Road to the wild country

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    This bridge along the road to and from Polihale State Park was once washed out and repaired by civilians with help from the state.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    The road that leads to and from Polihale State Park is about five miles of bumps, ruts and potholes most of the year.

KEKAHA — The road to Polihale State Park on the Westside is notorious for being riddled with large potholes, and though it is the entrance to a state park, managers aren’t in a hurry to pave it.

The public doesn’t want it paved, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which has held outreach meetings over the years to get an understanding of how locals feel about the road.

The DLNR Division of State Parks says that, in those meetings, “public sentiment was almost unanimously against paving the road to Polihale, in order to maintain the natural and rural character of the area, as well as to limit patronage.”

The dirt road branches off from Kaumualii Highway west of Barking Sands and leads to the last publically accessible beach on the Westside. It’s a six-mile stretch that’s often pocked with craters several feet across.

DLNR says the road is often in disrepair because of poor drainage, irregular cleaning of the drainage ditches on either side of the road and the “driving habits of park visitors.”

Four-wheel-drive vehicles can be seen letting air out of their tires before taking on the road, and smaller vehicles weave around the potholes as much as they can. Some turn back, while others find their way to the sand at the end of the road.

The dirt road is maintained and grated, and the potholes filled on an as-needed basis, depending on funding. That money comes from the State Parks repair and maintenance budget, which is only about $500,000 for the entire statewide system.

The last time State Parks did a dedicated maintenance project on the dirt Polihale road was right after the 2018 spring flooding events that wiped out roads and property island-wide.

Fixing the road after those flooding events was a $350,000 project.

Regular maintenance would cost less, State Parks says, but that is influenced by cost and weather.

Most recent census numbers for Polihale calculate there area about 170,000 annual visitors to the state park, though State Parks officials say it’s likely considerably higher now.

Still, that’s less than the 900 daily visitors that were making the trek to the other side of the island and to Haena State Park for the past few years, causing overcrowding issues and parking problems.

Officials had to repair Haena State Park after the spring 2018 floods as well, and closed the park to do so. When it was reopened, the state welcomed the public back with a few more rules, a small entry fee for out-of-state visitors, and a parking lot with 100 stalls that helped limit visitor numbers.

Currently, State Parks says officials don’t envision putting that system in place at Polihale State Park, even though it does get used “beyond capacity” on popular holiday weekends and through the summer.

There could be a bit more money on the way for road maintenance, though, as State Parks is currently considering raising parking and entry fees, as well as camping and lodging fees. That additional revenue will be used to improve, maintain and staff parks.

State Parks says Polihale would be a beneficiary of these increased revenues.


Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or

  1. Ted January 25, 2020 7:29 am Reply

    Just went there last Wednesday to camp. 4 1/2 miles of bone jarring, car beating torture to get to probably the largest beach park on the island. Was passed by many tourists in rental jeeps who didn’t care if they beat the jeep to death by driving fast. I feel sorry for the state workers who have to drive it regularly to service the bathrooms (which were very clean). Would regular road grading cost that much? Rental car companies should use tracking devices and charge extra fees when their cars are taken on this road. Would regular grading cost that much?

  2. tunataxi January 25, 2020 7:48 am Reply

    Paving the road will surely destroy what we consider to be Polihale. It will be become a zoo and the final nail in the coffin for Kauai and itʻs rural character

  3. douglas henry January 25, 2020 9:35 am Reply

    Why is this article talking about tourists? We local people use this road too. So fix it for us. The road as it is now will destroy any car going out there.

  4. My Two Cents January 25, 2020 12:40 pm Reply

    If that road gets pave that’s where all the highschool kids will go to drunk ,race ,and burn rubber.
    I know because I was one of those kids.
    \X/ !!WESTSIDE!!

  5. Thinkkauai January 25, 2020 3:53 pm Reply

    Why not setup a simple pay system for tourists/non Hawai’i ID drivers. $1 per person $5 per vehicle. Free with Hawai’i ID? Small price to pay for tourists.

  6. palani January 26, 2020 6:06 pm Reply

    I never had a problem getting there, driving carefully. But I haven’t been in several years. I don’t think it will ever get as bad as Haena, as it’s off the beaten track, and at the end of the road. It’s certainly a ways beyond the Waimea turnoff for Kalalau.
    It’s certainly a worthwhile destination, but I think most tourists head up the East side and frequent the hotels and ziplines.

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