Kauai Life Five Great Hikes on Kauai and what you'll need

This April we returned to visit and hike on the beautiful Island of Kauai. I don't know what it is about the "Garden Island" of Hawaii but it keeps calling us back for more. Each time we return it feels like how life should be lived. Kauai restores the mind, challenges the body and inspires the spirit. The following is a small glimpse of some of the most popular, dangerous and spectacular places we've hiked and photographed on the island.

Several good books have been written on hiking Hawaii and Kauai. Listed below are hikes a person could do over a week or two while visiting Kauai and in order of most challenging to kid and family friendly based on our experiences. Clicking the links below will also take you to a comprehensive website with many other hikes.

KalalauTrail 22 Miles

Kalalau Trail, Northwest Coast of Kauai

By far the most difficult, dangerous and challenging I've done on Kauai, there is truly nothing as beautiful as the Na Pali Coast seen from the Kalalau Trail. We usually pick the nicest day in Poipu to head to the rainiest part of the island. This day we plan to trek from Ke'e Beach to Hanapaki'ai Falls. Located just north of Princeville and Hanalei at the end of the road is Ke'e Beach. Negotiating one way narrow bridges, you will know you have arrived as a speck in the center of the Pacific when you have reached the end of this one lane road.

To gain a good parking spot and take advantage of the cooler morning we stopped early to catch the sunrise at Hanalei Pier. Waiting until later in the morning will more than likely add a few miles to your hike as parking is limited at Ha'ena State Park near Ke'e Beach.

Hanalei Pier

Start at the Kalalau Trail trailhead, an 11 mile hike well noted as one of the most dangerous trails in the world. Kalalau Trail has a steep start as the scenic coastline invites you to easily place one foot in front of the other. Make sure you keep your eye on the rocky trail and stop often to breathe in the scenery.

Map of Kalalau Trail, Kauai
Kalalau Trailhead
Kalalau Trailhead
Na Pali Coastline from Kalalau Trail
Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi'ai Beach
Na Pali Coast

After viewing the scenic coastline over the first two miles, you will cross the Hanakapi'ai stream located adjacent to the Hanakapi'ai Beach. The stream crossing will test your abilities and let you know whether you should go any further up to the falls, continue on the Kalalau Trail, or take the trail back home. This trip we brought trekking poles and crossed each stream while balancing on the large boulders that are scattered about. I will add more about equipment later. Advice: Last trip I had no poles and wadded across resulting in sloggy hiking boots the rest of the day.

Hanakapi'ai Beach has these rock sculptures all over. Furthermore, there is no swimming at this beach due to the undertow and currents. You will see many warning and a recent memorial to a recent young woman who died there. Searching the internet, I've found an abundance of news stories about young people taking their chances crossing the stream at a time they obviously shouldn't have. My thoughts on the rock sculptures are, they have been placed here for people to stop and reflect on life and how fragile and short it can be.

Hanakapi'ai Beach

Hanakapi'ai Falls 8 Miles

Hanakapi'ai Falls
Hanakapi'ai Falls Trailhead

Mile 3 of the Kalalau Trail and just beyond the trailhead to Hanakapi'ai Falls, there is a solar toilet, shelter and helicopter landing pad. There are many rescues at this point when rivers swell and hikers have had to hunker down for an overnight stay. Pay close attention to the new signs warning of river swells, danger ahead and lives lost. The State of Hawaii has posted new signage that are a testimonial to how often and how little warning a wary hiker might encounter danger on the trail. I ran into a fairly young guy, full pack, had obviously spent the night somewhere and seemed extremely disoriented about where he was exactly.

Bamboo Forest

Two miles upstream is the beautiful Hanakapi'ai Falls. You will need to cross three or more rock hops on the Hanakapi'ai stream and pass this beautiful bamboo forest. Don't forget your swimsuit! Hanapaki'ai Falls is a side trip to the Kalalau Trail (extended day hike), follow the unmaintained Hanakapiai Falls Trail upstream for two miles to reach the spectacular 100-ft. high Hanakapiai Falls. Please note this is an additional 2 miles (4 miles round trip) not included on the Kalalau Trail. It can take up to two hours just to reach the falls, and requires numerous stream crossings. Total elevation gain to the falls from Hanakapiai beach is 760 ft. This is a fairly strenuous hike because of the heat, humidity, and elevation. I brought a water filter and filled my water several times on this trip. Total mileage was 8 miles and time from the parking lot and back was 6 hours with winding switchbacks in the sun at mile 7. Be prepared with boots, poles, water and extra food incase of inclement whether that prevents you from crossing Hanapaki'ai River.

100 ft Hanakapi'ai Falls

Awaawapuhi Trail 6 Miles

Awaawapuhi Valley

From Lihue and Poipu, head west to the Koke'e Forest a few miles north of the town of Waimea. While driving through Koke'e Park, marvel at the Waimea Canyon. Continue on until you've reached Koke'e Day Lodge and campground. There is also a few rental cabins. These hikes begin at a higher elevation so the ground is slick with clay and moisture from the morning cloud cover. I've never been on a hike up here where I didn't slip and fall, usually when I looked up for a split second and took my eyes off the trail. Hiking boots and poles are a required necessity. Find the parking lot at Awaawapuhi Lookout 1 1/2 miles past Koke'e campground. The lookout is 3 miles down about 1,700 elevation drop. Keep in mind what goes down must come up. 6 miles 4 hours round trip average. Bring all the water you need. There is no water and you'll sweat your shirt off on a sunny day! From the lookout, beyond the fence and down to the ledge, not advised.

Awaawapuhi Trail, Kokee Park, Kauai
Vistas from the Awaawapuhi Trail

Alakai Swamp via Kalalau Lookout to Kilohana Lookout 10 Miles

Alakai Swamp

Follow the Waimea Canyon, Koke'e Park road about 90 minutes to the end at the Kalalau Lookout on the Pihea Trail. As you stroll, watch the vast Kalalau valley in the background disappear at two miles on the Pihea Trail. The Pihea trail is a path along a gorgeous mountain top ridge with views of the Na Pali coast. At two miles is the junction to Alakai Swamp Trail. The scenery drastically changes from open valley to rainforest as you head into Alaka'i Swamp. The world's highest rainforest and swampland fed by the abundant precipitation on Wai'ale'ale's slopes. The trail is said to be the highlight of many visitors' journeys to the island, and it's one of our favorite hikes as well. As a bonus, in the last few years the trail has been greatly enhanced with boardwalks. No longer do hikers have to trudge through the mud to reach the magical lookout of Kilohana at the end of the journey.

Kalalau Lookout on Pihea Trail
Pihea Ridge Trail
Alakai Swamp Trail through forest.
Boardwalks and vistas on the Alakai Swamp Trail
Kilohana Lookout, Hanalei Bay
Kilohana Lookout, Hanalei Bay

Mahaulepu HeritageTrail 5 Miles

Mahaulepu Beach

One of our favorite kid friendly hikes is a seaside trail that travels Kauai's southern coastline from Shipwreck's Beach on Keoneloa Bay to remote and stunning Mahaulepu Beach near Kawailoa Bay. Along the trail discover rugged sea cliffs, secluded coves, dunes, tide pools, sculpted lava formations, native plants, and petroglyphs. The beach has prime whale watching in the winter, and is a favorite hangout for endangered monk seals. We also stay in Poipu because it is usually a nice mix of sun, rainbows and restaurants.

Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Sleeping Giant in the background
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Sleeping Giant in the background

What to take...

  • Day Pack- My pick is Osprey Tempest 20 with bladder
  • Rain cover for backpack
  • Trekking Poles- My pick is REI folding or telescoping for easy fit in suitcase
  • Lightweight Hiking Boots- My pick is Ahnu Sugarpine water resistant hiking booties. Great for rockhopping and I have even gone running in these great boots. You will want ankle support.
  • Cap or Hat
  • Rainjacket- My pick is Marmot
  • Water Filter- My pick is Katadyn Microfilter
  • Water resistant bags for camera equipment- I use Ziplock gallon size
  • Bug juice
  • Sunglasses
  • Towel and Swimsuit
  • Sunscreen

Where to Stay

Lisa Elliott is the owner of Elliott's Location Photography in Puyallup, Washington. She is a full-time teacher, wedding photographer, portrait photographer and landscape photographer. She can be reached at elliottslocationphotography@gmail.com

Lisa sells her landscape photography on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/LocationPhotography

Copyright 2017 Elliott's Location Photography, LLC

Created By
Lisa Elliott


Elliott's Location Photography, LLC www.elliottslocationphotography.com

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