Just an hour from Poipu on the South Shore of Kauai is Koke’e State Park, a unique destination located in northwestern Kauai and includes myriad hiking trails, a museum, a lodge serving delicious Koke’e chili and cornbread, and rustic cabins for rent. The park is just north of Waimea Canyon State Park and includes 4,345 acres of mountainous terrain.
The main attractions of Koke’e’s hiking trails are the native vegetation, native forest birds and the scenic cliff side views. The park receives around 70 inches of rain per year, mostly from October to May. At the end of the state road is the Kalalau Valley lookout, once home to thousands of native Hawaiians. The best views of the valley are generally in the morning but with mountain weather, there are no guarantees. While the valley can sometimes be completely fogged-in, the views through parting clouds can be spectacular in their own way.
While you may be able to see waterfalls in the far distance at Kalalau Valley lookout, the most spectacular waterfall in the park is Waipo’o Falls; the best roadside view of Waipo’o Falls is between mile markers 12 and 13, across the street from the Pu’ukapele Picnic Area. Take your time to stop at the other pull-outs on your way up-the views are spectacular!
In October, Koke’e is the home of an outdoor festival honoring Queen Emma of Hawaii. Begun in 1988, Eo e Emalani Alaka’i (also called the Emalani Festival) has become one of the most memorable cultural experiences in the State. Each year, kumu hula (hula masters) and their dancers help to create an event that has touched thousands, many of whom return annually to participate.
The Emalani Festival held annually on the second Saturday in October commemorates the 1871 journey of Hawaii’s beloved Queen Emma to these upland forests. She was a revered leader who took the land to heart.
Live Hawaiian music, along with historical displays and Kauai arts and crafts, begin at 10 am and at 12 noon, “Queen Emma” enters Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow on horseback, led by her guide Kaluahi, represented by a local cowboy. Hula dances are presented to the Queen by hula halau (groups) from across Hawaii. Hula groups from Europe and Japan have also journeyed to Kauai to participate.
Kauai’s mountain parks have a distinct micro-weather system. Weather in Koke’e State Park is changeable and sometimes very unpredictable. Waimea Canyon State Park is dryer than Koke’e, which climbs into the rain forest. The park environment ranges from 2000 to 4000 feet elevation above sea level so it can get chilly. The coldest time of the year is January through February when temperatures can dip into the high 30’s (Fahrenheit). A jacket or sweater and long pants, as well as covered shoes, are suggested.
Koke’e State Park is a destination all its own. With its cool temperatures, native forests and birds, and sweeping canyon views, it is a unique and unforgettable Kauai adventure not to miss.