Kauai is one of the most beautiful places in the world and one of the best ways to experience the island’s natural beauty is a hike on one of Kauai’s many trails. Epic trails can be found all over the island of Kauai and each trail has its own unique attributes. On Kauai hiking trails you will find mountain waterfalls, tropical rain forests, remote beaches, the world’s highest swamp, and extraordinary precipices with jaw-dropping views. We have compiled the following list of the Top Ten Hikes on Kauai to help you decide what are the best Kauai hikes for you.
Kauai Top Ten Hikes
1. Kalalau Trail
Kauai’s premier hiking trail follows the island’s famed Na Pali Coast for eleven epic miles. At the end of the trail is remote Kalalau Beach, an almost Eden-like place cherished by hikers, hippies and free spirits.
A popular option for many is to hike the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach. This portion of the trail is also known as the Hanakapiai Trail. There is also an option to hike inland from Hanakapiai Beach to the magnificent Hanakapiai Falls.
Unfortunately, a camping permit or reservation is now required for tourists to hike the trail. See our Kauai North Shore Information page for complete details.
2. Kalepa Ridge Trail
While the Kalalau Trail (No. 1) takes hikers on foot to the Kalalau Valley, the Kalepa Ridge Trail offers stunning top-down views of the valley. This trail is perhaps the most beautiful on Kauai, and that’s saying a lot on this remarkable island. The Kalepa Ridge Trail follows the left (western ridge) of the Kalalau Valley as seen from the famous Kalalau Lookout. The lookout is often regarded as Kauai’s most scenic spot, and the Kalepa Ridge Trail offers even more spectacular views of the valley and the Na Pali Coast.
3. Canyon Trail
One of the most popular trails on Kauai, the Canyon Trail takes hikers along the edge of Waimea Canyon to the top of Waipoo Falls. The trail offers dramatic views of Waimea Canyon, though the big draw of the trail is the epic experience at the top of the falls.
4. Awaawapuhi Trail
A bucket list item and Instagram selfie destination for many hikers, the Awaawapuhi Trail almost literally takes hikers to the edge of the world. The payoff after a rather mundane hike down a three-mile forested, substantially muddy path is a spectacular, jaw-dropping view of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast from the top. There’s a railing at the top of the lookout, but many people venture down a thin precipice for even closer and more dramatic (and more dangerous) looks and selfies (not recommended).
For many visitors to Kokee State Park, there’s time for only one hike and the decision often comes down to the Canyon Trail (#3) and the Awaawapuhi Trail (#4). We recommend the Canyon Trail over the Awaawapuhi Trail, especially since the nearby Kalepa Ridge Trail, in our opinion, offers even better views without a three-mile hike. (You can spend as little as 30-45 minutes on the Kalepa Ridge Trail.) If you’re only in the area for one day, do the Kalepa Ridge Trail in the morning and the Canyon Trail in the afternoon. There’s usually enough time, and energy, to do both. The Awaawapuhi Trail alone can be a draining experience.
5. Okolehao Trail
If you’ve ever been in Hanalei and wondered what it was like to be in the mountains overlooking Hanalei, then this is the trail for you. The Okolehao Trail takes hikers into a verdant jungle and mountain wonderland overlooking Hanalei Bay and beyond. Though often not high on the list of Kauai hikes, the Okolehao Trail is one of our favorites. The trail satisfies all of our cravings for an exotic adventure into a mountainous and jungly environment. And now that the Kalalau Trail/Hanakapiai Trail (#1) requires permits or reservations, the Okolehao Trail is a nice alternative hike on the North Shore.
6. Kuilau Ridge Trail
We are often asked what is an easy trail on Kauai that has amazing views, that is totally worth it, that is not steep or scary, and is also kid-friendly. And our answer is most often the scenic and green Kuilau Ridge Trail! The trail, located inland near the Keahua Arboretum, rises gently through a lush, tropical rainforest with awesome views of the island’s mountainous interior.
7. Mahaulepu Trail
A different kind of trail for Kauai, the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail showcases lithified sand dunes and sandstone pinnacles among the crashing waves of Kauai’s sunny south shore. Adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai, this easy trail is a favorite destination for morning walks and sunset strolls. In the middle of the day, the unshaded trail can get hot and sunny, so wear a hat and bring plenty of water.
8. Pihea Trail / Alakai Swamp Trail
Together, the Pihea Trail and the connected Alakai Swamp Trail traverse some of the most lush and scenic areas of Kauai. The wide Pihea Trail offers multiple views of Kalalau Valley, while heading inland on the Alakai Swamp Trail takes you to a lush mountain tropical paradise in the vicinity of the island’s famed Mount Waialeale.
At an altitude of over 4,000 feet, the Alakai Swamp is the highest swamp in the world.
The unique Alakai Swamp Trail takes you into the interior of Kauai where you will be treated to peace and solitude in a rain forest filled with ferns and greens. Much of the trail is on boardwalks over the swamp. It’s a fantastic hike for nature lovers who have an eye for plant life and bird watching. At the end of the trail is the awe-inspiring Kilohana Lookout with one of the most magnificent views you will ever see, if the view is clear of clouds.
9. Sleeping Giant Trails
Families, trail runners and individuals seeking a quick getaway to nature are often found on the Sleeping Giant Trails.
Conveniently located very near the population centers of Kauai (Kapaa, Wailua and Lihue), the Sleeping Giant Trails are especially popular with local residents and their families. The trails get their name because the profile of Nounou Mountain resembles a sleeping giant.
Though the Sleeping Giant trails have dramatic viewpoints along the way, the trails do lack some of the tropical charm of other trails on Kauai.
The trails are relatively easy at lower elevations, but become more difficult the farther up you go. At the top, the payoff is an expansive view of eastern Kauai and the Pacific Ocean.
10. Kukui Trail
This is the trail that takes you to the bottom of Waimea Canyon! The steep, challenging trail makes a 2,000-foot-drop to the canyon floor and ends at the Wiliwili Campsite where camping is permitted with a permit. And for more advanced and prepared hikers, there are several trails from the campsite that head farther into the mysterious canyons. Bring plenty of water on this hot and arid trail.