Exploring options for hikes near Poipu, Kauai? The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail might be just right for you, if you want a hike along the southern coastline of Kauai.
The Mahaulepu Trail meanders along sandy beaches, rugged rocky coastlines and manicured golf courses, providing a rich variety of hiking terrain and the potential to see some interesting wildlife.
When we stayed in Poipu, this was my morning jog trail, and the days I got to the trail early, the sunrises were spectacular!
You can also use the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail for a nice family walk in the evening before dinner, with an interesting sinkhole cave (Makauwahi Cave) to explore and a tortoise farm to visit with the kids.
The Grand Hyatt and other ritzy resorts are just a few minutes away for a relaxing after-hike drink or bite.
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Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Hike: Fast Facts
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is also sometimes called the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail or the Mahaulepu Coastal Trail or just simply Mahaulepu Trail.
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Difficulty
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail difficulty is easy to moderate. But you can customize the hike for your abilities or mood.
There are two primary trails, one along the coast and the other a bit more inland, and a bunch of minor offshoots.
The trail along the coast is a bit more difficult, and requires navigating rocky bluffs and hopping over breaks in the reefs.
In contrast, the inland one is a lot easier, but not as scenic. You get glimpses of the ocean off and on, but for the most part those views are hidden behind trees and terrain.
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Length
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail length is roughly 2.6 miles, for a total distance of about 5.3 miles on this out-and-back hike.
Here again, you can hike a shorter distance if you want and turn back, or extend your hike further up to the secluded Mahaulepu or Gillin’s Beach.
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Elevation Gain
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail elevation gain is about 300 feet, mostly climbing up a seaside bluff from the beach level.
Apart from that, there are no steep inclines or climbing involved, grades are quite gradual and minor, especially on the inland trail.
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Time Taken
The average time taken to hike the complete the entire Mahaulepu Heritage Trail and back is roughly 2 hours.
This does not include the time to visit the tortoise farm or the sinkhole cave, both of which are a must-see if you are hiking the Mahaulepu Trail for the first time.
What about Kids and Dogs on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail?
Dogs are not allowed on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, but this seems to be loosely enforced. I saw a couple of owners walking their dogs, but at least they were leashed.
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail hike is one of the best kid-friendly hikes on Kauai, and I regularly see families on the trail. If you have smaller kids, you are better off on the inland trail.
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Getting to the Mahaulepu Heritage Trailhead
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Directions
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is one of the few Kauai out-and-back trails that are accessible from either end.
Staying in one of the resorts lining the beach? You will probably start from the trailhead at Shipwreck Beach.
If you are driving to the trail, you may be better off starting from the other end, Punahoa Point, where parking will be easier.
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Parking
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail parking is available at both ends of the out-and-back hike.
Shipwreck Beach parking lot is at the end of Ainako Street, just after the Grand Hyatt Resort on Poipu Road.
On the other end of Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, there is a small parking area near the CJM Country Stables, on the east side of Mahaulepu Beach.
Best Time to Hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
I personally like to hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail at dawn so I can enjoy the sunrise views, which are amazing from the trail or cliffs.
If you are not staying at one of the nearby resorts, then early morning may not be convenient. Late afternoons and early evenings are also very pleasant, and usually there is an exhilarating breeze.
This is also usually the time you will see a few intrepid cliff divers jumping into the ocean waters.
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Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Map
The below Mahaulepu Heritage Trail map shows the trail and the different attractions near the trail.
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Information
I will take you through my normal route starting from Shipwreck Beach to Punahoa Point. The hike in the other direction is not much different, just reverse the milestones.
Shipwreck Beach is a beautiful sandy beach hugging the coastline of Keoniloa Bay, a picturesque bay where you can kitesurf, windsurf and parasail.
If you’re looking for a shipwreck on this beach, you won’t find it. The waves have washed away the wooden shipwreck after which the beach was named long ago!
But there’s still a lot enjoy on this beautiful beach including surfing, boogie boarding and swimming.
On the far end of the beach are limestone cliffs, and a popular local activity seems to be cliff diving.
Obviously a dangerous activity, and foolhardy during low tide, I strongly urge you to watch the action from the safety of the beach!
The Grand Hyatt Captain’s Bar, Hale Nalu poolside restaurant, and the romantic Tidepools restaurant are just a few minutes away if you are feeling hungry or thirsty, especially after the hike!
Makawehi Lithified Cliffs (Makawehi Bluff)
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail starts between the parking lot and the Shipwreck Beach and heads uphill.
At the fork, choose between the hike along the coastline, a much prettier hike, or along the inland trail, a much easier hike. Don’t worry, there are many trails back and forth, so you can always change your mind.
As you walk along the coastline, you come to limestone cliffs, light-colored, lithified sand cliffs, very distinct from the traditional black lava rock cliffs you encounter in Hawaii!
The Mahaulepu Coastal Trail takes you along the Makawehi Lithified Cliffs, and you often have to navigate or hop over chasms with waves crashing through the narrow ledges in the cliffs.
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Poipu Bay Golf Course
After the Makawehi Bluffs, Maha’ulepu Trail winds along the coastline through a beautiful, manicured golf course, the Poipu Bay Golf Course.
A former PGA Grand Slam of Golf course (from 1994-2006) boasting 210 oceanfront acres, these 18 championship holes are a real treat to play, if you enjoy golf.
You are on a plateau well above the ocean waters, and make sure you carry a good pair of binoculars!
You can often spot spinner dolphins in the ocean waters around dawn and dusk. In winter, I’ve seen migrating humpback whales breaching.
About the middle of the trail along the golf course, you will come to Waiopili Heiau and other ancient historical sites (roughly from 500 years ago), hence the name Mahaulepu Heritage Trail.
These sites are sacred and protected, so view them from a distance!
Ancient Hawaiians believed these sites to have spiritual power, and built heiau, rock temples to protect and worship the sites.
As you continue along the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, you will reach Punahoa Point, the end of the trail.
You will have a beautiful view of Mahaulepu Beach, a remote and secluded beach, and the lush green mountain slopes in front. To your left is the CJM Country Stables.
If you decide to continue, you can spend some time at the Makauwahi Cave Reserve, the tortoise farm and Maha’ulepu Beach.
Makauwahi Cave Reserve (Mahaulepu Cave)
Have some time? While you can see the Mahaulepu Cave and the sinkhole from the trail, I recommend heading down to the cave.
An oddity of nature, the Makauwahi Cave Reserve is open to visitors from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is free, though donations are encouraged.
Apart from being the largest limestone cave in Hawaii, the unique chemistry and environment in the cave have preserved fossils in an undisturbed state for millenia, even prior to human colonization.
There are informative interpretive signs describing the archaeological discoveries and the efforts to preserve 100+ native and endemic plants, birds and animals with innovative restoration techniques.
Tortoise Farm (Lida’s Field of Dreams)
The tortoise farm, Lida’s Field of Dreams, is just east of the Makauwahi Cave, and you can see them from a fenced area.
As part of the rare plant conservation project, Lida Burney needed to control the weeds overtaking the rare plant nursery.
Enter three gigantic tortoises, African spurred tortoises, that love eating the weeds, but hate the native plants.
With their introduction, the Burneys were able to grow the endemic and endangered plants and successfully ship out millions of seeds for conservation efforts across the islands of Hawaii.
From three, the farm now has about a dozen of these imported African spurred tortoises!
A few minutes from the Makauwahi Cave, over a bridge, is Gillin’s Beach (part of the Maha’ulepu Beach).
A beautiful, remote, and secluded beach, Gillin’s Beach is the perfect place to relax and sunbathe after the hike.
One of Hawaii’s iconic marine animals, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, can often be spotted sunbatching and resting on this beach.
Observe from a distance, and note that wild animals are unpredictable. I saw a monk seal threaten and send a family with small kids scampering away when they came too close.
Hawaiian Birds to Spot on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Hike
Make sure you take a good pair of binoculars with you, the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail hike is an excellent hike to spot some beautiful Hawaiian birds, both introduced to the islands and some endemic birds (found nowhere else)!
Hawaiian Plants, Trees and Flowers on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Hike
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is a coastal hike, with many common and easily identifiable Hawaiian plants, trees and flowers to look for along the trail!
Tips for Hiking the Mahaulepu Trail
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail hike is quite relaxing and a nice walking trail for families and kids, or a running trail for those seeking some exercise.
If you take the coastal trail, make sure you tread carefully on the Makawehi Bluffs which has some narrow ledges crossing breaks in the reef, and while walking on the rockier parts of the beach and the trail.
I do recommend mosquito and bug spray (this is Hawaii, after all), especially if you plan to hike the Mahaulepu Trail at dawn or dusk.
Enjoy the hike and keep your eyes peeled for all kinds of wildlife, including on the ocean waters.
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.