Aloha and welcome back to 7 Kauai Hikes Not Named the Kalalau Trail. Today's entry is part 3 in the series and covers one hike that I relish and one hike that I don't. First, the relish--
The Alakai Swamp Trail-- 8 miles, moderately difficult (beginning from the Alakai Swamp Trail Head, but difficult from the Pihea Trail Head)
OK. Here's the deal. This is one of my all time favorite hikes. You can begin it at the Pihea Trailhead at end of Waimea Canyon Drive or if you have 4WD you can start from the Alakai Swamp Trailhead near Sugi Grove Campground. If you start from the Pihea Trail expect a muddy and slippery first mile and a half. But you will have awesome views into the Kalalau Valley during that first difficult mile. As amazing as those views are, I prefer beginning from the Alakai Swamp Trailhead for a couple of reasons. One, I like wheeling. Two, it's easier. Three, it's faster, which is often important if you are trying to get shots at either end of golden hour.
The Alakai Swamp Trail may be the greenest trail on Kauai. It is filled with vegetation and plant life. The smells are amazing on this hike. The air is so fresh. The ground so rich. The varieties leaves and shades of green that you will see is just spectacular. It's like walking into a different landscape and every time I go up there I am amazed that I am on the same island that I woke up on. It is just so different from anything else on Kauai. It is often cloudy and wet on the hike, but this seems to add a hint of mystery to the adventure. About half of the trail is covered in boardwalk which makes it easier on my knees than some of Kauai's other trails. But at 8 miles with some elevation change and one stream to cross, it can be a long and difficult hike. But so much fun!
which do you like? the straight and narrow?
or the twisty turny?
On clear days you may possibly see Hanalei and the Wainiha Valley at the Kilohana Lookout, the trail's end. I hiked The Alakai Swamp Trail 6 times before I finally saw Hanalei and it's a trip. I was like, "That's Hanalei!" That's the north shore! But I'm all the way up here in Koke'e! It's so strange to think that you've driven 2 and half hours, hiked 4 miles just to see one of the places on the island that you know so well. But not from this perspective. Not from this vantage point. And not from this altitude. I remember looking down onto Hanalei and thinking, "What a perfect shape. The place is magic.
Hanalei Bay under the clouds, a little circle filled in in blue and surrounded in green.
The Wainiha Valley seen from the Kilohana Lookout at the end of The Alakai Swamp Trail.
A rare day on the Alakai Swamp Trail when there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
Now for the hike that-- I gotta be honest-- I don't like that much. It's a good hike and all and it has great views, but it hurts my knees. It's just too much straight downhill on very loose or potentially loose red, Waimea Canyon dirt. I had a shredded meniscus removed from my right knee about 3 years ago long descending hikes are tough on me. It seems that I can take elevation drops and gains better when they are disturbed throughout the hike, rather than all at once downhill. And when you add in the many bugs and insects in the jungle-forrest at the bottom of the canyon this trail just doesn't do it for me. It is
The Kukui Trail-- 5 miles, difficult, Waimea Canyon
The Kukui Trail doesn't really have a parking area, but there is a little stretch of road between mile marker 8 and 9 on Waimea Canyon Drive where hikers park their cars. It's easy to miss and so is the Kukui Trail sign so be on the lookout. The trail begins at a short nature loop, which also offers nice views into Waimea Canyon. Once on the trail you begin descending almost immediately as you wind your way through Koa and Lehua Trees. Once out of the forest the views open up and the soil gets drier and more brittle. Watch your footing! On this trail, trekking poles are especially useful!
The inside walls of Waimea Canyon shine brightly in the light of the new sun. Check out Waipo'o Falls in the distance, too.
The Kukui Trail descends from the rim of Waimea Canyon to the Waimea River 2 and one half miles below.
The trail leads you off the red dirt and into the green forest below where tons of mosquitos play. There are some cool side trails down by the river and they are definitely worth exploring, but I really have spent too much time adventuring down there. Maybe one day we explore it together.
For photography I find the light in Waimea Canyon to be the most difficult of anywhere on island. Perhaps I am being a tad persnickety, but be forewarned-- patience and effort are a virtue. (Side tangent-- anytime someone says to me Right Place. Right Time. I respond back-- Right Preparation. Right Effort. Right Patience make it look like Right Place. Right Time. :-) ).
Next time we'll continue on our hiking tour with the final two trails of 7 Kauai Hikes Not Named the Kalalau Trail. Stay tuned and happy trails!