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.
In fact, exploring Kokee State Park is one of the best things to do in Kauai!
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!
Hey, by the way! Visiting Kauai? The only way to get a real feel for the rugged beauty of this incredible island is through a helicopter tour! Check out the five highest rated Kauai Helicopter tours for 2023!
Now let’s get started discovering how to visit Kokee State Park in Kauai, Hawaii!
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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!
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
You can also do the short spur trail to the Pihea Overlook, the highest point along the rim of the Kalalau Valley.
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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!
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.
Also look for endemic acacia koa, a variety of ferns, vines, and mosses, and a few varieties of wildflowers in the spring.
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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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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.
Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei, the charming town that sits in the middle of Kauai’s scenic north shore.
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, and a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches.
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