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OKOLEHAO TRAIL IN HANALEI ON KAUAI, HAWAII

OKOLEHAO TRAIL IN HANALEI ON KAUAI, HAWAII

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. This article will tell you what to expect and how to enjoy the regular trail or to tackle the longer experience, which I ended up having a blast while attempting.

I hiked all over Kauai for over a month and documented all of my adventures. In my opinion,  these are the 15 best hikes on Kauai!

Okolehao Trail Hike Details

  • Distance: 3 miles out and back
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Incline: 280m
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Tibetan prayer flags at the top of Peak 1

Okolehao Trail Location

The Okolehao trailhead is quite easy to find. As you drive up towards the iconic one-way bridge from Hanalei to Princeville, turn right just before the bridge. It will lead you through some spectacular taro fields along a peaceful road. Follow this road for a few minutes until you find a parking lot on your left. The Okelahao trailhead is sign-posted on the right-hand side of the road. A small footbridge bears the sign ‘Okolehao Trail’. It’s one of many beautiful hikes up on the North Shore of Kauai.

Okolehao 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 1.5 miles in and then return down the same track 1.5 miles back. The trail doesn’t really finish but the mile markers do, which led to some confusion. I ended up hiking all the way up Hihimanu Ridge to Twin Peaks. I will first detail the Okolehau Trail as it is normally trekked and then discuss the extra distance to Twin Peaks.

The trail begins across a short footbridge near the parking lot. The mud seemed to be everywhere on this trail although it had just rained, which is common for hikes on Oahu and Kauai. The first 30 minutes of the Okolehau Trail was incredibly slippery. It was almost comical as we tried to make our way up the hike without falling over. Spikes could be handy in this first section.

After the initial incline, the trail becomes less slick but still muddy. For the majority of the hike, you are walking through the forest and get some nice shade, although the humidity was very high.

The first viewpoint you will come to is underneath the power lines. After about 30-40 minutes of hiking, this small lookout will give you your first look over Hanalei Bay.

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The first viewpoint beneath the powerlines has views over Hanalei Bay

After another 20 minutes of hiking and you will reach the final viewpoint, which has a bench and a clear view over Hanalei Bay. We thought this may be the end but there were no markers so we enjoyed the view for a while and chatted with other hikers. Many of them returned from further along the trail saying it was too muddy and that you had to start using ropes to descend. If you are up for a nice hike with views over Hanalei, I suggest hiking to this bench, enjoying the view, and then heading back down.

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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.

We decided to continue on and ended up finding this epic tree, which took up another hour of our time because how can you resist climbing a tree this good.

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How can you resist a tree like this?

From here we continued hiking along the Okolehao trail. There were still no mile-markers and we began to question how far we had come. Rope descents became far more frequent as the trail turned into more of an adventure than it had been for the first hour. We reached another beautiful viewpoint on a bend and my two friends decided that they didn’t want to keep hiking onwards if we didn’t know we were heading exactly. Preparation is key and we definitely didn’t prepare well for a hike this long. I thought it was going to be a little out and back hike so I just brought a small water bottle and no food. It had now been four hours on the trail. My friends decided to head back but I wanted to continue and see where the trail left. So, without food or water, I continued up the trail.

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Descending via ropes along the Okolehao trail
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Over 50 rope sections can be found on the Okolehao trail
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A third viewpoint after the bench viewpoint. Views over Hanalei Bay

I was now hiking along Hihimanu Trail up towards Twin Peaks, although I didn’t know that yet. The trail became quite tough. I climbed through trees, vines and used ropes more often than not to haul myself up the very steep trail.

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With no friends left to take photos of, I resort to some POV angles to show you the steep descent.

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Thirsty and hungry I reached the top of the first peak, while I looked out towards peak 2. With a spot of service at the top of the trail, my local friend messaged me saying hiking to peak 2 was pretty dangerous and I couldn’t even see a trail. I decided peak 1 would be my endpoint for today.

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Peak 1 and 2

Tibetan prayer flags hang atop the peak, which looks down into Hanalei valley and Hanalei river on one side while epic ridges stretch out over the other side. Helicopter tours zip below you as do the rolling clouds, often leaving you with a white blanket to stare at. I stayed at the top for over an hour, enjoying the breaks in the clouds to take in the view.

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Tibetan prayer flags at the top of Peak 1

The journey down was arduous, as I dreamed of water and a bite to eat. At full-throttle on the way down from Peak 1 to the entrance, it took me only 2 hours. Therefore, if done at a quick pace the entire hike from Okolehao trail to Peak 1 would take about 5 hours round trip.

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Time to hit the ropes on the trek back down

I hope this blog helps you decide whether you finish up on the bench or push on and tackle Hihimanu Ridge. Let me know your experience in the comments.

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. For more accommodation recommendations you can check my favorites in the Kauai Where to Stay Guide.

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 on 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.

Dayna

Monday 7th of February 2022

There is (or at least was a handful of years ago) an official "end of trail" sign for just the Okolehau trail, but you have to keep going past the turnoff for the peaks. It opens up to an amazing view of much of the island! I've never had enough courage to try the "ropes course" so I appreciate the pictures.

15 BEST HIKES ON KAUAI, HAWAII – Circhub

Thursday 20th of May 2021

[…] Read the full blog post: Okolehao Trail […]

Mel

Tuesday 6th of October 2020

The picture above of Nico shows the top of peak1 way in the background! My girlfriends and I just did it yesterday, took us 8hrs. Super overgrown as not many people are doing it, what a wild ride!

Shannon

Tuesday 21st of August 2018

Cool post! I did this hike a couple of years back and it was definitely worth the struggle to the top of peak 1. Kudos to you for finishing it alone!

Brad Crawford

Saturday 27th of July 2019

My 18-yr old son and I made it to peak 1 and wowsers, that is not for the faint of heart. I wasn’t up for trying peak 2 so we turned back...and re-reading your blog now (I’d read it months ago in preparation), I think that was a wise decision. I am very surprised that this hike doesn’t get more attention - it is very unique and a thrill junkie’s dream since it’s pretty dangerous. Over 1.5 miles along a 12” wide knife-edge ridge with several spots that are only passable using the ropes...but stunning views of the surrounding canopy on both sides of the ridge and of course, Hanalei Bay. Anyway, thanks for chronicling your journey - helped us find this hidden gem of a trek!

15 BEST HIKES ON KAUAI, HAWAII - Journey Era

Wednesday 28th of February 2018

[…] CLICK HERE to read the full blog post about the Okolehao Trail […]