Top 5 Hikes in Kauai

5 Best Hikes in Kauai

It's been far too long since I've blogged on this account. I've had a lot of internal debates on what I want to post on here, as I find just posting images from photoshoots is redundant to what I post on Instagram and Facebook, but since this is a 'photography' blog and part of my business I've been hesitant to post personal, travel or other items on here. But, here we are, I'm just going to blog things that I found interesting, helpful or fun. Let's be real, they'll all include photography, because well, I shoot way to many images and while it is my job it's also my hobby. But without more ramblings, let's dive into Kauai! My wife and I recently spent 9 days hiking, snorkeling and camping all over the island. We hike 10 hikes in 9 days and even more trails as some of them were loops or combined hikes. On the flight back we both decided that these 5 hikes were the best hikes on Kauai, Hawaii. 

Kuilau Ridge Trail

This hike, although short and easy, was by far our favorite hike. We actually decided to sneak it in a second time right before our flight off the island. This trail is very easy, only a couple miles long with a wide easy trail. As with almost every hike on Kauai it's muddy and can be slippery at times, but definitely nothing too crazy. The trail starts out with a bit of uphill, and as you climb up to the ridge the views keep getting better and better. There is no real 'end' point to this trail, we found it more to be a nice nature walk to end the day than a 'hike'. The views at the ridge are unreal! I've been to a lot of beautiful green places in the world, but the views on this hike are definitely some of the most lush, beautiful ever! 

Quick Stats: 
Location: East side of the Island
Length: About 6 miles total, depending on where you turn back
Elevation Gain: 925ft
Time: We did it in about two hours each time, but it could easily be done quicker

PRO TIP: Hike it at sunset, it's a perfect place to stop and enjoy the sunset and hike out at dusk. 

Awa'awapuhi Trail

The Awa'awapuhi Trail is a very popular trail on the west side of the island. If you've ever hiked in the Pacific Northwest, the beginning of this trail will feel very similar to that. It's dense, dark and moist. The undergrowth is gorgeous and full of ferns and beautiful tropical plants. We were there in the middle of January and had just missed a lot of blooming flowers, which was a bit of a bummer. This trail starts out of a small dirt parking lot, that fills up quickly in the morning, and descends about 3 miles to a gorgeous overlook of the Na Pali coast line. The whole way down you'll be wondering how hard it'll be to get back up, as it does descend about 2,200 feet, and the climb back out definitely gets your heart pumping. The highlight of this trail is the gorgeous overlooks, standing atop 3,000ft cliffs with 360 degree views of the Na Pali coast. The coastal waters below are a gorgeous blue and cliffs are unlike anything I've seen before! 

Quick Stats: 
Location: Waimea Canyon, west side of the island
Length: 6.9 miles is what I recorded with a bit of exploring the ridges and viewpoints
Elevation Gain: 2100ft
Time: We did this hike in about 2.5 hours, but we were pushing pretty hard back up the hill to get to another hike. 

PRO TIP: This hike is busy! We started before sunrise at 6:30am and had the whole trail and viewpoint to ourselves until we started back up, by the time we hit the parking lot there were over 25 cars up and down the road. 

Makaleha Waterfall

This hike, whew! It's not really a hike, it's more of a scramble (with a lot of slipping). I read so many reviews on this hike before we did it, and thought I was prepared for just how dense and difficult this hike would be. I went in thinking I'd climbed peaks in Alaska and backpacked for weeks at a time and this little 2 mile hike couldn't be that difficult. Honestly, if you're not comfortable scrambling and climbing and sliding through forests and rivers, and you want a actual trail, don't do this one. BUT, if you want an adventure, not a hike, then this is for you. This hike is not an official or maintained trail, but it is a beautiful adventure. The best tip I can give you for this hike is to take "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook" with you. There are a lot of blogs with misinformation on them, but we took this book and it made navigating the bamboo forests and dense foliage a breeze. Sure we still had to scramble and slide, but we didn't get lost (and we talked to a lot of people who got lost on this trail adventure). This trail will take you through bamboo, up a boulder filled river bed and through some of thickest vegetation I've ever seen. But the waterfall at the end is gorgeous, and I even took a quick dip in the river which made for a refreshing end to the muddy scramble. 

Quick Stats: 
Location: Inland of Kapa'a on the east side of the island, not far from the Kuilau Ridge Trail. 
Length: 2.6 miles, but expect to scramble or rock hop most of those miles
Elevation Gain: 850ft
Time: We took about 4 hours to do this trail, without getting lost and a short swim at the end

PRO-TIP: Don't be afraid to turn back and try another route, follow the guidebook and you should be fine, GPS is spotty in the canyon and doesn't help much. 

Pihea Trail to Alakai Swamp Trail

This trail was my wife's favorite trail, and definitely had the best vista's of anywhere we went on the island. You start off skirting the edge of the Kalalau valley, with amazing views along the way. This section of the trail was fairly dry and easy to walk along the steep drop off to your left. The trail and views were amazing, it felt like walking through a botanical garden the entire way. After a couple of miles you take a right and dip off down into a river bed and back up to the Alakai Swamps (which supposably are the highest swamps in the world). Much of this section of the hike is on board walks through old growth swamps and forests, unlike anything else we saw on the island. The growth was much older, shorter and gnarly. This trail was very quiet and felt like a hidden gem that not many people do. At the end you come to a vista on the north side of the island where you can look down on Hanalei Bay and the gorgeous valleys of the north shore. 

Quick Stats: 
Location: This is the last parking lot along the drive past Waimea Canyon, about as far up the north west side you can go. 
Length: We recorded this at 7.8 miles, but it felt much longer than that with a fair bit of stairs up and down the hills around the swamp. 
Elevation Gain: 1600ft
Time: 4.5 hours, with a bit of hanging out time at the vista at the end. 

PRO TIP: Take plenty of water, as you'll be in open sun at 4000ft elevation for about 3-4 miles of this trail. 

Waipoo Falls

We hiked to Waipoo falls via the Canyon Trail and it was a gorgeous quick 3.2 mile hike to a beautiful view overlook Waimea Canyon. We honestly weren't expecting this hike to be as good as it was, but the beautiful little waterfall at the end, and standing on top of a massive falls that you can't really see, but the views were worth it. We started before sunrise and had the entire trail to ourselves, we didn't see anyone until our last half mile back out. It was beautiful, green and well worth the effort to get there early. If you are at the falls around sunrise you'll be treated to cool mist rising through the canyon that makes the whole area feel magical. 

Quick Stats: 
Location: Waimea Canyon, west side of the island
Length: 2.7 miles according to the information we read, but we did a bit of exploring at the falls around the end. 
Elevation Gain: 1200ft 
Time: We did this hike in just under two hours with a bit of exploring at the end. 

PRO TIP: When you get to the main falls, step down to the west side of the falls and hold on to a tree and look down over the edge to see the falls you're standing on top of. It's a few hundred foot drop, but a gorgeous look at the lush falls below. 

If you want to see some video footage from some of these hikes, as well as other footage from around Kauai, check out my Youtube video here:

If you have any questions, feel free to hit the comments below! If you want more travel/hiking information about places we've gone to, let me know below as well! 

Mike Johnson

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