With some of the most spectacular hiking trails from Waimea Canyon to the Sleeping Giant Trail, Kauai hiking was made for the adventurous soul. The Hawaiian island’s vast north shore, where the Na Pali Coast reigns supreme, harbors many of the best hikes in Kauai and Hawaii. Hawaii is home to world-class hiking. We’ve uncovered the best of them right here.
There are family-friendly Kauai hikes, but some of the trekking here is not for the faint of heart. With muddy trails, dense forests, and dramatic cliffs, the island makes you work for every mile. Bring along your toughest hiking shoes, for a place that rewards your effort tenfold. Finish up at spectacular waterfalls or soak in the inspiring vistas. Here are our top picks for the best hikes on Kauai.
Beautiful Hikes in Kauai, Hawaii
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
One of the easiest hikes to complete on Kauai is the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail. With minimal elevation gain, the trek is more akin to a beautiful coastal stroll. Starting at Shipwreck Beach trek along the memorable limestone cliffs, pass kiawe trees before reaching the Makauwahi caves. Spot more fossilized marine life hidden among the lush foliage.
The initial trek ends at Mahaulepu Beach, a remote part of the island’s southern shoreline. Isolated and fragile, enjoy the beautiful scenes before softly wandering back to the trailhead.
Sleeping Giant Trail (Nounou Mountain)
Trekking along the ridgeline of Nounou Mountain Trail is one of the best hikes in Kauai. Local legend tells the tale of a giant who feasted at a celebration in his name before drifting off to eternal sleep. Naturally, the epic ridgeline resembles the outline of the sleeping giant and can be seen from various parts of the island. To start, the hike guides you through an immense plantation of trees, before the switchbacks take you up the ridge.
These trees were planted in unison in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and have grown into giants themselves. Once you’re above the treeline, you can see forever. The ridgeline plateaus offering exciting hiking to match the spectacular views. Arrive before sunset to capture the golden hour from above!
Looking for more hikes in Hawaii? Check out these other places to hike in Hawaii
If you only have time to do one full day hike on Kauai Island, then why not do the best one? The Kalalau Trail is an epic adventure suited to more advanced hikers and can be split into a multi-day trip. Beginning at Ke’e Beach, the trail winds along the vast Na Pali Coast and eleven miles along you’ll arrive at the remote Kalalau Beach. The secluded spot rewards gorgeous views and the best spot to camp anywhere on the island.
Stay for a night or two before completing the return journey back to Ke’e Beach. The trail’s length, along with some treacherous terrain, has not stopped it from becoming one of the most popular hikes in Kauai. In fact, you’ll need to apply for a permit before setting off. We recommend applying around 4 months in advance.
Speaking of amazing hikes, Oahu has its fair share. You can read all about them here.
Waipo’o Falls Trail (Waimea Canyon Trail)
Before beginning this hike, it’s best to check your expectation at the door. The Waipo’o Falls Trail is some of the best Kauai hiking, but not for the reasons you’d expect. The view towards the aforementioned falls is limited on this trek. In fact, the trail leads you to the top of them.
That may lead to an anti-climax for many hikers, but not for you. Because you’re doing this hike to see the stunning views of Waimea Canyon. Often compared to the Grand Canyon, textures, colors and rock patterns of the Waimea canyon promise to blow you away.
There are several quick detours that grant exceptional views, but the main trail leads to a vast stretch of rock that overlooks a hair-raising drop into Waimea Canyon. The hike attracts decent crowds because of easy access and the brief trip.
Kuilau Ridge Trail
If you’re after short yet adventurous day hikes in Kauai, then consider trekking the Kuilau Ridge Trail. From the Keahua Arboretum hikers have the built-in advantage of beginning at elevation. So, from the first step, you’re rewarded with instant views.
Like a lot of trails of Kauai, the path can be muddy, especially after rain. This can make the trail a little hard to follow at times. However, any navigational struggles are worth it as you wander through ancient forests with views of far-off mountain ranges. The trail doesn’t lead to an epic completion, with the journey here being more spectacular than the destination. But the trail is accessible and can be completed by young and old. Making for a perfect family day out.
Kalepa Ridge Trail
Short and sweet but epic nonetheless, Kalepa Ridge is one of the most adrenalin pumping hiking trails on the island. Depending on the weather, this trail can vary from moderate to difficult. The narrow path follows gnarly terrain and can often be uncertain underfoot. The Kalepa Ridge Trail is an unofficial trek, so it sees less foot traffic than other Kauai hiking trails. You will need to feel confident hiking in a more remote part of the state park.
After the trail starts, follow the ridge formation as the views clear and the natural beauty becomes ever more apparent. The ridge offers views of the most iconic part of the Na Pali coastline, the Kalalau Valley. Come here for sunset to enjoy the colorful sky with just your friends and family.
Nualolo Ridge Trail
If your hike along the Honopu Ridge Trail wasn’t hard enough on your legs, then challenge yourself on Nualolo Ridge Trail. One of the toughest Kauai hikes begins with a sharp descent with even greater views of the Na Pali Coast. The issue? Well, muddy downhill trails through the rainforest are tough on your legs, but along the way you’ll stumble upon several incredible views. Stop here to appreciate the vibrant colors and rest your weary limbs.
Soon rugged meadows take over, opening up the world around you. You may even spot the elusive I’iwi honeycreeper. The difficulty of the hike scares off many potential trekkers, leaving you to enjoy the paradise in peace. Once you’ve reached the end of the downhill, all that’s left is the walk back up!
Switching our attention to Kauai’s north shore, this trek is a hiking trail that will give you one heck of a workout. Muddy and not always well signposted, the Okolehao Trail helps you forget the struggle with picturesque views of Hanalei Bay, the valley and the historic Kilauea Lighthouse.
The hiking trail begins in dense forests before the trees depart, leaving behind taro meadows and the chance to see further afield. The sharp climb is roughly 2.5 miles in length and at times you’ll need to make use of the chains to keep your footing.
Honopu Ridge Trail
An unforgettable way to experience the stunning Na Pali Coast is on the Honopu Ridge Trail. The five-mile out and back hike comes with amazing coastal views along with the chance to see the mountains shoot out of the Pacific Ocean up close. The trick here is to complete the hike on a clear day. While the trail is always fun, the amazing views can easily be covered by wandering clouds. The thin trail is well marked and guides you along the breathtaking coast with dramatic drop offs to one side.
The one drawback of this hike is the shrubs and branches that live along the narrow trail. If you can, bring along some trousers or leggings to avoid scratches en masse. From the first viewpoint, you’ll gaze upon the beautiful Honopu Valley Waterfall. The second viewpoint offers long-range vistas as far as Nualolo Ridge.
Makawehi Lithified Cliffs Trail
After exploring some of the epic adventures to be had on Kauai hiking trails, let’s change tack for a minute. Hiking the Makawehi Lithified Cliffs is less a trek and more of an excursion back in time.
The extraordinary cliffs on the east end of Shipwreck Beach are made from sand dunes, slowly compacted by soaring winds and surf breaks over a millennia. The result is spectacular rock caverns, diverse colours and several fossilized fish and other marine life. One of the most popular hikes on Kaui for people of all ages, take the time to appreciate the history on display. But don’t forget to look up and enjoy the southern views along the sea cliffs.
The iconic Awaawapuhi Trail is rated as one of the best hiking trails on Kauai for an all-day adventure. Like a lot of Kauai hiking trails, you’ll follow a ridgeline with continuous views of the Na Pali Coast. After around 90 minutes of awe-inspiring and downhill hiking, the trek culminates at the official viewpoint. With stark drop-offs on either side, the ridge ends with a postcard-worthy view.
You can continue to venture down but will have to do so off-trail and the crumbling path can be difficult to navigate. On the return journey, take your mind off the thigh-burning climb on the Awaawapuhi trail with views towards the engulfing mountains on either side.
Makaleha Falls Trail
One of the great hikes in Kauai, the Makaleha Falls hike, will be remembered as much for the mud as the waterfalls. The hiking trail follows the Makaleha Stream for its entirety, with several water crossings on your journey.
The spectacular falls may tempt people of all abilities to try the hike, but it’s rated difficult for a reason. Expect some sections of bouldering mossy rocks and ducking through aimless branches, all the while trying to keep track of the actual path. Eventually you’ll spot the mesmerizing two-tiered falls. There is a spot for cliff jumping and you can continue on to Hidden Falls.
Hanakapiai Falls Trail
If you hiked the Kalalau Trail, you’ll also begin the trek towards Hanankapiai Falls. For those that didn’t get a permit to complete Kalalau, you can still trek the full Hanakapiai Falls Trail, which is a wonderful alternative.
After following the spellbinding north shore coastline and Hanakapiai Beach, cut inland to capture the 300ft waterfall surrounded by dense jungle. The hike to the falls is a climb that doesn’t let up, with the steep incline and tree roots being your biggest nemeses. But the Hanakapiai Falls are one of the best on the island, the turquoise waters contrast with the dense green jungle surrounds. While they’ll also reward you with a refreshing tumbling shower.
Alaka’i Swamp Trail
One of the most unique Kauai hiking trails is Alaka’i Swamp. AKA an alpine swamp, the trail helps show off the many fascinating plants and animals that exist in the island’s high altitude regions. Although the trail follows a raised boardwalk, don’t think you’re going to come out of this clean. Starting at the lookout, continue on the Pihea Trail for gorgeous views of the Kalalau Valley.
The boardwalks will soon take over and guide you through monstrous hapu’u ferns before ending at the Kilohana Lookout. Complete the interesting experience with vistas of Hanalei Bay.
Kauapea Beach (Secret Beach)
The initial steep descent may be fun for type two hikers, but that’s not why the hike to Kauapea Beach has made this list. Here, the destination is more important than the journey. The hike simply delivers a remote and beautiful scenery to you on a silver platter.
Secret Beach is spacious, with soft sand that dances between your toes. The backdrop of greens, browns and ocean mist is like a view from a fairytale. Explore the tidal pools, or if the ocean is calm, enjoy a swim.
Ho’opi’i Falls Trail
For action-packed day hikes on Kauai hiking trails, then don’t pass up the trek to Ho’opi’i Falls. The short two-mile trek to the falls is packed with adventure. Along the way, you’ll pass two falls, the first offering magnificent spots for cliff jumping. The second waterfall is the main attraction and was a filming location in Jurassic Park.
The trail is surrounded by soaring jungle that envelopes you in every direction. But in those two spots, they disperse, opening up a magical world. Ho’opo’i Falls features a large swimming hole for a well-earned dip.
Frquently Asked Questions on Kauai Hiking Trails
With the best hikes in Kauai sorted, what else should you know about the hiking trails here? Let’s take a look.
What’s it like to hike on Kauai?
The sheer variety of hikes on Kaui from the north shore to the south should make every adventurer giddy. But trekking on the Hawaiian island is no easy feat.
The beautiful nature that provides us with endless vistas doesn’t come without a struggle. The majority of the hikes here will present a challenge to trekkers, with mud, trees, roots and unsure footing being the biggest enemies. So be sure to bring sturdy hiking boots and lots of patience.
What’s the best easy hike on Kauai?
One of the best easy hiking trails on Kauai is the trek to Kauapea Beach. The short and sweet trek leads you to a spectacular remote stretch of powder-like sand.
What’s the best hard hike on Kauai?
For strenuous hikes, it doesn’t get any better than the Kalalau Trail. Ending at the secluded Kalalau Beach, the 11-mile journey rewards you with remote camping opportunities and the chance to see the various unique landscapes found on the island.
When’s the best time to visit Kauai?
In short, there’s no bad time to visit Kauai. Some of you are bound to enjoy the dry season, but others will struggle with the humidity and heat. The wet season begins in November and runs through to March. This part of the year brings lower temperatures but the higher likelihood of muddy or damaged trails. So bring along a light rain jacket.
For this reason, spring and the first half of fall provide the best of both worlds. While not as cheap as the winter months, the shoulder seasons are inexpensive compared to the height of the summer’s tourism.
Want to learn more about hiking on another island? Read our guide to the best hikes in Maui.
Hiking in Hawaii will get the heart pounding, sweat dropping and the legs dirty. The garden isle is a rugged, wild and alive landscape with steep descents and sharp climbs.
The island’s north shore, also home to Koke’e Sate Park, has an incredible amount of spectacular hikes in an otherwise small area. Including the Awa’awapuhi Trail and the Nualolo Valley.
Adventures don’t end here with the eastern coast home to the Sleeping Giant Trail and the Kuilau Ridge Trail. A few days may not cut it if you want to do as many as possible. But it’s sure to provide you with a lifetime of incredible memories.
Has the best Kauai hikes piqued you interested in hikes in the US? Check out our picks for the best treks in the United States.
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