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Saturday, April 20, 2013

    Kauai or "Garden Island" as it's sometimes called, has captured us the most with its pristine tropical rainforests and breathtaking coastal scenery shaped by time and the elements into incredible series of sharp mountain spires, most of which are still an inaccessible wilderness. Kauai is the oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain and offers endless hiking possibilities in very remote areas which may have never been visited by a human footstep. Whether you want to experience incredible scenery of the steep cathedral cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, vast chasms of Waimea Canyon or some of the best rainforest hiking in one of the wettest regions on Earth, Kauai will resonate will you no matter what type of wilderness you're looking for. Kauai’s remoteness naturally attracts rain clouds and moisture from the surrounding ocean. With its highest peaks of Kawaikini (1598 m) and Waialeale (1569 m), the east side of Kauai Island well may be one of the most waterfall-rich places you’ll ever experience. The west side, on the contrary, will offer you a unique world of Hawaiian tropical dry forests. Hiking on Kauai is one of those experiences that will feed your adventurous soul for the rest of your life. And while the rest of Hawaii is struggling to redefine its lost identity, Kauai's nature has always been there: untouched, unconquered, sacred.
 From all the islands, the island of

Wall Of Tears on Mt Waialeale

  • KAWAIKINI (MT WAIALEALE): Kawaikini (1593m) is the highest summit of the extinct shield volcano (Mt Waialeale) in the centre of Hawaiian Island of Kauai, which has been known as one of the rainiest and most scenic spots on the planet, and (officially) inaccessible by foot. The name Waialeale ("rippling waters") was originally given to the small lake at the northern end of the summit rim, but it's been known as a common name for the mountain as a whole. Besides the heavy rains, which make it almost impossible to summit 345 days out of 365, from the north, east and south, Kawaikini is guarded by sheer mossy cliffs covered by cascading waterfalls feeding the Wailua River beneath, and from the west by miles of dense, swampy jungle of the unwelcoming Alakai Wilderness Preserve. The main access route is via forbidding Alakai Swamp, whereas the other documented route via the ridge from the northeast was allegedly used by ancient Hawaiians to climb the summit. The remains of their sacred alter are still there. 
  • THE BLUE HOLE TRACK: The Blue Hole trail leads to the dramatic base of the vertical east side of Mount Waialeale, known as the Blue Hole because of the countless waterfalls cascading down its sheer cliffs. For some time, the Blue Hole has been mistaken for the cauldera of an ancient volcano filled with a lake, which only shows how inaccessible this central part of Kauai used to be. A hike into the Blue Hole can be very adventurous involving numerous stream crossings and hiking up the Wailua River feeded by waterfalls falling down the Mt Waialeale which can therefore easily get flooded within a few minutes. The track itself is unmaintained, rough and muddy and although only about 3 miles long, it can take up to 9 hours in a bad weather, or even be potentially hazardous.
  • KALALAU TRAIL: The world-famous Kalalau trail, the challenging 22 miles track (3-4 days) along the Na Pali cliffs and one of the most scenic and remote coastal trails on the planet, provides the only land access to the legendary Kalalau Beach and is an absolute "must-do"  for anyone coming to Hawaii to enjoy its hiking. For most of its length this track is very rough being situated on the narrow edge on high cliffs and consisting of series of steep ascents and descents. The trail begins at Ke`e Beach and traverses along a few coastal valleys high above ocean until it opens up into Kalalau Valley at the end of the accessible coastline. The trail can be very muddy and exposed to the hot sun and dry weather of the western coast of Kauai. Water is only available from a few streams and has to be filtered. By attempting to hike right into this very heart of the breathtaking beauty of the Na Pali coast, you'll be also following the original route used by the ancient Hawaiians who lived in Kalalau Valley.
  • HANAKAPIAI TRAIL: The first section of the Kalalau trail (2 miles) starting at Ke'e beach and leading to Hanakapiai Beach from where you can decide to hike up the valley through the bamboo forest to the large pool underneath the Hanakapiai Falls. The second part of the track leading up the river trail for another 2 miles can be rocky and muddy, but definitely worth the effort.
  • PIHEA TRAIL: much easier but no less spectacular 8 miles round-trip via the Alakai Swamp, the highest swamp in the world situated 4,000 feet above the Kalalau Valley floor. The trailhead is located in Kokee State Park at the end of Hwy. 550 at the Puu o Kila scenic lookout. It is a moderate and very popular track followed by boardwalk over the swamps with spectacular views of the Kalalau Valley in a good weather. The inland views stretch all the way to the western face of the Mt Waialeale.
  • KUKUI TRAIL: The Kukui Trail in Kokee State Park will take you on a journey into Waimea Canyon, known as Grand Canyon of the South Pacific, as it descends 2000 feet to the canyon floor. This 5 miles round trip will offer you incredible views across countless valleys of the canyon covered by all shades of green and red with many cascading waterfalls. The Waimea Canyon Trail (11.5miles) starts at the bottom of the Kukui Trail and follows the bends of the Waimea River to the historic town of Waimea.
  • AWAAWAPUHI TRAIL: The Awaawapuhi Trail (3.2 miles one way) in Kokee State Park offers some of the best vistas on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast as it descends from 4,120 feet elevation in the Kokee State Park to the valley rim of Nualolo and Awa'awapuhi valleys at 2,500 feet. At about the three mile mark is the junction of the Nualolo Cliff Trail.
  • THE POWERLINE TRAIL: The Powerline trail leads you from the North Shore along the eastern boundaries of Halelea Forest Reserve to Keahua Forestry Arboretum in Wailua. It is a difficult all-day 11.2 miles hike which gives you spectacular panoramatic views across the whole island up to the ocean in the distance.
  • SLEEPING GIANT: Sleeping Giant or Nonou Mountain is a small peak just outside the town of Wailua. As one of a very few  Kauai's peaks is easily accessible via marked trail  reaching its summit. For an easy access take the main highway to Wailua, then turn west on Haleilio Road and follow that road for approximately 1.25 miles to the Nonou Mountain Trailhead on the right side of the road. Sleeping Giant offers excellent summit views in all directions: coastal towns of Wailua and Kapa'a to the east, the Ha'upu Mountain to the south and King Kong Mountain to the north.
  • HAUPU MOUNTAIN: Haupu is the summit on the east-west ridge separating the towns Poipu on the south and Lihue on the southeast of Kauai. There are no marked routes and most of the area is on private land. As most of the peaks on Kauai the route to its summit is very rugged along steep cliffs  and through dense vegetation. However you can drive as close as a few miles of the summit and with the permission from the land owners as well as a good amount of "off-track" hiking experience reaching the top should be possible.
  • LAAUHIHAIHAI & KAHILI: Laauhihaihai and Kahili are two lower peaks along the ridge south of Kapalaoa also lie on private land and can be accessed via a trail starting from Kahili Mountain Park. The track gets very rough and narrow towards the end.
Kalalau Valley from Pihea Trail 

How to get there and around

 Most of the visitors arrive in Kauai through the Lihue airport on the east side of the island. The main airlines Hawaiian, and American Airlines provide international connections via stopover in Honolulu (Oahu), although there are a few direct flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles.    
     To get around the island and access some of the most remote areas you will need to hire a 4WD vehicle in Lihue which serves all of the major rental companies. To get around the island is pretty straightforward as the main highway encircles 3/4 of the Kauai's coast and there's no road via Na Pali coast on the northwest side. Highway 56 runs north out of Lihue all the way to Kee Beach and the start of the Napali Coast. Highway 50 runs south from Lihue towards Poipu. Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park are reached via route 550 out of Waimea or route 55 in Kekaha.

Camping and accommodation

     Camping on Kauai is divided into Beach Park campsites and State Park campsites.
     Camping is allowed in the following beach parks: Haena Park, Hanalei Blackpot Park (open Friday & Saturday only), Anini Beach Park, Anahola Beach Park, Hanamaulu Beach Park (open Thursday, Friday & Saturdays only), Salt Pond Park, Lucy Wright Park and Lydgate Park Camp Ground. Camping permit fees are $3.00 per adult per night for non-residents.
     Camping is allowed at three Kaua’i parks: Koke’e State Park above Waimea Canyon, and Polihale State Park on the island’s west side, each offer tent camping opportunities with minimally developed campsites. The rates are $18 per campsite per night for up to 6 persons. Camping in Napali Coast State Wilderness Park offers unique camping experience along a stunning rugged coastline. Due to the high demand for Napali Coast camping permits, special rules and fees apply.


The County of Kauai, Department of Parks & Recreation, Park Permits Section
Phone: 808-241-4463
Office Hours 8:15 am to 4:00 pm Monday thru Friday
Address: 4444 Rice Street, Suite 105, Lihuʻe, HI 96766
email: recpermits@kauai.gov

Division of State Parks
3060 Eiwa Street, Suite 306
Lihue, Hawai‘i  96766
Phone: (808) 274-3444


     The main weather factor which effects planning of any hiking holiday on Kauai is the rain. The rainiest spot is at the summit of Mt. Waialeale, averaging almost 300 inches per year, while the driest area on the southwest coast averages barely 25 inches per year. And although the weather conditions especially in the interior area of the island can change unexpectedly, temperatures rarely drop below 60F and most of the trails are accessible any time of the year. Always check the latest weather forecast, especially if hiking in the area around Alakai Swamp, the base of the Mt Waialeale or Waimea Canyon.

Useful Links


Na Pali Coast from Kalalau Beach (Kalalau Trail)


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