The island of Kauai is the smallest and farthest of the Hawaiian islands and lives up to it’s nickname of The Garden Island with all of the lush, tropical landscapes and overgrown jungles.
The crystal clear ocean waters, daily marine life spottings, mountains, jungles, and beaches make the island of Kauai the epitome of paradise. But there is way more to the island than just beautiful beaches and the best way to see the island, in my opinion, is by hiking it!
There are plenty of options for hiking trails in Kauai but based on the recommendations of some family members who live on the island, our crew opted for moderate difficulty and shorter distance so we could still have time to relax on the beach before or after the hike. All of the hikes we went on also offered incredible views and access to areas that you can’t get to by car which made for some pretty epic photo ops.
Here are the 5 Must Do Scenic Hikes in Kauai:
- Waimea Canyon Trial
- Dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is a sight to see and should be on your Kauai itinerary. You can drive to the top and lookout at multiple locations over the canyon and also over the Nā Pali Coast but the best way to see the canyon is by hiking it. The Canyon Trail is a little over 3 miles total which goes down to Waipoo falls and back. It can get pretty steep at points but it’s shaded most of the time and well trafficked so you always know where you’re going and can go at your own pace. The end destination takes you to the top of the waterfall with a smaller waterfall and swimming hole that feed into the bigger one. If you’re brave enough to handle the chilly mountain water, then you can take a dip and relax before hiking back up. This was my personal favorite of all the hikes we did on the island!
- Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) Trail
- This 4 mile round-trip hike is the longest of all the hikes on this list and has the steepest incline but you are rewarded with amazing views of almost the whole island once you make it to the top. Tucked between the towns of Wailua and Kapa’a, the entrance to this hike is actually in the middle of a neighborhood but it’s popular so it’s easy to find.
- Wailua River “Secret” Waterfall
- This hike would have been higher on the list but the only way to access it is by the river so you have to get there by kayak or paddle board first, which I loved but that might not be for everyone. We rented paddleboards at Kauai SUP and launched our boards at the beginning of the river in Wailua. After a short paddle up the river and right past a traditional Hawaiian village, the river splits and you take it to the right. There’s a spot to beach the boards and then an obvious trail head which will take you to the Secret Waterfall. It’s not really secret because the trail was heavily trafficked but we also went mid-afternoon so doing this first thing in the morning would be a better option. It’s also SUPER muddy so bring proper shoes. I ended up going barefoot which was fine but would definitely recommended secure sandals or even water shoes. The end result was totally worth it and the kayaking or paddleboard requirement just adds a little more adventure and excitement!
- Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
- This was more of a walk than a hike but it’s scenic non-the-less and definitely great for beginners. The steepest part is the beginning of the trail at Shipwreck’s beach in front of the Hyatt Resort. You climb up to a cliff that you can actually jump from if you’re brave and the ocean is calm enough and from that point you head north along the rough coastline. There are a couple spots you can hike down to the water’s edge but mostly it’s just a great way to see the coastline that’s inaccessible by car. Like most of the other hikes, this is a down and back trail that’s about 3 miles total.
- Ho’opi’i Waterfall Trail
- I’m only putting this one last because we didn’t actually make it to the end of the hike because it started raining and the path was already pretty muddy. But I have a feeling if we would have made it to the end, it would have been amazing! It’s only a 2 mile round trip hike and you see two waterfalls with cliff-jumping, ropes swings, and swimming holes along the way. The entrance is also located in a neighborhood and close to private property so be quiet and respectful when checking this one out.
As you can tell from the pictures, we made it a point to explore as much of the island as we could, which was hard given that we only have 7 Days in Kauai (click here to see my full list of recommendations). Splitting up the day made it a lot easier though. We would do a hike in the morning and go sit at the beach in the afternoon or visa versa. That way we would also have enough energy to hit another trail the next day which made it possible to do all of these 5 scenic hikes during our week in Kauai!
Note: To anyone visiting Kauai, the most popular hike on the island that goes along the Nā Pali Coast is still closed after the island experienced flooding and landslides about a year ago. So while we were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to do that hike, all of the trails above are great alternatives to the Nā Pali Coast hike.