Kauai is known as the Garden Isle because its landscapes are nourished by a healthy dose of rain. When there is a gap in the rain schedule, and the sun peeks through the clouds causing a rainbow to appear, you can head out on the trails and explore the best hikes of Kauai. From the epic Na Pali coast to jungle waterfall hikes, there is so much beauty to explore!
We had the pleasure of spending 10 days on this magical island in 2018 and we discovered many different trails during this time. Some of the hikes were inaccessible to us due to the weather and conditions but we still got to complete a fair few. In this article, we would love to share with you our top 6 best hikes of Kauai which are listed in no particular order.
Before we get started, let us introduce ourselves. We are Jordan and Kaylee – a couple of adventurous souls from Canada. We met in Ontario at Kaylee’s family ranch in 2011. Kaylee was 18 at the time and Jordan was 21. Jordan brought his youth group for a retreat at the ranch. Two years later we were married and moved to Virginia. From there, we moved to Montana without ever visiting or knowing where we were going to live.
Jordan grew up camping and road tripping with his family but Kaylee had never really done either before getting married. We started camping and hiking together when we lived in Virginia. Our real adventure lifestyle began when we moved to Montana though. We started backpacking during our second summer there and we immediately became hooked on living the adventurous lifestyle. Getting off the grid is what we live for now!
10 Magical Days in Kauai, Hawaii
We had both always dreamed of going to Hawaii and it was on Jordans bucket list to surf there. So when Kaylee found cheap tickets, it was a no-brainer! We went to Kauai for 10 days and 9 nights and felt as though we had the best combination of adventure and relaxation – enjoying several of the best hikes in Kauai and also joining some excursions.
One excursion we took was the Wailua River (Kauai’s largest and longest river) kayaking tour to Secret Falls. Since we couldn’t hike along the Na Pali coast due to hurricane damage, we ended up getting last minute tickets for a sunset boat cruise along the coast instead. This included a dinner buffet. We were lucky enough to spot spinner dolphins on our trip and were treated to an entertaining show of acrobatic displays by the dolphins!
We did a lot of our own cooking and loved visiting local markets whenever we could to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies. The giant avocados and star fruit were our favorites. We also visited Kilauea Lighthouse, Hanapepe (Kauai’s biggest small town), Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific) and Queen’s Bath – a unique tidal pool surrounded by rocks.
During our stay, we checked out some restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops, sushi stores and the furthest west official pizzeria in the US! Attending a luau was another activity we ticked off our list. Our experience at the luau was amazing. We also enjoyed snorkeling in Poipu. All in all, it was a magical 10 days that we can’t stop reminiscing about!
Why Kauai is a Hikers Paradise
Kauai is composed of untouched rainforests and mountain ranges, making it breathtakingly beautiful. We loved how it was less touristy than the other islands. One interesting fact we learned was that they are not allowed to build anything taller than a coconut tree on the island (about 3 stories high). This keeps the island free from high-rise hotels and apartments.
The Garden Isle should be on every travelers bucket list because it’s a hikers paradise! It’s covered in emerald valleys, jagged cliffs, tropical rainforests and sharp mountain tops – making it the ideal hiking playground. In fact, 90% of the island is inaccessible by road. The famous and rugged Na Pali coast has some of the most epic ridges and drop-offs in the world!
We found all of our trails by researching several blogs that had detailed reviews and pictures. We also talked to Jordan’s cousin who lived in Hawaii for the Marines and he had visited Kauai many times. Even though it was almost three years ago now, we still talk about how hiking in Hawaii gave us access to some of the best trails in the world! There is nothing quite like hiking through the jungle and streams in search of beautiful waterfalls.
Favorite Hike in Kauai: Makaleha Falls
We absolutely loved our hike to Makaleha Falls because it started by a freshwater spring where locals were gathering water in bamboo. The trail followed a stream/river through a thick jungle. It felt like a bamboo wonderland! We had to trek through the water and mud and we ended up losing the trail completely for a while (only adding to the adventure)!
Eventually, we found hidden waterfalls through the canyon and we enjoyed swimming and climbing the rope to jump off the waterfalls. Makaleha Falls was spectacular but of course this wasn’t the only hiking trail we fell in love with in Kauai. Below you can find our list of the top 6 best hikes in Kauai.
6 Best Hikes in Kauai
1. Awa’awapuhi Trail, Waimea Canyon
The 6.7-mile Awa’awapuhi Trail features dramatic drop-offs and epic views down to the Na Pali coast. The trail is well marked and straightforward to hike, but the viewpoint at the end is steep and can get quite dangerous if you venture too far down. It’s easily one of the best hikes in Kauai.
2. Okolehao Trail, Hanalei
Okolehao Trail is a 3.5-mile trail near Hanalei. Due to rains on our visit, the trail was extremely muddy which made it the most difficult and dangerous hike of our entire trip. There are ropes to assist with getting up and down some of the steeper muddy sections, and there were times where you felt as though you might just slide all the way down back to the trailhead!
3. Makaleha Falls Trail, Kapa’a
A 3-mile jungle and waterfall hiking adventure that was unforgettable! It involved bouldering, weaving in and out of roots and vines, and dealing with slippery mud and mossy rocks. There is no defined trail to the falls but if you reach them there is a rope you can climb up for some cliff jumping.
4. Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kapa’a
Kuilau Ridge is a 4-mile muddy trail that is one of the best hikes in Kauai. It offers epic views from the get-go and leads to an amazing overlook of the valley. The plants and trees along the trail are incredible, with huge trees towering above you and ferns blanketing the lower level of the forest. We almost felt as though we were starring in a Jurassic Park movie!
5. Nu’alolo Cliff Trail, Koke’e State Park
Located in Koke’e State Park, this 7.5-mile hike rewards you with epic views of both the Na Pali coast and the Nualolo Valley. The terrain is muddy at times and the trail winds through a dense forested area. There are multiple viewpoints at the end and the grand scale of the cliffs is something else!
6. Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast
Due to hurricane damage at the time, we couldn’t hike this legendary trail along the Na Pali coast. But we would love to go back one day to do it! The Kalalau Trail is regarded as one of the most incredible hikes in the world as it takes you through lush valleys, streams and footpaths to jaw dropping views. A 22-mile round trip hike that is a once in a lifetime experience!
Muddy Adventures on the Okolehao Trail
One of the best memories from our adventures in Kauai was hiking the Okolehao Trail. It was our first hike on the island and the moment we arrived in the parking lot it started pouring with rain. We sat in the car for a few minutes to see if it would die down but when we realized that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, we put on our jackets and started hiking.
It was probably the muddiest hike of our Kauai trip. By the time we reached the summit we were surrounded by a dense fog, so we couldn’t even see the peaks around us. There are ropes along this trail to assist with the steep sections and we just remember being quite fearful of each other slipping and tumbling all the way down the mountain. The Okolehao Trail, our first hike in Kauai, turned out to be an incredible adventure.
Although it was a bit sketchy at times, we still look back and laugh at that experience and how completely covered in mud we both were by the end of the day. It was a great reminder that hiking isn’t purely for the views – we love hiking because we love pushing ourselves through a physical and mental challenge and testing our resilience. There is no feeling quite like looking back on a tough trail and thinking “we conquered that”!
Where to Stay in Kauai, Hawaii
We camped in our small tent at a few sites on the beach and slept in the back of our rental Jeep during most of our trip to Kauai. We only booked Airbnbs for a few nights. Since the island is quite side, we wanted to explore as much as we could during our 10 days which is why we went camping.
Camping was a fantastic option as it kept our costs down. We would stay in one spot for a night and then move to the next, allowing us to explore all sides of the island. The weather and temperatures were ideal during the evening and so we didn’t mind roughing it without any air conditioning. In fact, our entire trip to Kauai cost less than $2,000 USD – including flights, food, accommodation, rental car and gas, and all island excursions.
There is plenty of camping available on the island’s beaches, but our favorite camping spot was Polihale State Park, mainly because of its seclusion. Polihale has the longest stretch of beach in the entire state of Hawaii and is a spectacular area of wilderness – with 100-foot sand dunes, desert cactus and remarkable sunsets over the forbidden island of Niihau.
We loved our two Airbnb stays that we did have and we would recommend them to other adventurous travelers! For our first stay we went glamping in yurts in Kilauea and our second was a quaint bed and breakfast in Poipu.
Need to Know Before you Go
The first thing to know is that you can’t drive around the island in a circle. This required some more planning but was another reason why we loved Kauai so much because it felt much less commercialized and built up. If you want to explore the entire island of Kauai, you will need a rental car. Most things are spread out and you need to drive to reach places.
A rain jacket would also be a good idea! And make sure to bring enough water when you go hiking. Last but not least, be prepared for mud. Since the island has so much rain, you are bound to run into muddy trails no matter what time of year you go. We brought old running shoes to hike in and it was definitely the right choice. Thanks for reading our article on the best hikes of Kauai and we hope you enjoy this precious paradise!