Kauai Hiking Trails

Top 9 Hikes on Kauai

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. The island offers a huge variety of trails and hikes that vary from 3,000 ft. ridge and cliff trails to treks along the gorgeous NaPali coastline. Some trails take you for a stroll along the beach, some take you for a journey into Waimea Canyon or into the world's highest upland swamp, while others climb thousands of feet above sea level and offer views that are simply breathtaking. In our opinion, no other Hawaiian island can make the impression on hikers the way Kauai can.

The numbered hikes listed here are our absolute favorites. There's a lot to consider when ranking trails for visitors - trail length, difficulty, elevation change, views, clarity of the path (some trails are more "official" than others), and general safety. Some of the hikes we list below are best done with a guide- at least the first time you try them- mainly for safety reasons. Whether you choose to take on these more challenging hikes or stick to adventuring on your own, we're certain you'll see Hawaii from a completely new perspective after exploring these trails. 

Many of the trails on Kauai are family friendly.

Many of the trails on Kauai are family friendly.

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9. Nounou East Trail

This is a great hike in Central/East Kauai. The Nounou East or Sleeping Giant trail will take you on a journey of 1,000 ft., but the views at the top certainly are grand. You'll be rewarded with a view of all of the east side of the island and a good look inland towards Waialeale, as well. The trail can be hot if you start too late in the day, so try to get an early start. Be careful at the top because some of the dropoffs are pretty steep, but enjoy the view; it's unlike anything else in East Kauai.

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8. Waialeale Back Wall Hike

This is probably the hardest "trail" on this list by far (or on our entire website for that matter). You'll definitely need a trusted hiking guide for this trek, but it'll take you to the very heart of the island: the back wall of Waialeale- also known as the Blue Hole. It's a hike like no other and will likely be one you'll remember for a lifetime. Please note that it is definitely not for the faint of heart- hiking through the stream, around waterfalls, etc., but if you really want to get to know Kauai, this may be the hike for you.

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7. 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 rainstorms, hence the lush vegetation. Overall, this is an excellent hike. 

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6. Kalalau Trail (After the 2nd mile) 

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 to 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; don't be like us and learn this the hard way. 

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5. Canyon Trail

This is another great trail if you want to head inland a bit. The Canyon Trail offers incredible views from an angle into the vast Waimea Canyon that 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.

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4. The Pihea Trail & The Alakai Swamp Trail

So now that we've given a lot of 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 beautiful Alakai Swamp.

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3. 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 couple of decades. 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 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 hunting trails. The key is to stick to what appears to be the main trail at the very beginning, but a guide is an asset, in our opinion. The views from the end of the trail (weather permitting) are astounding. They rival the hike along Nualolo and Awaawapuhi, but Honopu is uniquely different and is definitely one of our favorites.

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2. Nualolo Trail & Awaawapuhi Trail

If you want sweeping views of the NaPali coast, along with 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 once (they were in their late 50's at the time) and it was a little too much for them. But it is certainly a trail we love because it offers amazing views of the NaPali Coast you won't get anywhere else.

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1. Kalalau Trail

Number one on our list is the Kalalau Trail, or what some refer to as the Hanakapiai Trail. This trail includes the first two miles (one way) of the 11-mile Kalalau trail that stretches along the NaPali coastline, starting at Kee Beach at the end of the road on North Kauai. It is popular with visitors who want a very scenic half-day hike. It can be semi-strenuous, however, as the trail does do a good bit of climbing and descending. Crossing the stream at Hanakapiai Beach can also be hazardous, but overall this is a good trail for visitors who want to see some of NaPali's beautiful coastline on foot. 

Kauai Hiking Tours

Here at GuideofUS- Hawaii, we have hiked and explored many miles of trails on the Garden Isle; some by ourselves and some with a guide. That said, we can honestly say that hiking and exploring with an experienced guide takes an amazing experience and makes it simply phenomenal. We recommend these highly-rated and professional guides and are sure they’ll take your Kauai adventure to the next level. Book your Kauai Hiking tour today and hit the trail soon!

Kauai Hiking Gear

Hiking in Kauai is unforgettable- but make sure it’s unforgettable for the right reasons. Great gear is essential to keep you safe, dry, comfortable, and ready for anything you encounter on your adventure. Pick up all the best Kauai travel and hiking essentials right here.

Recommended Kauai Tours
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