Great Hikes Kauai ~ Adventure on your Horizon!

Hanakapiai Kauai

Did you ever see Jurassic Park?   It’s no secret that it was filmed on Kauai.   That scene where they are arriving by helicopter to the “park”?   That was the fabled Na Pali Coast.    And it really is that stunning.  Of course the Na Pali Coast must be on the list of Great Hikes on Kauai… perhaps the finest?   You can read more about the Na Pali Coast here,

There are so many great hikes on Kauai… how to pick out just a few?   Everyone who lives here has their favorites so I suppose this post is going to a bit biased towards mine.

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North Shore

Hihimanu Ridge – Hanalei

Great Hike with Hanalei Views Kauai

Hanalei Bay from Hihimanu Overlook

Hihimanu is that mountain that looks like two peaks with a dip in the middle. The hike to Hihimanu can be muddy. Drive across the main Hanalei bridge and instead of turning right to go into Hanalei, turn left.. drive down a couple of miles and you will see parking on the left hand side of the road… the hike is across the road.

If you keep going to the end of the trail you are pulling yourself up on ropes to get to the top.   This is a day’s hike if you make it to the top.    Muddy if it’s wet and only for the truly adventurous . The actual trail is called Okolehao which means bum of steel! 

It’s a fantastic hike though and gives amazing views up at the top.   The photo along the menu bar of this site is from one of the overlooks here.   This is truly one of the Great Hikes on Kauai!


Hanakapiai Kauai

Hanakapiai .. first part of the Na Pali Trail Kauai

The first two and a Half miles of the Na Pali coast. Hike to the beach, then an hour back to the Falls (secluded and paradise).

The Hike starts off at the end of Ke’e beach and immediately climbs up… welcome to the start of the famous Na Pali Trail… 11 miles of switchbacks back and forth and 1000 feet up and 1000 feet down all the way!     But it’s only two and a half miles into Hanakapiai so most people can do this one.   The views the trail to Hanakapiai offer of the Na Pali are outstanding:  it’s the beginning of the Na Pali so you get to view down the entire coast from several places.   Stop at “Space Rock” . just before you get to Hanakapiai beach  – a favorite hang out and stopping place for locals doing the hike.

Note:   DO NOT swim at Hanakapiai beach!   It is truly not safe.

However, you can hike back to gorgeous Hanakapiai Falls which is what most people do on this hike.   It’s just under an hour back through the jungle following the river and it’s worth it!   When you arrive there you are at a stunning 300ft Falls with pool where you an splash about and imagine you are the only people there…. as long as there are not too many others doing the hike that day, which generally there are not.

Do allow 6 hours to do this as you want to give yourself enough time back at the Falls.  Take food.  Make sure you get back to Ke’e beach before nightfall.     Absolutely one of the Great Hikes on Kauai!


Powerline Trail

Powerline Trail Great Hike on Kauai

Powerline Trail
Another Great Hike on Kauai

Turn left onto Kapaka street (Princeville ranch stables road). when you head from where you are staying just before Princeville shopping center. Drive to the end of the road. Park by the water tower and electric station.  The Powerline Hike in its entirety goes all the way to Wailua     On the Wailua end is where locals built a road for Steven Spielberg to film some of the shots for Jurassic Park including the famous entrance to the “park”.    That’s a long hike though and one of Kauai’s Great Hikes.    For me, I like to just walk up to where you start to get the amazing views of the river running through the valley below which leads out to Hanalei valley and bay.    Beautiful.   Not too strenuous.   I read another post on this trail where someone said there are trails going off it… not really, those are hunting trails.    There are small little trails which lead to vantage and view points but anything else is a hunting trail.   Quite a lot of hunters back here.      You can have a lovely 2 – 3 hour hike here in the morning or afternoon.

East Side

Kuilau   & Moalepe . Trail Wailua

Drive up Kuamoo road.. that’s the road which has the falling down hotel on the right hand corner. It’s a right hand turn from the highway when you are heading south. — past Kapaa and Wailua.

Drive up over 4 miles.. you will pass the Hindu Monastery on your left and the Sacred Forest.

Keep going…. you will see after about half a mile a few cars or spaces for cars on the right hand side. Hike starts there.

The Kuilau Trail is one of my favorite Great Hikes on Kauai.    The first mile and a half you are steadily walking up through a wooded area that starts to offer views through the trees as you ascend.    Then it opens out onto a plateau and you have the first stunning views across to the ridge of Waialale and more.    Gorgeous.   Great place to eat a picnic or just relax for a few minutes.    You continue on across narrow ledges with valleys either side (totally majestic) with views all around and then drop down a little into a forest area which is my favorite part of the hike.. totally magical!    I often hang out here for hours(I like to hike, but I also like to hang out in nature!) 

Great Hike Kauai Kuilau Trail

Hiking the Kuilau Trail Kauai



After this the trail becomes the Moalepe Trail and you can hike another 2 miles to Opaekaa.    Horses even use this part of the trail .   So up to you how far you want to go.

You can also continue to the end of the road where the Arboretum is… then drive another 1 – 2 miles on dirt road (you need 4 wheel drive). and there are various places you can hike back there.. getting even closer to Waialeale.


Nonou ~ Sleeping Giant 

The mountain that is known locally as Sleeping Giant or Nonou is in Wailua.     There are two ways to hike the Sleeping Giant.    Whichever you choose, getting the top means you have panoramic views over to Lihue and up to Anahola where the Pregnant Lady lies.  Nearly everyone who writes about the Sleeping Giant Hike mentions the legend that tells of the Giant who eat too much and lay down to sleep, never to move again.    That is only one legend.    Actually there are several more Hawaiian stories to about this mountain but you’d have to read some of the Hawaiian books for that.. or maybe I”ll do a post someday!

Sleeping Giant Kauai Great Hike

Sleeping Giant Kauai

Sleeping Giant is a fairly easy hike and after not much effort you do have that amazing view – from Anahola to the North to Lihue in the South West.   I like to do this one in the morning but anytime of day will work.


Great Hike Kauai

Great Hike on Kauai ~ Makaleha Falls

Makaleha is the mountain above Kapa’a.   The Makaleha trail goes along the river and offers beautiful views of the river and mountains in some spots whilst meandering along the river .    The hike starts at the very end of Kahuna Road which is off Kawaihai road in the hills above Kapaa.    Just go to the very end and you’ll see spaces to park.

It’s a wonderful hike as you will come across pools you can cool off in and waterfalls.  Sometimes the trail disappears into the river and you are climbing over some pretty sizeable boulders at some time of the year so it can be quite a hike depending on how far you go.    There’s more than one waterfall and it’s a hike that will leave you feeling as though you definitely had some exercise!      I always allow at least a morning or afternoon as again, I like to hang out at a waterfall and sit basking on a hot rock or too……. another one of those Great Hikes on Kauai!


Wailua RIver Kauai

Magnificent view of the Wailua River

Opeakaa Falls Hike

The first thing to say about the Opaekaa Falls Hike is that there’s a sign telling you not to do it.   This is because people have indeed fallen and died attempting the part of the hike where you are literally hanging onto rope to get down.    So, only for the very adventurous.

It’s not that long and starts near the viewpoint for the Falls on Kuamoo Road, but as I said, there is the part of the hike which is strenuous and not to be attempted by the faint hearted.   Once at the bottom, the pool is big though not incredibly deep I thought for Falls that size.    You can’t get too near the pounding water but you can certainly get wet.

There is another way to hike to the Falls through the jungle, but that’s another more detailed post.

Ho’opi’i Falls

Ho'opi'i Falls Kauai Silking

Silking over Ho’opi’i Falls

Photo Credit : Samuel Gillilan 

The hike to Ho’opi’i Falls is not that long at all… at least not to the first Falls.   In fact there at least 3 Falls you can hike to if you have the desire.    Most people just hike to the first Falls and hang out there to have fun.   That literally only takes 10 minutes from the parking spot on  off Kawaihau Road above Kapa’a.     The hike takes you down through the bush and trees and then you are walking along the lava rock on the banks of the river.

Last time I went, my daughter and her friend set up silks over the Falls and proceeded to put on an impromptu show for those gathered…. upside down and acrobatics over the Falls is a sight to behold!

Note:   Do not attempt to do this yourself.    This was done by trained athletes on professional equipment.  


West Side

Awaawapuhi Trail

Honopu Ridge Trail  

Nualolo Valley  

Kalepa Ridge Trail and Pihea Trail.


I’m putting these all together as the intention with this post is not to give a detailed account of each hike.   These are all the hikes that you can do starting up at Koke’e State Park on the West Side.     Drive through Waimea town and take the turn up to Koke’e and the Kalalau lookout as well as the Waimea Canyon Lookout.      Note:   You cannot hike down into the Waimea Canyon as you can at the Grand Canyon, but it’s still worth it to go to the Lookout point and look at the amazing peaks and canyons….. indeed so similar to the Grand Canyon, just not as big.

Waimea Canyon Kauai

Likewise it’s pretty spectacular if you are not a great hiker – or even if you are – to go u to the Kalalau Lookout point too.

The hikes all start from Koke’e.    All of them offer incredible views at one point or another of Kalalau Valley and the peaks around, including the famous “cathedral”  peaks of Kalalau.    It’s interesting.   Many hikers come to Kauai and do these hikes over and over but dont’ actually get to hike the Kalalau Trail into the valley itself (which is accessed from the North of the island).    It’s such a different perspective being down in the valley itself and looking up both at the “cathedrals” and the ridges beyond.    Spectacular.   No wonder the helicopters buzz around here all day.

So to the hikes.    If you want to go for a couple of hours, choose the Kalepa Ridge Trail  or the Pihea.   They both offer majestic views of Kalalau Valley and the instantly recongizable “cathedral” peaks of Kalalau after fairly short distances so are perfect for those who want a more gentle hike.

The Awaawapuhi Trail is longer, especially if you do the ‘loop” and link up to the Nualolo Trail too.    Again, it offers spectacular views of the Awaawapuhi and Nualolo valleys as well as Kalalau and the ocean beyond.    The landscape changes from the wooded area near the beginning to the drier terrain further in but this is not the “terrain” of the Na Pali.   The Na Pali coast trail and terrain is mostly green vegetation and only turns to the red dirt of “Red Hill” right before you enter Kalalau.    Back to the Awaawapuhi Trail.    Allow several hours if you do this one and make sure to take in the beauty on the way!

The Honopu Ridge Trail is comparable to the Awaawapuhi in terms of length and challenge

Honopu Ridge Trail Kauai but it does not loop up to any other trail.   It also offers outstanding views of the Na Pali.   As others have pointed out, there are shrubs that are sharp and attack your ankles and shoes so wear good shoes.   This is usually Kiave and if you get one of those thorns in your foot or ankle, you’ll know it!   Aside from that the Honopu Ridge Trail is one of the Great Hikes on Kauai for sure!


South Side

Mahalepu Beach

Mahalepu is by far my favorite beach and hike on the South side.   Access is past the Hyatt, onto the dirt road, past CJM Stables and continue on.   Turn right at the T and you will come to Mahalepu.    You can either park there for drive parallel to the beach a little further and park.   It’s a gorgeous beach with lovely pine trees and trails around it.    On the far side of the beach is a beautiful hike where you are hiking above the beach on the bluff.    It goes for a mile or two and is not too strenuous.     Mahalepu is vigorously protected by those who live in the area; just recently they were successful in preventing a huge dairy opening there that would have emitted contaminants into the streams and land (not an organic venture).   It’s worth it to go for the day to Mahelepu.. or at least half a day.    Hike and then laze on the beach.


and finally the Na Pali Coast Hike to fabled Kalalau Valley

I suppose leave the best to last!     So the first thing to say about the hiking the Na Pali Coast is that it is difficult!    Yes, challenging.    Unless you are totally fit, hike regularly and I mean switchbacks, high to low elevation heights, please know this will take all day.    Yes, I have seen a couple of people do it in 4 – 5 hours or even a bit less, but they were fit, 30 year old men who just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail and one runner who runs marathons every day.   You get the picture.   I’ll never forget about 4 years ago being on the beach in Kalalau and seeing 3 couples (probably in their 40s) stagger in about an hour before Sunset wearing marathon T shirts exclaiming that it was the most difficult hike they had ever done.    They chose to get a boat ride out.

Hiking to Kalalau is:

  • . Challenging and difficult
  •   At some points, dangerous
  •   If you hike in one day, stay the night and hike out, you see nothing of Kalalau Valley
  •   Minimum amount of time you need to spend is 3 nights and that’s cutting it very fine
  •   I know one guy who takes 5 days to hike the Na Pali.   Why?   Because he takes his time to enjoy the beauty along the way.     I don’t take 5 days, but I do like to split it up by staying overnight at Hanakoa… roughly the 5 mile mark.

I will be doing a detailed post about the hike here later on but in the meantime:


  • . Don’t take too much stuff!
  •  Best shoes to wear are reefwalkers, not tennis or hiking shoes
  •  Don’t hike it in the rain or just after it rained… it turns MM. 8 into an extremely dangerous point (just after) and MM 7 around “crawler’s ledge” even more of a dangerous thing to traverse.
  •  Don’t do it if you have any issue with heights.   On Crawler’s ledge, you are 1000 ft above the Ocean with a sheer drop of lava rock to the water and a sheer wall of lava rock going straight above you.   A few inches to walk on.
Great Hike Na Pali Coast Kauai

Kalalau Sign – end of the Na Pali Hike

So much for the warnings!     Now to the good part.    The Na Pali Coast is famous and quite rightly so.    It is extraordinarily beautiful, majestic and literally has the “wow” factor in many places.      The first part of the hike offers the best views along the coast but I also love hiking through the jungle of the fake pineapple oversized leaves leading to Hanakoa and along the edge of Crawler’s Ledge.   By time you get to Red Hill, most people are breathing a sigh of relief that Kalalau is in sight and you are almost there.     I will be doing a full post on the hike here soon.    Suffice it to say that when you cross the river into Kalalau Valley, you certainly feel as though you have accomplished something major and you will sleep well that night!     Waking up to Kalalau Beach is amazing…. there’s just you and perhaps a few other people all respectful of silence and the special magic and energy that is Kalalau Valley and beach.


couple looking at view on Kauai







About the Author

Kauai Advisor ~ Francesca Azuremare ~ has lived on Kauai for 22 years. I feel blessed to live in such a magical, beautiful place. Over the years I have helped thousands of people find the perfect place to stay on Kauai whilst also advising on everything from places to propose to the best Na Pali boat ride. Now I'm sharing that information here. It's the Hawaiian way. Aloha!