Vien R. Guenther
Hiking in Kauai, Hawaii
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
Hiking in Kaua'i is very much different from hiking in Colorado, California or other states in the United States. The differences in elevation and terrain, along with climate and landscape, set it apart from other places where we have hiked. Here it is all about the beautiful panoramic views of the coastline.
Ninety percent of Kauai is not accessible by road and since we were exploring, the best way is to see the whole coast of the island (besides taking the Na Pali Cruise), is to do some hiking. Kauai is the oldest among Hawaii's main islands and the fourth largest. There are hundreds of trails to hike here. We went on two major trails - the Awa' Awapuhi Trail in Koke’e State Park and the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast State Park. Both have beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and of the island's coastline.
KALALAU TRAIL (Na Pali Coast State Park) – 11 miles each way (4 miles round trip from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach)
To get to Kalalau trail, drive all the way to the end of Kuhio Highway (State Road 560) - you will pass Limahuli Garden and Preserve. At the end of the road is the Kalalau trailhead, at Ke’e Beach. Take note though, parking has changed since we were here in 2007 and advance reservations are now required for all vehicles.
This trail ranges from moderate to strenuous, depending on how far you want to go and how experienced you are in hiking. Taking the whole 11-mile trail will require camping at some point, but you can make a day hike and see great views within two miles (four miles round trip). Nothing boring on this hike, the trail mostly hugs the Na Pali Coast with wonderful ocean views and lush vegetation.
You will even find blooming wild orchids along the trail such as this one.
The Kalalau trail is the original trail used by the Hawaiians who lived in the valleys along the Na Pali Coast, the only land access to the coast. This is one of the most challenging trails in Kauai, but it is truly a beautiful trail and the best way to see the stunning views of the Na Pali Coast from land.
We did not take the whole 11-mile trail. We hiked as far as the Hanakapi’ai Beach. This is a small beach along the Na Pali Coast, but extremely dangerous to go in the water - the currents here have claimed many lives. This is a popular beach even though there is no road access. In summer this beach will probably be crowded, but we came here in spring so we had the place almost to ourselves.
Is the warning sign still there I wonder? And how many more lives were lost on this beach since we were there? The beach looks calm and inviting, no wonder people can't resist to go for a dip and refresh themselves after a two mile hike. But we heeded the warning. Kauai is not exactly lacking in beaches, is it?
The trail gets challenging beyond this beach and is only recommended for experienced hikers. Hermann is but not me, I was a novice hiker at that time. To reach Hanakapi'ai Falls would take another two miles of challenging terrain, inland, from Hanakapi'ai beach.
For those wanting to hike beyond Hanakapi’ai Valley, permits are required for both day hikers and campers. For day hikers, going beyond Hanakoa is not recommended, from this point is another five miles to Kalalau Beach, the end of the trail.
AWA’AWAPUHI TRAIL (Koke’e State Park) – 6.5 miles round-trip
Kōkeʻe State Park is located in northwestern part of Kauai, north of Waimea Canyon. The trailhead is on the west side of Kokee Road (State Road 550), heading north. Near the end of this road is the Kalalau Viewpoint. The park, which is 3,200 to 4,200 feet above sea level, offers about 45 miles of hiking trails. We hiked only one of these trails
Awa'Awapuhi trail has an easy trek for about a mile from the trailhead, then its downhill all the way. The trail starts at 4,120 feet and down at 2,500 feet. So, even for experienced hikers, the elevation gain going back up will make a big difference in how strenuous it will be. You have to consider the heat and humidity as well - it will definitely get you if you are not used to it.
Hiking here you will be in the forest before it opens up to reveal a stunning view. The park is covered with forest. There are rich varieties of native plant species thriving in this area, with varieties of bushes with colorful blooms. You will also hear the birds chirping as you hike.
Eventually the dense forest will open up and you will have an unobstructed view of the Awa'awapuhi valley below, and the Pacific Ocean.
Now that the fun part of the hike was over, and you enjoyed and absorbed the stunning beauty of the cliffs, here comes the hard part of the hike. This is rated as a difficult hike due to uphill climb going back. You won’t notice it while hiking down but you will as you hike back to the top. Make sure you bring plenty of water and enough snacks to keep you going.
We did these hikes almost thirteen years ago in spring, so things might have changed since then. Bring plenty of water and wear proper shoes, trails can be slippery when wet.