Everyone who visits Kauai makes the trip to Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park. Here is a road map of sorts for the "malahini" (Hawaiian for newcomer) that provides all the tips you need to have a safe and enjoyable trek to the mountain!
After driving through Waimea Town, be on the lookout for the skeleton of the old sugar mill on the left side of the road. Directly across the road from the old mill you will see a church with a white steeple and the West Kauai Techno Center (pictured above). An approaching sign shows Route 550 is coming up on the right, and THAT'S THE ROAD YOU WANT. Ignore the green and white sign that says "Waimea Canyon 3 miles ahead". The second road is not nearly as pretty as taking the Waimea Canyon Drive, or Route 550.
Now you are ready for a real treat as you explore numerous unmarked scenic outlooks. Be sure to stop at each one for a multitude of different views and you will notice that the scenery gets more dramatic with each 500 feet you go.
The top of the mountain boasts an elevation of 3500 feet of cool, misty, windswept forest and canyon uplands. The clouds skim the sky so quickly that it feels like the weather is changing every five minutes.
Here is one such view at left. Waimea Canyon and Koke'e Park are favorite hunting spots for many local people who feed their families on the bounty of the mountain. Local hunters hunt wild boar, deer, goats, and grouse, pheasant and ercol franklins. But don't worry! The hunting areas are far, far away from the trails and any wayward animals are just as afraid of you as you might be of them.
About mid-way up the mountain is the Waimea Canyon Lookout, a large paved parking lot with ramps and a walkway up to a canyon overlook.
Next on your journey is the Puu Hinahina Lookout on the right. Spectacular views of the canyon can be seen from here, and those planning to hike the Canyon Trail can see what is in store. Continue on 550 and pass Mile Marker 14. You will see rental cars parked on both the right and left sides of the road. This is where you will park to hike trails located in the valley below. Take Halemanu Road on the right down into the valley to find the Canyon Trail, the Black Pipe, the Halemanu-Kokee Trail, Kumuwela Trail and Waininiua.
Next stop is the Koke'e Lodge and the Koke'e Natural History Museum. At the Lodge hungry hikers can enjoy a hearty lunch and some cold beer. Don't pass up the Portuguese Bean Soup and cornbread.
The Koke'e Museum has great gifts and every possible book you could ever want on all subjects pertaining to Hawaii, with special emphasis on ecology, history, botany and culture. Be sure to enjoy the numerous roosters who wait outside these establishments waiting for a hand out. The roosters and chickens themselves make excellent souvenirs and any tourist so inclined to take one home will be much obliged by the locals. In fact, please take two!
From the great meadow in front of the Museum and Lodge many trails are accessible, including the Nualolo Trail and the gateway to the Alakai Swamp accessible from Mohihi Camp 10 road which begins across from the meadow at the Camp Sloggett sign. Be sure to take only 4-wheel drive vehicles on Camp 10 road as it can get very muddy, and there are no tow trucks on the mountain, no Onstar, heck, there isn't even cell phone service. So be careful!
Continuing on, note the sign for the Discovery Center, where you can access Water Tank Trail and Puu Kahoelo-Berry Flats trail.
Stay on what is left of Rte. 550, as it begins to have some epic potholes -- some large enough to consume a small rental car! Awa'awa'puhi Trail will be the next point of interest. It is marked by a trail sign on the left side of the road. This 2.8 mile forested trail pops out on the ridgeline at approximately 1000 feet below with insane views of Nu'alolo and Awa'awa'puhi Valleys on the Na Pali Coast.
Continue a bit further and you will come to the first Kalalau Lookout.
There is a large parking area and comfort station. Bask your eyes on the grandeur below the promenade railing for a sight that is not equaled anywhere else on earth. Often there will be clouds and mists covering the view, but be patient and give it 15 minutes. Often the valley below will peak out for a shorttime before the mists envelope it once again. Kalalau Valley is the last stop on the rugged Kalalau trail - a 12 mile hike that takes on average 8 - 16 hours each way. It is onlyaccessible from the northern coast at Kee Beach.
Across Rte. 550 from the first Kalalau Lookout is the Kalauapuhi Trail, a level, short trek through native upland forest. There is only one other place to go on the road to Koke'e and that is to the end of the road and the last Kalalau Lookout. This spot has an interesting history as you will find out when you begin to hike down the Pihea Trail, whcih begins here. Someone got the bright idea that they would build a road from Koke'e to the North Shore and they began bull-dozing and excavating. What the ended up with was a big mess because it was way to wet to make a road. The Pihea Trail, however, has the largest assortment of endemic birds and plant speces than on any other trail in the park. Pihea leads to the Alakai SAwamp Trail and there are intersections with Kawaikoi Stream Trail that leads down into Sugi Grove.