The TOP of the most beautiful hikes in Kauai
The small island of Kauai in Hawaii is a green jewel that offers beautiful hiking. Here is our ranking of the most beautiful, the most breathtaking but also the most intimate hikes that we have been able to enjoy during our different stays in the "Garden Isle".
1Honopu Ridge Trail
Among all the hikes of the island, here is the one that has marked us the most. This hike located in Koke'e State Park takes us to the end of a breathtaking ridge overlooking the Nā Pali Coast! The panorama is just stunning!
Although a good part of the 4 km outward section isn't really interesting, the views offered on the last kilometer puts this hike on the first step of our podium. In our opinion, this is the most beautiful view on the Nā Pali Coast that can be discovered by land!
Unfortunately the progression on this steep path is not easy and will be recommended for a trained public, the path being maintained only by a handful of volunteers following the degradation of the trail by a storm. But the effort is clearly worth it, as the arrival on the final ridge will end this hike in apotheosis, where one will feel the pride of having reached this point!
This hike combines everything we love: a wild aspect, very little traffic, a varied environment between arid parts and wet undergrowth with a breathtaking final panorama!
It wasn't easy to rank the Kalalau Trail in second place as we loved this hike which, unlike the Honopu Ridge Trail, is spectacular all along the way, with its views on the Nā Pali Coast, its jungle and the Pacific.
The Kalalau Trail is known to be THE hike of Kauai, but few people have the opportunity to complete the entire trail which requires 2 to 3 days of walking to cover the 18 km one way to the beautiful secluded Kalalau Beach.
On the other hand, it is very easy to take the first kilometers to reach Hanakapi'ai Beach or Hanakapi'ai Falls, the first steps of this long hike.
So why didn't we rank it number one? Just because this hike is very popular and very crowded. In 2019, parking was limited to 100 vehicles per day with a reservation system, but despite these restrictions we were disturbed by the rush, hardly less than when we first came in 2017.
Nevertheless, we were able to enjoy every time the landscapes offered by this trail which remains among our best memories of Hawaii! This hike remains a must in Kauai, especially since the first kilometers are easy and accessible to everyone.
3Alakai Swamp Trail
On the last step of the podium is an atypical hike! The Alakai Swamp Trail takes us this time on the other side of the Nā Pali Coast, to the wet heart of the island of Kauai.
Here, the objective is not so much the viewpoint at the end of this long trail of about 6 km one way, but the variety of different landscapes and ecosystems that we cross mostly on boards! The passage in the heart of the vast swamp near the end of the trail is absolutely crazy!
Flo and I agree that this is the most extraordinary hike we've ever done in Hawaii, despite the lookout at the end of the hike being completely obscured by the clouds. This is to be expected, because this place is one of the wettest on Earth... and few people managed to discover the panorama at the end (which must be beautiful without the clouds!).
We were thus tempted to position the Alakai Swamp Trail on the highest step of the podium so much we liked this atypical hike, nevertheless, the crossed landscapes remain less grandiose than the two previous ones, in spite of the fact that it is possible (and recommended) to couple it with the Pihea Trail.
Let's go once again to Koke'e State Park for the beautiful Pihea Trail hike. This ridge trail to Pihea Vista junction, skirts the largest natural amphitheater on the Nā Pali Coast.
Early in the morning, when the clouds have not yet settled on the dizzying relief of the island, the panorama is just magnificent, especially since it is not necessary to walk the whole trail to enjoy the most beautiful views. The 3.6 km round trip to the small peak just after Pihea Vista junction is more than enough, unless you combine the hike with the Alakai Swamp Trail.
To sum up, if you have a whole hour to spare and the sky is clear, don't hesitate to do this small hike accessible to everyone, as long as the mud is not in the way!
5Sleeping Giant (Nounou East Trail)
Located in the Wailua River area, the Sleeping Giant is one of the highlights of East Kauai. This hike is perfect to admire the coast that stretches from Lihue to the northeast of the island, without forgetting beautiful views of the lush center of the island and its hard-to-reach valleys.
Beyond its rocky summit where you never get tired of contemplating the surroundings, the 2.9 km one way climb is very pleasant and not very strenuous, as long as you start early in the morning. If you are early in the morning, the sunrise at the top is superb, overlooking the Pacific Ocean which looks like a sea of oil at this distance!
6Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls)
More than a hike, here is a small expedition! The progression to Secret Falls begins by canoeing on the Wailua River before finishing on foot.
This half-land, half-aquatic trail of 3.5 km round trip has the advantage of being rather playful and takes us through a very lush jungle. At the end, it will even be possible to swim in the basin of the waterfall! More than the beauty of the final waterfall, it is the particularity of mixing a water and land progression that makes it a unique hike on Kauai.
7Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail
Here is one of the rare walks in the Poipu area. The Maha'ulepu Trail is a 6 km round trip hike, easy and family-friendly, which offers beautiful views of the Pacific with the backdrop of the Kaluahonu Ridges, one of the oldest craters of the archipelago.
The contrasts and colors are striking! We really liked this coastal trail, very pleasant and very simple. The start is at Shipwreck Beach, and leads to Gillin's Beach.
This is the flagship hike of Waimea Canyon. It takes us in the heart of the canyon, close to the Waipo'o Falls through impressive viewpoints. We particularly appreciated the diversity of the landscapes crossed, sometimes in undergrowth, sometimes uncovered to enjoy the views, or even along small creeks lined with sugar cane.
Be careful though, this trail can be tiring because it is a succession of climbs and descents that can make it grueling. Note that this hike does not allow to admire the beautiful Waipo'o Falls, the trail only reaches the top of the waterfall and does not reveal the waterfall.
9Kuilau Ridge Trail
The Kuilau Ridge Trail closes this ranking of the most beautiful hikes in Kauai. This trail is, with the Alakai Swamp Trail, one of the few hikes we have done in the heart of Kauai. We will find here wild, luxuriant and almost virgin landscapes of any human trace.
The 2.9 km one way trail is quite wide in its first part and without difficulty, except if mud is present. If you have time to explore a little deeper into Kauai, then the Kuilau Trail is a great option!