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.
Folklore apart, the Nounou mountain offers two exciting trails for the avid hiker, 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.
Let’s explore the two Sleeping Giant Trails virtually, and you can decide which one is more suited for you and your group!
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!
Some links on this page may be affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. For more details, refer to our disclosure.
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.
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.
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?
Dogs on leash are allowed on both the Sleeping Giant Trails.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Head to the bench (with “Respect” carved on it), and admire the beautiful, panoramic views from this lookout.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Did you find this article informative? Pin it on Pinterest for later!