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In mid-April, a record-setting rainstorm flooded the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate and closing the Instagram-famous Na Pali Coast State Park, home to the sea-cliff-topping Kalalau Trail. The closure is indefinite, and state officials say that they expect it to continue for a while as they assess and repair the damage.
The silver lining: Now’s the perfect time to get away from the crowded Kalalau and explore some of the other perfect trails that wind through Kaua’i’s 550 square miles. Add one of these island jaunts to your checklist before your flight takes off.
General Tips for Hiking on Kaua’i
- Kaua’i isn’t called the Garden Island because it’s dry. The trails are usually muddy. Wear boots with aggressive tread, or Chacos for beach hikes.
- Trekking poles are very handy, but pick a set that’s easy to stow for rock scrambling.
- It’s usually between 65 and 80 degrees, but the summits are windy. Bring a light shell or windbreaker.
- Bring extra bug spray: the mosquitoes are sneaky and you’ll likely sweat off the first coat.
- There have been reports of contaminated water and beaches since the flooding. Check with locals before getting in the water, and wash off well after contact with water or sand.
- Be respectful of plants and wildlife, and follow invasive species protection rules to the letter. This island is home to many species that exist nowhere else, especially birds and plants. Look out for Puaiohi, `Akikiki, and the Nene goose (one of the rarest geese in the world). Of all the Hawaiian islands, Kaua’i has the highest number of plant species that exist nowhere else in the world, including Lysimachia venosa, which was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 2012.
The name is a bit of a misnomer: officially called Kauapea Beach, this secluded crescent of golden-sand near Kilauea is well-known enough to have its own Wikipedia page—and for good reason. From the trailhead, follow a social path ¼ mile. (Caution: the trail is steep, rooty, and often muddy.) At the beach, turn left to scramble over jumbled lava rocks and shelves. After about ⅓ mile, you’ll reach blue and green tide pools. They are perfect for swimming in the summer, but watch out for heavy surf and waves during rough sea conditions: there are no lifeguards here.
Secret Beach Access Point: 22.219429, -159.417992
Directions: Take highway 56 northwest out of Kilauea. Turn right (toward the ocean) onto Kalihiwai Rd. Take the first right onto a dirt road and follow it to parking at the road’s end.
Ho’opi’i Falls Hike
See two different waterfalls in 2 miles—and jump off of them, if you’re looking for a rush—on this beginner-friendly out and back. The unmarked path starts at an old dirt road, winding through pastures to Kapa’a Stream. Follow the trail downstream, past Nepal alder and psidium forest hanging with thick vines. A side trail leads to the top of the first waterfall, which cuts through blocky black rock. Continue along the hillside above the river, following the trail as it hooks back around and descends to a rocky shelf below the next set of falls. A rope swing hangs over the pool, but ask locals before you dive in: The bacteria count has been high since recent flooding. If a swim is too risky, enjoy lunch here before heading back the way you came.
Trailhead: Ho’opi’i Falls 22.102983, -159.343317
Directions: From Highway 56, take Olohena Rd north through Kapa’a, toward the mountains. Turn right onto Kapahi road. The trailhead is on the left after .3 miles. Park along the road.
Nounou Mountain Trail (Sleeping Giant)
Gaining 1,000 total feet of elevation up the east side of Nounou Mountain, this 4-mile out and back starts climbing right away. Switchbacks flaunt views of the beach at Wailua Bay to the east. Near the top, take the left fork to continue to a small, flat area with picnic tables. If you’re not bothered by a little exposure, continue toward the next summit for bonus views to the mountain’s forested western slopes. Cross a narrow ridge and ascend to the giant’s “chin.” Pay close attention to conditions, though—the last section can be dangerous when wet.
Trailhead: Sleeping Giant 22.061341, -159.346634
Directions: From Highway 56, take Haleilio Road toward the mountains between mile markers 6 and 7 in Wailua/Kapa’a. About a mile from the highway, the trailhead is on the right as the road begins to bend left. Park here.
Alaka’i Swamp Trail (Koke’e State Park, access from Waimea, south shore)
More properly known as the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve, this high-altitude bog is a 7.7-mile out-and-back from civilization. And while that keeps the tourists away, it’s a small price to pay to be immersed in one of the world’s wettest spots and the rich plant and animal life that springs from it. Starting at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout, follow the Pihea Trail along a ridge overlooking the verdant Kalalau Valley. After a mile, it bends back to join the Alaka’i Swamp Trail. Take the raised boardwalk through enormous hapu’u tree ferns and under arching ‘ōhi’a lehua trees cloaked in moss. The trail ends at the Kilohana lookout; while it’s often shrouded in fog, patient hikers who who show up on a dry day can feast on views all the way to Hanalei Bay the clifftop Kilauea Lighthouse.
Trailhead: Pu’u O Kila Lookout: 22.147637, -159.631562
Directions: Drive up Waimea Canyon Drive (Hwy 550). The trailhead is where the highway ends.