5 of the Best Hikes on Kauai

5 of the Best Hikes on Kauai

Waterfalls, wildlife and ancient cultural sites await hikers on the Garden Isle By: Marty Wentzel
<p>Casual hikers can experience the vast beauty of the Kalalau Trail by hiking its first 2 miles, stretching from Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach. // ©...

Casual hikers can experience the vast beauty of the Kalalau Trail by hiking its first 2 miles, stretching from Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach. // © 2016 HTA/Peter Garzke

Feature image (above): The Sleeping Giant Trail is one of Kauai's most popular hiking routes. // © 2016 Gelston Dwight

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As Hawaii’s oldest-inhabited island, Kauai has perfected its good looks over the centuries. Since most of the island is inaccessible by road, hiking is one of the best ways to explore its natural riches.

With relatively little effort, hikers can find themselves in a wide range of surroundings, from a windswept shoreline dotted with sleeping seals to a forest filled with bird songs and native plants. While clients have many trails to choose from, these five Kauai hikes are sure to please. 

Berry Flat Trail, Kokee State Park (West Side)
The highway west culminates in the cool upcountry of Kokee, home of some of Kauai’s most beautiful hiking trails. A family favorite is this 4-mile amble through forests of California redwoods, sugi pine, eucalyptus, strawberry guava, ginger, blackberries and native koa and ohia. Bring along the binoculars for glimpses of rare island birds. Stop by Kokee Natural History Museum for trail maps and hiking advice from the staff. 

Kee to Hanakapiai on the Kalalau Trail (North Shore)
At the end of the road heading north awaits the rugged 11-mile Kalalau Trail, best for experienced trekkers only. But everyday hikers can still get an eyeful of beauty by walking just the first 2 miles from Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach and back. The trail is prized for its views of the Napali Coast and its chiseled sea cliffs. From Hanakapiai, hearty clients can venture another 2 miles inland to see a gorgeous 300-foot waterfall. 

Mahaulepu Heritage Trail (South Shore)
This 4-mile roundtrip trail hugs an undeveloped stretch of the south shore, an area rich in culture and history. Hikers see pinnacles of limestone, 350,000-year-old sand dunes, a sinkhole, petroglyphs (rock carvings) and an ancient heiau (place of worship). The fascinating trail is enlivened by sightings of green sea turtles, nene (Hawaiian geese), monk seals and, in winter months, humpback whales.

Sleeping Giant Trail (East Kauai)
Looking at this mountain from sea level, it’s easy to see its namesake profile of a giant in repose. Once clients hit the trail, they make their way across the giant’s chest. Along the way they pass through stands of Norfolk and Cook pines and ironwood and guava trees. By the time hikers reach the 1,200-foot elevation near the giant’s head, they are rewarded with fabulous views of Kauai’s interior as well as its eastern shoreline. 

Waipoo Falls Trail, Waimea Canyon (West Side)
The awe-inspiring Waimea Canyon boasts a number of trails within its 10-mile-long, 1-mile wide, more than 3,500-foot-deep expanse. A popular option is the three-mile roundtrip Waipoo Falls Trail, leading to a perch above an 800-foot waterfall. Clients can linger here awhile, smell the sweet awapuhi ginger and savor the panorama of the canyon with its striated walls of green, purple, orange and red.