7 Kauai Hikes Not Named The Kalalau Trail (part 1)

July 09, 2015  •  2 Comments

The Kalalau Trail is the most famous hike on Kauai and in the summertime the trail-- and especially the parking lots and road from Haena to Ke'e-- gets incredibly busy. I would even suggest that from 10am to around 4pm parking is a disaster out there. And the trail, too, may be suffering from overuse. One of the great things about Kauai is the sense of seclusion that the island gives. Her nature is so vast and so varied that you can often find yourself alone in her nurturing beauty. But with the summertime crowds and the growing popularity of the Kalalalu Trail (especially to Hanakapi'ai beach), you may want to try other hikes around the island in order to commune peacefully with Mama Kauai. Visiting other trails will help to more evenly distribute our adventure footprint as well as enhance our perspective and understanding of this amazing island as we begin to see her from different views. By exploring her other paths our relationship with the island deepens. 

The 7 Hikes that I will introduce below are of varying levels of difficulty, but it must be said most are in the moderate to difficult range. The reason being, I just don't know that many easy hikes on Kauai. The heat, elevation gain/loss, and length make most hikes on the island moderately difficult. However, all of the  hikes listed below are fun(!) and there are a few moderately easy ones, too. So without further adieux

7 Kauai Hikes Not Named the Kalalau Trail

  1. The Okolehau Trail-- North Shore
  2. Sleeping Giant (Nounou)-- East Side
  3. The Heritage Trail-- South Shore
  4. The Alakai Swamp Trail-- Koke'e State Park
  5. The Kukui Trail-- Waimea Canyon State Park
  6. Honopu Ridge Trail-- Koke'e State Park (not maintained)
  7. Kohua Trail-- Waimea Canyon State Park (requires 4 Wheel Drive Vehicle to access trailhead)


The Okolehao Trail-- Hanalei, moderately easy (to the small hill where the aloha bench used to be, much more difficult once you get to the ropes), 3.5miles roundtrip (to the small hill where the aloha bench used to be (you'll know it when you get there))

The Okolehao Trail is a north shore hike that begins in the Hanalei River Valley. Awesome views of Hanalei Bay are the reward for a mile and half uphill jaunt. Although the trail continues up the ridge-- well past the small hill where the "aloha bench" used to sit-- I always turn around after taking in the vista in the photo above. To go further requires climbing some ropes. Go for it if that's your thing. If you do, then the hike jumps into the difficult category. I've listed this hike as moderately easy, but it is a long uphill climb that can be hard on the knees. Especially the descent. And when it it wet, the first mile and the last mile can be very slippery. For photo ops, you can get sunset pics-- looking towards Hanalei Bay-- and sunrise pics looking east (see photos below).



There are all kinds of different plants along the trail, and my favorite section is this area where the trail is lined by cook pine trees.  For me this section is the highlight of the trail. So fresh! :-)



Other things to look for on the Okolehao Trail are the soft fluffy grasses, dragon fiies, wild orchids, and frogs! 

To get to the trail head go north to Hanalei and turn left immediately after crossing the one lane bridge over the Hanalei River. Continue straight on the one lane country road for about a mile until you see a small parking lot on the left. Park there and the trail begins across the road on the right. You'll see a sign that reads OKOLEHAO. Afterwards, head into Hanalei town for some refreshments or better yet take a dip at Hanalei Bay. The cool pacific waters will help heal the legs after all of the climbing you just did!


Sleeping Giant (Nounou)-- Wailua, 4-5 miles roundtrip, moderately easy


Pretty much guaranteed views of sunrise over Wailua and Kapa'a await you along the Sleeping Giant Trail. You can begin the trail from three different locations, but I always start from the trailhead off of Haleilio Rd. This is another easy hike, probably easier than the Okolehao Trail. And like the Okolehao Trail you can continue your adventure if you are willing to climb a little into (potentially) harm's way. There is an official "end of trail" sign but you can easily hike beyond that and climb up onto the Sleeping Giant's face, head and nose. I like to hike this trail in the morning before Kapa'a and Wailua wake up. This trail is so close to the city that you will hear the traffic below you during the day, but it's still pretty cool to be up on a mountain that you see all the time as you drive through the east side of the island. Once on top you can look into the interior and see Kawaikini and Waiale'ale to the west; Kalalea and Kapa'a to the north; Wailua to the east; and Lihue to the south. A good first day hike for anyone staying on the east side because it lets you stretch your legs and gives you a good idea of the lay of the land.





The official trail ends at a picnic area on top. The trail is straightforward from top to bottom and there is only one area that is tricky. You'll notice it in the first 15 minutes of the hike (coming from the Haleilio Rd parking area). Along the way you'll find a bench where you may rest and gaze up to where you are heading. 


Part two will pick up with another easy hike, The Heritage Trail to Mahaulepu.

Till then, happy hiking. And if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments section. Mahalo!

Aloha and respect,




Light Source Photography by Lee Scott
Aloha Wayne. Glad to hear that you will be back on Kauai in February. I think you and Mrs. D will enjoy these hikes. The Okolehao may be wet during your visit, but there are certainly no flash floods or any stream crossings that you need to be concerned about (unlike the Kalalau trail). The only thing you have to worry about is getting across the bridge into Hanalei! Oh, I do recommend hiking poles or trekking poles. I use mine on every hike and find them extremely helpful. Especially descending wet trails. Look out for the post on the Heritage Trail as that is also a relatively easy hike with awesome coastal views. It's on the south shore and should be dry when you visit. Hope all is well with you and the family. Go Cubs! Aloha, Lee
Wayne D(non-registered)
Thanks Lee. My wife and I will be on the island for 2 weeks in February and I was hoping to do a little hiking and see some of the sites. Not being very experienced hikers these sound perfect for what we want.
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