Looking for some of the best hikes in Kauai? Here are our top picks based, each carefully selected for their scenic beauty and unique physical challenges.
All of these hikes are incredible, so take these rankings with a pinch of salt.
Read on for fun and interesting ideas for your future adventures in America’s Hawaii!
Location: Koke’e State Park | Distance: 12.4 km | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: Easy
The Alaka’i Swamp Trail, also known as the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve, is a high-altitude bog which hosts a plethora of interesting and exotic plant and animal life.
The trail starts at Pu’u O Kila Lookout and continues along the Pihea Trail from which you’ll have views of the lush Kalalau Valley.
The Alaka’i Swamp Trail follows a raised boardwalk which winds through the towering hapu’u tree ferns and mossy ‘ōhi’a lehua trees.
You will end up at the Kilohana lookout from which, if the weather permits, the vistas stretch all the way over Hanalei Bay and the Kilauea Lighthouse.
Location: North Shore of Kauai | Distance: 8 km | Duration: 2.5 hours | Difficulty: Strenuous
The Okolehao Trail is located on the north shore of Kauai, near the town of Hanalei.
The walk itself is steep and challenging, but rewards the hiker with beautiful scenes of the Hanalei Bay, the lush Hanalei Valley, the Kilauea Lighthouse and the Na Pali coastline.
At the start of the trail, you will pass through thick foliage which opens up onto two plateaus of taro fields from which you can admire your surroundings.
Pack food for a rewarding lunch to enjoy at the top before you head back down.
Note that the path is not very well signposted. Make sure to do your research properly beforehand to avoid confusion along the way.
Location: Keahua Arboretum | Distance: 7.2 km | Duration: 2 hours | Difficulty: Easy
The Kuilau Ridge Trail is the perfect 2-hour escapade. Because you are already elevated from the drive to the starting point, the walk provides epic views from the get-go.
The trail is inconspicuous and muddy but cuts through breath-taking vegetation of rolling fern blankets and towering, ancient trees. From the final viewpoint, you will see hills of teaming with similar forestation spanning into the distance.
The endpoint is somewhat of an anti-climax, market by an unceremonious sign on the dingy forest path, but overall the hike is perfect for a family day out.
Location: Near Kilauea | Distance: 3.2 km | Duration: 30 minutes | Difficulty: Easy
The Kauapea Beach walk is on this list because of the incredible final destination rather than the quality of the hike itself. You will end up at a totally secluded, magnificent beach untainted by resorts or crowds of other tourists.
The beach is large, with soft sand and is protected by lines of picturesque palm trees and immense cliffs. From the beach you will gaze at gorgeous views of Mokuaeae Island and Kilauea Lighthouse.
You can also look forward to tidal pools fed by bubbling waterfalls along the stretch of sandy beach. This is the perfect activity for early morning refreshment.
Location: Kawaihau | Distance: 6.4 km | Duration: 1 hour | Difficulty: Easy
The Ho’opi Falls Trail is quick and suited to the more adventurous types. The trail is wide and muddy, covered by sprawling, criss-crossing branches overhead.
After walking along this ethereal path for a few minutes, you will reach the stream which leads you to the first waterfall.
This waterfall is deep enough to plunge into – but make sure you are with a local who can show you the safe spots to jump into. Although the water is freezing, you can enjoy a pleasant swim in the cascading pools before continuing on.
The trail is then lined by towering trees draped in exotic creepers, leading you to the final falls and huge pool. You never regret a swim!
There is no official length of the trail but most people take about 2 – 3 hours return.
Location: West of Wailua | Distance: 12 km | Duration: 12 hours | Difficulty: Strenuous
There is a reason there is no official name for the Weeping Wall trail, but for good reason – this is not an official trail.
There are no clear markings and you will be required to do a lot of your own navigating. It is easy to get lost and find yourself in tricky spots and on slippery, precarious terrain.
However, once you finally reach the blue hole – it is a tremendous sight to behold.
The mountain is covered in bright green moss, 1544m high with sparkling, stark white waterfalls trickling down through dreamy clouds.
Location: East of Halelilo Road | Distance: 5.8 km | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
The Nounou Mountain Trail is also known as the “Sleeping Giant Trail” because the ridge formation along which you will be trekking (Nounou Mountain resembles a slumbering human body.
Local legends tell of an ancient giant who gorged himself at a feast held in his honour, after which he drifted off into an eternal sleep.
The start of the trail is covered by trees, which becomes an impressive, if alien pine forest planted in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Once you finally reach the plateau of the ridge, you can relax and soak in the epic scenery.
We recommend that you plan your hike for dusk time, so that you can admire the views with their gold-tinted hues.
Location: Haena – North Shore | Distance: 12.8 km | Duration: 3 – 5 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
The Hanakapiai Falls Hike starts along the Kalalau Trail, switching back and forth along the Na Pali coast, before cutting inland.
You will then follow along the Hanakapiai Stream which culminates with the breath-taking Hankapiai Waterfall which boasts a height of over 100m.
The trail is inclined form the very beginning and follows a winding muddy path over boulders and tree roots. Expect a challenging climb, but look forward to a thrilling, freezing dip in the final emerald pools.
The magical, lush amphitheatre is really a sight to behold, making it one of the most popular hikes on Kauai.
Location: Poipu, South Shore | Distance: 6.4 km | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: Easy
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is one of the easiest hikes on Kauai, and is really more of a coastal stroll. You will trek from Shipwreck Beach Keonela Bay traversing sand-dune cliffs, past intriguing limestone formations, through Kiawe trees.
You will end up at the Makauwahi caves, which are dotted with ancient fossils and covered in lush, green foliage.
The Mahaulepu Beach is rugged and isolated and, as always, it is important that you leave nothing behind but your footprints.
Location: Koke’e State Park | Distance: 12.2 km | Duration: 6 hours | Difficulty: Strenuous
The Nualolo Ridge Trail takes you from an elevation of 3800 ft to 2000 ft past incredible views of the Na Pali coast and Nualolo Valley, downhill most of the way.
Starting at Koke’e Ranger Station, a very muddy, slippery pathway pierces the dense surrounding forest, eventually landing on a ridge leading to multiple dramatic lookout points.
The trail is relatively underused, but this only improves the experience. Keep your eye pealed for the chance to spot the rare and striking ‘I’iwi honeycreeper.
You can also look forward to diverse and ever-changing vegetation from thick ferns to grassy fields along the way.
Location: Koke’e State Park | Distance: About 3 km (unofficial) | Duration: 2.5 hours | Difficulty: Strenuous
The Kalepa Ridge Trail is recommended if you are looking for a more alternative, off-the-beaten-track experience.
The trail is used infrequently, so you can expect a secluded feel to the walk, but it is also unmarked and not strictly maintained.
The trail is at first covered by thick brush and trees which eventually open up to impressive vies of the Kalalau Valley.
As you walk down the ridge, the views of the Na Pali coast improve, but the trail also becomes more and more dangerous – so it is important that you turn back if you feel uncomfortable.
Location: Koke’e State Park | Distance: 10 km | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
Located in the Koke’e State Park, the Awaawapuh Trail is hailed as one of the best day hikes on the west coast of the island.
The hike culminates on a precarious ridge with two dramatic drop-offs on each side, presenting glorious views and an overall thrilling experience.
Much of the climb is easily navigable, but if you continue on the ridge past the official viewpoint, the path becomes quite dangerous so watch out.
While you are likely to remember the hike for its scenery, do not underestimate the challenge of the heavy humidity and steep incline.
Location: Koke’e State Park | Distance: 6.4 km| Duration: 2 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
Although the Waipo’o Falls Trail does not take you past epic waterfall views (despite its misleading name), this trail is well worth the walk.
Instead, you will encounter up-close views of the dramatic Waimea Canyon revealing its colourful, intricately textured rock formations.
The trail leads walkers to two viewpoints which overlook the canyon.
This trail is particularly popular with tourists because of its ease-of-access, and its short duration but you will still be able to enjoy the gentle sounds, smells and tranquillity of Kauai.
Location: Koke’e State Park | Distance: 8 km | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
The Honopu Ridge Trail offers beautiful views of the Na Pali coast if you are lucky and the weather is not too overcast.
The walk itself is along a narrow path lined with scratchy shrubbery, so long trousers and shirts are recommended for protection.
Once you reach the lookouts, however, you are likely to forget you scrapes in favour of the stunning vistas of the Na Pali ridges and the impressive Honopu Valley waterfall.
At the second lookout, you will be able to see out as far out as the Nualolo Trail.
Location: Na Pali Coast | Distance: 17.7 km | Duration: 1 to 2 days | Difficulty: Strenuous
The Kalalau Trail is by a long way the most popular trails on Kauai and requires a permit which should be booked months in advance.
The trail starts at Ke’e Beach and meanders along the coast line to end up on the secluded Kalalau Beach, traversing five valleys along the way and passing the Hanakapiai Falls.
Once you arrive on the beach, we recommend that you camp overnight for at least one evening so that you have time to enjoy the tranquillity.
Be aware that the trail is a challenge and presents dangerous terrain, and is not suitable for first-time hikers. The trail has such amazing views we listed it as one of our picks for the Best Hikes in the World!
References: Go Hawaii
Mark has trekked extensively in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. He founded Mountain IQ in 2014 with the sole aim to be the best online information portal to some of the most popular mountain destinations around the world. When not writing for Mountain IQ, Mark is out exploring the outdoors with his wife!