Wailua River State Park#9 in Best Things To Do in Kauai
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If you want to experience Kauai's majestic rainforests without breaking too much of a sweat, then you'll want to add Wailua River State Park to your itinerary. This park is home to the only navigable river in Hawaii, allowing visitors to get an eyeful of the lush valley on a boat tour. Other popular points of interest in the park include Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls, both of which travelers can drive to. Wailua Falls is unique in that that the rocky terrain of the river above forms two separate streams that create two waterfalls in one spot. Meanwhile, the water of Opaekaa Falls glides down a jagged cliffside. From its vantage point, you can't see the source of the falls nor its end point; the area is completely shrouded in jungle vegetation. However, it is one of the most accessible waterfalls in Hawaii, with its vista point located right off of Kuamoo Road.
In addition to housing notable natural attractions, Wailua River State Park is known for its historical significance. Ancient Hawaiians used to consider this river sacred. As such, several temples and royal sites were located here. If you have time, stop at the Wailua Complex of Heiau, a National Historic Landmark that houses remnants of this era, including ruins, ancient birthing stones and stone carvings with petroglyphs.
Many travelers come to Wailua River State Park to see Wailua Falls, considered a top attraction in Kauai. If you plan a visit, heed the advice of reviewers and arrive early in the day to secure a parking spot. Others who visited the park ended up there thanks to tours or cruise excursions. Some suggested skipping a tour entirely (especially to the underwhelming fern grotto) and renting kayaks or paddleboards to enjoy the scenery at your own pace (nearby outfitters Kayak Kauai and Alii Kayaks offers rentals, paddleboard rentals and kayaking tours of the river).
Wailua River State Park is located on the east coast of Kauai in Wailua. The park is open to visitors during daylight hours; there are no admission fees. For more information on Wailua River State Park, visit the park's website.
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#1 Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park
Waimea Canyon, aptly nicknamed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," should be at the top of every traveler's itinerary. This 14-mile-long, mile-wide and approximately 3,600-feet deep gorge is awash with spectacular scenery difficult to find elsewhere on the Hawaiian islands. Here, you'll find craggy red cliffsides and crested buttes blanketed in lush, evergreen vegetation as far as the eye can see, with waterfalls and rivers dotted in between. Most travelers who visit Waimea Canyon choose to take in the sight by car, as there are multiple lookout points situated along Koke'e Road, including the popular Waimea Canyon and Puu Hinahina lookout points. If you're hoping to explore outside your car, there are trails in the canyon that range from easy to difficult. Many trailheads can be found off of Koke'e Road, with some, including the Cliff Trail Lookout and the Waipo'o Falls Trail, accessible from the Pu'u Hinahina lookout point. Helicopter tours are another great way to view the canyon from all angles.
While at Waimea Canyon, be sure to pop over to the equally stunning Koke'e State Park. What makes Koke'e Park so interesting is that despite being right next to Waimea Canyon, the park has a completely different makeup. Koke'e Park occupies thousands of acres of rainforest, and as such produces a different microclimate (the farther you drive up Koke'e, the colder it gets). Like Waimea, travelers commonly explore the park via car, as the main road through Koke'e cuts through the park. While here, be sure to visit the Kalalau Lookout and the Pu'u O Kila Lookout for stunning views of the Napali Cliffs. If you want to get even closer, consider taking the Awa'awapuhi Trail, which takes hikers to the edge of some of Napali's famous cliffs. Another trail worth trekking is the Alakai Swamp Trail, which spends more time going through the park's rainforest. Wherever you decide to hike, whether it's in Waimea Canyon or Koke'e, bring proper hiking shoes to avoid falling from the slippery mud often found on Kauai trails.
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