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The 7 Best Day Hikes on Kauai

Paddling down the Wailua River; (photo/Rebecca Parsons)
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Part of the Hawaiian Island archipelago, Kauai is often referred to as ‘the Garden Isle’ due to the lush tropical rainforests that cover much of its surface.

Kauai is the fourth-largest and the oldest of the main islands of Hawaii, dating back 5.1 million years. Home to the picturesque Na Pali Coast and the 10-mile-long Waimea Canyon, Kauai draws travelers from around the globe.

Like all of the Hawaiian islands, Kauai has plenty of water activities on offer. The biggest draw, however, is the hikes, as they allow you to immerse yourself in all the beauty the island has to offer. We know your time is limited, so we’ve taken the liberty of rounding up seven of the best hikes the island has to offer.

Explore our favorite hikes by region, or check out them all below.

The 7 Best Day Hikes on Kauai

West Kauai Region

Waimea Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls

Waipo'o Falls as viewed from the canyon rim
Waipo’o Falls as viewed from the canyon rim; (photo/Rebecca Parsons)

Waimea Canyon, often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is an absolute must on your trip to Kauai. Located in Koke’e State Park, the Canyon Trail is a 3-mile out-and-back hike that offers stunning views of Waimea Canyon.

The popular hike follows the rim of Waimea Canyon and offers two views of the 800-foot falls, finishing at the top of the falls. Additionally, the hike is known for its birdwatching, wildlife, rainforests, and spectacular views. With approximately 1,066 feet of elevation gain, the hike is rated as moderate, making it ideal for families and children.

  • To get there: 30-minute drive from Waimea via Hwy 550
  • Distance: 3 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Learn More at AllTrails

Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach

Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach - West Region
Trekking along the Na Pali Coast.

Located near Hanalei, the Kalalau Trail begins at Kee Beach and winds along the famous Na Pali Coast. Although the entire Kalalau Trail is exceptional, hiking the first 2 miles of the trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach is a great way to get a taste of the splendor of the Na Pali Coast without committing to an overnight trip.

Although the day trek isn’t incredibly long, it can be a bit strenuous, as it includes a fair amount of climbing and descent. The trail can be dangerous when muddy, so it’s best to visit during the drier summer months.

  • To get there: 20-minute drive from Hanalei via Hwy 560
  • Distance: 3.7 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Learn More at AllTrails

Awa’awapuhi Trail

Awa’awapuhi Trail - West Region
One of the best views on the island.

Located near Wainiha, the Awa’awapuhi Trail begins in Koke’e State Wilderness Park and winds its way through the Napali-Kona Forest Reserve. The trail begins at 4,120 feet and descends to the valley rim of Nualolo and Awa’awapuhi valleys at 2,500 feet.

Navigating through the rainforest and high desert terrain and offering breathtaking views of the Na Pali coast, the 6-mile trail is a popular one among visitors and locals alike. Along the way, hikers are treated to views of a wide range of native plants, and the trail finishes at a grassy clearing perfect for picnicking. If you’re in the mood for some extra credit, take the Nualolo Cliff Trail junction on your way back to add on an additional 5 miles.

  • To get there: 20-minute drive from Waimea
  • Distance: 6 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Learn More at AllTrails

East Kauai Region

Sleeping Giant East Trail

Sleeping Giant East Trail - East Region
If you look closely, you can see the outline of the giant’s face.

Legend has it that a giant laid down for a nap after a feast in his honor and never awoke — if you view the mountains from the nearby town, you can see how the mountains earned their nickname. Located near Kapa’a, the Sleeping Giant is a short and sweet trail that is lined with wildflowers and offers ocean views.

The dog-friendly trail is approximately 3.2 miles out and back and ends at a picnic area on the “chest” of the giant where hikers are treated to views of the coast, Wailua River, and Mount Waialeale. There are three different trail options to reach the top, but the East Trail is the more moderate route with roughly 950 feet of elevation gain.

  • To get there: 10-minute drive from Kapa’a
  • Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Learn More at AllTrails

Uluwehi ‘Secret’ Falls

Uluwehi ‘Secret’ Falls - East Region
Making friends with the locals en route to the falls; (photo/Rebecca Parsons)

Getting to Secret Falls requires a bit of extra legwork, but is well worth the added effort.

In order to access the falls, you must paddle for 45 minutes up the Wailua River and then complete a 20-minute hike through the jungle. For your efforts, you’ll get up-close views of a beautiful 100-foot waterfall, complete with a swimming hole at the base.

The hike to the falls is one of Kauai’s best-known secrets, so renting equipment and going alone is an easy option. But, if you’d prefer to go with a guide, there are a number of companies that offer daily tours to the falls.

  • To get there: Near the town of Wailua
  • Distance: A few miles via kayak, paddle, or canoe, and then one-mile hike
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Learn More at Hawaii Guide

Kuilau Ridge Trail

Kuilau Ridge Trail - East Region
Green as far as the eye can see.

Located near Kapa’a, the Kuilau Ridge Trail is a short and sweet hike that is ideal for families and hikers of all levels.

The out-and-back hike meanders through the dense rainforest up to Kuilau Ridge where there are panoramic views of the surrounding Makaleha Mountains. The dog-friendly trail features stream crossings, a waterfall, and a wide range of native and non-native flora.

With approximately 660 feet of elevation gain, hikers, runners, bikers, and horseback riders regularly frequent the trail.

  • To get there: 25-minute drive from Kapa’a
  • Distance: 3.6 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Learn More at AllTrails

South Kauai Region

Makawehi Lithified Cliffs Trail

Makawehi Lithified Cliffs Trail - South Region
The lithified cliffs are like a geological trip back in time.

Situated on the south shore, the Makawehi Lithified Trail runs along the cliffs from Shipwreck Beach to Mahaulepu Beach. The ancient limestone cliffs began as sand dunes and were weathered by wind and waves over the years, resulting in unique caverns and rock displays.

According to geologists, the region used to be underwater, so fossils from fishes and other marine organisms are visible along the paths. A number of different trails wind their way along the cliffs, some offering views of the coastlines and others glimpses at sandstone and limestone pinnacles. All of the trails are easy, making them perfect for families and children.

  • To get there: 10-minute drive from Koloa
  • Distance: About 2 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Learn More at Only in Hawaii
Backpacking the Na Pali Coast (2)

Backpacking the Na Pali Coast: Everything You Need for Kauai's Famous Hike

One of the most stunning stretches of coastline in the world, the Na Pali Coast spans seventeen miles along Kauai’s north shore. Although the stretch of coast is visible via boat and air, one of the best ways to take it all in is by hiking the Kalalau Trail. Read more…

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