Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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There are epic hikes throughout the Hawaiian islands, and Kauai is certainly no exception. Here, you’ll find dramatic cliffs, lush foliage, flowing waterfalls, and beautiful beaches that are nothing short of impressive. There are lots of trails to choose from, too, depending on what part of the island you plan to stay at, how long you want to hike, and your level of physical fitness. Here are some of the best hikes in Kauai to experience the scenic beauty of the region and get some amazing photographs.
The Kalalau Trail is a popular hiking route in Kauai as a longer scenic hike. It is a moderately strenuous trail that goes along the NaPali coastline, which is a top place to visit in Kauai. Here at Ha’ena State Park, you can visit Hanakapi’ai Beach from this trail. The popular trail requires a permit and often books out months in advance, so you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to do this hike and make reservations. It extends about 11 miles along the coast, and only a portion of the trail typically requires a permit. It takes around 13 hours on average to complete this challenging route, but many people choose to camp overnight and do it in two days.
This trail runs through Kokee State Park and passes through various landscapes for a little over six miles round trip. It takes about three hours to hike this West Kauai trail and it has many incredible viewpoints. The hike is moderately difficult and traverses the Nāpali-Kona Forest Reserve. The start of the trail tends to become muddy after it rains. After that, you’ll be heading downhill and decreasing elevation to the valley rim. When you get to the trail’s end, there is an excellent place to relax and treat yourself to a picnic or snack. If you want to extend your hike, Kokee State Park is one of the best places to camp in Hawaii.
The Canyon Trail introduces you to one of Hawaii’s top attractions, the Waimea Canyon. It then takes you to the top of Waipo’o Falls. It’s about a 3.6-mile round trip hike that is moderately strenuous and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. It’s in the West Kauai region and can become quite wet and muddy when it has recently been raining. People of all ages can generally enjoy this trail because it is well-maintained. The canyon views are stunning along the trail, especially if you enjoy seeing rocky landscapes up close. The Kumuwela Lookout is a scenic spot to snap some photos towards the end of the Canyon Trail.
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail extends for about 3.7 miles along the southern coast of Kauai from Keoneloa Bay to Maha’ulepu Beach. The trailhead starts at Shipwreck Beach and continues with a manageable level of difficulty. Along this hike, you can see limestone cliffs, kiawe trees, caves, fossilized marine animals, and lots of green foliage. The beach at the end is remote and considered a must-do when visiting Kauai, and the overall trail has minimal elevation gain or loss.
NaPali Coast State Wilderness Park is one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders, and the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail is set here. It’s a popular Kauai trail that requires reservations to hike in certain sections. It is an eight-mile trail that takes about 4.5 hours to complete. This hike is a good alternative to hiking the full Kalalau Trail if you want a shorter and more moderate hike. However, there are still plenty of challenges to navigate along the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail, such as steep inclines and tree roots. You can hike just to the beach and back if you don’t want to go further to the falls.
If you’re looking for an impressive cliffside trail on Kauai, consider taking a hike along the Kalepa Ridge Trail. It’s a short hike that is less than two miles out and back, and the route only takes an hour to two hours to complete. But within that timeframe, it can get pretty narrow and challenging, which is why the Kalepa Ridge Trail is best for experienced hikers. During the hike, you will enjoy the views of Kalalau Valley and along the coastline. It’s a trail that will test your nerves and get your adrenaline pumping, surrounded by natural beauty, especially around sunset. Access the trailhead at Koke’e State Park and prepare to be in a remote part of the park for this hike.
The Nualolo Ridge Trail is a challenging Kauai hike that has a sharp descent from the beginning and offers terrific views of the coast. It has a trailhead that starts at the Koke’e’ State Park Ranger Station and travels a route of about 7.6 miles. Most people take about four hours to complete the hike, which is certainly not for the faint of heart and will test your endurance. If you are up for an extra challenge, you can even combine this hike with the Awa’awapuhi Trail to create a loop.
You can hike along the Pihea Trail in Koke’e State Park in the Kalalau Valley. It starts at the Pu’u o Kila Overlook and offers excellent views of the valley. Much of this trail is pretty easy, but there are some challenging sections as well, so bring your hiking poles. There is the option of hiking to the Alakai Swamp Trail, which the Pihea Trail intersects. If you want a shorter hike, do the Pihea Trail, which takes about two hours roundtrip to complete.
The Ho’opi’i Falls Trail travels a distance of about four miles and is a moderate hike with two miles in each direction. There are two falls you will pass on this hike, and the first one is popular for cliff jumping. You’ll enjoy jungle landscapes along this hike and a swimming hole to cool off on a hot day. Just make sure to check the water depth before jumping in for safety purposes. There is about a 600-foot elevation gain on this hike, which can get muddy after the rain. It’s a great short hike you can complete in about an hour.
If you have about two hours to spend outdoors, you can enjoy going for a hike on the Kuilau Ridge Trail. It is a unique trail with ferns and tall trees along the walking path. You’ll travel about 3.6 miles out and back, with great views from start to finish. This is because you are at a relatively high elevation during the entire hike. It’s also a good family hike that can be suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities. Start this easy hike at the Keahua Arboretum and expect to gain a little over 600 feet in elevation.
The Wai Koa Loop Trail is about 4.5 miles long and runs along the north shore of Kauai. The access point is at Anaina Hou Community Park in Kilauea and is on private property, so you’ll need to sign a waiver before you start hiking. The trail is well-marked and opened up to views of the Namahana Mountains. The Stone Dam Lookout is a scenic spot along the trail that goes through the Kilauea Woods and Mahogany Plantation. It’s also possible to take breaks on this trail to enjoy a picnic or swim.