From the eastern town of Kapa`a and Lihue on Kauai, it only takes about a half-hour to reach the west side where the road leads up to the inland attractions of Koke`e State Park and Waimea State Park. Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea is home to hiking trails that weave across the valley floor and an amazing lookout that offers a panoramic view of the the entire valley. Just up the road is Koke`e, another wonderful park that is home to a museum, seemingly infinite hiking trails, and some of the best views and vistas on the island.
Kalalau overlook — Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt
Once in the small, Wild West-like town of Waimea, turn onto Waimea Canyon Road for the scenic drive up. Along the drive, keep an eye out for various small lookouts along the side of the road. About halfway up on the left side of the road is a small gorgeous waterfall running through bright red earth.
Red dirt waterfall — Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt
At the fork in the road where you'll see the Koke`e State Park, veer to the right. Majestic sights are a treat along the drive. The state park overlook provides a cement area with a railing barrier to hang out by while gazing down into the ten-mile-long and 3,000 foot deep canyon. The sunlight changes the color of the valley throughout the day. Up here at the lookout, there are restrooms and you'll usually find vendors with snacks and crafts.
Waipo`o Falls in Waimea Canyon — Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt
From there, head up to Koke`e. Forested acreage is somewhat similar to Mainland U.S. forests rather than the wet jungle-like landscape of most of the island. One of the first attractiosn you will see is the Koke`e Natural History Museum with a modest, but interesting collection of exhibits. A highlight is the Treasury of Trees, Resources of a Traditional Lifestyle; it shows how Hawaiians utilized their natural surroundings.
The highlights in the park are the Kalalau and Pu`u O Kila overlooks. Located at the end of the road, these two lookouts are regarded as two of the best views in the Pacific. At mile marker 18, the Kalalau overlook opens to an expansive view over Kalalau Valley, the biggest one on the Na Pali Coast. Inhabited until the beginning of the 1900s, the valley is now uninhabited except for the occasional hippie living off of fruits.
About a mile down the road is an even better lookout called Pu`u O Kila. Here you will be treated to a window into Kalalau Valley, from the Alaka`i Swamp to Mount Waiale`ale. It's important to try and get to the overlooks by mid-morning before haze and clouds dominate, otherwise it can be hard to see the views. Another great way to see the valleys even closer is via a tour with Sunshine Helicopters or another tour company.