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Napali's Attic: A hike to the Kauai coast's Kilohana Lookout

The Pihea Trail begins with this panoramic Napali Coast view.

Midafternoon is slipping away as I happily make my way through a boggy plateau on the Alakai Swamp Trail, a few miles from the rain-drenched summit area of Mount Waialeale.

A metal mesh-topped boardwalk is keeping my feet dry in this place near the mountain once recognized as the wettest spot on Earth by the Guinness Book of World Records. An ever-so-subtle spring in the boardwalk’s underlying wood planks is energizing my pace. The only crack in my contentedness occurs when my hiking friends and I meet a lone trekker returning from our ultimate destination: Kilohana Lookout.

“How much farther?” we ask about the vista above the island’s famously scenic Napali coastline. Turns out we still have a mile or so of hiking before the boardwalk ends at the lookout: a small platform situated atop a 4,030-foot drop into Kauai’s northwest shore.

We pause for a moment to consider our options. Turn around here and we’ll finish an already spectacular excursion well before sunset. Push on and there’s a chance we’ll later be fumbling around in fading daylight. The four of us glance at one another and come to an almost instant consensus: We’re pushing on to Kilohana.

We had arrived at Kokee State Park shortly after midday with backpacks ready for a day hike but no set plan. Tucked into the often cloud-enshrouded highlands of Kauai’s northwest side, the 4,345-acre park maintains more than 45 miles of hiking paths—a few leading to sweeping views of Napali’s sea cliffs and Waialeale’s emerald slopes, others to waterfalls and glimpses of the red-clay walls of neighboring Waimea Canyon further downslope. In all, Kokee offers a hiker’s paradise of 17 designated trails.

Located near the start of several trailheads is Kokee Natural History Museum, a small, rustic space chockablock with facts and figures about the area’s native forests and rare Hawaiian birds, volcanic geology, and pioneering people. Staff members are on hand every day of the year to share the park’s story along with maps, weather forecasts and tips about current trail conditions. 

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
The Daytrippers: A day hike on Kauai's Napali Coast.
Kauai’s Napali Coast trail and Kalalau Valley closing for two months, Sept. 7
Kauai’s breathtaking Crater Hill hike to reopen. Here's a sneak peek.

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