Spectacular views from Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes for a taste of Kauai nature trails

Kuilau Ridge Trail Hike: Easy Kauai Hike Near Wailua – 2024

Ever dreamt about how the earth was when the dinosaurs roamed, like in the Jurassic Park movies? For a real life version of that, check out the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike on the island of Kauai!

Enormous trees towering over you. A carpet of lush green vegetation of ferns and grass everywhere you look. A landscape of green valleys and mountain ranges with bubbling streams and waterfalls.

No wonder the area around the Kuilau Ridge Trail was used as a setting for some of the scenes in the Jurassic Park movie series!

Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes with rainforest jungles and views
Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes with rainforest jungles and views

Kuilau Ridge Trail is one of the best easy Kauai hikes, in the Wai’ale’ale Valley, near the town of Wailua, on the east shore of the island of Kauai.

Built originally as an alternate, fire-escape road, the Kuilau Ridge Trail is now a wide, well-maintained trail that takes you along Kuilau Ridge, a foothill of Mount Wai’ale’ale, an extinct shield volcano, towards the center of the island of Kauai.

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is an easy hike with a modest incline, a hike that is kid-friendly and family-friendly, that hikers of all abilities can enjoy!

Join us on a virtual tour of the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes, and use our detailed guide to plan your hike now!

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!

Touch-me-not with pretty pink flower on the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike, one of the best easy Kauai hikes
Touch-me-not with pretty pink flower on the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike, one of the best easy Kauai hikes

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Kuilau Ridge Trail Hike: Fast Facts

Kuilau Ridge Trail Difficulty

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is an easy hike, short, with no steep climbing.

Some hikers tend to rate the Kuilau Ridge Trail as moderately difficult, I suspect primarily because the mud trail gets slippery and wet with rain.

Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes, may get muddy and slippery with rain
Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes, may get muddy and slippery with rain

Mud is the biggest challenge on this hike, and if you wear sturdy hiking shoes with a good grip, you’ll likely find this trail easy.

Kuilau Ridge Trail Length

The Kuilau Ridge Trail length is 1.8 miles, for a total roundtrip hiking distance of 3.6 miles on this out-and-back trail.

You have a small spur trail at the picnic table section of the hike, which takes you to a beautiful viewpoint, and will likely add another .5 miles to the hike.

Want a longer hike? You can take the Moalepe Trail at the end of the Kuilau Trail, which leads to the Moalepe Trailhead and Olohena Road.

The complete out-and-back roundtrip distance of this extended hike is 8.1 miles, but note that the views on Moalepe Trail aren’t as good as the Kuilau Trail.

Kuilau Ridge Trail Elevation Gain

The Kuilau Ridge Trail elevation gain is about 680 feet.

The trail is on a gradual incline up the Kuilau Ridge right from the start, but the incline is barely noticeable.

Barely noticeable incline on the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike
Barely noticeable incline on the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike

There are no strenuous climbing sections or roped sections on this trail.

I’ve seen many joggers and mountain bikers on this trail, taking advantage of the gentle slopes on the ridge trail for a workout.

Kuilau Ridge Trail Time Taken

The Kuilau Ridge Trail takes roughly 1 3/4 hours – 2 hours to hike and come back.

If you take the small trail to the viewpoint near the picnic tables section of the trail, you will probably add another 15-30 minutes to the hike.

The longer 8.1 mile hike to Moelepe Trail will take about 4 hours to complete.

Can Kids and Dogs Hike the Kuilau Ridge Trail?

Dogs are allowed on the Kuilau Ridge Trail, but must be on a leash.

I’ve seen kids of all ages on the Kuilau Ridge Trail, from small babies on backpack carriers to toddlers trudging along gamely with their siblings and parents.

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is probably one of the best kid-friendly Kauai hikes, with wider trails and no scary drops on either side of the ridge.

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

Kuilau Ridge Trailhead

Invasive African Tulip Trees and Albizia Trees along the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike
Invasive African Tulip Trees and Albizia Trees along the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike

Kuilau Ridge Trail Directions

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is located about 20 minutes inland from Wailua Beach on Kauai’s eastern shore.

Take Kuamoo Road (Highway 580) past Opaeka’a Falls. The road winds up through the Keahua forested area until you reach the intersection of Kuamoo Road and Moalepe Road.

The Kuilau Ridge trailhead is on the right, just before the parking area and near the intersection.

Kuilau Ridge Trail Parking

Kuilau Ridge Trail parking consists of a small parking area on the right side of the road on the shoulder, near the intersection.

If you don’t find a spot here, continue down the road and around the bend. You’ll find more parking options here (across the small one-lane bridge) or a larger parking lot at the Keahua Arboretum.

Uluhe ferns with bright-green leaves, native Hawaiian plant, found on the latter section of the Kuilau Ridge Trail
Uluhe ferns with bright-green leaves, native Hawaiian plant, found on the latter section of the Kuilau Ridge Trail

Kuilau Ridge Trail Reservations & Permits

The Kuilau Ridge Trail hike doesn’t require any reservations or permits, unlike some other hikes like the Kalalau Trail hike in Haena State Park.

There are also no entrance / admission fees or parking fees.

The Kuilau Ridge Trail hike is one of the few completely free Kauai hikes!

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

Kuilau Ridge Trail Information

The Kuilau Ridge trailhead is off Kuamoo Road (Highway 580), and is clearly signposted.

You go past a wooden gate onto a mud trail leading into the rainforest jungle.

Rainforest Jungle Path

The first section of the Kuilau Trail is mostly all rainforest jungle with views available off and on, mostly to your left (west side) as you make your way below the ridge.

The mud path will cut the Kuilau ridge multiple times during the hike, and will have a section along the ridge with some fabulous views as well.

Fabulous views from the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike
Fabulous views from the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike

The initial section of the Kuilau Ridge Trail doesn’t have much views, but you are treated to a beautiful, Jurassic Park like setting, with gigantic trees over you forming amazing canopies, and lush green vegetation all around surrounding you.

The trail is wide and well-maintained, but expect to get your shoes muddied.

What we loved about this part of the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike were the birds, and boy, were they noisy! Some of the pretty Kauai birds you may see are described below.

The Kuilau Ridge Trail continues to the top of the Kuilau Ridge, and you can catch a glimpse of the beautiful ocean and coastline soon.

You can expect expansive, wide views on your left, and, if the day is clear, you should be able to see Mount Wai’ale’ale to your west.

Expansive views on the west side of the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike
Expansive views on the west side of the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike

The grandest views on this section are about 3/4 mile into the hike, at a viewpoint clearing.

The vegetation gradually changes from guava, eucalyptus and hala trees to more native plants like the Uluhe ferns, bright green native ferns, and forests of Ohi’a and other native trees.

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

Kuilau Trail Picnic Area (1 mile marker)

About a mile into the Kuilau Ridge Trail, you will come to a couple of picnic tables and benches under a shelter (handy if it rains hard)!

This is a popular local spot for parents to bring their kids picnicking, with a grassy clearing, and possibly the highest point of the hike.

There is an Ohi’a forest nearby that looked amazing when we went, blooming with beautiful red flowers.

Ohia Lehua, a plant endemic to Hawaii, is impacted by the rapid Ohia death from a fungal disease
Ohia Lehua, a plant endemic to Hawaii, is impacted by the rapid Ohia death from a fungal disease

At the picnic tables, you are at a junction with two options, a spur trail continuing forward, and the Kuilau Trail on the right.

Best Kuilau Hike Viewpoint

If you continue straight (left hand trail on the junction), you are on a spur trail that takes you to a ridge summit viewpoint, the best viewpoint on the trail!

You can see panoramic views of layer upon layer of mountain ranges (Mount Wai’ale’ale, Makaleha Mountain Range), blanketed with a carpet of lush grass, ferns and tropical vegetation, interspersed with towering trees.

Layers of mountains and valleys covered with dense rainforest jungle from the Kuilau Ridge Trail viewpoint
Layers of mountains and valleys covered with dense rainforest jungle from the Kuilau Ridge Trail viewpoint

This is Hawaiian tropical rainforests at their best, a perfect Jurassic Park setting!

Waterfall on the Kuilau Hike (1.5 miles)

Take a hard right at the picnic tables if you want to continue on the Kuilau Ridge Trail.

You won’t see any views on this section of the hike, but the tropical rainforest scenery is amazing.

The trail is narrower than before, and a lot more overgrown with tall grass and fern, so if you are hiking with smaller kids or seniors, you may consider turning back at the picnic tables.

About a 1/2 mile past the picnic tables, you come to a pretty, roughly 15-foot waterfall, partially obscured. We went in the rainy season, and the flow was quite good, but I’ve heard sometimes this waterfall dries out.

Wooden Bridge at the End of Kuilau Hike (1.8 miles)

The Kuilau Ridge Trail continues through the rainforest, with a bit of a descent and a 180 degree switchback.

Roughly 10-20 minutes past the picnic tables, you’ll come to the end of the Kuilau Trail at a wooden bridge over the Opaeka’a Stream.

Wooden bridge over Opaeka'a Stream at the end of the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike
Wooden bridge over Opaeka’a Stream at the end of the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike

You can continue further onto the Moelepe Trail, but the views aren’t as good. We went a bit and then turned back.

Return to the Kuilau Ridge Trailhead

The return back to the trailhead was straightforward, and a lot faster since we were going mostly downhill.

If you want to clean your muddy shoes, go along the road, past the bend, to the stream just further up.

Swollen stream after rains in the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike area
Swollen stream after rains in the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike area

Hawaiian Birds to Spot on the Kuilau Ridge Trail Hike

Make sure you take a good pair of binoculars with you, the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike is an excellent hike to spot some beautiful Hawaiian birds, both introduced to the islands and some endemic birds (found nowhere else)!

We managed to spot a few really pretty ones! You have to look for rustling leaves or moving branches, and focus your binoculars, quietly waiting for the birds to reveal themselves!

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.

Another small songbird you may see is the scaly-breasted munia, that feeds on grass seeds.

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.

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 Kuilau Ridge Trail hike

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is a forest hike through the dense foliage of the lush, rainforest vegetation of the windward side of Kauai, 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 along the Kuilau Ridge Trail.

You can also expect to see the tall acacia koa, another of the native Hawaiian plants, native hala trees with their aerial tufted roots, eucalyptus trees and the invasive African albizia trees that form the rainforest canopy.

The forest ground cover and understory is formed by multiple fern trees, including native Hawaiian trees like the hapu’u fern and the uluhe fern, on the upper sections of the trail.

Other introduced Hawaiian plants, you’re likely to see are the highly invasive strawberry guava fruit trees.

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:

Tips for Hiking the Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kauai

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is a hike through some of the wettest regions of the earth, on the windward side of Kauai.

Be ready to get your shoes muddy, and decide whether to wear pants, which will likely get muddy too!

I recommend sturdy hiking shoes with a good grip, and trekking poles.

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is a hike through a rainforest jungle, and the canopy will provide you with shade for roughly 90% of the hike.

Tropical rainforest jungle from the Kuilau Ridge Trail on Kauai.
Tropical rainforest jungle from the Kuilau Ridge Trail on Kauai.

The typical weather is hot and humid, adjust your clothing accordingly. You will probably want to take a light poncho in case it rains.

We did not have any cell service or reception, and were fortunate to have downloaded the maps. Apart from the junction near the picnic tables, the main trail was quite obvious.

Bird watcher? Make sure to take a pair of good binoculars. We saw some really pretty birds, and if you hike early morning, you’ll hear a lot of chirping from the song birds.

Early morning is also better for views, clouds roll in later in the morning and afternoon.

Clouds roll in late morning and afternoon on the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike, obstructing views
Clouds roll in late morning and afternoon on the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike, obstructing views

Bug spray and mosquito repellent are a must on this hike, we encountered quite a few around the streams and along the path.

Make sure you carry a lot of water, and if you are hiking with family, you might want to picnic at the picnic tables spot.

What Else to Do Near the Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kauai?

Keahua Arboretum

The Keahua Arboretum is a pretty botanical garden, very close to the Kuilau Ridge Trail.

Though not one of the top 4 botanical gardens in Kauai, the Keahua Arboretum is still a serene garden with Wailua River winding through, an excellent venue to cool off after the hike and even take a dip in the river.

One of the highlights of our visit was the picturesque Rainbow Eucalyptus, a unique sight, and well worth the side trip!

Rainbow Eucalyptus tree in Keahua Arboretum near the Kuilau Ridge Trail trailhead
Rainbow Eucalyptus tree in Keahua Arboretum near the Kuilau Ridge Trail trailhead

Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls)

Uluwehi Falls, also known as Secret Falls, is a 120-foot scenic waterfall, one of the best Kauai waterfalls, on the way to the Kuilau Ridge Trail.

With one of the best natural swimming pools at its base, Secret Falls is a popular local haunt.

Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls), on the way to Kuilau Ridge Trail trailhead
Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls), on the way to Kuilau Ridge Trail trailhead

The best way to access the trailhead and visit Uluwehi Falls is on this guided kayaking plus hiking tour.

>> Check pricing and availability for the Secret Falls kayaking and hiking tour now!

Opaeka’a Falls

Opaeka’a Falls, a majestic 150-feet waterfall, another of the best Kauai waterfalls, is also on the way to Kuilau Ridge Trail.

Opaeka'a Falls, Kauai, HI, near the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike
Opaeka’a Falls, Kauai, HI, near the Kuilau Ridge Trail hike

Unlike the Secret Falls, Opaeka’a Falls can be viewed from a lookout, and doesn’t require a waterfall hike.

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!

Swollen stream after rains near the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes
Swollen stream after rains near the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes

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 to Pinterest for later!

Discover the complete guide to hiking the easy Kuilau Ridge Trail in Kauai, Hawaii!

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