5 Scenic Hikes on Kauai
There are hundreds of hiking trails on Kauai. They may lead you through swamps, rain forests, canyons, and hanging valleys, just to name a few of the ecosystems you may encounter. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, you are sure to find a trail that matches your experience level. We at Own On Kauai have curated a list of our five favorite scenic hikes on the Garden Island.
1. Kalalau Trail
No Kauai hiking list is complete without mentioning this world-class gem. The Kalalau Trail is an eleven-mile one-way trail located in the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park on the north shore of the island, at the very end of the highway*. This is a fairly strenuous trail that requires a hiking permit for portions of the trek. Your perseverance will be rewarded, however, as the Kalalau Trail is the only way to access the Napali Coast by land and the Kalalau Valley and beach at the end of the trail is regarded as one of the most beautiful places on the planet by those brave enough to tackle it.
The trail begins with a steep uphill scramble over small rocks and boulders until the first lookout point which gives a clear view over Ke’e beach, where you started the hike. At this point, more than a few will turn around realizing that their sandals (or “slippers” in Hawaii) will not cut it on this type of trail. The next 2 miles are up and down but offer a hint of what is to come as you can see most of the way down the Napali coastline – cliffs, valleys, and crystal clear water at every turn. This is the more highly trafficked section of the trail as Hanakapiai beach marks the beginning of the trail that requires a permit (and these permits sell out 4-6 months in advance!).
Many day hikers turn into the valley from here to explore the trail leading to Hanakapiai Falls, an incredible 120-foot waterfall dropping into a pool that you can swim and cool off in. The return journey from here to the parking lot is about 2.5 hours so if you are doing this as a day hike, be sure to bring plenty of water.
The next 9 miles of trail are simply unforgettable and it is no wonder people fly to Kauai from all over the planet to be here. Most of the path is far enough back from the bluffs but there are certain sections (particularly between mile markers 7 and 8) where you should exhibit extreme caution while walking. It is also not uncommon to see people run this entire trail and back in a day, with the best time being somewhere around the 4-hour mark. For the general population, however, you can expect this to be at least a 2-day trek with one overnight stay at Kalalau beach, more if you want to explore the valley behind the beach (recommended).
At the beach you will find other hikers and campers relaxing and everyone is usually quite friendly to one another. There is a natural waterfall where you can shower off at the far end of the beach and some fruits can be found inland, but otherwise plan on bringing your own food and water (iodine tablets work well to purify fresh water).
Camping by permit is available in designated areas.
2. Mahaulepu Beach Trail
If you're interested in beach hiking but Kalalau is too strenuous for you, try Mahaulepu Beach Trail, an easy four-mile round trip and site of Kauai History Heritage. This is one of the last untouched areas of coastline on the south shore of the island. Though the elevation is mostly level, the terrain is largely uneven and the coastal waters can be rough, with dangerous sprays of ocean waves shooting through blowholes near the path, so step cautiously as you look for marine life, such as whales, sea turtles, and the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, among the ocean waves or taking refuge among the rocky inlets.
This trail begins just past the Hyatt in Poipu at the beach called Shipwrecks. On the left side is a cliff where you can routinely see kids throwing themselves off into the waters 25 feet below. Climb up towards them and then turn left to head east down the limestone and sand coastline, where the trail is well-trodden and easily visible. After the first mile or so the trail joins up along the edge of the Poipu Bay Resort Golf Course - watch out for that slice! This is one of the most picturesque sections of the trail as the golf course is immaculately groomed, and when viewed against the rugged and coastline forms a very unique scene.
Before you reach the end of the trail it is worth stopping into the tortoise sanctuary where you can interact with these prehistoric creatures. Be sure to watch your fingers, but otherwise these slow-moving beasts are happy to roam around in their enclosures, free from natural predators. If you are lucky, you will even get to see the baby tortoises the size if your first.
3. Airplane Trail (Kalepa Ridge Trail)
There is an air of mystery around the Airplane Trail along the Kalepa Ridge, overlooking the Kalalau Valley on the northwest side of the island. Tourists are typically not encouraged to attempt this 1.9-mile trek, so strenuous that it is only recommended for very experienced hikers. If you do make the venture, you would do well to engage the services of a guide, and you'll be rewarded with stunning valley views, exquisite wildflowers, and birdwatching opportunities.
This is one of the best ways to see the Kalalau Valley other than by boat (or by the wild trek along the Kalalau Trail) and at the very least, do yourself a favour and drive to the end of the road in in Koke’e to the lookout which offers sweeping views of the valley below. If it’s covered in fog, don’t worry - just wait 10 minutes and the fog will likely clear.
If it’s not too wet, follow the fence line to the left of the lookout and you’ll see the entrance to the trail. The first part here is the most treacherous before it levels out somewhat, and there are frequent viewpoints of the valley to your right with the sheer cliff edge dropping a thousand feet to the trees below. The entire round trip can be done within 2 hours at a push but leave yourself plenty of time to sit back and take in the views. Pictures will not do this place justice as the scale of the valley is immense and best captured with your own eyes instead of a lens.
4. Sleeping Giant Trail
If Kalepa and Kalalau are too much for you but you'd like something more challenging than Mahaulepu has to offer, try the Sleeping Giant Trail on Nounou Mountain on the east side of the island near the community of Wailua. The Sleeping Giant is so called because the mountain resembles the profile of a human figure lying in repose, and this trail takes you on a trip across the chest.
There are two entrances to this trail and the more southerly trailhead is the most common and more enjoyable of the two, as the gradient and tree coverage is more favourable on this side. The trail is very easy to follow and runs upwards for about 1.75 miles, with the views getting better as you climb higher. At the very top of the Sleeping Giant you have a mostly panoramic view of the surrounding countryside and Kapaa town, although you will almost certainly have one side covered in clouds.
5. Stone Dam
Stone Dam is a feature along the Waikoa Loop Trail, a five-mile circuit suitable for hikers of all ages and experience levels due to its accessibility and wideness. Stone Dam was built in 1880 to provide irrigation for the sugar plantations, but now it provides hikers with a swimming hole, a picnic area, and a quiet spot for contemplation alongside a giant statue of the Buddha.
This is a nearly dead-flat trail that runs through a beautiful mahogany plantation with corridors of trees lining the path for a good portion of the start of the walk. Some of the trail runs along old dirt roads used as access roads for the local farmers but if you can manage to plow onwards the dam at the end is quite the site, as it remains extremely well-manicured. On the way back, if you are feeling peckish, we recommend trying the naturally-occurring strawberry guava found sporadically on the sides of the trail
Start Your Adventure With Own On Kauai
When you live on Kauai, you get to appreciate all that it has to offer year round. With the eclectic hiking opportunities available on the island, every day can be a new outdoor adventure. Contact Own On Kauai to inquire about Kauai real estate opportunities.