Top 10 most amazing hikes on Kauai
Kaua’i, Main Hawaiian Archipelago’s oldest island, is a magical, awe inspiring place and a true outdoorsman paradise. The tropical jungle, mountain peaks, evergreen valleys, weathered coastline and even a magnificent canyon- Kauai has it all and more. The extensive system of hiking trails scattered around the island allows for an intimate view of the Garden Isle and all of its natural beauty. We’ve hiked everyday in our two weeks adventure on the island and would like to share with you our top 10 list of amazing hikes on Kauai.
Distance: 22 miles (35 km) round trip Difficulty : Very strenuous
No Kaua’i hiking list can be complete without featuring this fantastic, world class hike. Following the rugged Na Pali coast for sweat inducing, heart pumping 11 miles, the trail offers some of the most amazing views anywhere on the planet and ends in an idyllic, undeveloped Kalalau Beach, where hikers can spend up to 5 nights camping mere feet from the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by a ancient lava rock cliffs. The entire hike is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, with a total elevation change of over 5000ft (1500m). At some sections, the trail is only about a foot wide, with nothing between a hiker and the emerald blue ocean few hundred feet below. Getting to the end of Kalalau trail is well worth any effort to get there. A minimum of 2 days is recommended for this hike, but most people (us including) stay at Kalalau Beach for a day of “soaking up the paradise”
Even if 11 miles of cliff scrambling isn’t for you, the first 2 miles of Kalalau Trail, ending at Hanakapi’ai Beach is a fantastic introduction to the Na Pali Coast and if you’re up to an all day hike, another 2 miles will get you to Hanakapi’ai Falls (8 miles round trip). Past Hanakapi’ai Beach, all hikers are required to carry a camping permit that can be obtained HERE (make sure to reserve it well in advance as Kalalau Trail permits are in high demand, year round)
Distance: 8 miles (13 km) round trip Difficulty : strenuous
Other than Kalalau Trail, this is the best trail on the island in our humble opinion. Alaka’i swamp is a geological oddity, a high altitude alpine bog that lays within one of nature best rainmaking “machine”, the 5,148 feet (1,569 m) shield volcano, Mt. Waiale’ale. Alaka’i Swamp is one of the wettest places on the planet, an alien landscape filled with unique fauna and flora that cannot be found anywhere else.
The trail, or rather combination of two trails (Pihea Trail and Alaka’i Swamp Trail), starts at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout parking lot at the end of Highway 550 and for the first 1.5 mile spoils with amazing views of Kalalau Valley. Then, it gets even more interesting- a series of wooden stairs and platforms continues for the better part of the rest of trail and finishes in an otherworldly, blanketed in constant cloud mist swamp. The trail ends at Kilohana Lookout and if you are VERY lucky, you will be able to see Wainiha Valley and Hanalei Bay . Otherwise, the vista at the end will be a featureless, white “wall” that makes the scene even more spooky.
Be aware- this hike is not for everyone, you are almost guaranteed to get soaking wet and covered in mud from the slippery, clay like ground. However, if you’re up for an adventure, this is the best Kaua’i has to offer- there’s simply no place like Alaka’i swamp anywhere in the world!
Distance 5 miles (8km) round trip Difficulty : strenuous
Waimea Canyon is a phenomenon on a grand scale, considered Garden Isle’s size. This amazing, 10 mile (16km) long and up to 3000ft (900m) deep ravine, truly is a natural wonder. There are several hikes that follow the canyon’s rim, offering unobscured views of its multicolored walls and the center point, 800ft high Waipo’o Falls. Then there’s Kukui Trail. The only officially maintained route to the canyon floor ends at Wiliwili campground located steps from Waimea River. The views along the trail, combined with unique native fauna and flora, are breathtaking.
The hike down Waimea Canyon does not belong in the ” easy” category. The trail drops 2000ft (600m) in just 2.5 miles and there’s little to no shade for the better part of it. And, you have to hike back to the rim. However, if you’re up to the challenge, the views really make up for the hardship of the trail.
Distance: 3 miles (5km) round trip Difficulty : moderate
The combined trio of trails, starting from the Spur Trailhead and ending at Waimea Canyon Lookout, follows Waimea Canyon rim to the top of lower Waipo’o Falls. Amazing views of the canyon, abundance of native plants and occasional wild goats sighting are just part of the experience. The endpoint vista is located directly above the lower falls, making for a mesmerizing view of water rushing down the cliff into the unseen. In overall, Cliff & Canyon Trail is a fantastic half- day endeavor in Waimea Canyon and one of the best hikes in the region.
Distance 4 miles (6.5km) Difficulty : moderate
The most prominent peak in the Nonou Mountain Range, Sleeping Giant is a “guardian” of the towns of Kapa’a and Wailua and the trail that leads to its summit makes up for a very interesting, half-day hike. Nonou mountain trail climbs the ridge in a series of switchbacks with 1200ft (365m) of elevation gain, constantly spoiling hikers with grand views of the eastern part of Garden Island and the majestic Pacific Ocean.
Distance 5 miles (8km) round trip Difficulty : strenuous
This hike is a true gem! Not knowing what to expect, we were amazed by the amazing scenery and a sense of adventure Okolehao trail provides. Located in the vicinity of Hanalei town in North Kaua’i, the trail offers a rare opportunity to see the interior of this remote and otherwise inaccessible part of the island. Okolehao trail has it all- on one hand, amazing views of Hanalei Bay, Hanalei Valley and the beginning of Na Pali coast. On the other- rugged, undeveloped terrain, a lot of non-technical climbing (ropes provided) and a narrow, dangerous to walk on ridge at the end of the trail. It’s a true Kaua’i adventure that cannot be miss. Make sure to check weather before venturing out, as the trail may be impassable after heavy rain.
Distance 6.4 miles (10.3km) round trip Difficulty : Easy/moderate
This half-day, out and back trail in Koke’e State Park leads to a viewpoint overlooking one of Na Pali Coast most beautiful features- two sister valleys- Awa’awa’puhi and Nu’aolo Aina. The scenery changes from a tropical jungle to semi-arid desert as you get closer to the shoreline and the view at the end is simply jaw-dropping.
8. Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail South Shore
Distance 4 miles (6.5km) round trip Difficulty : Easy
This is by far the best coastal hike in this part of Kaua’i. Following the undeveloped coastline from Keoneloa Bay, better known as Shipwreck Beach to Kawailoa Bay, the trail is known for its cultural, historical and geological significance and offers a fairly easy half day hike. The highlights of this trail include ancient Hawaiian structures, lithified sand dunes, majestic views of the south shore and the unique flora of this dry part of Kaua’i.
Distance 7.8 miles (12.5km) Difficulty : Moderate
Another classic hike in Koke’e State Park that ends at a viewpoint overlooking Na Pali Coast. Nu’aolo Valley is a natural wonder and seeing it from up close (Lolo Vista at the trail end) is an unforgettable experience. The trail is somewhat difficult given the distance and the fact it is quite slippery, especially after periods of rain (and it rains often in Koke’e), but the vistas are well worth the effort.
Distance 4 miles (6.6km) round trip Difficulty : moderate/strenuous
Part of the earlier mentioned Alaka’i Swamp trail, Pihea Trail is a great option for all those who feel unfulfilled after seeing Kalalau Valley just from the viewpoint. This trail follows the valley rim almost to it other end, offering many viewpoints along the way. It ends at Pihea Vista and connects with Alaka’i swamp trail if you’re up to even more adventure. Be aware that this hike is very muddy and slippery, but hey, that’s part of the fun!