15 BEST HIKES ON KAUAI, HAWAII
Kauai is 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 countless epic waterfall hikes and then there is the magical Kalalau Trail along the coast. I spent a month on the island of Kauai exploring different trails and treks every day. In my opinion, these are the top fifteen best hikes on Kauai.
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.
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 you cannot pass through at a certain point. 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. This means you need to plan your accommodation, depending on which areas you want to hike to.
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 will split the hikes up by region in this blog post so that you can easily see, which hikes are in which corner of the island.
ALSO: If you are visiting Oahu on your trip to Hawaii make sure you check out one of my most popular posts: 10 Best Hikes on Oahu
Top 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.
1: 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. You will feel each and every single step of the way back up as you breathe through the humid air inside the forested path.
We arrived at the official viewpoint and were blown away by the view. The dramatic drop-offs on both sides of the Awaawapuhi ridge were unlike anywhere in the world.
Most people stop there but it is possible to venture down the ridge although this can be quite dangerous. The rocks can be very crumbly and no step is certain on the ridges out in Koke’e State Park.
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.
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about Awaawapuhi Trail
2: Honopu Ridge Trail
Honopu Ridge Trail is a 5-mile out and back hike in Koke’e State Park. I attempted this trail once but was totally engulfed by clouds so I didn’t get to enjoy any of the views. I decided I had to go back a second time. My persistence paid off and the second visit was beautiful with views of the Na Pali coast.
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.
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.
The first time I hiked the Honopu Ridge Trail, I arrived at the first lookout and the narrow ridge section while in the middle of a cloud. Everything was white. The second time the view was insane! The first lookout has you facing straight towards the classic Na Pali ridges and a huge waterfall in the Honopu Valley.
The second lookout peers down onto the AwaAwapuhi Trail and even as far as the Nualolo Trail. We watched whales breaching below as the tour boats cruised up and down the coast. It took us almost 2 hours to make it out to this viewpoint, not including our 1-hour rest but it was well worth it!
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about Honopu Ridge Trail
3: 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 3.8-mile track is a half-day adventure in the Koke’e State Park.
The Nualolo Cliff Trail is a 3.8 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.
The Nualolo Cliff Trail delivered its first ridge view and we were blown away as with all the hikes out in the west. The grand scale of the cliffs is something you can never really get used to.
We reached what appears to be the official viewpoint and the watch said we had completed the 1.9 miles out. The trail to the second lookout led us through some thick grass and down some steep descents but nothing too crazy! The second lookout was a little plateau where we hung out and rested before turning back. It’s not of the most popular hikes on Kauai but in my opinion its one of the best hikes on Kauai because of the multiple lookouts at the end of the cliff trail.
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Nualolo Cliff Trail
4: Waipo’o Falls Trail
The Waipo’o Falls Trail is a let down for some hikers who think they are hiking to have a great view of the falls. In fact, you will never see these falls head on and you are hiking 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 your classic waterfall hike. There is a second small waterfall you will see but it isn’t the 800ft cascading fall you see from the lookouts as you drive up Waimea Canyon Road.
However, don’t feel like this is a hike you should skip because it doesn’t have an epic waterfall view. I’ll be honest, I thought maybe it won’t be worth the effort considering the other epic hikes in Koke’e State Park. Once we finished the hike we were so stoked we had gone ahead and given it a crack. The views of Waimea Canyon are insane 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.
The first viewpoint is a slight detour to the right, while you are still in the forest area. After about 25 minutes you will meet a fork in the right. If you take the 5- minute detour you will have your first good look at the Waimea Canyon.
The second viewpoint along the Waipo’o Falls Trail is a huge stretch of red rock, overlooking a huge drop down into the canyon. There is one final stop on the hike, which is to a small waterfall behind the main waterfall. It’s a nice little nook to perch yourself up on a rock and enjoy the sounds and smells of Kauai in tranquility. This is a busy hike due to its ease of access and short duration but you can still find plenty of areas to zen out and enjoy the moment.
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Waipo’o Falls Trail
5: 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 Cathedral’s, 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.
North Region: Includes hikes in Hanelei and hikes easily accessible from Princeville and Kapaa. The north can generally be the rainy corner of the island so keep that in mind when checking the conditions for hikes.
6: Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau trail is ultimately the most popular hike on Kauai. People come from all around the world to do the 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.
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, the coastal trail along the Na Pali Coast. You can hike the first 2 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 a good physical condition.
7: 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 miles in and 4 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 trail begins with an incline and it never really lets you relax from that point onwards. Slippery mud, boulders and tree roots are just a few of the obstacles you will encounter on the winding path that switches back and forth as it leads you along the Na Pali coast. The Hanakapiai Falls Trail isn’t a stroll in the park 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 vibrant palette painting an incredible scene replicated in few places around the world.
Finally, we had arrived at the waterfall. It is a 300ft booming shower that seems to fall out of the sky into the emerald pool below. The water was freezing but most of us jumped in for a dip. I explored a small ledge to the left of the ledge, where I was able to snap some photos with an awesome perspective of the amphitheater. This is my a truly magical spot and one of the best waterfalls hikes on Kauai.
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Hanakapiai Falls Trail
8: 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. I will first detail the Okolehao Trail as it is normally trekked and then discuss the extra distance to Twin Peaks.
This is one of the best hikes on Kauai if you are looking for a physical challenge. See you at Peak 1!
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Okolehao Trail
Central, South, East Region: Included is some of the best hikes on Kauai that are easily accessible from the common tourist areas such as Kapaa and Lihue and even Hanalei.
9: Ho’opi’i Falls Hike
Ho’oip’i Falls Trail on Kauai is a short but action-packed hike taking you to two waterfalls. The first falls 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. I’d put this up as one of the more underrated waterfall hikes on Kauai.
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 jump with a local who knows where the rocks are hiding beneath the surface or do a thorough check. If you jump in without checking you could land on one of the big builders 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!
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Ho’opi’i Falls Hike
10: Makaleha Falls Hike
Makaleha Falls Hike is the jungle waterfall adventure, which will leave you covered in mud but not with no regrets. The 2.6 mile 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.
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Makaleha Falls Hike
11: Opeakaa Falls Hike
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.
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 Opaeka 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.
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Opeakaa Falls Hike
12: 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 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 muddy terrain. I consider myself to be in good shape and a good hiker and slipped several times onto my back on the way down to give you an example of why this isn’t a great trail to take your grandmother on. 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. I would advise steering clear of anywhere near where the waterfall smashes into the pool as you don’t want to get sucked into that mess. 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.
Swim over to the side of the pool or you can walk on the left side and you can climb up and creep your way behind the falls. It is quite slippery so be careful but the view of the falls from behind is incredible. Rainbows appear everywhere and to be behind such a powerful flow of water was probably my favorite part of the Wailua Falls hike. Being able to get behind the waterfall and its raw power made me decide that this was my favorite waterfall hike on Kauai.
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Wailua Falls Hike
13: Sleeping Giant Hike
The Nounou Mountain Trail is one of the most popular hikes on Kauai in Hawaii. However, you may have also heard about the other name this trail goes by. This ridge formation resembles a ginormous human body laying flat on it’s back. Hence the popular trail is known as the ‘Sleeping Giant’ hike of Kauai.
The giant’s body is visible from anywhere in Kapaa, with his head the most obvious feature. Interestingly from the Sleeping Giant hike, you can look towards Wailua and see King Kong’s head, another mountain formation! 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 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 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
I highly suggest doing this hike during golden hour as the valley will light up in such a magic way! We ended up taking over 3 hours to do this hike because we chilled at both the plateau and the summit hanging out. If you have just arrived, this is one of the best hikes on Kauai to shake off the jet lag and to get a great view of your surroundings!
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Sleeping Giant Hike
14: Kuilau Ridge Trail
In what was a last minute decision, we opened up Google Maps and searched for a hike near Wailua, which we could do before sunset. The Kuilau Ridge Trail looked perfect and was just past Opaeka’a Falls. It’s only a 2-mile, out and back trail, which is easy for all levels of hiking ability.
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 the 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.
This is a kid-friendly hike with no real drop-offs or dangerous sections. Having said that is is still one of the best hikes on Kauai for me because it is so quiet and peaceful.
CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Kuilau Ridge Trail
15: 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:
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.