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Best Hikes in Kauai (Including Epic Viewpoints)

a girl standing in front of the Napali Coast which represents one of the best hikes in Kauai

Kauai is one of the best Hawaiian Islands to immerse yourself in nature. Undoubtedly, the Napali Coast is the main draw to the island. And luckily for you, there are many hikes leading to some epic views of this legendary coastline. But even beyond the NaPali Coast, there are so many hikes in Kauai that will simply take your breath away and leave you craving more. From hiking to enchanting waterfalls, epic viewpoints, coastal trails, and more.

But the island of Kauai also has a wide range of hikes from easy to strenuous, and an array of different elevation changes. Therefore, some hikes might take all day or some might be perfect for a sunset jaunt. So let’s dive into our top picks for the best hikes in Kauai.

Kauai is wet and the trails can be very muddy. It’s best to have a pair of good hiking shoes for on land and a good pair of river hiking shoes for crossing streams. 

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Kalalau Trail:

Backpacking the NaPali Coast along the Kalalau Trail.
The first great view of the NaPali Coast around 0.5 miles.

22 miles (35.4km) – 6,177 ft elevation (1,883m)

The Kalalau Trail is by far one of the most beautiful yet one of the most challenging hikes on the island. But it can be done in multiple ways and lead to different destinations.

For example, many people just day hike the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach or Hanakapi’ai Falls (more details below). 

But the most rewarding is getting an overnight permit to backpack the Kalalau Trail all the way to Kalalau Beach. You get epic views of the Napali Coast via the beach. While you can swim here, it’s definitely more ideal during the summer months when the waves are calmer. Plus there is a beautiful waterfall crashing onto the beach and a few interesting sea caves to explore.

Many people spend 3 days exploring the Kalalau Trail, camping in the Hanakoa Valley and Kalalau Beach. (If you enjoy camping, also check out some of these other great campsites on Kauai).

The Kalalau trail climbs up and down 6,177ft in elevation through the valleys making it a strenuous hike. And it’s also quite dangerous, with many sections of trail leaving you on a small ledge to a sheer drop-off on the other side. Therefore, this trail is certainly not for everyone. 

If you are not an experienced hiker, physically fit, or are scared of heights, you might want to skip this epic hike in Kauai. Or consider just hiking to Hanakapi’ai Falls.

Check out our detailed post about the Kalalau Trail for everything you need to know about backpacking this epic trail. 

Kalalau Beach, the incredible ending of the Kalalau Trail in Kauai.
Kalalau Beach, the incredible ending of the Kalalau Trail in Kauai.

Permits for the Kalalau Trail

Reservations for the Kalalau Trail are required for anyone hiking past Hanakapiai Beach, through Hanakoa Valley, and finally onto Kalalau Beach. These permits are very competitive, especially during the summer months. Permits become available 90 days in advance. 

The permit costs $35 per person, per day ($10 per day discount for Hawaii Residents).  They currently only allow 60 people on the trail at a time.

You must also get a parking permit or book a shuttle into Ha’ena State Park in advance.

While hiking the Kalalau Trail offers some of the best views and a longer overall experience, definitely consider checking out the Napali Coast via boat tour or helicopter too!

Hanakapi’ai Waterfall:

Hanakāpī’ai Falls in Hā’ena State Park in Kauai.
Hanakapi’ai Falls, in Kauai.

8 miles (12.8km) – 2,457 ft elevation (749m)

Also along the Kalalau Trail is a spur trail that leads to Hanakapi’ai Waterfall. The trail ends at a mesmerizing 300-foot waterfall with a massive plunge pool, perfect for a refreshing swim.

The start of this hike is also at Haena State Park. The first destination along the Kalalau Trail is Hanakapi’ai Beach.

The hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach is 3.7 miles with 1,220 ft elevation change. Swimming is not encouraged here because of the rip current. But it certainly is a nice place to enjoy a snack with a view. (Do watch out for mice on the rocks, we saw many trying to steal some people’s snacks from their backpacks).

There is one major river crossing right before reaching Hanakapi’ai Beach and before reaching the spur trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls. Depending on the water level, you may be able to cross the rocks without getting your feet wet.  It’s typically clear and about knee-deep. 

However, this area is also prone to flash floods.  Be alert for changing river conditions; increased loudness upstream, muddy sediment in the water, and rain storms.

Once you reach Hanakapi’ai Beach, you will find the trail to Hanakapi’ai Waterfall directly behind the beach. The hike is an additional 2 miles one way (4 miles roundtrip). Expect muddy conditions and natural obstacles on the Hanakapiai Falls Trail. 

This section of the trail is shaded by bamboo forests and rain forest trees. It’s relatively flat, except for the last climb up to the waterfall. There is one major river crossing that requires large leaps and good balance.

The top of the falls cuts through between high cliffs and is simply breathtaking. It’s the perfect setting for a quick swim to cool off before the hike back out.

Check out our detailed post on Hanakapi’ai Waterfall for everything you need to know about this hike. 

Reservations for Hanakapi’ai Falls

The hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls is within Ha’ena State Park on Kauai’s north shore.  All visitors are required to purchase an entry pass for the park.  And the rules are quite strict, so read carefully.

Your entry pass must be purchased in advance at

Passes can be purchased up to 30 days in advance (at 12am Hawaii time), and no later than the day before. (Though you are unlikely to get one if you waited that long).  Passes are non-transferable.  Adult IDs will be checked and must match the reservation.

There are three types of entry passes: Shuttle, Parking, Walk/Bike/Drop-Off. 

Wailua Falls: 

A view of Wailua Falls from the viewpoint which is one of the best hikes in Kauai
Wailua Falls
Photo by Zane Persaud on Unsplash

Viewpoint – No Hiking Involved

Wailua Falls has turned into more of a viewpoint from the road, rather than a hike. While some brave souls hike down to the bottom of the waterfall, it is not advised. People have been injured and the county has signs in place to keep people off the property.

So overall, you really don’t have to work too hard to see this stunning waterfall that spreads into two 80 foot falls. And it can easily be paired with another hike on this list of best hikes in Kauai since it’s just a quick stop. 

Opaeka’a Falls:

view of Opaeka'a Falls from the parking lot which is one of the best hikes in Kauai
Opaeka’a Falls view from the parking lot

Viewpoint – No Hiking Involved

Similar to Wailua Falls, it is not advisable to hike down to the bottom of Opaeka’a Falls anymore. But you can still grab a beautiful view from above at the parking lot. 

The falls cascade over the cliff stretching 150 feet tall and 40 feet wide. 

You can continue on a paved path closer to the waterfall, but the vegetation blocks most of the view. On the other side of the road, you can get a good view of the Wailua River.

View of the Wailua River at the Opaeka'a Falls Viewpoint
View of the Wailua River at the Opaeka’a Falls Viewpoint

Waipoo Falls via Canyon Trail: 

Canyon Trail - Waimea Canyon State Park - Kauai
View of the Canyon Wall on Canyon Trail – Waimea Canyon State Park – Kauai

3 miles (4.8km) – 1,066 feet elevation (325m)

Waipoo Falls (Why-Poh-Oh) is one of the best hikes in Kauai in Waimea Canyon State Park (aka: The Grand Canyon of the Pacific). The naming of this hike is a little misleading. While it does technically take you to the top of Waipo’o Falls, you honestly can’t get a good view of the waterfall from there. But you do get to see a few other smaller waterfalls, and the real highlight of the trail is the immersive view of Waimea Canyon.

The hike starts from the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout parking area. There is a spur trail to the left that leads you down a dirt path to Canyon Trail. There is one additional small parking lot that can cut off some of the trail, but can only be accessed by high-clearance 4×4 vehicles. 

Continue on Canyon Trail as it will pop you out onto the ridge with epic canyon views. Personally, we found this section of the trail to be more climactic than the small waterfalls the end of the trail leads you to. 

The first waterfall you run into on Canyon Trail

But the small waterfalls can be nice to visit and good for cooling off. From the top of the ridge, you continue down a steep dirt path. First, you will come upon a small waterfall that has a small swimming hole. But the water is a little murky for swimming. Continue past this falls to another cascading waterfall. 

Personally, these waterfalls will leave you craving more since Waipo’o Falls actually drops 800 ft. But to see the length of this epic waterfall is actually best seen across the canyon at “Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout” (Mile Marker 12.2).

Second waterfall on Canyon Trail, part of the Waipoo Waterfall
Second waterfall on Canyon Trail

Do Note: Because this hike is in the Waimea Canyon State Park, there is a $10 parking fee + $5 per person entrance fee.

Read our entire Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park Guide to help plan your trip to these incredible Hawaii State Parks.

Sleeping Giant Trail (aka Nounou Mountain):

aerial view of the sleeping giant trail which is one of the best hikes in kauai
Aerial View at the summit of Sleeping Giant (aka Nounou Mountain)

1.7 miles (2.7km) – 698 ft elevation (213m)

Sleeping Giant ranks pretty close to the top of best hikes in Kauai. When looking at the ridge, it resembles a “sleeping giant”, hence the name. The hike is actually on Nounou Mountain. 

This hike can actually be done 3 different ways, climbing up Nounou Mountain from the East or West and Kuamo’o Trail. Personally, we feel hiking up from the west offers the best overall experience, plus it’s the easiest route.

But parking at this trailhead is very limited and in a neighborhood. Wait politely until you can park in a legitimate spot, and don’t block anyone’s driveway.

Norfolk Pines on Sleeping Giant via West Trail which is one of the best hikes in Kauai
Norfolk Pines on Sleeping Giant via West Trail

Along the West Trail, parts of the trail can be muddy and slippery. There are also some deep rooted sections where you will need to watch your step. Eventually, you come upon an enchanting Norfolk Pine Forest. A non-native species in Hawaii, but nonetheless easy to appreciate their beauty.

When you pop out of this area, you then make it to a cool bamboo forest that feels dark and eerie. Then, continue climbing up until you reach the ridge.

Once you make it to the ridge, the trail narrows and there are sheer cliffs on each side. Definitely be careful and take your time. There will be minor climbing up rocks to reach the end viewpoint that offers panoramic views of Wailua, Kapa’a, and surrounding inland mountains.

If you are not comfortable climbing the last section, you still can get great views just before.

Secret Falls (aka Uluwehi Waterfall):

a girl in front of Secret Falls in kauai which is one of the best hikes in Kauai
Secret Falls (aka Uluwehi Falls)
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

6.1 miles (9.8km) – 465 ft elevation (142m)

Getting to Secret Falls is more than just a hiking adventure, it requires kayaking a portion of the river. While the name “secret” implies that very few people know about this area, it’s definitely not the case. But because it is more difficult to reach, there will likely be fewer crowds compared to some of the other best hikes in Kauai.

The adventure to Secret Falls is best done with a tour guide. First, you paddle 2 miles up the Wailua River, passing by the traditional huts of Kamokila Village, and then hike an additional 1 mile to Uluwehi Waterfall.

There are a few river crossings along the hike where the water might be up to knee-deep. There are also boardwalks along areas in the forest to avoid areas where the ground might be too soft and/or muddy. 

You can do this hike on your own, but it’s suggested to support the locals and go with a tour guide. 

Book a tour to Secret Falls with Viator

Pihea Trail to Alakai Swamp Trail:

Pu'u O Kila Lookout - Photo by Jason Carnegie on Unsplash
Pu’u O Kila Lookout – Photo by Jason Carnegie on Unsplash

7.8 miles (12.6km) – 1,620 feet elevation (494m)

The trailhead for Pihea Trail begins at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout.  The beginning of the trail has views of the Kalalau Valley, but then turns inland to the Alakai Swamp. 

This area is the wettest spot in the park and the largest high-elevation swamp in the world.

Because of the wetlands, the trail can often be muddy and slippery. Around 1 mile into the hike there is a small detour to Pihea Vista Lookout. Here you will witness the epic Napali Coast.

About 1.8 miles into the Pihea Trail, you reach the connection to Alakai Swamp Trail. There are boardwalks in place to guide you to the swamp. Do be careful as there are many rotten boards.

At just under 4 miles, you reach Kilohana Overlook. Again, offering stunning views of the Napali Coast. But because this area is one of the wettest places, you need to get lucky with clouds to get a good view from this viewpoint. 

Do Note: Because this hike is in the Kokee State Park, there is a $10 parking fee + $5 per person entrance fee.  

Awa’awapuhi Trail:

Awa'awapuhi Trail - Kokee State Park - Photo By Jimmy Conover on Unsplash
Awa’awapuhi Trail – Kokee State Park
Photo By Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

7 miles (11.3km) – 1,332 feet elevation (406m)

Awa’awapuhi Trail is located in Kōkeʻe State Park and is simply one of the best hikes in Kauai offering a top down view of the jagged cliffs of the Napali Coast. 

The whole route descends to the epic viewpoint at the end, meaning you will have a steep incline for the route back out. The trail can be very muddy and slippery, so make sure you have shoes with good traction. 

Along the end of the trail be extra cautious as this section has sheer cliffs on both sides. If you don’t want to venture this far, you can still take in the epic views from above. 

Do Note: Because this hike is in the Kokee State Park, there is a $10 parking fee + $5 per person entrance fee.  

Kuilau Ridge Trail:

3.6 miles (5.8km) – 666 ft elevation (203m)

Kuilau Ridge Trail is an awesome easy hike near Wailua offering epic ridge views. There is a small parking lot near Keahua Arboretum. Pass by the closed gate and you will be encompassed by a dense forest covered in ferns along the beginning of the trail.

About 1 mile into the hike, there is a picnic area with a shelter and picnic tables. Check out behind the picnic area for an sweet viewpoint of the surrounding mountains.

Around 1.6 miles there is an end-of-trail sign, but the trail connects with Moalepe Trail right here. Either continue on this trail or turn around here. But a little further across the bridge offers a beautiful ridge view.

Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail:

a view of the ocean, red sea cliff, and Kauai mountains on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail which is one of the best hikes in Kauai
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

3.7 miles (6km) – 318 ft Elevation (97m)

Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is a hike we actually found on a whim when exploring near Poipu Beach. It offers a diverse array of activities along the hike. 

The hike starts at Shipwreck Beach and ventures along the coast to Punahoa Point. Along this trail you hike along sand dunes up on the ridge of sea cliffs, volcanic rock, and through the Poipu Bay Golf Course. There are many secluded coves along the route with unique tide pools. 

Historic Limestone Cave on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
Limestone Cave on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

At the end of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is Makawehi Cave which took us completely by surprise. You can only enter the limestone cave through a small hole that requires you to crawl on your hands and knees. The cave is only open from 10am-4pm and is run on donations. 

Inside the cave there is a docent who will take you inside the cave and provide light to see inside. Along with many historical facts about the area and what it once used to look like. 

Land Tortoise on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

Then cross the Waiopili Stream via a bridge to hang with the land tortoises. This part was super cool, to see these tortoises so up close and personal. The docent even told us we could touch them, but we were a little scared because of how giant they were. 

Lastly, you can hang at Mahaulepu beach (aka Gillin’s Beach). This area can be very windy, so you might also catch some wind surfers here. 

Hoopii Falls Trail:

a couple posing in front of a long exposure of Hoopii Waterfall which is one of the best hikes in Kauai
Hoopii Waterfall

1.8 miles (2.9km)- 164 ft elevation (50m)

Hoopi Falls starts from a local neighborhood along local farms. The falls are technically on private land, but people are allowed to hike to the falls. Just be very respectful and leave no trace.

Parking for the trail is along Kapahi Road or if the road is too full, you can also park at Kapahi Park. 

The trail descends through a forest which can be muddy after rainfall. The trail to the falls can actually be confusing and is not well-marked. There will be a spur trail to the right just after passing a large downed tree trunk at head height. This spur trail will lead you up and around to the bottom of the falls. But many people miss this turn-off and only make it to the top of the falls. 

Climbing down to the bottle of Hoopii Falls from the top of the waterfall viewpoint
Climbing the connecting trail from the top of the waterfall viewpoint that takes you down to the bottom of Hoopii Falls.

There is still a way to make it down to the bottom of the falls if you miss the turn off. It’s just past the waterfall and a steep climb down. But there are tree roots that are helpful to guide you down to the bottom. 

Many people choose to swim here, but there is some concern of residential contamination and the possibility of bacterial infection from the Kapaa Stream. 

On the way back, you can take the low road back to the trail, or continue back up the dirt wall to the top of the waterfall.

There is another small waterfall .3 miles into the trail. Again, it’s not well marked, but keep an eye on the stream and listen for rushing water. It does seem like many locals frequent here, so keep an eye out for people down by the stream. 

Best Hikes in Kauai Honorable Mention:

Honopu Ridge Trail:

4.4 miles (7km) – 1,597 ft Elevation (487m)

Honopu Ridge Trail also offers some epic views of the Napali Coast. But the trail has since been neglected. The trail is in Kokee State Park and can be very slick if it has recently rained. 

This trail is very overgrown, so wear pants and long sleeves. Honestly, I can’t recommend this hike, unless you have done all the other best hikes in Kauai and are seeking something different. 

Kukui Trail:

5.0 miles (8km) – 2,162 ft Elevation (659m)

If you are looking for a challenging hike in Kauai, then Kukui Trail might be what you are looking for. It’s also great for backpacking trips.

Kukui Trail descends down the bottom of Waimea Canyon. I’d only suggest this hike for experienced hikers, as the ascent in the heat can be killer. 

The trail leads to the Waimea River, which can be a nice place to cool down. Also, if you travel with a backpacking water filter or travel with a mini water filter, it can be a great place to stock up for the hike back up. 

You could just hike a portion of the trail to get some epic views of the canyon without hiking all the way to the bottom. This can save you time and energy for the daunting climb back to the top. 

What To Pack For The Best Hikes in Kauai

  • Hiking Poles (We love our Trail Buddy Trekking Poles)
  • Good Hiking Shoes – (Our personal favorites: Altra Lone Peaks for Land Hikes & Chaco’s/ Teva’s for River Hikes)
  • Hiking Pack
  • Water Bladder or Water Bottle
  • Camera/GoPro
  • Snacks – (Check out our post for best hiking snacks)

Takeaway For The Best Hikes in Kauai

As the garden isle of Hawaii, Kauai has the most spectacular hiking trails for all skill levels and people of all ages. From epic hikes to Kauai’s waterfalls, hiking through tropical rain forests, and insane views of the Na Pali Coast, these hikes are truly life-changing.

We absolutely loved hiking around the island of Kauai, and can’t wait to visit next time check more of the best hikes in Kauai off our bucket list.

Unfortunately, some hikes have since been closed due to hikers’ safety and disrespect to the land. For example, Kalepa Ridge Trail is closed indefinitely due to Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. The spread of this fungi can kill trees in as little as 2 weeks. And the hikes down to the bottom of Wailua Falls and Opaeka’a Falls have had major injuries and deaths. We hope in the future, there are safer measures in place, so we can explore more of Kauai’s beauty. 

If you are island hopping around Hawaii, be sure to check out some of the best hikes in Maui and best hikes in Oahu.

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