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 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!
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.
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.
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 Distance
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.
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!
Getting to the Kuilau Ridge Trail Trailhead
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 trailhead is on the right, just before the parking area and near the intersection.
Kuilau Ridge Trail Parking
There is 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.
Kuilau Ridge Trail Reservations & Permits
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 Trail 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.
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.
The grandest views on this section are about 3/4 mile into the hike, at a viewpoint clearing.
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!
Picnic Tables (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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Other introduced Hawaiian plants, you’re likely to see are the highly invasive strawberry guava fruit trees.
Tips for Hiking the Kuilau Ridge Trail
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.
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.
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?
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!
Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls)
With one of the best natural swimming pools at its base, Secret Falls is a popular local haunt.
The best way to access the trailhead and visit Uluwehi Falls is on this guided kayaking plus hiking tour.
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!)
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 to Pinterest for later!