things to do on Kauai’s Coconut Side or east side.

Read our in-depth guide to visiting the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. We give you the full scoop on the best ways to visit this stunning coast in the remote northwest of the island.

Discover our round-up of the nine spectacular state parks in Kauai, which house some of Kauai’s most treasured natural wonders.

We also have visitor’s guides to popular parks like Waimea Canyon State Park, which protects the namesake canyon, nearby Kokee State Park, and the remote but beautiful Polihale State Park.

Also check out the ultimate guide to visiting Haena State Park on Kauai’s north shore, and a full guide to hiking the epic Kalalau Trail.

Check out our round-up of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, from waterfalls you can view from the road to falls that require hiking and falls that are best seen from a helicopter or sightseeing flight. We also have an article on everything you need to know to visit Secret Falls Kauai on an exciting kayaking and hiking tour.

Read our guide to Wailua River State Park to discover two easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls, and our trail guide for the easy hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. We also have an article on the best Kauai waterfall hikes.

And if a helicopter tour is part of your plans for Kauai, read our article on the top-rated helicopter tours in Kauai!

Hiking enthusiasts will want to read our article on the best hikes in Koke’e State Park: the trails here are some of the best hikes in Kauai!

We have detailed trail guides for the most popular Koke’e hikes, from the scenic Canyon Trail to the top of Waipo’o Falls, to the epic Awa’awapuhi Trail, challenging but very rewarding!

Also discover the best hikes in Waimea Canyon State Park, and the best hikes on Kauai’s north shore.

We also have a trail guide for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s scenic south shore, an article on how to hike the Sleeping Giant Trail, and a guide to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the easy hikes on Kauai.

Get the scoop on the best botanical gardens in Kauai, from Limahuli Garden on the north shore to McBryde and Allerton Gardens on the south shore. The botanical gardens are great spots to look for the birds of Kauai, as is Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

Read our guide to the best swimming beaches on Kauai, from Hanalei Bay on the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south shore!

We also have a guide to the best snorkeling beaches on Kauai, a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches, and an article on the best Kauai south shore beaches!

And if you love watching the sun go down in a burst of color, be sure to read our article on where to go for the best sunsets on Kauai!

Did you find this article informative? Pin it for later!

Discover the ultimate guide to visiting Kokee State Park in Kauai, Hawaii! Best things to do, must-do hikes, when to visit and more.

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