Hiking on Kauai is enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.
There are several good hiking guides including Kauaâ€™i Trails: Walks, Strolls and Treks on the Garden Island by Kathy Morey, and Hiking Kauai, The Garden Isle by Robert Smith. Kauai has hikes at all levels of difficulty. If you prefer group hikes, the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter leads hikes on most weekends.
View from atop the Sleeping Giant
A fairly easy to moderate hike is located on the east side of the island in Kapaa: the Sleeping Giant Trailâ€”or Nonou Mountain as he is known in Hawaiian. The mountain is visible from just about anywhere in Kapaa and resembles a giant lying on his back sleeping.
The hike is popular because of the ease of driving to the trail. There are basically two ways to climb Sleeping Giant, the Nonou East Trail and the Nonou West Trail. The Nonou East Trail is the front side of the mountain and is the easier but slightly longer way up. The Nonou West Trail travels up the back side of the mountain and is steeper but shorter. They both converge at the top at a picnic table shelter so bring a lunch or some snacks and enjoy the fabulous views from the top. Sitting there after hiking up makes you wonder how the materials for the picnic shelter area were brought up the mountain. Total hiking time is about an hour each way.
Undoubtedly the most difficult hike on Kauai is the world famous Kalalau Trail at the northern most end of the island. This is a treacherous 11 mile hike. Imagine hiking along a cliff face, on a slippery, mud-covered path that is, at times, just wider than the width of your shoes. This is the draw of the Kalalau Trail: spectacular scenery, breathtaking views, and extreme hiking.
The first four miles of the trail is a popular day hike and is known as the Hanakapiaâ€™i Trail. Two miles in and about two hourâ€™s time gets you to Hanakapiaâ€™i Beach. Just before you reach the beach, take care to notice a large black and yellow striped pole in the ground. This is a tsunami marker and it shows the point at which you will be safely above a tsunami (tidal wave) danger zone. Hanakapiaâ€™i Beach is beautiful, but has extremely dangerous currents and is not in any way a swimming beach.
You can stop here at the beach, or hike the next two miles to Hanakapiaâ€™i Falls. The hike to the falls is very strenuous and may take you over two hours each way, but you will end up at a spectacular 300 foot waterfall. If you have the energy, it is worth the hike. You will pass through bamboo forests and cross several beautiful streams.
To hike any further on from the Falls requires a permit, and you will need to carry all of your supplies on your back, including your water, as none of Kauaiâ€™s stream water is drinkable without being treated.
Kalalau Beach – the gem at the end of the 11-mile hike
The desired end of the 11 mile hike is Kalalau Beach, a white sand beach complete with a fresh-water waterfall for showering. Donâ€™t think that because the hike is a mere 11 miles that you will get there quickly. Most people allow 5 days for the roundtrip and you should be an experienced hiker to make the trip at all.