Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park#1 in Best Things To Do in Kauai
Price & Hours
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.
You can find Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park on the western side of Kauai. When planning your trip to Koke'e Park or Waimea Canyon, try to plan your trip for a clear day, otherwise, travelers say you will encounter limited visibility and miss out on the canyon's vibrant colors. Visit in the morning to enjoy the best views of the gorge and to beat the crowds. It's also important to drive carefully here; the roads to the parks have been described as narrow, windy and at times uneven by recent travelers. And unless you're camping in Koke'e State Park, admission is free; entrance to Waimea Canyon is also free. For more information about Koke'e State Park and Waimea Canyon, visit the Hawaii State Parks website.
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#2 Napali Coast
The Napali coast is a 17-mile expanse of rocky, steep, but oh-so-gorgeous series of cliffs that stretch along Kauai's northwest shore. Travelers agree there's no better way to experience Kauai's natural beauty and eye-catching terrain than at Napali, so you should make plans to marvel at it – either on foot, from the water or from the air (there are no roads that go along the Napali Coast).
Hiking the Kalalau Trail is the least expensive method of surveying this coast, but it's also an incredibly strenuous excursion that only experienced hikers should attempt. Other popular ways of taking in Napali are via boat or helicopter, which allows travelers to see parts of the coast inaccessible on foot, such as untouched beaches, sea caves and sky-high waterfalls that are tucked between the fluted cliffs. Visitors say those prone to seasickness might want to reconsider a boat tour, as the north shore's waves tend to be very rough. If you can handle the exorbitant fees, many agree a one-hour helicopter tour is the best way to view Napali; there will be no achy muscles or queasy stomach, plus you'll get to see more of the area in a shorter period of time. Whatever you choose to do, travelers said the extra effort – whether it's a challenging hike, rocky boat ride or expensive helicopter tour – was completely worth the extra effort.
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