Good Hiking Trails
The Grand Prix of hiking on Kauai has got to be the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, a slip, slide, endurance trek along the stunning Na Pali Coast. Backpackers who reach the end of the trail at Kalalau Beach will generally be carrying a camping permit for a flop in the sand before they head back the way they came.
That’s the long version of the scenic route. A lot of people pack it up with a 4-mile roundtrip to Hanakapi’ai Beach. That’s the first leg of the Kalalau trail, and by the time you hit the white-sand beach, you’ve forded a stream, done some hardy hiking, and had a look at the magnificent vistas that bring people from throughout the world to hike this trail.
If the day is still young and your leg muscles will take it, go inland another two miles to Hanakapi’ai Falls. This portion requires some serious hiking. Never attempt the trail in the rain as the stream is prone to flash floods.
You’ll be rewarded for your effort when a small pool below a three-tiered, 300-foot cascading waterfall comes into view. Start with a dip in the waterfall pool, then move on to another pool for a longer soak. It’s a bit of a hike, but if au naturel in the strictest sense of the word appeals, try the bubbling waters of the natural jacuzzi below romantic Hanakapi’ai Falls.
Waimea Canyon, the 3,000-foot-deep centerpiece of Kokee State Park, is another premiere hiking experience. A top-of-the-line first hike will reward with an 800-foot waterfall. Waipo’o Falls trail begins two miles from the Kokee Tracking Station off Highway 550. While strenuous, the half-day hike will provide visitors with solitude and glimpses of exotic rainforest vegetation. Pack a picnic lunch to be consumed on the warm, flat rocks by a ginger pool.
Those seeking a more ambitious expedition might attempt the circuit that continues for six miles beyond Waipo’o Falls to the tough Canyon and Kumuwela trails, returning to Highway 550 via the Halemanu-Kokee Trail. This trip must be undertaken early in the day to guarantee a daylight return to your car.
Towards dusk you may see the hoary bat, believed to be Hawaii’s only native land mammal. Along the trails, you may catch glimpses of horses (with riders), wild pigs, feral goats, mule deer and chickens.
If wading through a primordial, upland swamp suits your fancy, try the Alakai Swamp trail in Koke’e State Park. The Swamp, which is really a mountain rainforest rising 4,000 to 4,500 feet above sea level, is on the northwestern slope of Wai’ale’ale.
It’s been there for maybe 5 million years, since the island exploded from the ocean and a large caldera (or cavity) was carved into the side of the mountain. Eventually, drenched by the water that pours from the mountain, the caldera gave form to a 15-acre swamp covered by a network of soggy bogs, a forest of dwarfish trees, weird plants and native birds. Hiking is permitted and a boardwalk has been constructed to make it easier to wade through typically knee-deep mud.
The Powerline Trail is a 13-mile inland trail that runs from Princeville to the Keahua Arboretum. A rough dirt and mud road, this is a strenuous trail that cuts through lush, jungle-like terrain.
Most people choose not to hike the entire trail, which could take six or seven hours. Instead they hike a distance in from either direction then back track to their vehicles.
The most popular route begins at the Princeville end. Turn inland at the Princeville Stables corner on Po’oku Road and drive 1.7 miles to the end of the pavement. Head up the trail, which will follow the Hanalei River inland. Be aware of drop offs on the side of the trail where vegetation can conceal cliffs.
About one mile in, you’ll catch a glimpse of Mt. Hihimanu. If the waterfalls are flowing, try counting them. Further west is Mt. Namolokama and the headwaters of Wai’oli Stream.
If you begin at the east end of the trail, you’ll enter about 1/4 mile past the arboretum. Approximately 5 miles in, you’ll see Kawaikini and Wai’ale’ale mountains and numerous waterfalls. WARNING: Do not attempt to drive a conventional vehicle onto this trail. Local hunters can tell numerous stories about people who tried and ended up blowing a lot of money on towing stuck vehicles out of the trail.
The Okolehau Trail, near Hanalei, is a favorite to many seasoned hikers. This 2.25-mile hike begins at the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and ends at a peak 1,200 feet up in the Halele’a Forest Reserve. At the top, an awesome, 360-degree view of Hanalei Bay and well beyond spreads before you.
There is a toll. The trail, an old road built during prohibition when the Hawaiian liquor, okolehao, was distilled from ti plants, is steep and unforgiving. Part of the hike moves through a dense bamboo forest, which can be seriously muddy. To get to the trail, go past Princeville and turn left immediately after you cross the Hanalei Bridge. Watch for a Chinese cemetery, turn left, then right past the gate.
Another 1,200-foot hike, with a view of another part of Kauai, moves through the Nounou Mountain Forest Reserve to a peak called Sleeping Giant. Hawaiian legends refer to a benevolent sleeping giant who came to the aid of both royalty and commoners. If one looks closely, there is a resemblance between the Nounou Mountain ridge and a sleeping giant.
On a clear day, the top of Sleeping Giant provides a fabulous sunrise view over the Kapa’a coastal area and Mt. Wai’ale’ale. There’s more than one trailhead. The west side trail, which is the most direct way to the top, is off Hwy. 581, past Heamoi Place. Public access is between two private residences.
These are only a handful of the island’s hiking trails. Know where you’re going before you set out to hike. It’s easy to get lost or disoriented in Kauai’s wilderness. And never hike alone.
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