This is a very nice hike that brings you close to the center of Kauai with beautiful views of the central ridges of the island's lush rainforest!
The hike is a round trip of 5.8km which can also be combined with the Moalepe Trail if you have the possibility to have two cars to make one big one-way trip (see map at the end of the article). But we will only talk here about the Kuilau Ridge Trail since we only went there and back to the small wooden bridge marking the border between the 2 trails.
1Access to the Kuilau Ridge Trail
The Kuilau Ridge Trail is located in the Wailua River area, or at least its departure is close to the river. It is accessed by continuing almost to the end of Route 280 (the one along the Wailua River). There is a 4-car parking area on the lower side of the road before crossing the bridge over the Keähue Stream to mark the beginning of the trail.
If all spaces are taken, it will be possible to park in a large parking lot by continuing the road for 100 meters, just after crossing the small bridge over the Keähue Stream.
2The Kuilau Ridge Trail step by step
The trail begins by gently sloping up through the jungle. It is wide enough to let ATVs pass by, which look like they are coming despite the barrier at the entrance of the trail. Maybe they are the people who maintain the vegetation along the trail.
It may be that the trail is very muddy, especially on the first 100 meters because most of the ride is in the shade of trees. But fortunately, here it is more mud puddles that get wet rather than clay that makes the trail slide as in many other places in Kauai.
But be sure to dress accordingly, as it is very likely that you will get your lower legs dirty.
Along the way, take time to admire the panorama that opens to your left as the vegetation spreads. Beautiful specimens of ferns and eucalyptus also line the path at times.
After about 1.5km, the vegetation begins to thin out and the trail finally reaches the top of the ridge. It is here that we will have the only view of the ocean side.
After about 500 meters, we arrive at the end of the ridge, the highest point of this hike where 2 picnic tables allow you to eat a bite or two.
Don't forget to take a look at the two viewpoints just after the picnic tables on the right side and at the very end of the point. The luxuriant vegetation runs down the steep ridges forming like a carpet of vegetation, it's really beautiful and surprising!!
But the trail does not stop there, it continues for another 700 metres or so, descending slightly until it reaches a gulch where a small stream flows. This is where you reach the famous wooden bridge, the ultimate goal of this short hike which marks the border between the two trails (the Kuilau Ridge Trail and the Moalepe Trail). Here the vegetation reaches its peak as the area is so wet! Beware of mosquitoes!
The return journey is back to the car park unless you wish to continue on the Moalepe Trail.
3Our opinion about the Kuilau Ridge Trail
In total, it took us 2 hours to make the round trip, which was very muddy when we came, which slowed us down a lot. I think it is largely possible to do it in 1h30 with a drier trail. The positive difference in altitude is only 160m which makes it an easy hike even if the trail climbs continuously almost all the way up to the picnic tables.
The part between the top of the ridge (from the picnic tables) and the wooden bridge is not very interesting as it doesn't offer any more views, nevertheless the last meters of the trail weave through very dense and lush vegetation which is worth a look.
If at the end of the hike your shoes and legs are muddy, you can go and clean them on the Keähue Stream which flows 100 meters upstream from the road. To do this, continue along the road and cross the bridge until you reach the end of the car park where access to the river is possible.