Explore Kauai (The Garden Island) a different way - by foot! These top hikes in Kauai, Hawaii are breathtaking due to the majestic trails and million dollar views.
The island of Kauai, Hawaii is packed with adventures. There are water activities such as boat rides and snorkeling plus many land activities such as hiking, backpacking, and biking. Aside from traditional hikes, a lot of the beaches even require varying degrees of hiking in order to reach the beach.
There are miles and miles of trails in Kauai so, of course, we couldn't do each one but we did try to pack in as many as possible. This is a list of our four favorites which vary in length and difficulty. While we were visiting, the Kalalau Trail was closed so we obviously were not able to experience that hike and therefore it isn't included in our list. For the purposes of this post, we are not including the beach trails but the more traditional and marked hiking trails on the island.
Speaking of adventures, one of the best adventures we went on was a helicopter ride which was a great way for us to familiarize ourselves with the island before starting any hikes. We definitely recommend that you splurge on a helicopter ride! You can view our Kauai Helicopter Flyover video below.
We went to Kauai with our neighbors. They used Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours and we used Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours. We were impressed with both companies.
A few tips before you start hiking in Hawaii:
- Take a traditional map and download the trails on your phone (but don't rely on having cell service!)
- Leave No Trace. Do not leave trash or take flowers from the trails (along with the other LNT principles). Also, be considerate of others when listening to music (use headphones).
- Do not wear white or light-colored clothing that you don't want to get dirty. Trails in Kauai have some sort of dirt that I've never seen before! It does NOT wash out of clothes!
- Wear old shoes for the same reason as stated above. We wore our very old hiking shoes that we just tossed before flying back.
- Order The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook (Kauai Revealed) as many hikes are outlined in this book.
- Read over our list of What to Buy at Costco in Kauai to stock up on hiking snacks and other items you will need for your vacation.
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TOP 4 HIKES IN KAUAI, HAWAII
1. Kalepa Ridge (Airplane Trail)
- 2.2 miles | 580 ft elevation gain
If you are looking for a breathtaking hike, this Kalepa Ridge hike is IT! Not only will the views take your breath away but the trail itself will with steep dropoffs (as you can see in our video below). According to The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, many call it the Airplane Trail presumably because if you take one wrong step, you'll be flying. So, watch your step. 😉
We decided to conquer this hike at sunset after a long day that consisted of a Catamaran Cruise and snorkeling. When we started, the trail was filled clouds but once they faded away the views were some of the best we'd seen.
This trail starts at the Kalalau Lookout.
Watch our video of hiking Kalepa Ridge (Airplane Trail):
2. Pu'u Hinahina & Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls
- 3.2 miles | 700 ft elevation gain
We did this Pu'u Hinahina and Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls out-and-back hike very early in our trip. It was a great hike for us to get a taste of the canyon side of the island. The hike is moderately challenging and very rewarding. You will get to see two waterfalls along with the stunning canyon views.
The Canyon Trail to Waipo'o Falls hike starts at the Pu'u Hinahina Lookout.
3. Pihea Trail to Alakai Swamp
- 8.2 miles | 1,600 ft elevation gain
This Pihea Trail to Alakai Swamp out-and-back hike was unusually crazy - in every way. It was very cloudy when we started but we decided to do it anyway, hoping the sky would clear by the end. We were wrong. After 4.1 miles we saw nothing at the end so that's why you don't see any pictures from the view at the end of the trail!
The trail itself was very cool with moss covered trees, swamp crossings, old wooden stairs and pathways, and lush green forest surrounding the trail.
WARNING: Watch your footing, the old wooden boards can be very slick. We had a group of four doing this trail and the ones hiking in front would warn the hikers in the back about what was coming up. We shouted things like tree! (tree limb hanging down), wire! (metal mesh to help with the slippery board that really just makes you trip!), nail! (large nail sticking up from the boards), or board! (uneven board) to advise that something might trip them up.
Although we were disappointed about not having a view at the end we were glad we did the trail and we still talk about it to this day and often yell tree! or board! when hiking together in Georgia.
The Alaka'i Swamp Trail starts with the Pihea Trail at the Pu'u o Kila Lookout.
4. Sleeping Giant via Nounou
- 3.6 miles | 1,066 ft elevation gain
On the way to the next part of our trip in Princeville, we did the out-and-back Sleeping Giant hike on the east shore.
This was a very steep hike, narrow at times, with views different the other hikes we did. There is an area where you can stop if you don't want to continue onto the semi-sketchy part of the actual giant's face. 😉 It was a great workout hike with terrific views. The view from the top is of the east shore and absolutely gorgeous!
Until I finished our actual trip recap that includes the beaches we hiked to, I'm going to share our Queen's Bath video here because it's too gorgeous to wait to share! Enjoy. 🙂
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- What to Wear Hiking in Cold Weather
- Hiking Etiquette 101
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