Makawehi Bluff on The Maha'ulepe Heritage Trail, Kauai, Hawaii, USA

Mahaulepu Heritage Trail Hike, Kauai: Complete 2024 Guide

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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!

Colorful sunrise over Makawehi Bluffs on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
Colorful sunrise over Makawehi Bluffs on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai

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.

I rate the Mahaulepu Trail hike as one of the top relaxing hikes in Kauai, and if you are in the neighborhood and have some time, definitely check this one out!

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!

Beachfront of Grand Hyatt Resort, in front of Shipwreck Beach, Kauai
Beachfront of Grand Hyatt Resort, in front of Shipwreck Beach, Kauai

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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 or the Heritage Trail Kauai.

The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is one of the best easy hikes on Kauai.

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.

Narrow ledges along the Makawehi Bluffs, Mahaulepu Coastal Trail, Kauai
Narrow ledges along the Makawehi Bluffs, Mahaulepu Coastal Trail, Kauai

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.

Remote, secluded beaches further up the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
Remote, secluded beaches further up the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai

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 has a gradual incline up the Makawehi Bluffs
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail has a gradual incline up the Makawehi Bluffs

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.

Makauwahi Cave Reserve, Kauai, Hawaii, beyond the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Makauwahi Cave Reserve, Kauai, Hawaii, beyond the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail

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.

Pretty wildflowers on the inland Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai
Pretty wildflowers on the inland Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai

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

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 Mahaulepu Heritage trailhead at Shipwreck Beach.

Mahaulepu Heritage Trail along Shipwreck Beach and the beautiful Keoniloa Bay
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail along Shipwreck Beach and the beautiful Keoniloa Bay

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.

Spectacular sunrise colors on Shipwreck Beach from the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
Spectacular sunrise colors on Shipwreck Beach from the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai

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.

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

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

Shipwreck Beach is a beautiful sandy beach hugging the coastline of Keoniloa Bay, a picturesque bay where you can kitesurf, windsurf and parasail.

The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail starts at beautiful Shipwreck Beach in Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail starts at beautiful Shipwreck Beach in Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii

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.

Cliff diving on Shipwreck Beach, starting point of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
Cliff diving on Shipwreck Beach, starting point of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai

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 Mahaulepu 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!

Makawehi Bluff, lithified sand dunes along Mahaulepu Trail, Kauai
Makawehi Bluff, lithified sand dunes along Mahaulepu Trail, Kauai

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.

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

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.

Poipu Bay Golf Course along the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Kauai
Poipu Bay Golf Course along the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Kauai

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.

Don’t play golf? Hiking the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail is as pleasant, and from this trail you often see nene geese, Hawaiian birds endemic to the islands and endangered.

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.

Ruins of ancient rock temple, heiau, along the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
Ruins of ancient rock temple, heiau, along the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai

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.

Punahoa Point

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.

View  from Punahoa Point along the Mahaulepu Hearitage Trail towards Gillin's Beach and Kawelikoa Point on the coast of Kauai's Southern Shore.
View from Punahoa Point along the Mahaulepu Hearitage Trail towards Gillin’s Beach and Kawelikoa Point on the coast of Kauai’s Southern Shore.

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 Mahaulepu Heritage Trail 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.

A sinkhole exposes the entrance to Makauwahi Cave near the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Poipu, Kauai
A sinkhole exposes the entrance to Makauwahi Cave near the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Poipu, Kauai

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!

Tortoise Farm off the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Tortoise Farm off the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, USA

Mahaulepu Beach

A few minutes from the Makauwahi Cave, over a bridge, is Gillin’s Beach (part of the Maha’ulepu Beach).

Mahaulepu Gillins Beach, a secluded beach, Kaloa, Kauai, Hawaii
Far end of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail: Gillins Beach, a secluded beach, Kaloa, Kauai, Hawaii

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.

Endangered Hawaiian monk seal on Gillins Beach at the end of the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Kauai
Endangered Hawaiian monk seal on Gillin’s Beach at the end of the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Kauai

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)!

We spotted a bunch of nene geese, endemic Hawaiian birds, along the Poipu Bay Golf Course. Nene geese are endangered, and often found in protected environments like golf courses and ranches.

Nene, state bird of Hawaii, a native goose endemic to Hawaii
Nene, state bird of Hawaii, a native goose endemic to Hawaii

The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is great for spotting some of the common Hawaiian seabirds like the Laysan albatross (endemic to Hawaii), the yellow-billed tropicbird and the red-footed booby.

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 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!

We saw coconut palm trees (niu) all along the coast. Though one of the original canoe plants brought by the ancient Hawaiians, they were probably native to Kauai even before that.

Niu, or coconut palm tree, common Hawaiian plants found all along the coastline
Niu, or coconut palm tree, common Hawaiian plants found all along the coastline

The naupaka kahakai, one of the indigenous Hawaiian plants, is ubiquitous all along the coast, and when blooming, notice how the plant has half-flowers!

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 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.

Beautiful Makahuena Point on the rocky shore of Kauai, Hawaii.
Beautiful Makahuena Point, a few minutes from the Mahaulepu Trail, on the rocky shore of Kauai, Hawaii.

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.

Ghost crab on Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai, on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Ghost crab on Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai, on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail

While hiking the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, I’ve seen spinner dolphins, humpback whales, green sea turtles, monk seals, nene geese, and many other interesting native plants and birds!

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!

Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes near Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, one of the best easy Kauai hikes near Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii

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. The botanical gardens are great spots to look for the birds of Kauai, as is Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

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!

Get the complete guide to hiking the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail in south Kauai! The easy to low moderate trail offers stunning views.

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