Things To See on Kauai's Westside
At a 4,000 foot elevation, Waimea Canyon coined the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, boasts panoramic views and along with Kōkeʻe State Park are must see on Kaua’i. It has taken millions of years to create the splendid array of greens, browns, and reds colors showcasing the canyon. The Waimea River, erosion from the rain, water from the peaks of Mount Waiʻaleʻale, and volcanic activity are all contributors to the natural beauty that the canyon displays. Waterfalls are visible in the distance and rainbows frequently inhabit the cliffsides. A feeling of peace and tranquility sets in place as you reconnect with nature.
Getting to Waimea Canyon and Kōkeʻe
There are actually two ways to access Waimea Canyon/Kokee. After heading West on Hwy. 50, continue through Waimea town and turn right, heading mauka (towards the mountain) on Waimea Canyon Drive (Hwy. 550). This is the first option to get to Waimea Canyon. If you prefer to continue west on HWY. 50, another option to get up to the canyon is available where you can also get a glimpse of the old sugar plantation town of Kekaha and pass the sugar mill that has been closed since 1999. Continuing west, when approaching Kekaha, Turn right onto Hwy 55. The route is better on the vehicle as the climb up is less steep. Both of these routes lead to the Waimea Canyon, however each route has its own breathtaking views and experience.
Nonetheless, around mile marker 6, the two roads end up merging. From a L.O.C.A.L perspective, a recommendation is to go up using the Waimea route (Hwy. 50) to experience the rolling hills and magnificent red dirt features and then descending the mountain using the Kekaha (Hwy. 50) route as it is less steep and gives you great views of Niihau and the Westside of Kauai’s landscape, the best of both.
Continue on this curvy road about 4 miles and you will see the sign for Waimea Canyon lookout which is located between mile markers 10 and 11.
Waimea Canyon Lookout
Veer right into the parking lot area. Here there are restrooms and also snacks for sale. You can purchase dried fruits and you must try the coconut water which is cold and crisp. You can reach the lookout from the shorter steeper ascend on the left or the ramp which provides a gradual ascend. If you have children or a stroller and head up the gradual ramp, you will not be able to access the upper lookout because of the stairs. Likewise, if you take the steeper shorter route, you will not be able to access the lower lookout area. You do have the option of carrying your children but make sure they are carefully watched. If you have an infant, a carrier would be perfect. Either way, have your camera ready for the sweeping views of the canyon.
Continuing on to Kōkeʻe State Park
There are two other lookouts along the route to Kokee State Park, the Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout located between mile markers 12 and 13 and the Puu Hina Hina Lookout located between mile markers 13 and 14. We usually skip these because of time constraints and also depending on the state of the children. After continuing on Kokee Road for a few more miles or so you will reach Kokee State Park.
Although relatively speaking Kokee is close to Waimea, the terrain and climate differ significantly with the increased elevation. Kokee State Park is a natural watershed, an area of land from which all surface and groundwater flows from higher elevation, Mount Waiʻaleʻale, downhill to the Waimea River. Many community groups work to preserve and educate others about this intricate watershed and the importance of wai or water to the area and surrounding land. The watershed is abundant with many native plants but also has invasive intruders in the form of invasive plants and animals such as pigs and goats that disturb native vegetation. You will feel a difference in the temperature of the air as this increased elevation brings cooler temperatures. It may often be about 10 degrees cooler in Kokee than in Waimea or Kekaha, especially in the winter months.
Kōkeʻe Lodge, Kōkeʻe Natural History Museum, and the Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow
As you turn into Kokee State Park you will see, Kokee Lodge and the Kokee Natural History Museum to your left. The area is defined by the Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow on your right, a large open area for recreation which is a great place to have a picnic with the family or let your keiki run around a bit before getting back into the car.
Kokee Lodge offers food for purchase and also restroom facilities. Check out the Kokee Natural History Museum which offers information on hiking trails and the surrounding area. Local books, maps, artwork, and handcrafted keepsakes are for sale. They are open daily from 10-4pm and admission is free so it’s a perfect family activity.
Continuing Further On to Kalalau Lookout
After stopping at the museum, you must continue on Kokee Road a few more miles to mile marker 18 to the magnificent Kalalau Lookout. Satisfaction will take over that you can go no further. Standing from the lookout you will see astonishing sweeping views of Kalalau valley. On clear days you may even catch a glimpse of the shores of Kalalau beach. Kalalau is only accessible on foot through a 13 mile hike beginning at Ke’e beach on Kauai north shore. You will understand why you cannot circle the island, as the Napali cliffs lie in the way ans will be amazed by the natural beauty that surrounds you.