Kauai’s natural beauty is stunning, and the best way to experience it is on your two feet, hiking through the many nature trails on Kauai!
Island hopping through Kauai? We know you have limited time, and we will give you a virtual tour of the best Kauai hikes, so you can pick the Kauai trails most suited for you, and optimize your stay on the island.
The general maxim for Kauai hikes is simple: the harder the Kauai trail, the more substantial the payoff, in terms of views and nature experience.
Beginner hiker or hiking with the family or looking for kid-friendly Kauai hikes? Not to worry, many of the harder Kauai hikes have an initial stretch that most people can enjoy, while yet sampling a large part of what you may miss on the entire hike.
Avid hiker looking for a challenge? Kauai offers many difficult trails for the adventure tourist, including the world-renowned Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali coastline!
But you are not alone, Kauai trails are very popular with hikers, and careful planning is required to make sure you are not disappointed by a lack of reservation spots and camping permits!
Join us on a virtual tour of the best Kauai hikes, pick the ones most suited for your trip, and start planning with our detailed travel guides!
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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The Best Kauai Hikes
For ease of selection, we will group the best Kauai hikes based on their difficulty.
The 5 Best Easy Kauai Hikes
The easy Kauai hikes are shorter and appropriate for hikers of all abilities, including beginning hikers.
All of these best easy Kauai hikes are kid-friendly, though younger kids like toddlers may find some of these difficult.
The best easy Kauai hike to a waterfall is the Ho’opi’i Falls Trail hike.
If you have limited time and are staying in Princeville or Hanalei, the Okolehao Trail Hike to Okolehao Viewpoint might be one of the best Kauai hikes on the North Shore for you.
1. Ho’opi’i Falls Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 1.8 mile total distance, out & back, 150 feet elevation gain
The Lower Ho’opi’i Falls is roughly .5 miles into the hike, and the Upper Ho’opi’i Falls is another .4 miles further.
The trailhead is off Kapahi Road (park in the gravel area near the trailhead), in a residential area of the small town of Kapa’a on Kauai’s north eastern side.
You can expect to see locals jumping off 25 feet cliffs into the first waterfall pool. The second waterfall is prettier, quieter, and has a shallower pool for younger kids.
The Ho’opi’i Falls Trail is a great family and kid friendly hike, but please make sure you stay on the trail and are not noisy, since this is a residential area.
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
2. Pihea Vista Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 2.3 miles total distance, out & back, 440 feet elevation gain, about an hour
Though rated moderate, you can hike shorter distances on the trail and still enjoy some spectacular views, and I would easily rate the Pihea Vista Trail hike as one of the best Koke’e State Park hikes.
The trailhead starts from the Pu’u O Kila Lookout parking lot.
The overall Pihea Trail is harder and much longer, and if you plan to hike that, you can conveniently cover a portion of the Alaka’i Swamp Trail as well.
3. Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 3.8 miles total distance, out & back, 300 feet elevation gain, 1 1/2 hours
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is beautiful, mixed-terrain hike along the Kauai’s south eastern coastline, conveniently located near Poipu.
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is my favorite family, kid-friendly hike on Kauai, with parking and other facilities easily accessible.
My kids were thrilled to see a few nene, endemic Hawaiian geese, near the golf course, and an endangered Hawaiian monk seal on Mahaulepu Beach!
The trail is lined with ritzy resorts offering excellent snacking, drinking and dining options.
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail hike is one of the best Kauai hikes near Poipu!
Check out our detailed Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail hiking guide to plan your hike.
4. Wai Koa Loop Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 3.7 miles total distance, out & back, 580 feet elevation gain, 1 1/2 hours
Brought your older parents on your Kauai vacation trip? The Wai Koa Loop Trail is just what the doctor ordered for them: a chance to get out and hike a lovely nature trail!
Relatively flat, reasonably short at 3.7 miles total distance, the Wai Koa Loop Trail takes roughly 1 1/2 – 2 hours walking through beautiful Kilauea woods to a pretty waterfall over Stone Dam.
My parents loved the picturesque mahogany plantation along the way, and appreciated the many sitting areas along the way, where they could catch their breath and soak in nature!
The Wai Koa Loop Trail is on private property near the town of Kilauea on Kauai’s North Shore, and you need to stop by the Anaina Hou Welcome center to sign a waiver.
The trail can be accessed from the Kauai North Shore Dog Park.
5. Kuilau Ridge Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 3.6 miles total distance, out & back, 680 feet elevation gain, 2 hours
Just 15 minutes from the town of Wailua, near the Keahua Arboretum parking lot, is the Kuilau Ridge Trail, a beautiful ridge hike that takes you through a dense rainforest with spectacular views on both sides of the ridge.
If you prefer easy hikes and have time for only one, this is your hike! Gives you an essence of Hawaiian nature: rainforests, layers of mountains covered with jungles and phenomenal two-sided ridge-views!
The Kuilau Ridge Trail is great for hiking with your family and is a kid-friendly hike (younger kids will likely find this difficult, especially after rains when the trail will be muddy and slippery).
Bonus: 6. Okolehao Trail Hike to Okolehao Viewpoint
Quick Facts: 2.6 miles total distance, out & back, 920 feet elevation gain
The Okolehao Trail, close to Hanalei and Princeville, on the north shore of Kauai, is a short hike, with a significant climb, but offers fabulous views of the North Shore of Kauai, Hanalei and Hanalei Bay!
No wonder hiking the Okolehao Trail is one of the best things to do in Hanalei!
I’ve added this as a bonus to the best easy Kauai hikes, mainly because you can cut it short at the first vista point, and turn back, content that you’ve experienced the main views!
If you choose to hike up to the second viewpoint plateau, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the Hanalei Bay and the Pacific Ocean, along with all the major landmarks on the North Shore of Kauai!
Beyond this is mostly for experienced hikers and includes technical climbing with rope sections.
The Okoleahao Trail hike is one of the best Kauai hikes near Princeville!
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
The 5 Best Moderately Difficult Kauai Hikes
The best Kauai hikes of moderate difficulty are a bit longer than the easy Kauai hikes, usually 2-4 hours, and typically involve more climbing.
These Kauai hikes are kid-friendly, and I’ve seen families with different age groups on these Kauai trails.
If you have toddlers or pregnant women or seniors in your group, they will likely find these Kauai trails hard, so be prepared to turn back if needed.
7. Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls
Quick Facts: 3.0 miles total distance, out & back, 790 feet elevation gain, about 2 hours
The Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls is another Kauai hike that lets you experience something uniquely Kauai, something you should definitely not miss: Waimea Canyon, a deep gorge carved by the Waimea River and its tributaries.
While the Waimea Canyon Trail starts off as a typical Hawaiian rainforest hike with lush green jungles and overgrown, exposed tree roots on the trail, about halfway through it switches to a trail along the edge of Waimea Canyon.
You can expect some amazing views of the beautiful, red canyon contrasting sharply with the emerald green, tropical rainforest undergrowth.
The trail is quite wide and safely away from the edge, and there are fenced viewpoints where you can stop and take some beautiful photos for your Instagram.
The trail ends at the top of Waipo’o Falls, an 800-foot waterfall over a steep cliff, one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Kauai.
While I’ve seen some brave souls go to the edge to peer over and see the water fall, I wouldn’t advise you to do the same!
Stop at the Waimea Canyon Lookout in Waimea Canyon State Park if you want to see this spectacular waterfall from the front, but at a distance from across the canyon!
Check out our detailed Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls hiking guide to plan your hike.
8. Sleeping Giant Hike (West) & Sleeping Giant Hike (East)
Quick Facts (West): 1.7 miles total distance, out & back, 660 feet elevation gain
Quick Facts (East): 3.2 miles total distance, out & back, 1260 feet elevation gain
The Sleeping Giant (Nounou) is the nickname for a mountain peak formation that resembles a giant lying on his back when viewed from the east shore of the island or the nearby town of Kapa’a.
The narrow ridge hike takes you up the giant’s head and his nose and chin, eventually ending at a picnic location on his chest.
The shorter Sleeping Giant Trail is the west one, the east side trail joins the west roughly after 1.5 miles.
You get to experience quite a bit on this trail: waterfalls, forested sections, ridge views, and even a small cave to explore!
You have a bit of a scramble and a rope section towards the end to get to the summit, but we didn’t find it difficult. Benches along the trail, if you need to catch your breath while climbing up.
The views at the top were breathtaking, panoramic vistas of the ocean and the coast, as well as inland mountains, rivers and jungles.
9. Hanakapiai Beach via the Kalalau Trail
Quick Facts: 3.7 miles total distance, out & back, 1240 feet elevation gain, 2 1/2 hours
The Kalalau Trail is undisputedly the best Kauai hike and on the bucket list of every avid hiker visiting Kauai.
The complete Kalalau Trail is an epic 22-mile round trip hike starting from the Ke’e Beach parking lot in Haena State Park and winding along the rugged Na Pali coast to a remote, secluded beach paradise, Kalalau Beach.
But there are smaller sections of the trail that most people can sample and enjoy.
The Hanakapiai Trail to the Hanakapiai Beach is the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail, and has some of the best views you’ll see on the entire hike.
In fact, just one mile into the trail (a climb of 400 feet) gives you some fabulous panoramic views of the famous Na Pali coastline and the pretty Ke’e Beach.
Unfortunately, being the best trail on the island of Kauai also has some drawbacks. Due to its popularity, you have to carefully plan your Hanakapiai Beach via the Kalalau Trail hike and your visit to Haena State Park in detail.
10. Alaka’i Swamp Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 7 miles total distance, out & back, 1230 feet elevation gain, 3 1/4 hours
The Alaka’i Swamp Trail trailhead is off Muhihi Road within the Koke’e State Park, past the Alaka’i Picnic Area (about a 1/4 mile north of the Na Pali Kona Forest Reserve entrance sign).
The trailhead is a bit difficult to get to and I strongly recommend a 4×4 off-roading vehicle if you plan to take the unpaved road all the way to it.
The better option, which I recommend, is to park at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout, and take the Pihea Trail. The Pihea Trail will intersect in about two miles with the Alaka’i Swamp Trail.
I rated the Alaka’i Swamp Trail hike as one of our highlights of our last Kauai vacation, just because it is so unique!
The trail takes you on boardwalks over open swampland, and you can see the water bubbling below you.
You head into one of the world’s highest rainforests and a second swamp, which I felt was much prettier than the first!
The trail ends at Kilohana Lookout on Wainiha Pali, a cliff, and if you are lucky and have a clear day, you will have spectacular views of Wainiha and Hanalei Bay.
Given this is the wettest part of the island, be prepared for a foggy and wet hike!
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!
11. Awa’awapuhi Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 5.8 miles total distance, out & back, 1863 feet elevation gain, 3 1/2 hours
The Awa’awapuhi Trail, one of the best Koke’e State Park hikes, ends at a ridge summit viewpoint with fabulous views of the rugged Na Pali coast, the beautiful turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean and the emerald-green lush valleys of Awa’awapuhi and Nualolo.
The odd thing though is that right from the start you are descending and you keep descending about 1850 feet!
Luckily, you get the views because you start from an elevation of almost 4,350 feet, but make sure you conserve energy for the long uphill hike back!
The bulk of the hike is a typical Hawaiian rainforest trail which changes to an exposed ridge hike around the 3 mile marker, close to the end of the trail.
The official end of the trail is the viewing platform with the metal fence/gate, though you will see some intrepid hikers risk a sheer 2000+ feet drop to scramble to further ridge summits.
The views aren’t that different, so stay safe!
Check out our detailed Awa’awapuhi Trail hiking guide to plan your hike.
The 5 Best Difficult Kauai Hikes
Given the rugged Kauai terrain, you can expect the hard Kauai hikes to be really difficult, and you will be right!
The below hikes are meant only for experienced hikers in good to excellent physical condition.
While few of these require technical climbing skills or have rope sections, they are rated difficult for specific reasons: significant climbing, long distances, backcountry camping, navigation skills and a head for heights.
12. Kukui Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 4.5 miles total distance, out & back, 2211 feet elevation gain, 3 1/2 hours
The Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls takes you along the rim of the Waimea Canyon.
What about to the canyon floor? You can hike the Kukui Trail in the Waimea Canyon State Park all the way down the west side of the canyon to the Waimea River at the bottom.
The Kukui Trail starts from Highway 550, roughly 3/4 mile beyond mile marker 8.
The first section of the trail is high country forest, and you have a few beautiful viewpoints along the way of distant waterfalls and the canyon.
Much of the trail is out in the open, a series of sharp switchbacks, descending quickly about 2200 feet.
Make sure you wear hiking shoes with a good grip, and make your way carefully down.
You will get some amazing views of Waimea Canyon on the way down. You might spot some jungle fowl and goats, and don’t forget to take a photo of the kukui nut trees after which the trail is named!
If you have time, you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the pool next to the Wiliwili Camp. The Waimea river water has a reddish-brown color.
The hike back up is the much harder part, make sure you stay hydrated.
13. Hanakapiai Falls Trail Hike via Kalalau Trail
Quick Facts: 7.7 miles total distance, out & back, 2480 feet elevation gain, 5 hours
The epic 22-mile Kalalau Trail has subsections like the Hanakapiai Beach Trail above that are distinctly easier to manage for less experienced hikers, or experienced hikers who don’t want to camp.
The Hanakapiai Falls Trail via the Kalalau Trail is one such hike, where hikers can go up to Hanakapiai Beach on the Kalalau Trail and take a 2-mile long (4-mile round trip) side trail to the Hanakapiai Falls, one of Kauai’s best waterfalls!
The total out & back distance from the start of the Kalalau Trail (Ke’e Beach parking lot in Haena State Park) is roughly 8 miles, and expect to spend 5-6 hours on this hike, with significant climbing up and down.
The Hanakapiai Falls Trail from the beach is significantly harder than the hike to the beach, and you will cross the Hanakapiai stream multiple times (be very careful of flash floods).
For the experienced hiker, this trail is amazing: dense tropical forest, bubbling streams, and the occasional pretty birds!
Hanakapiai Falls is a spectacular 300-foot waterfall with a base pool where you may find locals swimming, but note that the water can be quite cold!
If you do choose this hike, make sure you plan your Hanakapiai Falls via the Kalalau Trail hike and the visit to Haena State Park well in advance!
14. Nualolo Trail & Awa’awapuhi Trail Loop
Quick Facts: 12.6 miles total distance, loop, 3600 feet elevation gain, 7 1/2 hours
Not satisfied with the views from the end of the Awa’awapuhi Trail? The unfortunate part of the Awa’awapuhi hike is that the views are mostly at the end of the trail, and for some that is not enough payoff.
You can extend the hike by making a loop of the Awa’awapuhi Trail with the Nualolo Trail, which takes you along a ridge overlooking the spectacular Na Pali coastline to a deeper viewpoint.
You can now expect a 7.5 – 9 hour, roughly 13 mile long hike, but with fabulous views of the Na Pali coast for a substantial portion of the hike.
I found the connector trail (Nualolo Cliff Trail) quite overgrown and a bit difficult to navigate, so be careful.
I felt the views at the end of the Nualolo Trail were significantly better that the Awa’awapuhi Trail viewpoint, but the Awa’awapuhi Trail is much better maintained, and easier to hike.
You can do the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise, and see if you can hitch a ride for the stretch along the road. I prefer to park where I plan to end up after the hike.
15. Kalalau Trail Hike
Quick Facts: 22 miles total distance, out & back, 800 feet elevation gain
For nature adventure tourists and hiking enthusiasts, the Kalalau Trail is a must-experience hike on the island of Kauai, and probably already on your Kauai bucket list!
The epic 22-mile round trip Kalalau hike requires careful planning, well in advance, because you have to make reservations, obtain a camping permit and be ready to camp multiple days in the rugged backcountry camping sites on the trail.
Even if you are in top physical condition and expect to complete the hike in a day (and some do, often running the bulk of the trail), you still need a camping permit, and may be stranded on the wrong side of the Hanakapiai Stream in stormy weather.
The maximum elevation gain is 800 feet, but you are climbing up and down the whole way, and the overall elevation gain is about 6,500 feet.
Some of the trail requires careful navigation, like the Crawler’s Ledge section, where you have steep cliff drops to the Pacific Ocean on one side.
Why hike the Kalalau Trail? Apart from the challenge, the views are simply stunning!
You experience the awesome rugged beauty of the Na Pali cliffs, beautiful lush emerald-green valleys, and the pretty blue Pacific Ocean waters for most of the trail!
Check out our detailed Kalalau Trail hiking guide to plan your hike.
16. Kalepa Ridge Trail Hike [Indefinitely Closed]
Quick Facts: 2 miles total distance, out & back, 700 feet elevation gain
The Kalepa Ridge Trail used to be a short, but very difficult and sometimes scary, hike along Kalepa Ridge above the famous Kalalau Valley in Koke’e State Park.
I suspect the trail is closed because people tried to hike it after rains, and one slip on this trail can be very dangerous, since the ridge has sheer drops.
The views from the trail were spectacular, even if you ventured only a short distance, so I am hoping the park will re-open the trail with appropriate safety measures.
For now, heed the signs, and stay off the trail for your own safety!
Map of the Best Kauai Hikes
The below map shows the locations for the best Kauai hikes described above. You can expand the map to locate the trailhead and get directions to the trailhead.
Tips for Hiking the Best Kauai Trails
Sturdy hiking boots are recommended for the bulk of the trails described above, a lot of them will be muddy and slippery.
Hiking poles are advisable for many of the hikes.
You need bug spray and mosquito repellent for most of the above hikes, especially ones that include a rainforest section.
Several of the hikes are in Kauai’s state parks, and you will need to pay an entrance fee and / or a parking fee.
Some of the hikes like the Kalalau Trail hike will need reservations and camping permits, you will need to book these immediately when the booking window opens.
Cell service and reception will be spotty to non-existent on the trails, make sure you download all the maps and information you need.
For the ridge hikes, you will need a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Carry a light poncho or rain jacket for hikes in areas prone to rain, like the Alakai Swamp Trail hike.
Start as early as you can. Your best views will be in the morning, later clouds tend to drift in obstructing views.
Typical weather in Kauai is hot and humid, so make sure you carry lot of water, dehydration is a real risk here.
Finally, heed all the warning signs. Many of the hikes are in flash flood areas, so be cautious, especially when crossing streams.
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.