The Nounou Mountain Trail is one of the most popular hikes on the beautiful island of 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 its 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. 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.
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!
There are several trails on Nounou Mountain, which start on various sides. They all end at the same viewpoint but begin at different locations. The East trail and the West trail are the most refined and the two most common options. Both are very scenic but offering a slightly different experience to this trail, which is one of the top easy hikes on Kauai. I chose to head up Nounou Mountain on the west Sleeping Giant hike trail but I will cover both options in this blog post.
Sleeping Giant Hike (Nounou Mountain) Details
- Distance: 3.4 miles out and back
- Duration: 2 hours
- Incline: 300m
Sleeping Giant Hike (East) Trail
The east Sleeping Giant hike is easily accessible from Wailua and is also known as the frontside trail. This trail leads you through a dense forest with several switchbacks helping you gain elevation up the mountain. Along the journey, you will have expansive views over Kalepa Ridge and Wailua.
On the giant’s chest at the false summit, there is a picnic table and a shelter. A lone bench is also perched with a perfect view out over the valley and the ocean. From here you only have a short distance before you hit the giant’s head, which is where you will find the 360-degree views of Kauai’s beautiful east.
Sleeping Giant Hike (Kuamoo) Trail
The Kuamoo Trail is 2.5 miles each way and a side trail compared to the front(east) or back(west) trails. It leads you across the Opaeka Stream. The trail continues for 1.5 miles along the west side of Nounou Mountain before linking up with the west trail and from there it follows the same route. See below for the summary of the rest of the hike when it joins up with the west trail
Sleeping Giant Hike (West) Trail
Those were the alternate options. But now I will tell you in more detail about my experience hiking up the west trail, which I was told was the best overall experience. This is largely due to the epic pine forest you walk through.
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 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
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.
As mentioned earlier this trail meets the Kuamoo trail. This intersection comes after only 1/4 of a mile. At this point, stay left and continue on up the mountain. After about 30 minutes of hiking, you will reach the first plateau. This is the giant’s chest. Here you will find a picnic table under a shelter. A small bench sits beneath an epic, twisted tree. Have a seat and enjoy the view over Wailua.
You aren’t there yet and the best is still to come. Head on up along the ridge for another ten minutes and the views only get better as the drop-offs get steeper. Here you will find some awesome outcrops to sit on and take in the beauty on both sides of the ridge. We even found a giant hole (puka) to explore beneath where most people were sitting.
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. However, it can be done up and down easily within 1-2 hours for most hikers.
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 Hotel – Luxury (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 Resort – Luxury (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 Resort – Best 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 Inn – Value 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.