The north shore is in our humble opinion, the most beautiful part of the Garden Island. Lush, wet, overgrown with tropical foliage, “sandwiched” between incredibly steep mountain peaks and the endlessness of the Pacific Ocean. With its secluded beaches, an abundance of waterfalls, charming little towns of Princeville and Hanalei, the North Shore never “gets old”. When it comes to hiking, one trail comes to mind immediately- Kalalau Trail at the end of the road, leading to a remote beach on the Na Pali coast. It’s one of the best known foot paths in all Hawaii and most tourists heading north on Kuhio Highway set Ke’e Beach, where the trailhead is located, as their destination. However, there is another very interesting trail in this part of the island that’s worth doing and we encourage everyone to spend an additional day to do this fantastic hike.
The Okolehao trail near the town of Hanalei is one of Kaua’i most underrated gems. It’s by far the only maintained trail accessing the interior of this part of the island and offering stunning views of Hanalei Bay, Hanalei Valley, Kilauea Lighthouse and Makana Mountain, also known as Bali Hai. The trail’s name is derived from a Hawaiian liquor made from roots of Ki plant. The road was established during prohibition times to transport the distilled alcohol from the ridge.
These days the trail follows a series of switchback to the top of the ridge, offering numerous breathtaking vistas and abundance of native and introduced plants. A characteristic feature along the way are the paperbark trees with they paper-like, easy to peel bark. It’s also an excellent bird watching spot.
The trail itself is 2.5 miles long (4 km each way) of dirt path that varies in difficulty from moderate climb on the first mile or so to a serious workout past the huge powerline tower(you can’t miss it). The last leg following the top of Kaukaopua ridge is extremely narrow and steep, there are few sections where you need to use ropes to ascend/ descend.
Total elevation change is 1250 ft (380 m), therefore it’s a good idea to come prepared if you’re planning to do the entire hike. Bring sturdy hiking boots with non-slippery undersole as parts of the trail tend to be muddy. I would avoid the hike if it rained recently, as it may turn the whole experience from enjoyable to straight out dangerous. Bring plenty of water, hiking sticks and rain gear for this one.
HOW TO GET THERE
Getting to a trailhead is very easy. Coming from the east side of Kaua’i, follow the road leading to Hanalei to a double iron bridge just before the town limits. After crossing the first bridge, make a left onto Ohiki road and continue for another mile to a designated parking lot on the left side of the road. The trail starts across the street. Here’s an exact position of the trailhead on the map:
Ohiki road itself is a great spot for bird watching- you can spot many of Kaua’i water birds, including the native Nene Goose. Sunsets are spectacular here as well.
THE TRAIL REPORT
We found out that Okolehao is the most under-rated trail in Kaua’i. It’s a demanding, sometimes dangerous trek through a rugged terrain, but the rewards are definitely worth the effort. The views along the road are mesmerizing and will stay in memory for years to come. Weather changes constantly, one minute you may be walking in full sun, the next amongst the cool, moist breeze from the clouds. If you have time to explore this side of Kaua’i, make sure to check Okolehao trail in Hanalei!