By Beth Whitman, on May 29, 2013

Hiking the Garden Isle

Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, is one of the best places in the Pacific to hike.

I’ve heard locals describe Waimea Canyon as “the Grand Canyon, only with trees.” I couldn’t describe it any better myself.

My husband, Jon, and I have taken a number of hikes in Kauai. The more trails we hike, the more we’re hooked. And the more locals we talk to, the more trails we find. Here are some of the more popular ones that shouldn’t be missed if you enjoy hiking as a way to explore a destination.

Awa’Awapuhi Trail

I had read about this Waimea Canyon trail in a guidebook but overlooked it as it sounded too difficult. A couple of our island friends mentioned this trail, its beauty, and the proliferation of birds, and we were sold. We hiked it that same day.

The Awa’Awapuhi Trail is just over three miles each way and is mostly downhill from the parking lot to the lookout. You can continue on a connecting trail (Nu’alolo Cliff Trail) along the coast and then hike up another trail (Nu’alolo Trail) back up to the road. The day we were there, the connecting trail was closed so (luckily) we only had to head down Awa’Awapuhi and then back up.

Waimea Canyon

Though it’s an excellent hike, I realized how much more I prefer to hike up at the beginning of a trip than at the end (as with this hike). Awa’Awapuhi is steep in spots – a real huffer-puffer for me – but most of it is a steady climb that’s not too bad.

Where to stay: Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages are in nearby Waimea. Former plantation homes located in a coconut grove, each cottage is different. Stay here and you’ll have easy access to Waimea Canyon State Park, which is about 15 miles away.

View along South Shore hike near Grand Hyatt Kauai

Sleeping Giant

On the east side of the island is Kapa’a and along its coastline, mountains that are easily accessible and hikeable. There are a number of trails in the area, but one of the most popular is Sleeping Giant.

You’ll often find locals on this trail, many of them just wearing flip flops (slippers, or slippahs, as the Hawaiians say). But the terrain can be a bit rocky and also very slippery, so you might need some solid soles and perhaps even ankle support (although I’m fine in a pair of Chacos).

Where to Stay: Kapa’a, where Sleeping Giant is located, is just a few miles up the road from Kauai Beach Resort. This moderately priced hotel is well-located for excursions all over Kauai’s East Shore.

  • Beth hiking Napali Coast Trail

  • View from Na Pali Coast

  • View along Sleeping Giant trail

  • Jon hiking Waimia Canyon trail

  • View from the lookout at Awa- Awapuhi Trail

The Kalalau Trail

This is the most well-known trail on the island, but it’s not the most hiked because you need a permit for the majority of the 11-mile trek along the Na Pali Coast. You can, however, hike the first two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach without a permit – which is exactly what we did.

The trail hugs the northern part of the island and provides spectacular views of the coast and ocean. Surely Dr. Seuss visited here because the trees seem to be right out of his books.

The trail is moderately difficult, especially in the heat, but not impossible for someone in average shape. Just take it slowly.  As commenters have noted, it is unsafe to swim at this point, but you can reward yourself with a swim at Kee Beach on the way back.

Where to Stay: If you’re looking for accommodations on the North Shore, try The Westin Princeville. Located on the cliffs, all units have a kitchen or kitchenette – perfect for filling up after your long hike on the Na Pali Coast.

South Shore Beach Hikes

From the Grand Hyatt Kauai, there are a couple of easy beach hikes just north of the hotel.

You can start from the parking lot at the beach entrance near the Po’ipu Bay Resort golf course and just head up the beach to the cliff. This runs about a half-mile north along the cliffs with great ocean views the whole way.


Viewfinder Tip: When hiking on Kauai, dress in layers as the weather can vary drastically in a very short period of time.


Also consider driving up Po’ipu Road past the Hyatt to the Maha’ulepu hike. This easy walk takes you along the beach as well as a path along the cliff side. Depending on the time of year, you may see turtles on the beach. You also are assured beautiful views of the ocean.

To get to the paths, drive past the Hyatt on Po’ipu Road until you get to the dirt road. Keep going for 1.6 miles then turn right at the T. Take this for about 0.7 miles. There are actually two parking lots, and you can stop at either and then start walking north.

Where to Stay: There’s no better place to stay on the South Shore than the Grand Hyatt Kauai.

What’s your favorite destination to explore by foot?