10 Best State Parks in Kauai Hawaii for Outdoor Lovers (2023)

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If you’re wondering about the best state parks in Kauai Hawaii, you’ve found the right post.

No matter the type of vacation you’re planning, you can do it all on Kauai! Kauai is one of the largest Hawaiian Islands and packs a huge punch in terms of things to do.  

You’ll find everything from tranquil beaches to jaw-dropping hikes and entertaining water activities. It’s got the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure and offers plenty of options to suit everyone.

Best of all, whatever activities you choose to partake in are sure to have a stunning backdrop. The island is also called the Garden Isle, and it’s easy to see why considering it’s hard to keep your eyes away from its lush greenery and coastal scenery. 

You can’t explore without visiting at least a few of the best state parks in Kauai, Hawaii. They’re home to the lion’s share of the island’s beautiful beaches, hiking trails, fascinating historical sites, and more. 

You’d be surprised at how each state park displays different aspects of the island’s topography, varied native species, and available activities. You could easily build your vacation around exploring each park and find special experiences and things to love about every one of them! 

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Best State Parks in Kauai Hawaii

Waimea Canyon State Park

Person hiking down a winding path down the side of a mountain.

Waimea Canyon State Park will offer a glimpse into the untouched vistas of Hawaii as seen by the early explorers. The canyon was formed by the river of the same name as it was carved through the lava rock and basalt formations that Kauai is built of. 

It’s a place of wild beauty, with lush tropical plants frequently shrouded by mists and immense waterfalls crowned by spectacular rainbows. Bring your camera when you visit since there are lots of photographic spots here.

The state park offers picnic areas and restrooms, but you’ll need to plan ahead with your own food and beverages. As you wind along the rim of the canyon on the road, you will find several lookouts as well as access to a few hiking trailheads. 

If you’re looking for a true adventure, try trekking down to the bottom of it, a place that John Wesley Powell called “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Or just enjoy the view from the top with the equally scenic but much less challenging Cliff Lookout Trail.

Believe it or not, the canyon measures 3000 feet deep in certain spots, making it a wonder to behold! This Kauai state park is situated on the western side of it.

Explore Waimea Canyon State Park with a guide on this tour!

Wailua River State Park

View overlooking a river winding through a green, luscious area.

You will find Wailua River State Park on the eastern side of Kauai. It’s home to its namesake waterway, which is one of the only floatable rivers in the state of Hawaii. There are a couple of hiking trails and viewpoints that offer glimpses of the majestic river valley. 

Depending on where you plan to stay in Kauai, there are different ways you can get to it. The best way to experience the lushness of the park is to get out on the river by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. If you don’t want to paddle for yourself, go on an organized boat tour! 

All of these options will give you the chance to experience the rainforest up close and personal. There’s nothing more relaxing than drifting down a waterway and listening to the gurgle of the water and the sound of birds. 

The park facilities include a concession stand, picnic area, and restrooms. Make sure you also visit Fern Grotto and the park’s two waterfalls, Opaeka’a and Wailua.

Those interested in the history of the islands will also want to check out the Wailua Complex of Heiau, which was once an important center of power in Hawaii. Here, you’ll find the remains of places of worship, refuge, and more. 

Kayak in the park with this tour!

Polihale State Park

A sandy beach along the mountains as the waves crash into shore.

Polihale State Park can be found on the western edge of the island and can be tricky to get to, but it is well worth the journey! The road to the park is about five miles of unpaved dirt and frequent potholes, with pockets of sand that can surprise the unwary. 

4WD is recommended, and some rental car companies might prohibit you from driving out there due to the potential for damage to the vehicle. You will need to monitor the weather to make sure that you don’t get rained out, as the road can be impassable when wet. 

But if you can handle the road, travelers are rewarded with a pristine coastal setting backed by high sand dunes and surrounded by high sea cliffs. It’s a place of spectacular sunsets and breathtaking views. Due to the difficulty of the drive-in, it is frequently less busy than other state parks in Kauai. 

You won’t find any concession stands here, but it does offer tent camping as well as picnic facilities, restrooms, and showers. During the hot summer days, visitors can enjoy fishing and occasional swimming opportunities. But you do need to be careful since the offshore currents can be strong, and you’ll need to be cautious when getting in these waters.

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Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park

The Na Pali Coast is a 16-mile stretch of coastline located on the northwest edge of this Hawaiian island. It can be viewed from other points on Kauai, including Koke’e State Park and Polihale State Park, as well as from a myriad of helicopter tours. 

However, there is nothing that can compare to exploring the wilderness area up close. To do this, you’ll need to either hike from Ha’ena or boat into Honopu Beach or Kalalau Beach.

Camping permits for those coming in from Ha’ena State Park are available online 90 days in advance. Many people opt instead for the scenic (but strenuous) kayak tour or other boat tours from Ha’ena State Park and the surrounding areas. 

The rugged cliffs and hanging valleys, which drop sharply down into the water, are some of the most recognizable features of the state of Hawaii. But pictures can’t do justice to such a glorious maze of jungles, valleys, waterfalls, and waterways. 

It’s a place of beautiful beaches and unique rock formations that were created through years of erosion. History enthusiasts will want to keep their eyes peeled for the remains of stone terraces where ancient Hawaiians used to live and farm taro. 

Kōkeʻe State Park

A wooden sign inside a state park pointing to the direction of different locations.

Koke’e State Park offers some of the most striking views on Kauai. You will see plenty of local flora and fauna in the area as well. The state park is located in the northwestern area of the island, with access to it from the town of Waimea in the southwest. 

The winding road is paved and maintained, and the climb up to about 4000ft of elevation at the park affords incredible sweeping vistas in all directions. From here, it’s easy to see back toward Waimea Canyon and out toward the Pacific Ocean. 

Upon arrival at the state park, there are food concessions, a picnic area, campsites, rustic lodging facilities, and restrooms. Stop by the Koke’e Natural History Museum to learn a better understanding of the culture of the local area before heading out for a hike. 

The state park is also home to some of the most amazing hiking trails in Kauai. The seven trails are graded for a variety of ability levels, from beginner to strenuous. They cover more than 45+ miles of paths with ample opportunity to spot local plants and birds. 

If you don’t have a ton of time or aren’t interested in a hike, you’ll still see plenty of the park’s majesty from its two lookout points. Just know the breathtaking views from these spots are likely to entice you to explore further! 

Ahukini State Recreational Pier

Ahukini State Recreational Pier is found at the mouth of the Hanamaulu Stream, where it intersects with the Pacific. It has historical significance as one of the earliest-used deep water ports on the island, although it wasn’t long before shipping needs outgrew the small area that was available there. 

Today, you’ll find great views of the ocean and surrounding coastline at this east side coast from the cement pier. If you’re looking for a place to fish in Kauai, this is a good spot. If you’re not interested in fishing, it’s still a great spot to view the occasional water critters with everything from fish and crabs to sea urchins and cucumbers. You can easily spot a stingray or two in the waters as well! 

There are no facilities to speak of, including restrooms, so come prepared with everything you need for your time there. Given its short distance from the Lihue airport, it makes for a convenient spot to relax and enjoy a final view of Kauai while waiting for your flight. 

Lydgate State Park

People sitting on beach and playing in the water.

Lydgate State Park is an easy jaunt from the town of Wailua. It’s a scenic spot with about two miles of white sand beaches and crystalline waters. Two protected lagoons were built to provide a safe space for swimming. 

You will want to check with the lifeguard on duty to confirm if water activities are possible when you’re there, as unsafe conditions can still occur at random times. If you’re able to get in the water, it’s an amazing spot to go snorkeling, with lots of tropical fish that sneak in from other areas and even sea turtles.

Away from the water, the park gives travelers access to restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and a large playground which makes it a popular spot for families. There are no concessions on site, but the nearby Hilton has a tiki bar that is available to non-hotel guests as well. 

Hāʻena State Park

Large rocks along the shoreline of a beach on a cloudy day.

Ha’ena State Park is a gem located on the northern shore at the end of the highway. If you don’t have a rental car, you can take a bus to Hanalei from other points and then take a shuttle into the park. 

To preserve this place’s pristine beauty, they’ve instituted a reservation system for all non-Hawaii residents. To enter the park, you’ll need either a park entry reservation, a parking reservation, or a camping permit for the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Reservations for entry and parking permits are available online in advance and frequently sell out, so plan ahead if you want to see this slice of paradise. 

The park is known for its tranquil beaches and incredible hiking opportunities. The waters tend to be the calmest in July and August and are great for swimming, snorkeling, or shore fishing. 

The two main hikes in the park, the Hanakāpīʻai Falls trail, and the Kalalau Trail, are both long and challenging but allow you to traverse some spectacular Hawaiian landscapes. Also in the area are a number of fascinating caves that formed thousands of years ago, which can be fun to explore if you have a flashlight and the courage. 

Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park

Pā’ula’ula State Historical Park, otherwise known as Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park, offers a glimpse into an interesting period in Russian history. The fort was built on the southwestern corner of Kauai in 1817 as a center for trade. 

It provisionted ships crossing the Pacific during the period when Russia was establishing its American capital in Sitka, Alaska. After the Russians moved on, the fort became home to Hawaiian soldiers for the bulk of the 19th century.

Today, you can visit the remains of the fort and learn about its history, as well as take in the sweeping ocean views that made this prominent spot on the island the perfect place for a stronghold. 

The site doesn’t take long to view and doesn’t offer a ton of information beyond the basics, but if you’re interested in colonial history, this is a must-see. It’s one of the only Russian forts built on what would later become US soil.  

Waimea Landing State Recreation Pier

A long pier going out into the water on an empty beach.

The Waimea Landing State Recreation Pier is a great place for fishing. It frequently ranks as one of the better spots on Kauai for fishing and crabbing. Just make sure you know the fishing restrictions prior to arrival, as the last thing you’ll want is to incur a fine or annoy the locals. 

Ahi and other saltwater fish are common, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a Moi fish or a baby hammerhead shark. 

If you’re interested in other activities, the pier also makes a great spot for photography, with the ocean stretching endlessly to the horizon from the end of the concrete and wood structure. Come for sunrise or sunset, and prepare to be impressed by the way the sky lights up with color. 

It’s found in the town of Waimea, which has plenty of other notable attractions to visit nearby, like the Waimea Town Market at Parker School.

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Final Thoughts: Kauai State Parks

Now you know all about the best state parks in Kauai! Enjoy your trip.

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