Top 5 Hikes on Kauai
Nearly nine-tenths of the Garden Isle is inaccessible by road, which means getting out and hiking is practically a must for Kauai visitors. The island is filled with natural wonders just waiting to be explored, from the rainforest of Kokee to the hanging valleys of the Na Pali Coast. There are trails to suit just about every age and ability.
The Kalalau Trail is one of the most challenging hikes on Kauai, but also one of the most spectacular. It can be hiked in several different ways. It’s best accomplished early in the day to avoid bumping elbows with others as well as the intense mid-afternoon heat. The trail follows the footsteps of ancient Hawaiians along an 11-mile stretch of coast, originally used by Hawaiians who lived in Kalalau Valley and the surrounding valleys on the Na Pali coast.
The first two miles of the trail of the Kalalau end at Hanakapi’ai Beach. This four mile round trip hike is considered moderate. Do not go in the water at this beach as it is not safe and there have been many drownings. Also, after a period of heavy rain, crossing the stream just prior to the beach should not be attempted. Hikers have been swept out to sea under these conditions. When the stream is calm, hikers can cross and go off the Kalalau an additional two miles to Hanakapi’ai falls. The falls top 100 feet and are breath taking.
If you plan to hike this additional two miles, take a picnic lunch and take a swim in the pool below the falls. These additional two miles are much more difficult than the first two miles of the trail, making the eight mile hike to the falls challenging.
The entire eleven miles of the Kalalau can be done in a day but be prepared. The Sierra Club gives this hike its most difficult rating. You will also need to camp overnight, as there are not many that will be able to do the 22 miles round trip in one day. Camping requires a permit and the campsite is checked by rangers, so be sure and apply for a permit before coming to Kauai.
It is also possible to arrange for a rubber raft to drop you off at the beach at the end of this eleven mile hike. Then you can either have the raft pick you up in a couple of days, or when the raft comes back, gie them your gear and then hike out the eleven miles back to the trail head.
The trail provides the only land access to this breathtaking part of the wild coast. It traverses five valleys, ultimately ending at Kalalau Beach; the trail is almost never level, crossing towering sea cliffs and through lush valleys, dropping to sea level at the beaches of Kalalau and Hanakapi’ai.
Nounou East Sleeping Giant Trail
The Nounou East Trail is often referred to as the Sleeping Giant trail as the shape of the mountain has a profile that appears to be a giant lying down. This 3 ½ mile round trip hike is fairly easy, although it does have a rapid elevation gain of 1,000 feet. The trail ascends through forested mountains and gorgeous views, including of Kapa’a and Waipouli. This is a great hike on a warm, sunny day as the trail is shaded throughout much of the trek.
This trail located in Kokee State Park, is a moderate 8-mile round trip hike that is also known as the Alakai Swamp trail, crossing over bogs on a wooden boardwalk along the swamp. Shortly after the trail begins, hikers are rewarded with incredible inland views that stretch to Mount Waialeale from atop a land bridge that straddles 4,000 feet above the Kalauau Valley and the Alakai Swamp.
The swamp is the highest in the world, with its location susceptible to quick moving weather. On a rare, clear day Wainiha Valley, Hanalei Bay and even the Kilauea Lighthouse can be seen.
Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls
Kauai is blessed with activities that reap great rewards with just a small effort, and this is one of those. The Waipoo Falls Trail, also in Kokee State Park, is an easy 3.6 mile roundtrip hike that culminates at this magnificent 800-foot waterfall, featuring panoramic views of the canyon and the fragrant scent of an Awapuhi Ginger-lined stream.
The trek also includes views of the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The awe-inspiring canyon features an ever-changing array of colors that are illuminated at sunset. Along the trail you’ll enjoy breathtaking views into the 3,000-foot deep chasm. Be aware that the cliffs along the way have extreme drop-offs, if you’re afraid of heights you may want to rethink this one. Be sure to wear good hiking shoes with lots of traction as the trail can get quite muddy and slippery.
This meandering two mile trail (four miles round trip) gets its name from the many berry bushes along the way. Although there is an easy uphill climb at the beginning, the majority of the trail is level. You’ll also pass through a grove of Sugi Pine trees, which were brought to Kauai forty years ago and planted here.
The Kokee Museum is the place to go for a trail map, that will include Berry Flats. A private non-profit funs the museum, so be sure and make a small donation when you go in. They’re supported entirely by donations and volunteer efforts.