The island of Kauai is home to some of the best hiking trails in the entire state of Hawaii, if not the world. If you like to hike, Kauai will certainly not disappoint you. It offers a mecca of trails and hikes that vary from 3000' ridge and cliff trails to traversing along the gorgeous Na Pali coastline. Some trails take you for a stroll along the beach, some take you for a journey into Waimea Canyon or into the worlds highest upland swamp, while others climb to thousands of feet above sea level providing you a view that is simply breathtaking. No island, in my opinion, can make the impression on visitors the way the hikes on Kauai can.
I want to point out that each of the 10 hikes I've listed here are my absolute favorites - none of them are "bad" hikes. These are the cream of the crop, and selecting their order was harder than I expected. There's a lot to consider when ranking trails for visitors - trail length, difficulty, elevation change, views (or lack thereof if weather isn't permitting), clarity of the path (some trails are more 'official' than others), and general safety. Some of the hikes I've listed below are best done with a guide, at least the first time you try them; mainly for safety reasons, but also so you can get a good feel for the trail (this will make more sense below). I know that's not what some hikers want to hear, but even with that fact in mind, I couldn't help but put a few of them on the list - they're just too good to ignore.
So I won't digress any further... let's take a look at my 10 favorite hikes, and ultimately what I believe are the best hiking trails on Kauai.
Kalalau Trail - Number one on my list is the Kalalau Trail, or what some refer to as the Hanakapiai Trail (say that three times fast). This trail includes the first two miles (one way) of the 11-mile Kalalau trail that stretches along the Na Pali coastline, starting at Kee Beach at the end of the road on North Kauai. It's popular amongst visitors who want a very scenic half-day hike. It can be semi-streneous however, as it does do a good bit of climbing and descending. Crossing the stream at Hanakapiai Beach can also be hazardeous, but overall this is a good trail for visitors who want to see some of the beautiful Na Pali coastline on foot. If you want to treck a little further, the Kalalau trail makes the list again futher down, so keep reading.
Kalepa Ridge Trail - If you think the view of the Kalalau lookout is great, or if the vista before you at Pu'u o Kila (at the end of the road in Kokee State Park) makes your jaw drop, then this trail is for you. It offers sweeping views of the Kalalau Valley, some like you've never seen before. This trail easily ranks as number two on my list. It's hard to describe how incredible this hike is... visually and physically. So where is it? I'm glad you asked - and unfortunately I'm not giving up Kauai's secret that easy. Say what? This trail is one that I absolutely believe visitors should have a guide for. It can be tricky in places, and even though it can be done easily with older children or even folks well into their 50's, I still highly recommend a guide for this hike. If the masses start hiking this trail, it'll no longer be a greta hike, so a guide is the way to go. I'm not saying any of this to promote tour guides or anything like that. I'm just a firm believer this trail requires the expertise of a guide who's hiked it before. The experience they provide is MORE than worth the price. The team at Kauai Hiking Adventures are the best guides we know, and I highly recommend them. They took my wife and I on this trail the first time we went, and I don't think it would have been the same without their guidance.
Nualolo Trail & Awaawapuhi Trail - If you want sweeping views of the Na Pali coast, along with some up close views into some of the valleys that grace this beautiful stretch of coastline, then this "loop" trail is for you. It's not for the faint of heart however, as it's a full day hike that will push your endurance. My wife and I took my parents on this hike last year and it was probably a little too much for them (they are in their late 50's). But it's a trail I love because it offers views of Na Pali you won't get anywhere else.
Honopu Ridge Trail - Honopu Ridge Trail is one of the only trails we recommend that's not an official "trail" any longer. The trail was partially destroyed and lost back to the jungle of Kauai after a pair of hurricanes in the last 20 years. Fortunately you can now make out most of the trail, though the very beginning of the hike can still get you lost if you're not careful. We'd highly recommend a guide for this hike the first time you make the trek, as they can provide guidance on what is the real trail versus what are fake spur or hunters trails. The key is to stick to what appears to be the main trail at the very beginning, but a guide would be a useful asset in our opinion. The views from the end of the trail (weather permitting) are astounding. They rival the hike above along Nualolo and Awaawapuhi, but Honopu is uniquely different, and is definitely one of our favorites.
Pihea Trail & Alakai Swamp Trail - So now that I've given a lot of love and attention to the cliff trails in Kokee, let's take a hike inland. The start of the Pihea Trail skirts the back of Kalalau Valley offering views into the valley that are incredible. The trail dives into the Alakai Swamp, and eventually intersects the Alakai Swamp Trail. We recommend taking the Alakai Swamp trail then to the end of the boardwalk (which will feel like a lot further than it is) to the Kilohana lookout. Weather permitting, you can see all the way back to Hanalei below. This is a great trail for those looking to really get into the thick of the beauitful Alakai Swamp.
Canyon Trail - This is another great trail if you want to head inland a bit. The Canyon Trail offers incredible views into the vast Waimea Canyon, from an angle you won't get from the main overlooks. The trail actually takes you to the very top of the Waipoo Falls, which you've probably seen from the overlooks on the opposing side of the canyon.
Kalalau Trail - The Kalalau Trail's first two miles were our number one hike on this list, so the next 4 miles after that shouldn't come as a suprise to be here. You'll need a permit to hike beyond Hanakapiai Beach, but getting one is easy (see our page for details). If you hike at a good pace, and get started early, you can get as far as Hanakoa in a day and back out. The views beyond Hanakapiai are amazing, especially from the entrance of Waiahuakua Valley around mile marker 4.5. If you do try and make it to Hanakoa, make sure you give yourself ample time to get back out... hiking in the dark on this trail is no picnic; my wife and I found that out the hard way one day.
Kuilau Ridge Trail - This is one of the easier trails on our list, and it's a great hike if you want to surround yourself with a lush jungle setting and a good view into the heart of Kauai, towards Waialeale. The hike doesn't take that long and is an easy family hike if you have kids. Just keep an eye on the weather, as the trail is sometimes frequented by rain storms; hence the lush vegitation. A great hike though!
Waialeale Back Wall Hike - This is probably, by far, the hardest "trail" on this list (or on our website for that matter). You'll definitely need a trusted hiking guide for this trek, but it'll take you into the very heart of the island, to the back wall of Waialeale - also known as the 'Blue Hole.' It's a hike like no other, and will likely be one you remember for a lifetime. It's definitely not for the faint of heart - hiking through the stream, around waterfalls, and so forth and so on, but if you really want to get to know Kauai, this may be the hike for you.
Nounou East Trail - - - This is another great hike in Central/East Kauai. The Nounou East or Sleeping Giant trail will take you on a journey of 1000ft, but oh the views at the top are grand. You'll be presented with a view of all of the east side of the island and a good look inland as well towards Waialeale. The trail can be hot if you start too late in the day, so try and get an early start. Be careful at the top too, as some of the dropoffs are pretty steep. Enjoy the view though, it's unlike anything else in East Kauai.
Article Edited/Contributed by: John Derrick