Kauai is home to some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain, from the Grand Canyon of the Pacific (Waimea Canyons) to the lush tropical Kalalau Trail up North along the Na Pali Coast with many a stunning view to be seen in between. If you’re planning a trip and looking for the best hikes on Kauai, In this post I will detail 6 great hikes day hikes that are suitable for all levels of hiking. If you’ll be visiting Kauai, be sure to check out my Kauai Food Guide as well as my Ultimate Kauai Guide: Top 32 Things to Do.
If you’ll be visiting other islands, be sure to check out my blog posts for where to hike, where to eat, and lesser known non-touristy activities to do.
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6 Great Day Hikes on Kauai
1) Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast
This strenuous hike is 11 miles each way (22 miles round trip) and is usually done over the course of several days of backpacking and requires obtaining a permit. (Depending on conditions it is also possible to kayak during summer season when it’s calmer.) If you plan to hike the entire Kalalau Trail, please do proper research and come prepared, as this is an extremely advanced trail and very dangerous in many parts. Closures of the trail typically happen during winter season when it’s too rainy for safety.
If backpacking along jagged slippery cliffs isn’t your thing, the first two miles will get you to the beautiful Hanakapi’ai Beach where you’ll find mossy rocks that look like green troll hair.
You then you have the option to continue on for an additional 2 miles each way (4 miles round trip) to Hanakapi’ai Falls, which is 300′ (100 meters) tall.
If you have a full day to hike, I highly recommend this trail, which will end up being 8 miles total round trip if you include the additional two miles each way up to the waterfall. If you skip the waterfall, the hike from the start of the trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach is 4 miles round trip. I recommend going very early because it gets crowded. Allot at least 6 – 8 hours for this hike, especially if you’d like time to relax at the falls or the beach. Pack plenty of food and water and wear closed-toed shoes with good traction.
*UPDATE* – As of June 2019, the Kalalau Trail has reopened, though permits are required to access the State park, which is where the Kalalau trail head begins. You’ll need to go to www.gohaena.com to see if any parking/park entry permits are available (permits can book out several weeks in advance). If not, you can also take a shuttle bus from the satellite parking area, which includes the park permit. You can find all the info on their website.
2) Sleeping Giant
Duration: Approximately 2 hours
Mileage: 4 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: Approximately 1,000 feet
Difficulty: Moderate (there is some scrambling involved at the end where you’ll need to scale up boulders)
You’ll begin with a dense covering of strawberry guava bushes (ripe and in season between August – October). Roosters love to photobomb you at any given opportunity, reminding you that Kauai is in fact their island.
Most of the hike is exposed to the sun, so be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat. The trail ends at a sheltered picnic bench. Continue to the right of the bench to see these stunning views:
3) Wailua Falls
This is not really a hike, rather a muddy scramble down the rim of the waterfall basin.
Most people make a stop at Wailua Falls during their visit to Kauai; however, hiking down to greet it face-to-face is a whole different experience. The hike down is not on a particularly clear trail, but there’s usually a local “uncle” weaving baskets for tourists, and if you ask him nicely he might tell you how to get down.
NOTE: do not leave any valuables in the car or trunk, and wear closed-toed shoes with grip as it is steep and slippery. Swim at your own risk. The photos below are from a camping trip I took in 2014 with three of my guy friends, who all swam around it to show off their masculinity. I was the photographer. 😉
Duration: 15 minutes to get down
Mileage: Less than half a mile round trip
Elevation Gain: Approximately 200 feet
4) Pihea Trail to Alakai Swamp Trail (Koke’e State Park)
This is one of many trail systems within Koke’e State Park in the area of Waimea Canyon. This trail begins on the Pihea Trail where views change drastically from open valley to lush tropical rainforest. Recently several wooden planks have been placed to avoid getting ankle-deep in mud. Still, I wouldn’t recommend wearing white shoes unless you’re trying to change them to black. 😉
Location: Koke’e State Park, Waimea Canyon
Duration: Approximately 3 hours
Mileage: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: Approximately 330 feet
5) Mahaulepu Heritage Coast Trail – Shipwreck Beach to Punahoa Point
If you’re looking for an easy and scenic walk that’s appropriate for the whole family, this is the perfect hike. The trail begins at Shipwreck Beach at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Poipu/Koloa area. Expect to discover rugged sea cliffs, sand dunes, secluded coves, tide pools, lava formations and petroglyphs. It is truly a hike for the avid explorer. Because it is exposed to sun, I recommend going just before sunset or early in the morning for the best lighting for photos and the coolest temperatures. During winter season, this is a prime viewing location for whale watching!
Within the first mile you’ll see signs to visit Makauwahi Cave Reserve. This area was a sink hole and the largest limestone cave with the richest fossil site on the islands.
Shortly after that you will encounter a tortoise sanctuary where you can actually climb over the fence and see them up close! (This is allowed and encouraged, just please do not touch the tortoises.)
You’ll follow the trail back around to the coast to see these stunning views:
There’s even a driftwood rope swing, inducing childlike happiness as swings always do. 🙂
Continue up over the rocky section looking back towards the beach you came from, and be on the lookout for crabs, honu (Hawaiian sea turtle) and the Hawaiian monk seal!
Finally you’ll come to a grassy section with a maze made from rocks, similar to the labyrinth we saw in Kapalua on Maui!
Location: Poipu / Koloa
Duration: Approximately 2 hours
Mileage: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: Approximately 300 feet
Difficulty: Easy (part of the trail is on sand)
6) Wai Koa Loop Trail
These perfectly aligned trees provide a shaded forest to escape from the heat and take a relaxing stroll through nature; the perfect place for a zen meditation walk or a trail run. These are all mahogany trees.
After your walk, visit Anaina Hou Saturday Farmer’s Market (Saturdays only) for local produce (located in the parking lot where the trail begins.)
Location: Kilauea (North Shore)
Duration: Approximately 2.5 hours
Mileage: 4.2 miles round trip (loop trail)
Elevation Gain: Approximately 100 feet
I hope you get to hike some of these beautiful trails during your time on Kauai!
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The Ultimate Kauai Guide: Top 32 Things To Do On Kauai - Cultural FoodiesJuly 9, 2019 at 6:12 am
[…] Kauai is the oldest of the chain of the main Hawaiian Islands at 5.1 million years; you could call it the Granddaddy of Hawaii. It also happens to be the filming island of choice for famous Hollywood Blockbusters such as Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, King Kong, The Descendants, Tropic Thunder and hundreds more. Located just a 30-minute plane ride Northwest from Oahu where we live, Kauai is the perfect weekend getaway for us. Whether you’ve visited the island numerous times, or are planning your first trip to Kauai, this blog post will help you get the most out of your trip to the Garden Isle. Also be sure to check out my Kauai Food Guide. and Kauai Hiking Trails. […]
SusanAugust 1, 2019 at 2:56 am
Lisa! It was great having you in class today at Shakti :). I am sharing your blog with my family now and we will be sure to check out your suggestions for our upcoming trip to Kauai! Enjoy your time in Seattle!
culturalfoodiesAugust 1, 2019 at 4:10 am
Hi Susan! Lovely to meet you as well, thanks for checking out and sharing my blog! Have a wonderful time on Kauai and reach out if you need anything or would like to book any activities! 🙂
Dan LakeJanuary 15, 2020 at 5:22 am
Great post! It gave me some new ideas for our trip to Kauai this summer. For other readers, please note that the Kalalau trail is 11 miles each way, not round trip.
culturalfoodiesJanuary 15, 2020 at 5:28 am
Thanks Dan! And great catch on the 11 miles! That is definitely a typo, you are absolutely right, the round trip is 22 miles! I’ll change that right now! 🙂
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