To visit Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks, drive up from the coast on Highway 50 from the town of Kekaha, which is about 3 miles past the town of Waimea.
Highway signs clearly mark the turn up to the mountain parks. You’ll be driving up through abandoned cane fields which are now being taken over by introduced trees like Silky Oak, Black Wattle, and Paperbark Eucalyptus, all Australian transplants. Reforestation to control erosion caused by cattle began in the 1930s with the introduction of these Australian trees. During spring, horizontal clusters of feathery, orange-gold blossoms cover the tall and beautiful—but invasive—silky oak trees.
Most of the trails in these two parks are in Koke’e State Park. However, there is one short and one long trail between the 8 and 9 mile markers. Both are well marked. There is a paved parking apron along the left side of the road.
Kukui Trail takes you into Waimea Canyon. This steep trail, starting at about 2700’ elevation, winds two miles to the botttom of the canyon. Because it is used by hunters on horseback, it is shaley and loose. You’ll be descending, so you begin to lose views and it is hot and dusty. The climb back is arduous. If you can get someone to drop you off at this trailhead, you may choose to walk seaward along Waimea River to Waimea Town and the ocean.
ILIAU NATURE LOOP
Right at the top of Kukui Trail, there is a short, half-mile nature loop that gives you a good sense of Kauai’s dry forests. We recommend you go left. The trail is named after the Iliau plant, a relative of the Hawaiian silversword that in all the world grows only on Kauai. Invest 15 minutes to explore the native plants and enjoy the vistas of Waimea Canyon and Wai‘alae Falls, which are midway along this stroll. There is a covered picnic shelter along this trail, right where it intersects with Kukui Trail.