Honopu Ridge Trail: hiking on the Na Pāli coast
If you're looking for a breathtaking view of the Na Pāli coast, you'll find it at the end of Honopu Ridge! The view at the end of the ridge is just spectacular! But before reaching this sublime panorama you will have to get there, because this hike is not to be taken lightly.
Count a total of 8km round trip with a downhill drop of 400 meters on the way down. Allow between 4 and 5 hours of walking to make the round trip.
1The Honopu Ridge Trail: a worthwhile viewpoint
First of all, it should be noted that this trail has not been maintained by Kokee State Park for many years following successive hurricanes that damaged the trail. We can still see the after-effects of these hurricanes because many fallen trees are still in the way.
The trail is therefore not really official but it is still maintained by a team of volunteers who come to cut ferns to clear the trail. At the time of our visit, the ferns were well cut and the trail was very clean. We had no difficulty following it, but this is not always the case, so we prefer to warn you.
Finally, here's a little word about our rating because we had a hard time defining a rating for this hike. We finally gave it a score of 5/5 because the panorama of the last kilometer is absolutely great and since the Kalepa Ridge trail was closed, it became the only trail that allows to have such a complete view of the whole Na Pāli coast (the Awa'awapuhi and Na'alolo trails also offer beautiful views but are more set back from the whole coast). On the other hand the trail itself is far from being interesting except for the last kilometer and its course is not necessarily pleasant between ferns and slippery parts. Nevertheless the view from the end is really worth it, especially if you don't want to fly over the island by plane or helicopter.
2The Honopu Ridge Trail step by step
The start of the hike
The Honopu Ridge Trail departs just before arriving at Kalalau Lookout at the end of Kokee State Park. A small recess on the left side of the road on the way up allows you to park a few vehicles. The trail is no longer official, so it is no longer signposted, but the parking point is clearly visible from the road. Here are the GPS coordinates of the parking lot: 22.1440328, -159.6479924
First steps in the undergrowth
The trail starts by going into the forest towards the ocean. The first few meters are easy, with a gentle descent into the undergrowth. However, this part can be a bit muddy because it is in the shade all day long.
If the trail is very muddy at the beginning, it is better not to try the adventure and to turn back, as the rest of the trail may be too slippery and dangerous.
Follow the trail carefully as it can be easy to lose track on this first part. However, do not necessarily follow the brightly coloured ribbons (orange, purple or sometimes blue) that have been put in the trees, they can be confusing and do not always indicate the right path. The best thing to do is to follow the track on your GPS if you are afraid of taking the wrong direction.
This first portion is quite pleasant, cool and without difficulty except for the fact that you can step over or under some tree trunks across the path.
First portions of ferns
After about a quarter of an hour's walk, we reach the first section of ferns. These little shrubs that look cute from above will not hesitate to tear your legs if you haven't thought about putting on pants! Because ferns grow quickly, they are regularly cut down by volunteers to clear the way. The cut shoots then turn into dry, sharp wood.
If you don't want to be scratched all along the trail, don't forget to wear light pants!
At times the ferns are so invasive that it will be necessary to make your way by sneaking in while bending down.
The trail continues to descend and soon the trees disappear completely in favour of a 100% plant cover of sharpwood ferns! (My legs still remember!).
Difficult first sections
The trail will soon offer its first difficulties. The first tricky sections are to be expected at the end of the first kilometer or so where the trail becomes quite steep downhill with very slippery ground because it can be grainy when drying. To that we add portions where there are no trees to hold back, with a rather important slope.
Be extremely careful with these slippery portions. If the trail seems impassable, especially when you turn back (it will probably be more dangerous afterwards).
The trail continues downhill and finally reaches a new area of undergrowth, but this area hides another difficulty: a very steep and slippery descent. The slope is quite steep on the first section of this shady area where mud can be very annoying.
Go down carefully the few bends of the big descent while paying attention to the roots which are a real trap, even with our hiking boots on. Flo made a nice slide on the buttocks.
But fortunately, the end of this descent also marks the end of the difficulties (or almost).
Crossing the woods
The trail now continues quietly through the undergrowth. The slope becomes gentler again and we advance again without difficulty. The walk in the coolness is rather pleasant despite the clouds of midges stagnating on the fruits crushed on the ground.
At the end of a small kilometer the woods stop and the first views are offered to us!
First views on the Na Pāli coast
While the ferns are back in action (ow my legs!), our attention is diverted by the first views of the ridges of the Na Pāli coast which are revealed on the right. It's just splendid!
As we go along, the views of the steep, green ridges continue to reveal themselves to offer us a very beautiful spectacle, like a reward for having already arrived here.
We then alternate parts of the ridge between ferns and shrubs, before reaching the top of the ridge, which will be marked by the gradual disappearance of the ferns! At this stage, a few small sections of the path may give us a hard time if the path is slippery, and will require the utmost caution. Nevertheless we found these portions a little easier than those at the beginning of the trail.
Walk on the ridge
Now that we're down, we can clearly see the ridge that juts out into the ocean, forming a few little mounds that we'll have fun climbing up and down.
At this point the path is hardly shaded anymore, but fortunately the sea breeze is there to caress our faces. The crossing of the small mounds is not too difficult and some grassy shoots will be able to help us to position our feet in the most delicate parts.
Little by little the panorama opens on the successive ridges of the Na Pāli coast and its small isolated beaches appear. It is grandiose!
Straight towards the ocean, you can now clearly see the end of the ridge where the trail ends. We only have a few hundred metres to go!
Wonder at the end of the ridge
The last few metres are the most incredible! With each step, the coast reveals itself a little more and we can't wait to go further and further to discover it completely. The trail now goes along the ridge edge that plunges steeply on both sides! It is both terrifying and fascinating!
After a 2h30 walk, we are finally at the end of the 4km trail!
The colours of the crumbly ground mix in a palette of yellow, ochre, orange and red, which contrast with the green slopes of the jagged relief of the Na Pāli coast, all bathed in the immensity of the blue of the sea. It's a real eye-opener, it's just magical!
Be careful not to slip here, a fall would be fatal! But what a view! The amazement is total! We stay long minutes to contemplate this so beautiful panorama while the clouds begin to form slowly above our heads.
At the very end of the Na Pāli coast, you can guess the reef of Kee Beach which marks the beginning of the famous Kalalau trail which you can see threading its way several hundred meters below. Below, we can clearly see the western part of Honopu Beach and to its right the rocky promontory which shelters the Honopu Arch which allows to reach the eastern part of Honopu Beach.
This beach is sacred to Hawaiians and can only be reached by swimming, as boats are prohibited.
A little further along the coast you can guess the waterfront of Kalalau Beach which is the end point of the Kalalau Trail. It is from this beach that some crazy people (let's not be afraid of words) swim to Honopu Beach, 600 meters away, to have the feeling of replaying the famous movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks!
Below we are amazed to see goats wandering quietly on the steep and unstable slopes of the ridges!
It is on these magnificent views that the trail ends. It was still possible to advance a few meters but the top of the ridge was slipping a lot and we preferred to be careful with Lena.
The return is by the same path. In spite of the almost continuous climb, we were a little faster than on the outward journey to return (return in 2 hours) because the trail was much less slippery uphill.
In total we took 5 hours to make the round trip including a 30 minute break to enjoy the view at the summit and make a few technical stops (baby!).
3Our advice and warnings before doing the Honopu Ridge Trail
To conclude this article here are a few caveats before you set out on the Honopu Ridge Trail.
Cover yourself well!
First of all, and you will have understood it, remember to put on pants before starting this hike, your skin will say thank you.
Less essential, you can also bring a light long-sleeved shirt to deal with the ferns that are sometimes at arm's length.
Start the hike at dawn
We then advise you, as always in this area of Kauai, to start as early as possible to take advantage of the clear weather. We started the hike at 9:20 am and left the viewpoint at noon, and the clouds were starting to be quite present on the ridges. On the way back, the humidity in the air made itself felt in terms of visibility and perspiration!
On the way back, we met hikers who were disappointed to find the fog when they had not yet seen the most beautiful views. Ideally, leave early, around 8:00 am knowing that the ridges will be well lit by the sun around 10:00 am.
Since we are talking about the weather conditions, you will also have understood that to enjoy the panorama which is the apotheosis of this hike, you have to put all the chances on your side by aiming at the sunniest day of your stay in Kauai.
Don't go if it's rained a lot in the last few days
Some parts of the trail are very steep and ridged, so we strongly advise you not to take this trail if mud is too present. The muddy areas will be really dangerous if the terrain is too wet and you could be really disappointed in the hike if you have to grope your way along to avoid falling over.
To know what to expect, you can start the trail in the undergrowth. If the trail is already very muddy at this point, it is best to turn back.
Follow the track with a GPS device
As the trail is no longer managed by Kokee State Park, it is preferable to follow a GPS track in case the maintenance has not been done for a while by the volunteer team that has been taking care of it since. Finally, the trail in the undergrowth areas at the beginning can be a bit difficult to follow.
Don't go with young, inexperienced children
Given the dangerousness of certain portions of the trail on the ridge side (especially at the end) and the risk of falling because of the mud, we strongly advise you not to take young, inexperienced children.