One of the reasons I love Hawaii so much is that the islands are so damn hike-able. With incredible scenery, an abundance of hiking trails that never seem to get too busy, and temperatures that rarely get insanely hot, Hawaii really is a a hiker’s paradise. And the Kauai hiking trails proved to be some of the best I did in all of the islands.
Visiting the island of Kauai for the first time last year I was really excited to try out the Kauai hiking trails, especially as Kauai is known to be the greenest island.
During my eight days on Kauai I managed to fit in five hikes, all which were wonderful, and with each Kauai hiking trail offering different scenery.
It was a great way to see the natural beauty of the garden island and to appreciate how diverse the scenery actually is.
Kauai Hiking Adventure 1: Kauai Coastal Path: Kapa’a to Pineapple Dump
Distance: 2.8 miles/4.5km one way
Location: Start and end at Kapa’a Beach Park and just follow the pathway around the coast to the north.
My first Kauai hiking trail was a very easy one with a flat footpath taking you the entire way around the coast from the town of Kapa’a to Pineapple Dump.
There are some beautiful coastal views along the way with waves crashing onto the black rocks below the path. Soon the gorgeous golden sands of Kealia beach, the nicest on the Central Coast, will come into view. It is definitely worth stopping here for a swim, I found it much nicer than Kapa’a beach park with calmer and clearer water although it has been known for the waves to get quite rough too.
Another mile past Kealia beach is Pineapple Dump. This is where the pineapple cutoffs left over from the canning process were dumped into the ocean back when the Hawaiian Pineapple Canning Company was in business. There is not much to see there now, just a ruined concrete structure jutting out to sea, but if you feel like walking further than Kealia then it’s a good turn around point.
You can also bike this path.
Kauai Hiking Adventure 2: Waikoa loop walk
Distance: 5 miles/8km loop trail
Location: On the Kuhio highway just north from the turn off to Kilauea. Turn at signs for Namahana Café as the trail starts behind here.
Another super easy Kauai hiking trail that is flat the whole way, the Waikoa loop walk takes you through varied landscapes including the United State’s largest Mahogany forest, through lush meadows, past ponds, and via a historic stone dam surrounded by dozens of guava trees (the small red ones are the best).
The setting is very peaceful and although it wasn’t the most scenic hike I did, it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours getting some exercise.
Kauai Hiking Adventure 3: Kuilau Ridge Trail
Distance: 2.25 miles/3.6 km one way
Location: Off Highway 580 up past the rural neighbourhoods of Wailua and into the forested park area of Keahua. You will see the start of the trail just before the park area on the right.
The Kuilau Ridge trail is a great trail to truly experience how incredibly green and lush Kauai is. The pathway leads through overgrown jungle with towering trees covered in vines. Hundreds of guavas cover the trail and you can feast on them to your heart’s content (believe me, I did).
At the one mile point the trail opens out into a grassy clearing with fantastic views of the Makaleha Mountains and the lush valley below.
From there the trail follows more of a ridge line with sweeping valley views for another 1.25 miles before you reach a footbridge that continues on to connect with the Moalepe Trail.
Be sure to check out the viewpoint over Opaeka’a falls lookout on the drive out there too.
Kauai Hiking Adventure 4: Waimea Canyon Trail and Black Pipe Trail
Distance: 5 miles/8km loop trail
Location: There is a carpark at trailhead located on Highway 550 between mile markers 14 and 15. Look for a dirt road and a small gravel/dirt parking area.
If you decide to do any Kauai hiking, you can’t miss doing one of the fabulous hikes around Waimea Canyon, ‘the Grand Canyon of the Pacific’.
Amelie and I decided rather than do the Canyon trail at Waimea Canyon as a return, we would add on the Black Pipe trail to make it a loop so we didn’t have to do much backtracking.
The hike started off past fragrant wild ginger plants then began descending down through the forest to the Canyon rim. We picked wild guavas along the way (they really are everywhere on Kauai). Soon we started catching glimpses of the canyon before the trail opened up to the canyon rim. It was a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the canyon in all its glory. And what a beautiful sight it was.
After multiple photos we walked a bit further to a hidden waterfall, then backtracked to where the Black Pipe trial intersects with the Canyon trail (it is signposted).
This is where the adventure really began.
The trail was overgrown in places and we didn’t see another person. We were starting to wonder if perhaps we should have stayed on the main trail. After hiking along a narrow ridge then up gradual switchbacks through the forest, we then reached a road and were faced with a decision: left or right.
We guessed right as it looked like that trail headed upwards and we knew we needed to go back uphill to reach the car park. We were wrong.
After walking for maybe 15 minutes and with the trail now heading downhill, we started second guessing ourselves but we couldn’t decide if we should turn back or not. Luckily we came across a bunch of local guys that were doing earthmoving works in the forest and they set us back on the right track. We had needed to take the left turn, then at the next crossroads we needed to turn left again. Soon we were back passing the wild ginger and we knew we were nearly back.
The plus side of getting lost was that we found a wild passionfruit vine, my favourite fruit, and we ate as many of them as we could then took loads more for the road.
So it all turned out OK in the end.
Kauai Hiking Adventure 5: Hanakapi’ai Falls
Distance: 4 miles/6.4km one way
Location: The trail starts at the end of the road past Ke’e beach on the north shore. Parking fills up pretty fast and it’s a popular trail so get there early.
I saved the best (and most difficult) for last! Originally I was going to tackle the entire 11 miles of the challenging Kalalau trail, the most (in)famous Kauai hiking trail, and stay for a couple of nights in the valley, but in the end I just wasn’t comfortable doing it by myself. Instead I did the first two mile section then another two miles inland to the stunning Hanakapi’ai Falls with some new friends from the hostel.
The first two kilometres were beautiful as we hugged the dramatic Na Pali coast, rising up and down along the sometimes muddy path while the turquoise waves crashed below us. We were rewarded with views over Ke’e beach at the beginning of the trail then Hanakapi’ai beach at the two mile mark.
From Hanakapiai beach the trail led inland and that’s where it became A LOT more difficult.
Suddenly we were knee deep in mud and with roots also tangled through the path; we really had to watch every step we took. There were also numerous river crossings, some where we were thigh deep in the freezing cold water.
It was certainly an adventure!
Finally seeing the glorious Hanakapi’ai Falls was all worth it. A cold wind was blowing off the powerful falls so despite me and my friend Venessa trying to swim, it was simply too cold so we headed back downstream to a calmer spot on the river that was drenched in afternoon sun for a quick dip. And then it was time to head back the way we came.
What a hike. Our bodies were certainly sore the next day.
Kauai hiking turned out to be a highlight of my time on the island and I definitely feel like I got to truly experience the natural scenery on offer. But then, hiking is always good for that.
For a small island, Kauai certainly packs a punch when it comes to hiking and I hope to return one day to explore more of its trails.
Have you done any Kauai hiking? Have you got any more hikes to add to my list?