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15 BEST HIKES ON KAUAI, HAWAII

15 BEST HIKES ON KAUAI, HAWAII

Kauai is a hiking paradise. There is no doubt about that. The Na Pali coast has some of the most epic ridges and drop-offs in the world. There are also countless epic waterfall hikes and then there is the magical Kalalau Trail along the coast. I spent a month on the island of Kauai and I explored different trails and treks almost every day. In my opinion, these are the top fifteen best hikes on Kauai, Hawaii. The hikes are listed in no particular order. I have hiked all of them personally except for two, which I missed due to bad weather during my month on the island of Kauai.

I have written an individual, detailed blog post about each of these hikes. You can click on the link at the end of each section to view this individual blog post.

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HOW TO GET TO ALL OF THE HIKES ON KAUAI

Before we get into the list it’s helpful to get a quick overview of the island. The most important factor to know is that you cannot drive around the island in an entire circle. The Napali Coast is an area without roads and additionally, you cannot pass through on the north-western coast. Therefore if you are in Hanalei or on the North Shore it will take you over two hours to reach Koke’e State Park even though it is quite close geographically because you need to drive all the way around via the south coast.

This means you need to plan your accommodation, depending on which areas you want to hike to. If you are really into hiking like me and want to do hikes in all of the different areas I actually suggest staying on one side of the island for half of your time and staying on the other side for the second part of your trip. Otherwise, you will be doing some hefty driving, which is a viable option aswell.

So, as I said, I personally suggest splitting your accommodation time around the island so that you can have quick access to the best hikes on Kauai in that region. I wrote this huge guide covering all of the top accommodations in each region of the island.

I will split the hikes up by region in this blog post so that you can easily see which hikes are on either side of Kauai Island.

ALSO: If you are visiting Oahu on your trip to Hawaii make sure you check out one of my most popular posts about the Best Hikes on Oahu

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THREE EPIC TOURS I RECOMMEND ON KAUAI

Before we get into the hikes, I wanted to share with you three of my favorite tours on the island of Kauai. I know if you are into hiking, you will love these adventurous tours as well.

What will give you a great understanding of the island and the highlight of my trip to Kauai is booking a helicopter or scenic plane flight like these below. It will blow your mind and I think it’s the most scenic helicopter flight in the world.

Helicopter Flight: The most popular helicopter tour on Kauai is the Kauai Island Highlight Helicopter Tour.

Sightseeing Plane: The Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon Scenic Plane Flight are well under $200, which is more than half the cost of the same trip via helicopter.

Eco-Friendly Kauai Zip Line Tour: Soar over three different valleys against a backdrop of breathtaking mountain views and ocean scenery on Kauai’s award-winning 8-line zipline adventure: Eco-Friendly Kauai Zip Line Tour

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15 BEST HIKES ON KAUAI, HAWAII

WEST REGION

(Includes Koke’e State Park, Waimea) These hikes are all accessible from Waimea Canyon Drive, which is over two hours from Hanalei or just more than one hour from Kapaa. A winding road takes you from the town of Waimea into the park. Once you are in the state park there is only one coffee shop, no restaurants, no cell service, no wifi, and only drinkable tap water in specific areas. There are toilets available at several campsites and parking lots but not all.

Awaawapuhi Trail

Awaawapuhi Trail is one of my favorite ridge trails in the Koke’e State Park. It has insane drop-offs and epic views of the Na Pali Coast. The hike only takes about an hour and a half each way and is a total 6.2 miles journey out and back. If you only have time for one hike on the west side of Kauai, this is your trail.

The Awaawapuhi Trail is one of the more moderate difficulty hikes in Koke’e State Park. While the end viewpoint can get quite dangerous and steep if you venture down, the majority of the trail is well defined and quite straightforward. You spend the entire time hiking down 1500ft.

The reason why I love this trail and what makes it my favorite out in the west is because of the magnitude of the dropoffs and the gorge. Because the Awaawapuhi Trail drops you so low, you feel like you are almost down in the valley looking up towards the top of the other ridges. It’s one of the best ridge trails and one of the best day hikes on Kauai.

  • Distance: 6 miles out and back
  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Incline: 600m

Read the full blog post: Awaawapuhi Trail

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Honopu Ridge Trail

Honopu Ridge Trail is a 5-mile out and back hike in Koke’e State Park. This ridge trail takes a number of turns in the early moments of the hike but they are clearly marked by pink and orange tape. Hunting trails branch out from the Honopu Ridge Trail frequently so make sure you stick with the tape markers and stay on track. The views of the Na Pali coast at the end of the ridge are incredible and well worth the effort.

This hike is great but it can be brutal on your legs and arms. The low-lying shrubs are incredibly sharp and the trail is so narrow there is no way to avoid their constant scrape. I would highly suggest wearing pants on this hike. It isn’t going to kill you if you don’t but you will regret not heeding this advice when you return.

  • Distance: 4.4 miles out and back
  • Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Incline: 450m

Read the full blog post: Honopu Ridge Trail

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What are my favorite pieces of hiking gear?

There are four pieces of gear that I simply never forget when I go on a hike. These are four items that I using right now and this list gets updated every year! Here are my hiking essentials.

  • Arcteryx BETA AR Rain Jacket: This is my go-to rain jacket. It’s super light, folds down into a tiny ball, and protects brilliantly in a storm. This one never leaves my backpack.
  • Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots: For the best ankle support, waterproofing, and durable exterior I’m a fan of tough but light hiking boots like these Salomons for my adventures.
  • Black Diamond Head Torch: I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve arrived back from a hike unexpectedly late. I always keep this lightweight but strong headtorch in my bag for the unexpected.
  • Darn Tough Socks: These are the most comfortable hiking socks I’ve ever worn and last for years. They also have a lifetime warranty and you just send them in with a hole and they replace it no questions asked.

Nualolo Ridge Trail

The Nualolo Cliff Trail on Kauai takes you from 3800ft to 2200ft but rewards you with epic views of Nualolo Valley and the Na Pali Coast. The 7.6-mile track is a half-day adventure in the Koke’e State Park.

The Nualolo Cliff Trail is a 7.6 mile out and back trail. The terrain is very muddy at times and winds you through a dense forest. It is a day hike for experienced trekkers and there were many slips from members of our hiking crew.

The trail is similar to the Awaawapuhi Trail, which was downhill for almost the entire journey, making it a relaxing but brisk walk along the red sand path. The jungle became dense in parts but never impeded the path, only making for beautiful scenery as we made our way towards the coast.

It’s not of the most popular hikes on Kauai but in my opinion, it’s one of the best hikes on Kauai because of the multiple lookouts of the famous Na Pali coastline at the end of the cliff trail.

  • Distance: 7 miles out and back
  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Incline: 600m

Read the full blog post: Nualolo Cliff Trail

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The official lookout of the Nualolo Cliff Trail
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Waipo’o Falls Trail

Waipo’o Falls Trail is a great way to experience the Waimea Canyon on one of the best easy hikes on Kauai. The trail is well maintained and the out and back can be completed in under 2 hours. The trail can be a little steep in some sections but is suitable for all ages who are in moderate level physical shape.

You will actually never see these falls head-on during the hike and you are in fact, heading to the top of the falls. The reality is you will only see the stream that becomes the waterfall. It’s a great view but not the classic Kauai waterfall hike. There is a second small waterfall you will see but it isn’t quite the 800ft cascading fall you can see from the lookouts while driving up to Waimea Canyon Road.

The views of Waimea Canyon are insane all along this hike. The patterns, colors, and textures of the rock formations from inside the canyon are just hard to imagine until you get down this close. These incredible rocky landscapes are what sets Kauai hikes apart from Oahu hikes.

The second viewpoint along the Waipo’o Falls Trail is a huge stretch of red rock, overlooking a huge drop down into the canyon. This is easily one of my favorite easy waterfall hike on Kauai.

  • Distance: 3.6 miles out and back
  • Duration: 2 hours

Read the full blog post about the Waipo’o Falls Trail

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Kalepa Ridge

Kalepa Ridge Trail is one of the most epic cliff trails on Kauai. It’s only a short hike taking about 30 minutes until you reach the viewpoint. The cliff trail becomes very narrow and the path can be crumbly so this is a hike for experienced hikers only.

You will have views over Kalalau Valley and even down into Cathedrals, which is the most famous section of the Na Pali coastline. If you are looking for a quick sunset spot then this is one of the best hikes on Kauai to catch that golden hour glow on the ridges.

The night I visited Kalepa Ridge, the clouds parted just in time for the sun to light up the remaining fog in a golden glow, while the ocean still beamed blue. Looking down the ridge while all of this was going on is a moment I’ll never forget.

  • Distance: 1.9 miles out and back
  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Incline: 200m
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HOLD UP! Are you sure you’re ready to start hiking and traveling? GET INSURED FIRST!

If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Don’t wait for an accident to happen, Get insured. I fractured an ankle halfway through a multi-day trek and had THOUSANDS covered by through insurance claim.

I’ve been using World Nomads and SafetyWing for the past 6 years. I’ve made successful claims with both and found them professional, helpful, and reliable but most importantly.. cheap! I trust them both. World Nomads is great for travel up to two months and SafetyWing is perfect for long-term travel.

To find out why I choose World Nomads and SafetyWing, check out my review: Best (Cheap) Travel Insurance or get a quote below.

North Region

Includes hikes in Hanalei and hikes easily accessible from Princeville and Kapaa. The hikes in the north of Kauai can generally be the rainy corner of the island so keep that in mind when checking the conditions for hikes.

Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau trail is ultimately the most popular hike on Kauai. People come from all around the world to hike this trail. I had planned to do the trail but high surf and bad weather stopped me from getting out there during the time period I had open during my one month in Kauai. I’ll be back to do this one for sure.

Here is what you can expect on this epic coastal trail along the Na Pali Coast:

Firstly you will need a Kalalau Trail Permit, which you can book by clicking here. Make sure you book well in advance as they are often booked out of permits over 4 months ahead of time. Rangers do patrol the area and keeping the numbers set helps to ensure the safety of hikers and the preservation of the region.

The trail is a challenging 11-mile (one-way), coastal trail along the Na Pali Coast. You can hike the first 4.5 miles to Hanakapiai Falls without a permit but any further than that you will need the permit. The trail ends at the secluded Kalalau Beach, which sits below Kalalau Valley. It is one of the most special spots on Kauai. Make sure you stay for one or two nights if you plan on camping here so you can truly enjoy the beach rather than hiking in and be hiking straight back out the next morning as it is a full-day hike.

Several parts of this trail are quite dangerous and many hikers have fallen into trouble over the years. It is a trail for experienced hikers in good physical condition.

  • Distance: 22 miles out and back
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Incline: 2000m
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Hanakapiai Falls Trail

Hanakapiai Falls Trail is one of the most popular hikes on Kauai. It leads you to the first part of the Kalalau Trail towards Hanakpiai Beach before heading inwards along the Hankapiai Stream towards the booming 300ft+ Hankapiai Waterfall in the depths of the jungle. The Hanakpiai Falls Trail is 4.5 miles in and 4.5 miles out. However, many hikers stop at the beach and turn back, opting to hike only to the beach and not the falls. This makes the journey only 2 miles in and 2 miles out.

The Hanakapiai Falls Trail isn’t one of the easiest hikes on Kauai but it’s worth it and definitely one of the best waterfall hikes on Kauai.

My favorite part of the stretch from Ke’e Beach to Hankapiai Beach is the red rock path and how it contrasts dramatically with the striking blue of the Pacific Ocean far below. When you add the vivid greens from the jungle and the deep sky blue into this scene you have a vibrant palette painting an incredible scene replicated in a few places around the world.

The 300ft waterfall, which seems to fall out of the sky, pours down into the emerald pool below. The water was freezing but most of us jumped in for a dip.

  • Distance: 11 miles out and back
  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Incline: 800m

Read the full blog post: Hanakapiai Falls Trail

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Okolehao Trail

The Okolehao Trail is on the north shore of Kauai near the town of Hanalei. It’s a 5-mile hike that I’ll never forget. That’s because it isn’t signposted very well and I ended up hiking much, much farther than the end of the trail.

The Okolehao trail is one of the north shore hiking trails on Kauai and is just around the corner from Hanalei. Unless you hike along the Kalalau Trail or to Hanakapiai Falls, this is probably the best hike you can do on the Kauai north shore.

The Okolehao trail is an out and back trail so you hike 2.5 miles in and then return down the same track 2.5 miles back. However, the mile markers seem to end after mile 1.75. This led to some confusion. I ended up hiking all the way up Hihimanu Ridge to Twin Peaks. This is one of the best hikes on Kauai if you are looking for a physical challenge.

  • Distance: 2.8 miles out and back
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Incline: 280m

Read the full blog post: Okolehao Trail

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Central, South, East Region

Included are some of the best hikes on Kauai that are easily accessible from the common tourist areas such as Kapaa and Lihue and even Hanalei.

Ho’opi’i Falls Hike

Ho’oip’i Falls Trail on Kauai is a short hike, which leads you to two waterfalls. The first waterfall is a great spot for cliff jumping or a refreshing dip. The second falls is one you may recognize from the film Jurassic Park. The trail is very muddy at times but leads you through some unbelievable scenes as vines and ferns are strewn throughout huge trees on either side of the Ho’opi’i Falls trail.

If you are like me and love an adrenaline rush, check out my Kauai Cliff Jumping Guide for all of the best spots.

After about 20 minutes you will reach the first falls. The pool is quite narrow but deep enough to jump into. However, it is only deep enough in certain parts. The water is dark so you must do a thorough check. If you jump in without checking you could land on one of the big boulders just feet below the surface.

The main falls are in a famous location. It is the scene of Amber Mine from Jurassic Park. It doesn’t look quite the same and a lot greener when I visited but nonetheless, you will find yourself standing on a Hollywood set as you watch the water flow down Ho’opi’i Falls. This is one of the best short hikes on Kauai and even has a bonus cliff jump!

  • Distance: 2.4 miles out and back
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Incline: 100m

Read the full blog post: Ho’opi’i Falls Hike

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Makaleha Falls Hike

Makaleha Falls Hike is a jungle waterfall adventure, which will leave you covered in mud but not with no regrets. The 2.6 miles out and back trail follows a stream the entirety of the hike with a reward of multiple epic waterfalls at the end. This hike is a great fit for those capable of bouldering, weaving in and out of roots and vines, and dealing with slippery mud and mossy rocks.

Makaleha Falls Hike on Kauai takes about two hours round trip if you don’t stop for photos or spend too long at the falls. Otherwise, allow for three hours if you want to enjoy the falls at the destination.

The hike begins along the Makaleha Stream and follows it the whole way up to the falls. I lost count of the river crossings and many of them left no option other than to wade through the water. I managed to keep one shoe dry! Follow the stream throughout the waterfall hike and you will arrive at the two-tiered falls. This spot was nestled in a narrow canyon and the water was beyond freezing! It’s a handy little area for cliff-jumping but definitely check the water for debris or rocks first! This is definitely one of the most epic waterfall hikes on Kauai.

  • Distance: 2.8 miles out and back
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Incline: 300m

Read the full blog post: Makaleha Falls Hike

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Opaekaa Falls Hike (Closed)

Opaekaa Falls is one of the most popular spots for tourists to visit when they come to Kauai. However, most tourists just stop in the parking lot and watch the falls from a distance. It’s possible to trek down to the bottom and swim in the pool below the falls along a trail, although it is a very steep trail with a high level of difficulty. I set out on an Opaekaa Falls hike mission in the middle of the day. Be careful on this trail, it is one of the more dangerous waterfall hikes on Kauai.

* This trail is currently closed due to State restrictions.

The entire hike to the bottom of the falls took about 30-minutes if you didn’t stop. At the bottom of the falls, we enjoyed a peaceful rest as we took in the natural beauty of Opaekaa Falls. It looks as if you can hike out down the stream, maybe all the way to the beach. We will save that adventure for another day.

  • Distance: 1.5 miles out and back
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Incline: 100m

Read the full blog post: Opaekaa Falls Hike

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Wailua Falls Hike

From the viewpoint the waterfall is spectacular but the Wailua Falls hike allows you to follow the trail down to the bottom pool and enjoy the raw power of this waterfall from up close. If you can manage the incline, this is one of the best easy hikes on Kauai.

The Wailua Falls hike is only a short trek down a slope, which is often quite slippery and muddy. Despite the short distance, this is a waterfall hike for able-bodied, fit people. This is due to the steep incline and potentially muddy terrain. In terms of effort to pay off, this is one of the best hikes on Kauai.

You can swim in Wailua Falls and it will definitely be refreshing as the water is freezing. There is quite a strong current in the pool but it seemed to push outward. Stay near the edges and don’t go inspecting the waterfall too close while you swim.

  • Distance: 1 mile out and back
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Incline: 100m

Read the full blog post: Wailua Falls Hike

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Sleeping Giant Hike

The Nounou Mountain Trail is one of the most popular hikes on Kauai in Hawaii. It is also known as one of the easy Kauai Hikes. This ridge formation resembles a ginormous human body laying flat on its back. That’s why the trail is known as the ‘Sleeping Giant’ hike of Kauai.

The giant’s body is visible from anywhere in Kapaa. The local legend tells of a giant who overate at a feast during a celebration in his honor, fell asleep, and never woke. I think we can all relate.

The trail begins in a beautiful tunnel of trees. It is an eerie opening to the journey, which captivated us from the first moments. The muddy trail switches back and forth before leading you into an epic pine forest. It’s something most people wouldn’t imagine when they think of Hawaii. A grove of Norfolk and Cook Pines stretch high into the sky, so high arching your neck isn’t enough to catch the treetops. The trees were planted long ago in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

  • Distance: 3.4 miles out and back
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Incline: 300m

Read the full blog post: Sleeping Giant Hike

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Kuilau Ridge Trail

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is a perfect two-hour adventure. It’s short but because you are already elevated so high from the drive, the views are awesome from the first moment. A small muddy trail leads you along a winding path that cuts in and out along the ridge for two miles.

The trees and plants on the Kuilau Ridge Trail are out of this world. Huge ferns blanket the lower level of the forest, while enormous trees tower above you as you make your way along the path. It’s a classic Hawaii hike that has you feeling like you are on the set of Jurassic Park.

From this viewpoint, you can check out the epic views of the valley. We counted six layers of mountains and looking at the blanketed ferns creating a canopy below was a scene I won’t forget.

  • Distance: 3.6 miles out and back
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Incline: 200m

Read the full blog post: Kuilau Ridge Trail

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Waialeale Blue Hole Hike

I attempted this hike while on Kauai but was unfortunately beaten by the weather. It is prone to flash flooding so we had to turn back without seeing the incredible weeping walls.

The base of Mt. Waialeale is known as the Blue Hole, this is where the wall appears to be weeping as streams of water pour into the canyon. To reach the hike you need a 4×4 as there are several river crossings. The entire journey is a full-day hike for most people and is best done with a guide or a local. The weather conditions here change rapidly and you can get caught in a flash flood before this time to backtrack.

I’ll be eternally jealous if you manage to reach the Weeping Wall but hope you remain safe attempting what is one of the best waterfall hikes on Kauai.

This is a photo of my mate Jorden at the Weeping Wall last year. I’ll be back to do this one for sure!

  • Distance: 5 miles out and back
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Incline: 500m
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There are of course many other epic hikes on Kauai but for me, those were the top 15 of the many I hiked while on Island. I hope you have a safe time on the trails. Happy Hiking.

Where to stay on Kauai

I’m going to recommend five places to stay on Kauai. All five of these spots are in great locations but each one is a little different. Two are a luxury pick, one is a family choice, the other is a value selection.

Kauai Shores HotelLuxury (but value also): A luxury feels with the resort-style property, palm trees, and a beautiful pool area. However, it is less than $300 a night. The best part about this hotel is that it is right on the beach. The restaurant literally looks out to the waves, which is an awesome spot to start your day with breakfast.

Koloa Landing ResortLuxury (high-end): I was lucky enough to spend three nights reviewing Koloa Landing Resort and honestly the place is just phenomenal. It has the LARGEST pool in all of Kauai with beautiful, natural-style landscaping throughout the pool areas.

The Grand Hyatt ResortBest Family Resort: With the best kids’ club on the island, wildlife talks in the lobby, and a five-acre pool complex that includes an enormous lazy-river pool, a waterslide, and a saltwater lagoon big enough for kayaking, the Grand Hyatt is unbeatable for keeping kids busy and parents happy.

Hilton Garden InnValue Pick: The Hilton Garden Inn is your number one choice if you are on a budget but still need comfort. The Hilton has a beautiful pool, has private beach access and hot tubs so you are still getting an awesome value and the resort experience.

What are my favorite pieces of travel gear?

There are four pieces of gear that I simply never travel without. These are four items that I using right now and this list gets updated every year! Here are my travel essentials.

  • Packing Cube Set: Once you cube you’ll never go back. Organize your clothes within your luggage with these smart mesh containers. It will revolutionize your packing.
  • PackTowl Quick-Dry Towel: A quick-dry towel is a must for travelers. It hardly takes up any room and dries in seconds.
  • Travel Wallet: Keep your passport, wallet, and vaccine card safe as well as any forms and important documents you need to store.
  • Grayl GeoPress Water Filter Bottle: I’ve used this for three years. It filters your water with one press and you can drink directly from it. Never buy a plastic water bottle again!

Satori Ebedes

Saturday 27th of August 2022

Incredible BlogšŸ¤©thank you so much for sharing this epic information

Alissa

Thursday 2nd of June 2022

Hi,

Thank you so much for all of your insight. I will only be in Kauai for 4 days sadly. I am hoping you could help me choose between a few hikes. Below if the tentative itinerary.

Saturday: -Awaawapuhi Trail followed by the Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls

Sunday: Will be taking a trip to the North coast. We were unable to get a permit for the Kalalau Trail. Considering between Okolehao, Makaleha Falls or the Kuilau Ridge Trail.

Monday: -Ho'opi'i Falls Hike -Kayak Wailua to Secret Falls -Wailua Falls Hike

Tuesday: -Possibly Sleeping Giant

Sunday and Tuesday I would like your help with. If you could give me your top 2 hike out of Okolehao, Makaleha Falls, Kuilau Ridge Trail and the Sleeping Giant that would be great. I think we are going to try and squeeze a Helicopter tour in on Sunday. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

Friday 22nd of April 2022

1

Christina

Monday 7th of February 2022

Planning a trip and found your descriptions super helpful as I'll be traveling with my Mom and 7 year old. Mahalo!

Go Wander Wild

Monday 8th of November 2021

I loved reading about your hiking experience in Kauai. Your descriptions really made it come alive for me. Happy travels!