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 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’.
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 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. Mud seemed to be everywhere on this trail although it had just rained, which is common on 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 end point for today.
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. Helicopters on 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.
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.
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.