Up beyond Waimea Canyon State Park is a place the locals like to call "The Mountain" or "Koke'e". Also a state park, this area is marked by thick forests, sinuous trails, rutted and muddy 4 wheel drive roads and scenery that is without equal. Don't worry, your cell phone will not work up past Mile Marker 10, forget about "On Star" and kiss the Internet good-bye. There is one pay phone -- guarded by a flock of hungry chickens -- in the vicinity of the Lodge and that's it.
A number of public camps, like Boy Scouts of America, the Methodist Camp, the Hongwanji and Camp Sloggett are also available through various churches and organizations. State cabins can also be rented through the Koke'e Lodge or State Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Although camping is available, and there are a few remote cabins for hunters -- free if you can get to them --, most trails in Koke'e can be accomplished in one day. Beautiful treks and bike opportunities can also be found on the contour roads that lead out to the end of the finger-like ridges that loom over the Na Pali coast.
Beginning at the picnic area just before Mile Marker 13, "Polihale Ridge Road" is a rough dirt contour or fire break road that descends along the ridgeline to its end just above the spectacular Polihale Beach and State Park. Breath-taking views of Ni'ihau and the 13-mile Barking Sands Beach can be viewed from this location.
A short distance past Mile Marker 13 is the Pua Hina Hina Lookout. Views of the Waimea Canyon, Koaie Canyon and Po'omau Canyon serve as eye candy and allow the viewer to watch hikers on the Waimea Canyon Trail far below. Accessible from the back of the lookout's parking lot is a trail that leads down to another viewpoint and the trailhead of the Waimea Canyon and Black Pipe Trails. Few people use this convenient trail and park, instead, at the intersection of Halemanu Road, another 4 WD road that winds down to meet the trailhead of the Canyon Trail. Several loop trails and connectors can be accessed from this area including a loop trek around the Canyon Trail, up a dirt road to the Kumuwela Trail, which then leads to the Halemanu Koke'e Trail, and back out on Halemanu Road.
Continuing on the Koke'e Road toward the Lodge and Koke'e Museum, the Nualolo Trail departs from an area just past the state cabins. This trail can be hiked down and back, or in a broad 11-mile table and circuit loop. Starting at the Nualolo Trail head, traversing the Nualolo Cliff (Bench)Trail and ascending the Awa'awa'puhi Trail is a strenuous hike that involves hitching a ride back to your car, or hiking the road to return to your point of origin. (I recommend taking the Nualolo Trail down and the Awa'awa'puhi Trail up because it is much easier than doing the opposite. Trust me!)
The Koke'e Lodge in the center of the great meadow is a spot....the only spot... for food and drink on the mountain. They serve great breakfasts and lunches but close at 3 PM on weekdays and 5PM on Fridays. The neighboring Koke'e Museum is a pleasant Natural History Museum and bookstore with great information about the park and trail conditions.
Leaving the Meadow area, the Camp Ten - Mohihi Road, leading to Camp Sloggett and far beyond is the gateway to the Alakai Swamp and Sugi Grove. This is a serious 4 WD road and make no mistake about it. If it is rainy, don't even attempt it! The primary way to the Alakai Swamp Trail leaves this road on the left across from a picnic area that overlooks Sugi Grove. Continuing down the hill to Sugi Grove is another state camping area and the remote campsites of Sugi Grove. The picturesque Kawaikoi Stream beautiful gurgles along the camp this picturesque area and the Kawaikoi Stream Trail -- a pleasant walk -- trail loops around the stream or joins with the Pihea Trail.
While in this remote area, don't miss the Po'omau Canyon Trail, the Kohua Trail and the Mohihi Wai'alae Trail.
If you don't have 4WD, continue along the paved Koke'e Road past the Lodge and come to a sharp bend in the road with a grassy parking area to the right and a gate across a gravel road. This is the trailhead to the Water Tank Trail and the Pu'u Ka'ohelo (Berry Flats) Trail where wild pigs can be seen grazing on black berries on this easy hike.
Further along Koke'e Road is the Awa'awa'puhi Trailhead and parking lot on the left. This trail has a pleasant descent and ascent and affords supreme views of the Na Pali coast at it's end. It is a short 2-3 hour hike down and back. Another easy trail in the area is the Kaluapuhi Trail. Park at the Awa'awa'puhi Trailhead and walk a short distance up the road. You will see the beginning of the Kaluapuhi Trail on the right. Mostly flat, this trail leads through dry upland forest and affords a gentle hike through the woods.
Back on Koke'e Road the Kalalau Lookout is the postcard photo op and the most breath-taking and spectacular view on the mountain of Kalalau Valley more than 3,000 feet below. If the valley is occluded by mist or clouds, be patient. The mist often clears in about 15 minutes!
Finally the Koke'e Road leads to the very end of the pavement and the final Kalalau Lookout where some seriously construction-challenged folks tried to build a road to Hanalei and failed miserably. The first slope bears most of the destruction, but pass this area with blinders on because the trail that awaits has the highest concentration of native birds and plants in the park. This is the Pihea Trail and it leads into the Alakai Swamp, or up to the Pihea Lookout. The Alakaia Swamp Trail boardwalk commences here and the Pihea Trail can be descended to the Kawaikoi Stream area and Sugi Grove for those without 4WD.
Be careful because this park does not have rangers or sign-in and sign-out stations. Always let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return, whether you leave a note in the hotel room, tell another camper or let the ladies in the Koke'e Museum know. For weather and trail information call (808) 335-9975.
Please do not throw away lit cigarette butts. Don't start camp fires or burn toilet paper. Forest fires are an ever-present danger!
(Photos by Sheila Heathcote