With its impressive green cliffs and countless natural waterfalls, Kauai is an absolute dream for any fan of the outdoors. Whether you’re exploring the rain forests inside Koke’e State Park or trekking across the colorful ravines at Waimea Canyon, the “Garden Isle” is undeniably one of the best spots in the world for hiking.
Make sure to check weather conditions before setting out on an epic Kauai hike, as the tropical climate in Hawaii is nothing short of temperamental--especially on rainy Kauai. Visit the island’s Division of State Parks website for information and updates on popular trails as well. And as always, remember to bring out what you brought in, stay safe and appreciate the spectacular views.
Nounou East Trail
This hike’s nickname of “Sleeping Giant Trail” will begin to make sense once you’ve arrived in Kapa’a. The dramatic ridge formation resembles a giant human laying down and can be observed from pretty much everywhere in the area. The trek coming from the East side (the route most hikers take) has at least one rocky section that requires a bit of climbing, but overall this 4-mile hike is moderately-leveled with rewarding views.
Kuilau Ridge Trail
A family-friendly hike near the town of Wailua, Kuilau Ridge is a short trek of 2 miles round trip through the rain forest. That doesn’t mean the views aren’t worthwhile though — the trail head is already at a high elevation, meaning you won’t have to hike far to get those sweeping valley vantages that Kauai is known for. Even better, the incline is just high enough to feel like you’re getting a workout.
Waimea Canyon Cliff Trail
The iconic Waimea Canyon is one of the island’s most important landmarks. At over 10 miles long and thousands of feet deep, it's Hawaii’s own little Grand Canyon of the Pacific — with the added perks of Kauai’s lush landscape creeping through. Cliff Trail is one of the easiest hikes inside the canyon at less than two miles round trip. The hike is easy to access, relatively short and results in some pretty epic views of Waimea Canyon from the Cliff Trail Overlook.
Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls
Contrary to popular belief, this hike to Waipo’o Falls doesn’t actually end with a view of a waterfall — at least not in the way you’re thinking. This 4-mile hike will actually take you to the top of the falls, with views looking down onto the streams below, along with a breathtaking view of the surrounding valley.
Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail
A great family hike for all ages, this section of Poipu’s undeveloped coastline can be enjoyed by almost anyone. Even though the trail is considered “easy,” hikers are still encouraged to show up equipped with plenty of sun protection, closed-toed shoes and water. The Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail ranges about 2 miles from Shipwrecks Beach to Keoneloa Bay past sand dunes and volcanic rock formations along the ocean.
At over 6 miles round trip and ending at a ridge top with 2,500 feet of elevation, this hike has definitely earned a spot in the “difficult” category. Make sure to pick up a botanical trail guide at the Koke’e Visitors Center so you can identify the wide range of plants, both native and introduced, and get some information about the trails before starting the hike. Your reward for this trip will be thrilling cliff-to-ocean views of both the Awa'awa'puhi Valley and the Nualolo Aina Valley.
The Pihea Trail to Alakai Swamp
Don’t let the word “swamp” sway you, the displays of the Na Pali Coast throughout this Koke’e State Park hike are some of the most unique on the island. Even on a clear day where there hasn’t been much rain (a rarity on Kauai), the Pihea Trail is almost always muddy, making it a bit more difficult to manage if you’re not prepared. It’s an out-and-back hike of almost 8 miles total too, so make sure to start early and wear good shoes. After reaching the swamp, more experienced hikers can continue to the Kilohana Lookout via the Alakai Swamp Trail.
The magnificent Kalalau encompasses 11 miles (one way) of rigorous trail through the Na Pali Coast State Park. While the entire trek is definitely meant for experienced hikers, the shorter Hanakapi’ai Trail section is much more manageable with similarly excellent views (and you won't need a permit). The trail head begins at the end of Kuhio Highway in Haena State Park on Kauai's north shore. The park limits visitors to 900 per day, and advanced reservations are required for all vehicles and overnight camping.