Vacationing in Kauai and planning to spend some time in the beautiful Koke’e State Park?
Make sure you allocate some time to hike the Awa’awapuhi Trail, a jungle and ridge hike that takes you to spectacular views of the green, lush valleys of Awa’awapuhi and Nualolo, the rugged, cliff-dominated Na Pali Coast and the azure blue Pacific Ocean waters.
The Awa’awapuhi Trail hike provides just the right mix of jungle trails and panoramic views to make this a must-do hike, a Kauai bucket list item for first-time visitors.
For repeat visitors and avid back campers, the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast is a Kauai bucket-list item, but it is an epic 22-mile round trip hike requiring careful planning that most casual first-time visitors won’t have the time for.
A no-brainer hike that needs little planning, the Awa’awapuhi Trail hike is a great substitute that most visitors to Kauai can enjoy, while still crossing off a Na Pali Coast view hike from their Kauai bucket list.
Hey, by the way! Visiting Kauai? The only way to get a real feel for the rugged beauty of this incredible island is through a helicopter tour! Check out the five highest rated Kauai Helicopter tours for 2023!
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Awa’awapuhi Trail Hike: Fast Facts
Awa’awapuhi Trail Difficulty
The Awa’awapuhi Trail hike difficulty is moderate to hard, primarily because the trail can be muddy and slippery after it rains.
And being on the side of Kauai that gets more rains, this is often the case!
Under dry conditions, the trail is relatively easy, just watch out for the overgrown, exposed tree roots all along the trail.
The last part of the trail, from where you get the amazing Na Pali Coast views, needs careful navigation.
You face steep drop-offs on both sides, and the trail is significantly narrower.
Awa’awapuhi Trail Length
Awa’awapuhi Trail length is 2.9 miles, for a total roundtrip distance of 5.8 miles on this out-and-back hike.
With quarter-mile markers along the trail, you have a good sense of how much you’ve completed.
A large portion of the Awa’awapuhi trail is through shaded tropical rainforests, and the last section of the trail opens up to beautiful Na Pali coast views from along an elevated ridge.
Awa’awapuhi Trail Elevation Gain
The Awa’awapuhi Trail elevation gain is about 1,600 feet.
The Awa’awapuhi Trail starts off at a higher elevation (roughly 4,100 feet) and you work your way down about 1,850 feet from the trailhead to the end of the trail.
Though you are climbing down to the end of the trail, the final destination is still at a much higher altitude (ridge or lower mountain top) of about 2,500 feet, and you get fabulous views of the Na Pali Coast way below.
In fact you are so high, you will often see helicopters below you, touring the coastline.
Obviously, the return is a continuous climb (roughly 30 degrees grade) back to the trailhead, and part of the reason the Awa’awapuhi Trail hike is rated moderate.
Take frequent breaks to catch your breath, as needed.
Awa’awapuhi Trail Time Taken
The Awa’awapuhi Trail takes roughly 3 1/2 hours to complete (out-and-back).
We took more like 4 1/2 hours with breaks for photos and to admire some of the views and colorful flowers and foliage on the way.
Coming back is a lot slower because you are almost always climbing.
Apart from hikers, you will also encounter runners – this is a very popular trail for cross-country running.
What about Kids and Dogs on the Awa’awapuhi Trail?
Dogs aren’t allowed on the Awa’awapuhi Trail.
Older kids (8+) should do fine on the trail. Toddlers and younger kids on backpack carriers may be hard, don’t forget you have to make the long climb back!
I would strongly advise against taking kids past the metal fence at the end of the trail because of the steep drop-offs without railings.
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Getting to the Awa’awapuhi Trailhead
Awa’awapuhi Trail Directions
The Awa’awapuhi Trail is part of the beautiful Koke’e State Park on the northwest side of Kauai, roughly an hour’s drive from Poipu and Lihue.
Apart from the Awa’awapuhi Trail hike, you must visit two highly popular lookouts that you can drive to: the Kalalau Lookout and the Pu’u O Kila Lookout, and maybe spend some time at the Koke’e Natural History Museum.
The Koke’e State Park is open daily during daylight hours.
You will need to pay a nominal entrance fee of $5 / adult to enter the Koke’e State Park, and $10 / vehicle to park in any of the Koke’e State Park parking lots.
There is only one way to get to the Awa’awapuhi Trail trailhead, Highway 550 (Koke’e Road) north from Waimea (roughly 30 minutes), skirting past the Waimea Canyon State Park.
Awa’awapuhi Trail Parking
Awa’awapuhi Trail parking is available at the trailhead.
At about the mile marker 17 along Koke’e Road, look out for a large signpost for the Awa’awapuhi Trail trailhead and a pull out to a small parking lot off Koke’e Road (if you reach Kalalau Lookout, you’ve gone too far).
The parking lot is small and gets quite full so try to get there early or late (for the sunset).
Awa’awapuhi Trail Permit and Reservation
You don’t need any reservations or permits for the Awa’awapuhi Trail.
Partly because of its secluded, remote location, the Awa’awapuhi Trail hike is a no-brainer hike that you can add-on at the last minute – no difficult reservations and permitting hurdles like the Kalalau Trail.
Best Time to Hike the Awa’awapuhi Trail
The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime.
If you plan to hike the Awa’awapuhi Trail during winter (rainy season), make sure you pick a sunny day or set out early to maximize your chances of enjoying the views, and the trail hopefully won’t be muddy and slick.
Your photos will be Instagram-perfect with emerald, green lush valleys against the beautiful blue of the Pacific Ocean waters.
Summer is usually drier, and the landscape tends to be more brown than green, but you will likely enjoy the hike and the views a lot more.
Late summer and fall are when the trails are their prettiest, with ginger blossoms and Kahili ginger in full bloom.
I prefer to hike early morning or late evening. Both sunrise and sunset from the viewpoint are spectacular, and the hike tends to be quiet and peaceful.
On our last trip, we hiked out for sunset and it was the most breathtaking sunset imaginable. The views past the metal fence gate were spectacular and we had the trail to ourselves.
The trail was well marked so we could find our way back easily in the dark, but I recommend you take torches with you. Don’t linger too long, the park is open only during daylight hours.
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Awa’awapuhi Trail Map
The Awa’awapuhi Trail map is shown below with the local highlights marked.
Awa’awapuhi Trail Information
The Awa’awapuhi Trail trailhead is to the left of the parking lot.
The bulk of the trail is a downward sloping, reasonably wide, jungle mud path through the Napali-Kona Forest Reserve.
Towards the end, the Awa’awapuhi Trail transforms into an open, rocky ridge hike to a lower summit viewpoint of the Awa’awapuhi and Nualolo valleys far below.
There are mile marker signposts that indicate quarter mile marks throughout the trail.
You are hiking in a tropical rainforest and will see lush, green vegetation like fern, fruit trees, and tall grass along the trail.
As with the other forest trails on Kauai, the Awa’awapuhi Trail path is filled with exposed tree roots, so watch your step!
If it is rainy or has recently rained, expect the trail to be very muddy and slippery!
We also saw a bunch of fruit trees on the way, including some guava and plum trees with delicious ripe fruit.
You have a couple of viewpoints along the forested part of the ridge hike that hint at the spectacular views at the end of the hike.
About thee miles in, the Awa’awapuhi Trail leaves the forest and becomes an open, exposed, rocky ridge hike, and the trail significantly narrows.
At the 3.25 mile marker, you will reach a metal, fence / gate that marks the ridge platform viewpoint.
The main tricky part is at the end and only if you go past the metal gate. Beyond this point, the trail becomes sketchy with steep drop-offs to lower mountain tops.
The views from the Awa’awapuhi Lookout are simply spectacular. You can see the narrow, lush, green valleys far below, and the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean waters against a rugged, mountainous Napali coastline!
Venture down the ridge only to the point you are comfortable!
I’ve seen adventurous hikers venture well beyond the metal fence gate, but they do so at their own risk! In fact, the signs recommend you don’t!
The first platform-like area beyond the gate is fairly manageable if you are sure-footed and in good shape, and the views from there are amazing!
I’ve seen people literally crawl forward on all fours to get to the furthest points, and no doubt the views are better, but marginally so!
I’ve also seen people flying drones, and I’m sure the photos and videos are incredible, and probably a lot safer than venturing too far down the ridge!
Be prepared for a tough trek back, which is mostly uphill, at roughly a 30 degree grade.
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Hawaiian Birds to Spot on the Awa’awapuhi Trail Hike
Make sure you take a good pair of binoculars with you, the Awa’awapuhi Trail hike is an excellent hike to spot some beautiful Hawaiian birds, both introduced to the islands and some endemic birds (found nowhere else)!
Some of the common Hawaiian birds you can expect to see are the rose-ringed parakeet (a highly invasive bird species), the red-crested cardinal (pretty red-headed birds with a crest), and the warbling white eye (with a characteristic white ring around its eyes).
Hawaiian Plants, Trees and Flowers on the Awa’awapuhi Trail hike
The Awa’awapuhi Trail is a forest hike in the dense foliage of Koke’e State Park, with many common and easily identifiable Hawaiian plants, trees and flowers to look for!
Among Hawaiian plants, you should be able to spot the ohi’a lehua tree, a plant species endemic to Hawaii, and quite common and widespread in Kauai’s forests, and in Koke’e State Park.
Other introduced Hawaiian plants, you’re likely to see are the eucalyptus trees and the highly invasive strawberry guava fruit trees, among many others! Sugi pine and redwood trees are also seen around the Koke’e State Park.
Tips for Hiking the Awa’awapuhi Trail
Make sure you take a lot of water and snacks, and conserve some for the uphill climb back, a slog in humid, hot, tropical conditions.
Sturdy hiking boots are a must, especially as the trail can get quite muddy and slick.
Hiking poles are recommended for those needing some assistance for the uphill and downhill sections (which is most of the trail).
You will be trekking through a forested path for the bulk of the Awa’awapuhi Trail, so bug spray and mosquito repellent are advisable.
Check weather conditions before you head out, especially if you are planning a sunrise or sunset hike.
Obviously, the highlight of the Awa’awapuhi Trail hike are the fabulous views at the end, and clear, sunny days will definitely be better.
Early or late morning is usually clearer. Tends to get foggy and cloudy early afternoon in this area.
If you reach there, and visibility is poor, hang around for a bit. The fog and clouds sometimes lift quickly.
Bring a light rain jacket, rain showers are quite frequent in Koke’e State Park.
Cell service and reception is poor to non-existent in this remote area, so make sure you have all the information and maps downloaded.
Nualolo Awa’awapuhi Loop Trail
A much harder and longer hike is the Nualolo Awa’awapuhi Loop Trail where you can extend the Awa’awapuhi Trail hike by adding on the Nualolo Cliff Trail and returning on the Nualolo Trail.
You can do the loop clockwise or anti-clockwise, but note that you are returning to a different trailhead.
The views of the Na Pali Coast are stunning and much better on the Nualolo Trail, but the trail is not as well maintained.
What Else to Do Near the Awa’awapuhi Trail?
The Koke’e State Park and the adjacent Waimea Canyon State Park are two of the best state parks in Kauai!
No trip to Koke’e State Park would be complete with driving further up the Koke’e Road to the Kalalau Lookout and the Pu’u o Kila Lookout.
The Kalalau Lookout, the highest point from the road, provides an epic view of the Kalalau Valley, featured in Jurassic Park and many other movies.
If you aren’t hiking the incredible Kalalau Trail to the Kalalau Beach paradise, you must stop here to take in the views!
The Pu’u o Kila Lookout offers a different view of the Kalalau Valley.
Apart from the Awa’awapuhi Trail, there are many other trails in Koke’e State Park.
If you have the time, I highly recommend the Alakai Swamp Trail, a different kind of trail that takes you through the swampy wetlands, and a chance to encounter some of Kauai’s most famous birds!
A 10-mile long, upto 3000 feet deep gorge carved by the Waimea River, the Waimea Canyon is a must-visit destination in Kauai.
The Best Kauai Tours
Have you booked these top Kauai guided adventures yet?
Sunset catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast (relatively more stable ride, insane views on good weather days!)
Doors-off helicopter tour of Kauai (unobstructed views, chance to see more of the island than you can by land, no middle seats!)
Kayak on the Wailua River plus hike to a waterfall (a super fun activity for active travelers, albeit a little muddy sometimes!)
Raft trip to the Na Pali Coast plus snorkeling (prepare to get wet on this exhilarating adventure!)
Eurocopter ECO-Star helicopter tour over Kauai (the most booked Kauai helicopter tour on Viator with close to 2K reviews and a 5-star rating!)
Renting a Car in Kauai
The best things to do in Kauai are scattered all over the island.
Public transport options on Kauai aren’t great, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Kauai trip.
We always use Discover Cars to book Kauai car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Lihue Airport-Hotel Shuttle
Not planning to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport? Pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back!
This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Where to Stay in Kauai
Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Kauai you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.
Since you’ll likely want to base in a couple places on your trip to Kauai, we suggest starting your search for Kauai accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO.
We have stayed in VRBO rentals in both Poipu and Princeville and find that the choice and quality are generally great.
Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!
More Kauai Travel Inspiration
Considering a trip to the Garden Isle in Hawaii? You’ll definitely want to check out some of our other comprehensive Kauai travel and attraction guides!
If you are a first-time visitor to Kauai, start by discovering the best things to do in Kauai! From beaches and botanical gardens to cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls, Kauai has it all, and our round-up lists all of Kauai’s must-experience activities and attractions.
Read our in-depth guide to visiting the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. We give you the full scoop on the best ways to visit this stunning coast in the remote northwest of the island.
Discover our round-up of the nine spectacular state parks in Kauai, which house some of Kauai’s most treasured natural wonders.
Check out our round-up of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, from waterfalls you can view from the road to falls that require hiking and falls that are best seen from a helicopter or sightseeing flight.
Read our guide to Wailua River State Park to discover two easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls, and our trail guide for the easy hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. We also have an article on the best Kauai waterfall hikes.
And if a helicopter tour is part of your plans for Kauai, read our article on the top-rated helicopter tours in Kauai!
We also have a trail guide for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s scenic south shore, an article on how to hike the Sleeping Giant Trail, and a guide to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the easy hikes on Kauai.
Get the scoop on the best botanical gardens in Kauai, from Limahuli Garden on the north shore to McBryde and Allerton Gardens on the south shore.
Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei, the charming town that sits in the middle of Kauai’s scenic north shore.
Read our guide to the best swimming beaches on Kauai, from Hanalei Bay on the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south shore! We also have a guide to the best snorkeling beaches on Kauai, and a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches.
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