Views from the Sleeping Giant Trail hike, Kauai, of the East Coast

Hike Sleeping Giant Trail, Kauai: Complete 2024 Guide

Partied to no end, lay down for the night, and just couldn’t get up? Not a throwback to your college dorm days!

That’s the native legend behind the whimsical name, Sleeping Giant, for the Nounou Mountain, and you’re most likely to agree to a giant’s resemblance from the eastern side of Kauai, especially from Kapa’a.

Sleeping Giant profile in the distance, from Kapa'a
Sleeping Giant profile in the distance, from Kapa’a

Folklore apart, the Nounou mountain offers two exciting trails for the avid hiker, the Sleeping Giant Trails, up to the chest of the giant, and for the adventurous few, to the chin, nose and forehead, for amazing, 360-degree views of the eastern part of Kauai.

The West Sleeping Giant Trail is shorter, less of a climb (you start from a higher elevation), more shaded, and, in my opinion, much prettier!

The East Sleeping Giant Trail joins the West Sleeping Giant Trail after a steeper, longer hike, and both trails share the last 1/2 mile or so.

The two Sleeping Giant Trails are among the best Kauai hikes near Kapa’a, on the eastern side of the island.

Let’s explore the two Sleeping Giant Trails virtually, and you can decide which one is more suited for you and your group!

Up for an active adventure on the scenic Wailua River in Kauai? Discover the Secret Falls kayaking + hiking excursion on the east side of the island!

Beautiful views from the Sleeping Giant Trail hike with the Kong mountain in the background
Beautiful views from the Sleeping Giant Trail hike with the Kong mountain in the background

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Hike Sleeping Giant Trail: Fast Facts

Sleeping Giant Trail Difficulty

Both Sleeping Giant Trails are rated hard in difficulty.

The West Sleeping Giant Trail is the easier of the two, but can be the muddier one after rains.

Sleeping Giant Trail can be very muddy and slippery after rains
Sleeping Giant Trail can be very muddy and slippery after rains

While for the most part, both trails are moderately difficult, but there are sections on the trails that require some scrambling over rocks.

And if you decide to go past the picnic tables on the chest, the Sleeping Giant Trail is definitely hard, and you will encounter a roughly 70 degrees rock wall, but not perpendicular.

Sleeping Giant Trail Length

The West Sleeping Giant Trail length is about 0.9 miles for a total round trip distance of 1.7 miles on this out & back hike.

The East Sleeping Giant Trail length is about 1.6 miles for a total round trip distance of about 3.2 miles, so this hike is almost double the distance of the other trail.

If you go past the picnic tables, you’ll likely add about 1/2 mile to the above.

Sleeping Giant Elevation Gain

The Sleeping Giant Trails take you up to the Nounou mountain summit, so the trails involve steep grades.

The West Sleeping Giant trail elevation gain is about 700 feet, while the East Sleeping Giant Trail elevation gain is about 1300 feet, significantly more climbing.

The Sleeping Giant Trails include elevation change to get to the summit of Nounou mountain
The Sleeping Giant Trails include elevation change to get to the summit of Nounou mountain

Sleeping Giant Trail Time Taken

The West Sleeping Giant Trail takes about 1.5 to 2 hours at an average, while the East Sleeping Giant Trail takes about 2.5 to 3 hours.

What about Kids and Dogs on the Sleeping Giant Trail, Kauai?

Dogs on leash are allowed on both the Sleeping Giant Trails, Kauai.

Though I’ve seen families with older kids on both the trails, I would not recommend taking younger kids on the hikes, especially past the picnic tables.

>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!

Getting to the Sleeping Giant Trailhead

The West Sleeping Giant Trailhead is at the end of Lokelani Road in a residential area of Wailua (see the Sleeping Giant Trail map below).

The East Sleeping Giant Trailhead is on Haleilio Road next to a Department of Water pump site. You will pass Wailana and Makani Roads, and the road will start to curve to the left.

Sleeping Giant Trail Parking

The West Sleeping Giant trail has a few parking spaces next to the trailhead (obey the posted signs). You will need to come early to secure parking.

The East Sleeping Giant Trail has a lot more parking spaces, right at the trailhead.

Kong Mountain from the West Sleeping Giant Trail hike, Kauai, Hawaii
Kong Mountain from the West Sleeping Giant Trail hike, Kauai, Hawaii

Sleeping Giant Trail Reservation & Permit

The Sleeping Giant Trails do not require a reservation or permit. There is no entrance fee. The Sleeping Giant Trails are completely free, unlike many of the other Kauai hikes.

>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!

Sleeping Giant (Nounou) Trail Information

Both Sleeping Giant Trails are hikes through the Nounou Forest Reserve to the Nounou mountain summit.

I found the trails well-marked, with 1/4 mile markers along the trail, and junctions clearly signposted. The two Sleeping Giant trails are part of the Hawaii’s Na Ala Hele Trail system and are regularly maintained.

Your main concern should be to get back to the same spot that you started from – so take the appropriate trail back at the junction.

West Sleeping Giant Trail to Junction Point

The West Sleeping Giant Trail starts along a residential home fence (please keep your voices low so as not to disturb the local residents), and quickly converts to a mud trail through a forest.

You come almost immediately to a beautiful Cook pine grove, with the picturesque pine trees towering over you.

Cook pine tree grove on the Sleeping Giant Trail
Cook pine tree grove on the Sleeping Giant Trail

Cross the Kuamoo Trail junction (stay left), and start climbing up the mountain, but on a well-shaded forested trail with mostly non-native invasive trees like the African albizia that were planted to control erosion.

About .75 miles into the trail, you will come to a bench with Aloha engraved on it, and the first open views from the mountain side, with views of the Kong mountain across the plains and the ocean.

Kong Mountain in the background, on the Nounou trail, towards Sleeping Giant, on Kauai
Kong Mountain in the background, on the Nounou trail, towards Sleeping Giant, on Kauai

A few minutes later you will reach the junction of the Nounou East Trail and the Nounou West Trail continuation.

East Sleeping Giant Trail to Junction Point

The East Sleeping Giant Trail starts with a series of switchbacks climbing up the Nounou mountain, through the Nounou Forest with mostly non-native trees like ironwood, silk oak and fruit trees like breadfruit, guava and strawberry.

Hala tree grove can be found near the junction of the West and East Sleeping Giant trails
Hala tree grove can be found near the junction of the West and East Sleeping Giant trails

Every now and then, you can catch glimpses of the Sleeping Giant’s head from the trail, your ultimate destination. You get some great views along the trail of the east coast of Kauai and Wailua.

There is a small junction where you need to stay right, if you take the other path you go up to a rock wall with some pink spray paint which is pretty slippery, and will have to retrace your steps.

At about the 1.5 mile marker, you will lose most of the shade and come to the junction of the Nounou West Trail (right) and the Nounou Trail Shelter (left). Turn left onto the common trail towards the picnic tables shelter.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!

Sleeping Giant Trail – Common Section

You will come to two picnic tables with benches under a rain shelter roof. You are now on the giant’s chest, under his chin!

You are still in a forested area with trees like the koa haole, hala, and ti. You can also see many fruit trees with pretty red strawberries (edible and delicious!), guava, breadfruit, hala and others.

Ti plant leaves dotting the Sleeping Giant Trail, Kauai
Ti plant leaves dotting the Sleeping Giant Trail, Kauai

Head to the bench (with “Respect” carved on it), and admire the beautiful, panoramic views from this lookout.

Spectacular views from the Sleeping Giant Trail hike viewpoint
Spectacular views from the Sleeping Giant Trail hike viewpoint

This is the official end of the Sleeping Giant Trails, and most people turn back after enjoying the views and, maybe, a picnic.

For the thrill seekers and adventurous hikers, there are trails that take you further up, but note that these are fairly sketchy, with steep 100+ feet drops, and some scrambling up rocky paths / walls.

Sketchy and dangerous side trail to the summit of the Sleeping Giant from the picnic shelter
Sketchy and dangerous side trail to the summit of the Sleeping Giant from the picnic shelter

You are going along the ridge now, up the chin and nose.

A small side trail on the left takes you to a cave-like structure with two openings with spectacular views of Wailua, Kapa’a and the coast.

The trail to the nose and forehead ends on flat mud platform and a rocky outcropping. From this viewpoint you get fabulous 360-degree panoramic views.

Nounou Lion Head, the rocky outcropping near the summit of the Sleeping Giant Trail
Nounou Lion Head, the rocky outcropping near the summit of the Sleeping Giant Trail

You can expect to see the Wailua River, mountain peaks of Wai’ale’ale and Kawaikini on the west side, Makaleha mountains to the north, and the Pacific Ocean, Kapa’a and Wailua on the east.

Views from the Sleeping Giant Trail hike, Kauai
Views from the Sleeping Giant Trail hike, Kauai

Sleeping Giant Trail Map

The below Sleeping Giant Trail map shows the locations of the two trailheads and the trail destination.

The Wailua River State Park, one of the best state parks in Kauai, is a few minutes away with many exciting things to do with stunning waterfalls like the Wailua Falls, Opaeka’a Falls and Secret Falls, Wailua River and boat cruises, and historic sites.

Hawaiian Birds to Spot on the Sleeping Giant Trail Hike

Make sure you take a good pair of binoculars with you, the Sleeping Giant Trail hike is great 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).

You’ll probably hear the white-rumped shama, before you spot them. They are the most skilled songbird in Hawaii, and frequent forest streams.

The ‘apapane, one of the endemic Hawaiian birds, can be spotted here among the native ohi’a lehua trees, feeding on the nectar from the tree’s pretty red or yellow flowers.

Apapane feeding on Ohi'a Lehua flower nectar
Apapane feeding on Ohi’a Lehua flower nectar

If you’re an avid birdwatcher, the Wailua River State Park with its waterfalls and river are a better spot to find these and other beautiful Hawaiian birds.

Refer to our detailed post on Hawaiian birds to identify and learn about these bird species, some endemic to Hawaii, and found nowhere else on the world!

Hawaiian Plants, Trees and Flowers on the Sleeping Giant Trail hike

The Sleeping Giant Trail is a forest hike on the lush, windward side of Kauai, with many common and easily identifiable Hawaiian plants, trees and flowers to look for!

On the Sleeping Giant Trail hike you’ll see iconic Cook pine tree groves, canoe plants like breadfruit (ulu) and ki (ti) brought by the ancient Hawaiians, hala trees (identifiable by tufted aerial roots), and the highly invasive strawberry guava fruit trees, among many others!

Refer to our detailed post on Hawaiian plants to identify and learn about these plant species, some endemic to Hawaii, and found nowhere else on the world!

Hiking Gear Checklist

Many of Hawaii’s hikes are demanding, make sure you are well equipped and well prepared. Here’s what we typically take with us:

Hiking Safety Tips

Hiking in Hawaii can provide opportunities to get up close to its beautiful landscapes and allow you to observe local flora and fauna.

But hiking in Hawaii can also pose challenges you may not have encountered elsewhere. It is important to keep safety considerations uppermost in your mind as you plan a hike in Hawaii and as you are on the trail.

Here are some tips that may help:

  • If it’s your first time hiking in Hawaii, or you are a beginner hiker, you may want to consider a guided hike with an experienced local hiking guide. A local guide can help you pick a trail and hike with you.
  • Heed any posted signs at the trailhead or along the trail.
  • Minimize the potential for trailhead vehicle break-ins by locking belongings in the trunk, out of sight, and carry valuables with you.
  • Hike with a buddy or in a group, and stay together as you hike.
  • Leave information about the trail you plan to hike, and your expected time of return, with a trusted contact.
  • Obtain adequate information about the trail from official sources so you know your route, trailhead, etc. ahead of time. Download a trail map + bring a printed copy.
  • Carefully assess if a trail is suited to your hiking skill level and physical capability. Each island has a wide variety of trails from which to pick.
  • Get the latest weather forecast before you head out. Weather can change with little warning, so keep your eye on the weather as you hike.
  • Beware of flash floods in streams and gulches. Avoid crossing swollen streams.
  • Stay on the trail to minimize the potential for getting lost.
  • Start early and plan your turnaround time such that you can get back to the trailhead while it is still light out.
  • Call for emergency assistance if you are lost or injured.
  • For more detailed hiking safety information, seek guidance from Na Ala Hele, the official resource for Hawaii hikers.

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!)

Entire Kauai Island Air Tour (super popular, less expensive than a heli tour, large bubble windows for flightseeing!)

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.

>> Check availability and prices on Kauai car rentals now!

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!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Kauai now!

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.

>> Look for a Kauai vacation rental on VRBO now!

Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!

Beautiful Norfolk and Cook pine grove near the start of the West Sleeping Giant Trail hike, Kauai
Beautiful Cook pine grove near the start of the West Sleeping Giant Trail hike, 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.

Planning to split a week between Kauai and another island? We have a 3 days in Kauai itinerary article you must read to help flesh out what you would like to see and do!

Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei and Kauai’s scenic north shore, the best things to do in Poipu and Kauai’s south shore, and the most exciting things to do on Kauai’s Coconut Side or east side.

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.

We also have visitor’s guides to popular parks like Waimea Canyon State Park, which protects the namesake canyon, nearby Kokee State Park, and the remote but beautiful Polihale State Park.

Also check out the ultimate guide to visiting Haena State Park on Kauai’s north shore, and a full guide to hiking the epic Kalalau Trail.

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. We also have an article on everything you need to know to visit Secret Falls Kauai on an exciting kayaking and hiking tour.

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!

Hiking enthusiasts will want to read our article on the best hikes in Koke’e State Park: the trails here are some of the best hikes in Kauai!

We have detailed trail guides for the most popular Koke’e hikes, from the scenic Canyon Trail to the top of Waipo’o Falls, to the epic Awa’awapuhi Trail, challenging but very rewarding!

Also discover the best hikes in Waimea Canyon State Park, and the best hikes on Kauai’s north shore.

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.

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, a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches, and an article on the best Kauai south shore beaches!

And if you love watching the sun go down in a burst of color, be sure to read our article on where to go for the best sunsets on Kauai!

Did you find this article informative? Pin it on Pinterest for later!

Discover the ultimate trail guide to the Sleeping Giant Hike in Kauai, Hawaii.

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