The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Hawaii: Kauai

If you hiked a different trail on Kauai every day for a year, you still wouldn’t hike them all! We tried to choose the most beautiful, most reasonable (some are extremely challenging!), most wonderful hikes on Hawaii’s Garden Isle. We loved our time on Kauai, and the best way to see and experience it is definitely on a hike!

Sleeping Giant Trail

This was actually the first hike we did after we landed on Kaua’i! It’s an easy to moderate trail, due to some steep inclines and a couple of rock scrambles at the end—totally optional, of course! You’ll find stunning views of Kauai’s coastal towns to the north and east, and if you’re like us and arrive in the early afternoon, it’s a great hike to enjoy upon landing on the island to help you acclimate to the time difference. Moving your body and staying in natural light are two of the best ways to fight jet lag. 

Looking east from the trail. Check out those mountains in the distance!

Stats

  • Location: 1.7 miles on Hallelilo Rd in Wailua
  • Total Hiking Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
  • Round-trip Distance: 4.3 miles
  • Cost: FREE
  • Parking: Yes, 12-15 spots in a dirt lot
  • Terrain: Dirt, clay, rock, roots, a few rock scrambles
  • Restroom Facilities: No
Can’t get over the dramatic cliffs Kaua’i has to offer.

Tips

  • The trail is mostly shady, but there are some very sunny spots, so wear sunscreen and a hat.
  • Pay attention to the most well-worn trail and look for signage, as there are many false trails that are misleading!
  • Bring water!
Looking north toward Hanalei from the top of the trail.
Read on: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips

Kalalau Trail to Hanakāpīʻai Beach

This is a bucket list hike. The 11-mile trail beginning at Kee Beach and ending at Kalalau Beach is the stuff of legend, and few have made it the whole way out and back. In fact, it’s so long and dangerous, you have to reserve an overnight permit to hike farther than Hanakapiai Beach and its farther two-mile waterfall of the same name. 

Due to limited time and knowing our own physical limits, we chose to enjoy the first two miles, and potentially continue to the falls as well. When we arrived at the stream separating the first two miles of the trail and Hanakapiai Beach, we realized recent rains had made the stream too dangerous to cross, so we turned back from there. Others were crossing at their own risks, but I was not comfortable doing so. 

We have this exact same picture from 2016, and now 2021! Definitely stop here for a picture. You won’t want to miss it!

Stats

  • Location: Ha’ena State Park, North Shore
  • Total Hiking Time: 3 hours and 20 minutes
  • Round-trip Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Cost: $10 per car, plus $5 per person
  • Parking: Designated parking lot
  • Terrain: Dirt, mud, rocks, roots, water crossings
  • Restroom Facilities: Yes
Hanakapi’ai Beach

Tips

  • Reservations are required, no matter how far you intend to hike.
  • Watch for flash floods, even if it’s not raining where you are.
  • Always listen to your gut, and if it seems dangerous, don’t do it!
Recognize that peak? If you’re a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan, you might know it better as “Bali Hai”!
Find out how to reserve tickets and get more details here:
The Ultimate Guide to the Kalalau Trail, Kaua’i

Ho’opi’i Falls Trail

This was an easy to moderate hike near Poipu and Kapaa. The trailhead is in a neighborhood, so please don’t block anyone’s driveway or mailbox, and don’t be loud, especially if you’re starting this hike before 8:00am. People are sleeping in those houses!

We found there to be several false trails on this hike, so it was hard to know if we were doing it right along the way. Just stay within sight or earshot of the stream, and you’ll get there! 

Also of note, the trail splits into two trails at some point—one to the top of the falls, the other to the bottom. We ended up on the trail to the top, and we did not find the other trail! We were satisfied, though. It was beautiful!

You may find a few obstacles on the trail!

Stats

  • Location: In a neighborhood on Kapahi Road, Kapa’a
  • Total Hiking Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Round-trip Distance: 2 miles
  • Cost: FREE
  • Parking: Roadside; please be respectful of residents and do not park in front of driveways or mailboxes!
  • Terrain: Mud, dirt, clay, downed trees, roots, rocks
  • Restroom Facilities: No
The challenges are worth the reward!

Tips

  • Be aware of break-ins in the neighborhood. 
  • Be quiet and courteous because people actually live here and are not on vacation like you!
  • You will definitely need bug repellent!
You will be in bug country on this trail, so pack the bug repellent!
Must read: 5 Things You Forgot to Pack for Hawaii

Koloa Heritage Trail

This is a 10-mile trail on the south shore coastline, but we didn’t hike the entire trail. We picked it up at Shipwreck Beach and walked about a mile and a half east. The views along this coastline are absolutely gorgeous, and because it’s a heritage trail, there are also historic markers to read and sites to see along the way. It’s a pretty easy walk, but it’s a sandy one!

Even in the rain, this trail has epic views!

Stats

  • Location: In Poipu, pick up at Shipwreck Beach
  • Total Hiking Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Round-trip Distance: 3 miles
  • Cost: FREE
  • Parking: Lot and street at Shipwreck Beach
  • Terrain: Sand, roots, rock, clay, golf course, pine needles
  • Restroom Facilities: Yes, at Shipwreck Beach
The trail follows the shoreline, so be on the lookout for sealife while you’re out there!

Tips

  • Bring water, it’s hot away from the sea breeze of the shoreline, and there is very little shade.
  • Look out for golf balls on the section by the gold course.
  • There are lots of false trails, but you’ll be on the right track as long as you can stay within earshot of the ocean!
The waves were really putting on a show for us!
More here: How to Sign Up for Hawaii’s Safe Travels Program

Waipo’o Falls Trail (Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park)

This is an easy to moderate trail, perfect for those who are less sure of their hiking capabilities. The end of the trail is a little more precarious, but just go as far as your comfort level. The views of the canyon are pretty spectacular!

Pictures really can’t convey how beautiful this canyon is!

Stats

  • Location: Waimea Canyon State Park, accessed at Puu Hinahina Lookout
  • Total Hiking Time: 2 hours
  • Round-trip Distance: 3.34 miles
  • Cost: $10 per car, plus $5 per person
  • Parking: Designated parking lot
  • Terrain: Dirt, roots, rock
  • Restroom Facilities: Yes
You can no longer go far enough to get the view of Waipo’o Falls due to erosion, but don’t miss this cutie little falls on a side trail!

Tips

  • When you come to a fork in the trail, take the trail to the right. 
  • Be sure to take the Cliff View side trail for more views. It’s safe—there’s a guard rail!
The vibrant colors inside the canyon are almost unbelievable.
More here: Hiking Hawaii: O’ahu

Pihea Trail (Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park)

This is the one trail we chose not to complete, but we don’t regret that choice. The first mile is the real star of the show here, due to the unparalleled views of the Kalalau Valley and Kalalau Beach. That’s right, the end of the famed, 11-mile hike is visible from a couple of lookout points in Kokee State Park, but they’re nothing compared to the views from this trail! 

When we read that the first mile was a winner for the views and the rest was mostly a muddy slog (and we’d already hiked four miles that morning), we decided an abridged version of this trail would be worth our while!

Be ready for a few steep grades and some significant mud!

Stats

  • Location: Pu’u O Kila Lookout, at the end of the Waimea Canyon Road
  • Total Hiking Time: 1 hour 20 min
  • Round-trip Distance: 2 miles
  • Cost: Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park fee ($10 per car, plus $5 per person)
  • Parking: Yes, dedicated lot
  • Terrain: Intense mud, dirt, rocks, roots, some steep grades
  • Restroom Facilities: No (use at Kalalau Lookout)
Not up for an 11-mile hike on the Kalalau Trail? You can get their views of the Kalalau Valley and Beach here!

Tips

  • The trail continues for a total of 3.8 miles one way and 7.6 miles round trip, but after the first mile the trail is steep, slippery, and designated as “difficult.” If you’re up for a challenge, plan accordingly!
  • Even the first mile of the trail is quite muddy, so don’t be afraid of getting dirty!
I might have taken about 1000 photos of this view!
Read on: Hiking Hawaii: Mau’i

Kukui Trail (Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park)

This was definitely the most challenging hike we did. This particular hike takes you from the rim of the canyon (around 2500 feet) to the canyon floor and the Waimea River running through it. The hike down (way down!) is steep and involves loose, brittle pieces of rock, so your stabilizer muscles and knees are doing most of the work. 

Surprisingly, the hike up is easier in a lot of ways. You can take surer, longer steps than you might going down. You’ll want to take breaks and drink plenty of water, but you might actually make it up the canyon wall faster—we did! 

This is one of the few trails that will give you such epic views of inside the canyon!

Stats

  • Location: Waimea Canyon State Park between miles markers 8-9
  • Total Hiking Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Round-trip Distance: 5 miles
  • Cost: FREE
  • Parking: Roadside
  • Terrain: Dry pebble-dirt, roots, loose rocks, smooth boulders, very steep grades
  • Restroom Facilities: No, use facilities a few miles up at one of the lookout points; there is also a composting toilet at bottom of trail at the campsite (camping by permit only)
Pay attention to the designated trail signs. They were extremely helpful!

Tips

  • Plan to slip!
  • You can continue onto the Canyon Trail that follows the Waimea River through the canyon.
  • Bring more water than you think you’ll need, and bring bug repellent. 
  • The hike up is very strenuous. 
  • There are long stretches with no shade, so wear sunscreen and a hat!
The “bigness” of the canyon is more and more apparent the farther down you go!
Read next: The Most Helpful Hawaii Posts You Will Ever Find

Want more? Check out my Health and Wellness Page for more about hiking and staying active in your travels, and you’ll find everything you need about Hawaii on my dedicated Hawaiian Islands Page!

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Published by quickwhittravel

Hey there! I am an avid traveller and adventurer, and you're always welcome to join me! The things I love most are God, my husband Steve, and seeing new places! My favorite places include Sydney, Australia; Ise City, Japan; and Bergen, Norway--but there's always room for more favorite places!

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