Of all the Hawaiian Islands, none offers more trails or better hiking than Kauai. Below are some of our favorite hikes on the North Shore (at your accommodation there will be a recent copy of ‘The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook’ by Andrew Doughty to give you more options at other locations around the island).
Before you go:
If you need to rent hiking gear, we recommend Pedal ‘n Paddle in Hanalei. For walking in streams or anything slippery, tabis will provide the needed traction and can be purchased at Kmart in Lihue (before you come to the North Shore). A hiking stick (or two) can be very helpful for balance, climbing and descending, gauging the depth of puddles, and clearing spiders and webs from your path. And of course bring plenty of food for energy & water to hydrate. Do not drink water from streams, even if it’s filtered, because of the dangerous bacterium leptospirosis, which is found in surface water throughout Hawaii.
- Kalalau Trail – One of the most popular and beautiful hikes in the state affording views of the NaPali coast , numerous secluded beaches, and waterfalls.
- Kalalau Trail (Ke’e Beach to Ke’e Beach/Kalalau Overlook) – 1 mile round trip from Ke’e Beach. Moderate difficulty. Elevation gain of 265 feet.
- From Princeville drive west on HI 56, which becomes 560 at Hanalei all the way to its end at Ha’ena State Park. The trailhead is at Ke’e beach, across the street on the left (west). Parking fills up early. Restrooms and water are nearby.
- You begin climbing steeply almost immediately. The trail is very rough: uneven rocks, sometimes wet and slippery. It’s an accurate reflection of things to come, so watch your footing carefully. This is a very popular dayhike, and you’re likely to have lots of company. In 1/2 mile you’ve climbed to a spectacular overlook of Ke’e Beach as well as an excellent viewpoint across the Na Pali Coast to the southwest.
- Kalalau Trail (Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai Beach) – 4 mile round trip from Ke’e Beach. Moderate difficulty. Elevation gain of 1,060 feet (705 additional feet from lookout).
- After you’ve reached the Ke’e Beach/Kalalau Overlook above, it’s pretty steadily uphill until the 1 mile point where you’ll pass a small spring on the cliff face (best not to drink the water unless it’s treated first). Keep your eyes on the trail when you’re moving but make sure to stop and enjoy the view once in a while. At about 1.5 miles you dip in and out of a shallow valley. Soon you’re descending toward Hanakapiai Stream on steep switchbacks until at about mile 2 you reach Hanakapiai Beach (sandy in the summer, bouldery in the winter).
- Kalalau Trail (Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai Falls) – 8 mile round trip from Ke’e Beach. Strenuous. Elevation gain of 1,820 feet (760 additional feet from Hanakapiai Beach).
- After you’ve reached Hanakapiai Beach, cross the stream (always be careful crossing streams and DO NOT CROSS when there is heavy flow of water), and pick up the Hanakapiai Valley Trail by the trash pits then hike about 1.8 miles to the falls. You will make 3 major stream crossings and numerous smaller ones on your way up the valley. After you get your first glimpse of the falls, the trail gets a bit rougher. When you finally reach this beautiful waterfall, many will swim in the pool to get refreshed. Be warned there is danger of falling rocks underneath the falls.
- Kalalau Trail (Beyond Hanakapiai Beach to Kalalau) – 22 mile round trip from Ke’e Beach. Strenuous. Anything beyond Hanakapiai Beach requires that you obtain a permit.
- 4 miles past Hanakapiai Beach is Hanakoa where you have the choice of either camping, continuing to Kalalau or taking the 1/2 mile side trip to Hanakoa Falls, which is even more beautiful than Hanakapiai. To get to the falls, cross Hanakoa Stream and take a left at the trail by the shelter. After about 150 feet, take a left at the fork. Again, watch for falling rocks at the falls.
- The last 5 miles to Kalalau is the most difficult. There will be lots of switchbacks and a narrow trail at times that can be dizzying and dangerous. The views along the way are stunning and when you finally reach the beach you’ll understand why this beach, this valley, and it’s isolation is a magical place.
- Hanalei Bay – 2.5 mile round trip from Hanalei Pier. Easy. Voted one of the prettiest bays in the world.
- From Princeville drive west on HI 56, which becomes 560 at Hanalei where you take a right on Aku, then after a short distance take a right on Weke and go to the parking at the end of the road (near the pier). Here you will find water, bathrooms, a food truck during the day, and rentals of kayaks & paddle boards.
- First take a stroll north, very briefly, to the riverbank to take a look upstream and inland. Then walk back toward the pier, along the water while making sure not just to look out across the bay toward Bali Hai, but to also look inland toward the mountains which typically have from 1 to dozens of water falls. After going past the pier, continue along the water’s edge, for more than a mile, until you reach Waioli Stream.
- Hanalei Okolehao Trail – 4 mile round trip. Moderately difficult. Weather cooperating, you can see 1/5 of the island from trail’s end.
- From Princeville drive west on HI 56 toward Hanalei and turn left immediately after you cross the 1-lane Hanalei Bridge at the bottom of the hill. Drive 7/10 of a mile and park in the lot on your left. The trailhead is on the opposite side of the road at a small foot bridge.
- This trail climbs 1,250 feet in less than 2 miles. Most of the first 2/3 mile is on the remains of a steep old dirt road. When the road ends, at a huge power pole, go to the trail to the left that continues through the forest and keeps climbing. After a total of about 1.8 miles you’ll be richly rewarded with spectacular views that are unsurpassed on the island. DO NOT DEVIATE ON SIDE TRAILS as you’ll see there can be hidden dropoffs.
- Powerline Trail (Princeville to North View) – 2 mile round trip. Easy. Views of Hanalei River & National Wildlife Refuge; views of lots of waterfalls, especially if it’s been raining.
- From Princeville shopping center drive east on HI 56 for less than 1 mile, look for signs on the inland side of the highway for Princeville Ranch Stables. Turn right onto the often unsigned (Kapaka) road and continue past the end of pavement toward a green water tank and to a trailhead sign & hunter’s check-in station where you can park on the left.
- Walk south on the dirt road past the water tank. The shrubbery along the road is fairly dense so stay on the trail as vegetation may conceal abrupt and dangerous dropoffs. Near the 1/2 mile point, turn around to enjoy the seaward view over the valley. Near the 1 mile point you pass a huge fern-draped mango tree and look in this area for openings in the shrubbery (WATCH YOUR FOOTING FOR HIDDEN DROPOFFS IN THE SHRUBBERY). Here you should take your time looking at all of the waterfalls around you.
- Pools of Mokolea – 1 mile round trip. Easy. Beautiful, wild shoreline hike.
- From Princeville shopping center drive east on HI 56 for about 6.4 miles then take a left onto Wailapa (just before mile marker 21), after the long straight section, and just before the road bends to the right, take the dirt road on the left. Follow this down to the end, park your car and walk down to the beach.
- Walk south, or left, on the beach and cross the Kilauea Stream (this is usually shallow so don’t cross if it’s raging), and head to the right. Keep walking until you’re on the lava bench where you’ll see tide pools with fish and crabs. A couple words of caution: Be careful of the scattered metal remnants of ancient sugar cane equipment & be careful of sneaker waves (do not continue if the ocean is raging, which is common from October-April, or the tide seems extremely high). Continue cautiously hopping across the lava rocks towards Mokolea Point where you will have a beautiful view of Kilauea lighthouse, a little more than a mile across the water.
- Waimea Canyon & Koke’e State Park – Since many visitors staying almost anywhere on the island will want to spend a day seeing Waimea Canyon, considered the Grand Canyon of Hawaii, it’s worth mentioning that there are a lot of exceptional hikes in this area and further north, where temperatures are much cooler at elevation, in Koke’e State Park. (at your accommodation there will be a recent copy of ‘The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook’ by Andrew Doughty to give you more details on the various hikes)