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  • Writer's pictureJenna

Top 15 Best Hikes in Kauai - 2021

Kauai, known as the Garden Isle, is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. It boasts lush, tropical forests, rigid mountain ranges, and beautiful beaches. These three factors equate to unbelievable hiking trails. The trails are breathtaking, leading to gorgeous waterfalls, hidden beaches, and scenic views of the Na Pali coast.


When visiting Kauai, you can find a plethora of hiking trails through the ALL TRAILS app or website and filter them via level of difficulty, trail distance, and elevation gain. There are so many hikes, so below I have comprised the list of the Top 15 Best Hikes in Kauai that you won't want to miss!

Hike to secret beach on the North Shore



 

Top 15 Best Hikes in Kauai by Region



 

Northshore Hiking Trails


1. Na Pali Coast (Kalalau) Trail

Level of Difficulty - VERY HARD

Distance - 22 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 6,177 feet

The Na Pali Coast trail is one of the most iconic trails in all of Hawaii. This trail is an out and back trail, located within Haena State Park and requires advanced reservations if you plan to hike it. You can also opt to do this trail as a multi-day backpacking trek with overnight camping (permit required). This trail is absolutely breathtaking and scales the beautiful Na Pali Coast, rendering views of the island that otherwise cannot be seen. Experienced hikers only.


 


2. Hanakapi'ai Beach Trail

Level of Difficulty - MODERATE

Distance - 4.2 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 1,130 feet

The Hanakapi'ai Beach trail is an out and back trail located within Haena State Park. It features a beautiful waterfall and a stunning secluded beach on the Na Pali Coast. This trail is the first 2 miles of the long Na Pali Coast Trail, but stops at Hanakapi'ai beach. Going any further would require a hiking/camping permit. Advanced reservations are required to access Haena State Park, so plan to book in advance for a day pass.


 

3. Hanakapi'ai Falls Trail

Level of Difficulty - HARD

Distance - 8 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 1,919 feet

Hanakapi'ai Falls is an out and back trail located within Haena State Park. The first 2 miles of this trail lead to Hanakapi'ai Beach (trail above). From there, it is another 2 mile strenuous hike up to the beautiful Hanapaki'ai falls with a swimming hole. The trail can be very slippery and muddy, so please exercise caution and wear appropriate hiking shoes. Bring lots of water as well. Advanced reservations are required to access Haena State Park, so plan to book in advance for a day pass and permit.


 

4. Queen's Bath Trail

Level of Difficulty - MODERATE

Distance - 0.8 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 98 feet

Queen's Bath is one of the most popular swimming holes in Kauai, but also the most deadly for tourists. With that being said, it is 100% doable and safe as long as you follow these 3 criteria:

  1. Check the tides - only go during LOW tide

  2. Check the wave report - do not attempt if waves are 4 feet or greater

  3. Check the rain forecast - do not attempt if it JUST rained or rain is in the forecast

My husband is in the picture above, and as you can tell, the swimming hole is very calm, no current. We were the only ones there at sunrise, drier weather, and the lowest tide with 1 foot waves. The trail can be very slippery and muddy, so wear appropriate hiking shoes. Summer is much more ideal. Winter contains strong current and unexpected weather, making this a more dangerous trek. It's a quick hike, just be mindful of those 3 criteria above and you'll experience one of the most memorable places in all of Kauai.


 

5. Kauapea "Secret" Beach

Level of Difficulty - EASY to MODERATE

Distance - 0.6 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 173 feet

Kauapea "Secret" Beach is a quick, but steep, out and back trail leading out to an unbelievably stunning beach. TIP - go during sunrise, bring some coffee/tea and breakfast to enjoy as the sun rises! The trail can be very muddy and slippery after rainfall. Be smart and do not attempt in flip flops, as it is steep. Do not attempt to swim in this water - even in the mild summers. The currents are very strong and people have died attempting to swim. There is a little river that dumps into the ocean, it is calm and shallow so this would be a great spot for kids or dogs to play in.


 

East Hiking Trails


6. Ho'opi'i Falls Trail

Level of Difficulty - EASY to MODERATE

Distance - 1.7 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 150 feet

Ho'opi'i Falls Trails is a relatively easy, mostly shaded trail featuring 2 waterfalls and a swimming hole. The trail is mostly flat, with slight elevation. Once you reach Ho'opi'i falls, you can take a very steep hike down to the base of the falls where you'll likely see people swimming and swinging from a rope. It is not advised to swim in this water, as harmful bacteria have been detected due to homes on septic tanks leaking into it. However, you'll still see people taking the risk. We did not swim in the water. The falls are beautiful and the hike itself is relaxing and great for all skill levels.


 


7. Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) East Trail

Level of Difficulty - MODERATE

Distance - 3.2 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 948 feet

Sleeping Giant East Trail is a popular hiking trail with scenic views of the island. Called "sleeping giant" because from a distance, the mountain peaks appear to look like a person laying down. You'll be hiking across the "chest" and "body" of the sleeping giant! This is certainly not the greatest trail on the island, but it is very popular and fairly easy. So if you are in the Kapa'a area and looking to kill some time, this trail is a good one.


 

8. Wailua Falls (Closed)

Level of Difficulty - MODERATE to HARD

Distance - 0.3 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 65 feet

Wailua Falls is a 140 foot waterfall and a popular spot to stop and take photos. The view from the top is gorgeous. There is a "closed" sign for the trail that leads to the bottom of the falls, and it is actually illegal to go beyond that sign and trek to the base of Wailua Falls. The trek is steep and many people have been injured and needed rescuing, so the State of Hawaii and Island of Kauai ask that you please respect their island and observe the falls from the viewpoint at the top. There is plenty of parking and you can walk around the top of the falls to the lookout points. Somedays there are locals selling yummy homemade fruit juices too!


 

South Shore Hiking Trails


9. Makauwahi Cave

Level of Difficulty - EASY

Distance - 0.5 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 32 feet

Makauwahi Cave is a quick and easy hike with beautiful ocean views, history of the cave, and access to a huge tortoise farm. The drive to the trailhead is a little rough, as it is a dirt path with some potholes and large rocks, so be careful when driving. The trail itself is fairly easy but is exposed to the sun, so bring sun protection. Once you reach the top of the cave, you can peak down into a beautiful, lush garden. As you make your way down, you'll have to crawl through a small space to get into the cave. There is a carpet provided, as you'll likely have to get on your knees for just a quick moment. This was the most fun part! The cave is stunning, well kept, and there is a worker who can tell you about the history of the Makauwahi Cave. On your way out, cross over the bridge to get to the tortoise farm where you can explore and see huge tortoises all over the place!


 

10. Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail: Shipwreck Beach to Punahoa Point

Level of Difficulty - EASY

Distance - 3.7 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 318 feet

The Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail is an iconic trail on the south shore. It starts at Shipwreck Beach (park at Grand Hyatt) and the trail leads up above the lithified rugged sea cliffs and out to Maha'ulepu Beach near Kawailoa Bay. The views the entire time are absolutely stunning. You can continue up the trail a little further, or stop and turn around after Maha'ulepu Beach. If you go during sunrise, you'll catch the most beautiful colors in the sky and witness the sun rising during the entire walk!


 

West Hiking Trails (Waimea/Koke'e State Parks)


11. Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls

Level of Difficulty - MODERATE

Distance - 3 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 1,066 feet

You will probably see Waipo'o Falls from any Waimea Canyon Lookout Point - but this trail actually goes to the top of Waipo'o Falls, an 800 foot waterfall! The first 3/4 of the hike are through a beautiful forest with the real views at the end. The trail can be slippery, so be prepared with proper footwear. Bring water, snacks, and sun protection. The canyon views are stunning and the waterfall is beautiful. $10 to park, and $5 per person to hike. This helps fund the State Park and keep it open to visitors.


 


12. Nu'alolo Trail

Level of Difficulty - HARD

Distance - 7.5 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 2,578 feet

Nu'alolo Trail is a difficult, but gorgeous trail featuring a waterfall and incredible views of the Na Pali Coast and West side of Kauai. The trail starts with an incline, but just for the first quarter mile, then is mostly downhill through a jungle-like forest and eventually above the tree line with the most spectacular views. Be aware of recent rainfall, as it will make this trail very slippery and dangerous. Please wear appropriate hiking shoes, bring lots of water, snacks, and sun protection.


 

13. Awa'awapuhi Trail

Level of Difficulty - MODERATE

Distance - 6 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 1,945 feet

Arguably one of the best hiking trails in Koke'e State Park. This trail traverses the stunning NaPali-Kona Forest Reserve, exposing you to the most beautiful beach and mountain views, as well as tropical fauna and flora. This trail can be very muddy after recent rainfall, so be prepared with proper footwear, as well as water, snacks, and sun protection. If it is very foggy out, you won't be able to see a thing - so keep that in mind when choosing to hike this trail. Only hike on a day that is sunny and free of fog.


 

14. Kalepa Ridge Trail

Level of Difficulty - MODERATE to HARD

Distance - 1.9 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 610 feet

Although this trail is relatively short, under 2 miles, it is very steep. After rainfall, it can be very slippery, muddy, and dangerous. Be prepared with proper footwear and prepared to get a little muddy. This trail is rated hard on ALL TRAILS, but I would rate it more moderate to hard. Definitely doable for intermediate skilled hikers. The views of the ridge at the top are unbelievable. The rigid mountains overlooking the ocean are spectacular and will take your breath away. Bring snacks and water to enjoy at the top! TIP - If it is very foggy out, you won't be able to see much of anything, so choose a time/day when the clouds are you in your favor.


 

15. Pihea Vista Trail

Level of Difficulty - MODERATE

Distance - 2.3 miles out and back

Elevation Gain - 465 feet

One of the most scenic hikes in Kauai, Pihea Vista Trail is the last trail accessible when driving into Koke'e State Park. You'll come to a dead end with the Pihea Look Out Point (which is gorgeous). The trail sits behind the lookout point and scales along the ridge to beautiful valley views of the ocean with rigid mountains on both sides. Because this is one of the highest points north in the park, plan to arrive early before the clouds and fog set in. Once the fog sets in, it is a complete white out and you won't be able to see a single thing (not exaggerating here). Additionally, this trail can be very, very muddy after rainfall. It rains often in this area due to the location and elevation.


 


That's it! I hope you are able to hike at least a few of these trails while visiting the Garden Isle that is Kauai. These are by far the Top 15 Best Hikes in Kauai and you won't be disappointed by the views. Keep in mind that with Kauai receiving quite a bit of rainfall, be prepared to get muddy on just about any trail. Slippery trails can lead to injuries, so please wear proper hiking shoes and bring sandals/water shoes to change in to if there are opportunities for water play.


Mahalo.

Jenna




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