Hiking on Kauai
From the soaring cliffs of the Na Pali Coast to the colorful depths of Waimea Canyon, Kaua’i enchants the senses like no other place on earth – packed with hidden ravines and cascading waterfalls just waiting to be discovered. It is a magical gem that sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is a fantasy land of gigantic ferns, ancient trees, tangled vines, magnificent waterfalls, crystal clear streams, fascinating cliffs, and unspoiled beaches. Holding the title as the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, this lush island is merely an infant when it comes to land masses – just five million years old and formed from a fiery volcano that has since gone quiet. With abundant rainfall that combines with fresh ocean breezes to create the perfect erosion machine, our beautiful valleys and gorges are carved. The cycle begins with Mt. Wai’ale’ale — this famous peak, often enshrouded in clouds and fog, is generally known as the wettest spot on earth – catching nearly 500 inches of rain per year! All that rainfall has to go somewhere — and we will explore each crack along its journey to the ocean. Hike Kaua’i With Me is a privately owned hiking outfit, specializing in outdoor adventures for all types of people — whether you are a beginner with limited experience or a seasoned outdoorsman with rugged expeditions under your belt. We tailor our tours to the exact specifications that fit your unique comfort level. No large groups to take you away from your serenity experience, just you and who you bring with you. As a small, individually owned company, we are able to give you the personal attention and care that you require at just the pace you want with just the views you crave – a tour that will lodge itself into your memory for years to come. You let us know what type of adventure you are looking for and then rely on our expertise to show it to you in the safest, most exciting way possible. You will leave with the ultimate Kaua’i adventure on your tastebuds, satisfied that you experienced the Kaua’i that hides itself from people who don’t want to work for their views. We live for the privileged opportunity of taking others into the great outdoors of Kaua’i.
This trail isn’t for the faint at heart, but what would you would expect from a top ten most dangerous hike!! The 11 mile (one way) trail brushes the tips of the famous Napali Coast, showcasing beautiful and breathtaking views. It may be a long and strenuous hike, but it’s also a once-in-a-life-time journey and the destination is like no other. Watch for a few words on being mindful of hiking conditions.
First things first: this isn’t a hike you should do in one day since it’s a total of 22 miles round trip. With that being said, you will need a permit to camp at Kalalau Beach this can be obtained through the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resource Online Reservation System. The permits are $20 for visitors and $15 for Hawaii residents, per person.
Make sure to bring: a water filter, water, food, a tent or hammock, sleeping bag, sleeping pad (optional, but very nice to have), something to cook your food on, head lamp, lighter/matches, sunscreen and other things you feel you need for camping. Your pack will be around 25-40 pounds, depending on what you can carry and what you bring. Also, keep in mind, you can only camp 5 consecutive nights on the Kalalau Beach.
So let’s get started by driving to the end of the highway on the North Shore of Kauai. We suggest unpacking your camping gear at the end by Ke’e Beach and then reparking at the parking lot on the right just a short ways back on the highway. The trailhead sign is right off the beach parking lot and can’t be missed. Do not leave valuables in the car. Right away the trail starts to climb, and this is the case for around the first half mile until you reach a fantastic view of Ke’e Beach and the Napali Coast. The breeze here is oh so welcoming after that first ascent. Then the trail heads more into the Kalalau Valley where the true beauty of nature and jungle are all around you. The trail begins to descend down to the first creek crossing via a set of switch backs. About mile 2 you come across the Hanakapia Beach, which is where many people do day hikes to. After this first two miles the trail gets a bit more dangerous and remote. The elevation gain between miles 2 and 3 is one of the largest on the hike. You will gain about 900 feet in less than a mile and will certainly feel it. Miles 3 thru 6 are of varying terrain and move from jungle to ridge lines rather frequently. It’s an extremely beautiful part of the trail. At mile marker 6 (ish), you will come to Hanakoa campground, which is a stopover option if you don’t want to go all the way in one day. There is a composting toilet here as well as picnic benches and camping spots. The water in the Hanakoa stream is good to drink and you should fill up your water bottles here.
If you decided to camp halfway you will wake up with another 5 miles to finish before you make it to Kalalau Beach. If you’re afraid of heights miles 6.5-8 will keep your heart rate up as the trail narrows and runs right along the cliffside, and around mile 7 you will encounter the infamous “Crawlers Ledge,” which to be honest has been a bit talked up as it’s not much more difficult then the rest of the trail. If you are afraid of heights be sure to not look to your right and take it easy at all time, especially if it has been raining. Miles 7 to 9 are the least favorite part of the trail as it contains the sections referred to as “Mars” and “Red Hill”. These red dirt sections are slick whether dry or wet. Once you get through the final section of Mars you will see a green meadow below and that’s the sign showing you’re almost there. At mile 10 you will come to the Kalalau River and this is a great spot to jump in and cool off after such a long hike. From there, you simply cross the river, veer to the right and walk to the beach. The hike can take anywhere from 6 to 9 hours depending on conditions.
Kokee is a mystical place with so much nature to explore, you could spend weeks up there and not get to all of the great hikes Kokee has to offer. I will go over a few of the best hikes in Kokee and Waimea Canyon, but always feel free to explore further. A few words on how to be mindful of hiking conditions.
The most popular, but also one of the most difficult hikes the canyon has to offer, is the Alakai Swamp Trail. You start off at the very end of the road on the Pihea Trail and after 2 miles of open valley views the scenery changes drastically to a swampy wonderland. The Alakai Swamp is the highest elevation swamp in the world and in recent years the Parks Service has enhanced it by adding wooden boards to walk across instead of trudging through the mud. At the end of the trail, you reach the Kilohana lookout with breathtaking views of the north shore. From the crossing at Pihea Trail, it’s another 3.5 miles round trip so make sure you have plenty of time and bring a lunch to sit and enjoy somewhere along the trail.
The Canyon Trail (Waipoo Falls) is a popular hike for families as it’s moderately difficult. The beginning of the trail will take you from Hwy 550 and along Halemanu Road for .75 miles to the trailhead of the canyon trail and Waipoo Falls Trail. This moderate hike has a lookout at the beginning of the trail where you can see Waipoo Falls and get great photos. From there on out you will walk along the canyon’s rim, taking in beautiful views, and in months where there is rain you can get in the stream to cool off. The hike ends at the top of the 800 foot Waipoo Falls. This is a breathtaking vantage point, where you can sit and listen to this giant waterfall and take in the abundant smell of Awapuhi Ginger. The hike is 2 miles each way but usually only takes a few hours.
The Kukui Trail is found at the beginning of the Iliau Nature Loop Trail. This hike will take you into Waimea Canyon. The trail is used by hunters and horses and can be loose so use caution as always. As you follow the trail into Waimea Canyon you will take in some great views of amazing waterfalls. Waialae Falls is the dominant waterfall that cascades to the valley floor. There are a couple of benches along the way to rest your feet and take it all in. Make sure to take advantage of these. Though it’s only 5 miles long, don’t be fooled as the steep ascent can be exhausting. This trail is moderate but it borders on difficult at times. The Kukui Trail starts along Highway 550, about 0.75 miles beyond the 8-mile marker. Kukui Trail is a scenic trail down the west side of Waimea Canyon. It makes a 2000 foot elevation drop to the canyon floor ending at the Wiliwili Camp site administered by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
If I had to choose the hike with the best value on Kauai, that would easily be the Kalepa Ridge hike in Koke’e. It takes roughly over a mile to get to the end, which opens up to the best view your camera can capture. Often times, going to the end isn’t needed as the scenery is just as rewarding once the trail levels out and you are greeted by a gradual grassy slope. This makes it ideal for a lot of hikers who choose to venture down the trail during sunset because it does not take long to get to a perfect vantage point. This hike is unmarked and can be tricky to find. A warning before embarking on this journey: it is very steep in some areas and slippery when it has rained. From personal experience, I highly recommend going when the weather has allowed the trail to dry up enough to make for a safe passage. But, also keep in mind that when the trail is dry, loose gravel will be just as dangerous and will make you slip if not paid attention to. The key: be highly aware of your surroundings.
You must drive to the Kalalau Valley lookout to find the trail; a quick search with a location service such as Google Maps will provide you directions. Once there, veer your head to the left and you will notice an opening in the fence. That, right there, is where your step counter begins. Items to bring along with you: shoes, water, snacks, hat, and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. As you make your descent, you will, at times, find yourself on all fours trying to secure a footing. This, in my opinion, was the hardest part, of the trail; I recommend always having 3 points of contact. But, you will find that it gets easier as you move along. The viewpoint at the end of the trail is small enough for only 2-4 people at a time, so be courteous and let everyone get their chance to breathe in their accomplishment and take some nice pictures while they’re at it. It opens up to what looks like an infinite expanse of the blue Pacific as tour boats below whizz by left and right just along the Kalalau Beach. Weather and cloud formations can quickly change at that altitude, so stay alert and use your best judgment.
Have fun, but most importantly, be safe!
These are just a few of our favorite hikes in Kokee. When you head up the canyon you can stop at the museum and talk to the very knowledgeable forestry employees who can advise you on the best trail to explore on that day and also give you a map to how to get there. Enjoy that Canyon and all its beauty!
There are a few trails to access the peak (aka, the “face”) of the Sleeping Giant. The favorite trail is the Eastern Trail. This is a moderate hike depending on your hiking experience and fitness level, however, it can be dangerously muddy and slippery in wet weather. The Eastern Trail offers beautiful ocean views all the way up the 2-mile ascent. You will overlook the Wailua River and enjoy a panoramic view of Kauai’s east side. Strawberry Guava trees are highly invasive and have taken over much of the trail’s dense vegetation. When the fruit is ripe and a deep purple color, harvest these little guavas for a tasty treat.
A good time to take a snack break and enjoy the scenic views is when you reach a small plateau with a few picnic tables. After a well-deserved rest, and if you are ambitious, then continue up the Giant’s neck to experience the 360 degree view from the Giant’s face. Be very careful on this steep stretch of the trail as there are points where there are 100 foot drops on both sides!
On a clear day, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the top of Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest places in the world and Kauai’s second highest peak. A little known secret is the “hole” that is just below the highest point of the Giant’s face. If you walk to the left, just before the peak of the trail, you will discover a path that wraps around to an awesome little cave that offers the best view of the east side.
When you have finished enjoying the spectacular views, it’s time to head back down the trail the same way you came up – on the bright side, most of it’s down hill!
One of Poipu’s most attractive hikes is the rugged coastline of the Maha’ulepu Coastal Trail. Watch for a few words on being mindful of hiking conditions.
The Poipu Kai Resort greenbelt leads to Keoneola Bay (Shipwreck’s Beach) fronting the beautiful Grand Hyatt Kauai. The walkway that fronts the Hyatt is spectacular in its own right, and the grounds are breathtaking with a beautiful lagoon reflecting the early morning light.
If you continue along the beach towards the large rock, you will discover a short trail that takes you to the top. Before you start up the trail, stop and listen to the rocks clack against each other as they roll in the surf–nature’s music. On most mornings, you’ll see the early morning surfers preparing to catch a few waves before going to work or a local fisherman casting out his net. From the beach, you can walk up and go all the way, or part way, to Maha’ulepu Beach. Sunrise is the best time of day to explore this trail.
From Keoneloa Bay to Kawailoa Bay, you will see wild coastline with a treasure-trove of geological and cultural sites. The trail is a series of unmarked footpaths that follow the shoreline and weave in and out of the vegetation. Take extra care for sections closest to the ocean, as they can be narrow and steep. Carry at least a quart of water per person, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen. Hiking or athletic shoes are strongly recommended. For anyone visiting Poipu, this should be on your “must do” list for a very memorable experience.