Kauai is tagged as “Hawaii’s Island of Discovery” for valid reasons:
there are many aspects to the island and as small as it is, taking the time to fully explore it will reap multiple gorgeous views and soul-changing experiences. It’s also known as the Garden Isle, which makes sense given the low population and abundance of wilderness and park areas—it’s very much like exploring a large garden.
Waimea Canyon State Park
This is the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and the views are as enticing as those of its namesake. There’s no sign at the start of the road telling you you’re headed to this park. Simply make the turn onto Highway 550 from Waimea or onto 552 from Kekaha and drive for 17 miles. At the juncture of 552 and 550, there’s a park sign for both Waimea and Koke’e Parks. The views along the way make the meandering, climbing drive well worth it.
Waimea Canyon Lookout is at 3,400 feet.
The waterfall in the distance looks like a slivered slip of an artist’s pen dripping down the otherwise striated canvas.
If you’re lucky, there will be a young Hawaiian man in vintage garb standing on a bench, statue-like at first. Then he’ll begin telling you the history of the place, answering questions. Drop a couple of bucks in the basket in return for the lessons.
The Waimea Canyon Trail doesn’t have any markers along the way letting you know where you are in the scheme of the path. It’s an easy to moderate trail even though it’s not well groomed, as the sign at the trailhead notes. You walk in and out of the forest, so some shade, some sun. As always, take a hat and lots of water. On a clear day, you can glimpse the island of Niihau in the distance. This is one island not accessible to visitors, with 200+ Hawaiians in residence.
The NaPali Kona Forest Reserve Pihea Trail is near here and takes you over the edge.
Keep in mind that it is very wet here, so even though the rocks may appear dry to your eye, they are slick to your feet. Tread slowly and pay attention.
In Koke’e State Park, there is a lodge, museum, lookout and a campground. Don’t skip the Kalalau Valley Lookout! The Wai’ale’ale is one of the wettest spots on earth at 5,148 feet. Your skin gets a nice moisture-refreshing cloak on it.
Rising above the clouds, the coastline view may be obstructed but what you can see against the background of white are dragonflies! Dozens and dozens of dragonflies dancing about with the grace of mini helicopters. What a dazzling thing to see!
On the rocky ledges below, look closely and you may glimpse mountain goats nibbling their way along the ridges.
When the clouds part from time to time you’ll catch sight of the coastline and the deep blue of the water.
In Koke’e, there is the Iliau Nature Loop & Kukui Trail.
Note that it might be hunting season, so stick with both brightly colored clothes and to the trail. Although there are signs on the nature loop that describe some of the plants you’re seeing, there aren’t any trail signs indicating your location on the walk.
The views of the canyons are outstanding—the blending and meshing of the orange and greens look more like a Hollywood backdrop than reality. Find a trail map before going or wander as long as much as you want and turn back. The beauty is so relaxing that you won’t feel any stress even if you don’t know right where you are in the scheme of things.
Read: Hawaiian Lava Fields