Three Fun, Short Hikes on Kauai, Hawaii

I love to hike. But honestly, it’s been a little challenging to go hiking since having kids. On our recent trip to Kauai, we were kidless and therefore excited about being able to do some hiking at our leisure. While we didn’t have kids to slow us down, we did have to contend with a lot of rain during our stay. This meant that what could have been long day hikes turned into short treks, but they were spectacular nonetheless. If you’re looking for short hikes on Kauai, these three might be for you: (and check out my 30 things to do: Kauai!)

Three Fun, Short Hikes: Kauai

Kalalau Trail (the first section):

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

This 11-mile trail starts at Ke’e Beach and is the only land access to the beautiful Na Pali Coast. If you follow Kuhio Highway past jungly mountains and beachside homes along the north coast of Kauai, this is the “end of the road.” Once you get here, it can be hard to find a place to park, so it’s best to arrive early. The beach is known for excellent snorkeling and is crowded. The trailhead begins just before the beach.

The first section of the Kalalau Trail is a two-mile stretch from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai Beach. We had planned to do the entire first section, but it was raining off and on that day, and the hike became a challenge in the rain. Check out the trail: (!)

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

In fact, this hike has been called one of the ten most dangerous hikes in the U.S., but that designation refers more to the conditions that exist much farther along the trail. We didn’t realize how difficult the trail would be in the rain and weren’t expecting so much uphill climbing, but we had no problems even in the bad weather.

The thing about the weather on Kauai is that it can quickly turn from rainy to sunny. After hiking uphill in the rain, the rain suddenly passed and we were able to view the magical hills of the Na Pali Coast.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

We continued on, but after it started raining again, we decided to turn around. The trek down in the rain was a challenge, and I was very glad I had on my trusty Chacos.

After this experience, we learned a few things: that the nature of the trail (up and down, over rocks and through sometimes muddy areas) means that it takes longer than expected, a walking stick is a good idea (there were some for use at the trailhead), extra caution should be taken in the rain, and good shoes are a must–although we saw a few locals hiking in bikinis and bare feet! I also would not recommend taking children on this hike.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

Waimea Canyon State Park and Koke’e State Park:

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

There are several hiking trails in Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks, but we chose to do a small section of two of them.

First, you need to know that there are many short walks to take at the lookouts as you drive toward Waimea Canyon. Take you time and explore them because the landscape and views change quickly, and as you climb in elevation toward the canyon, the weather can get worse.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

Cliff Trail/Canyon Trail: Once you get to the main lookout for Waimea Canyon, you can continue up the road to another parking lot and find this trail. Cliff Trail is a .2 mile hike to a lookout point, and then it’s a couple more miles along the Canyon Trail for those wanting more. It’s downhill on a pleasant tree-lined trail to a lookout point–and even further to the top of  Waipo’o Falls–but we didn’t make it that far. Get detailed info here.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

The hike from Pu’u O Kila Lookout

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

The real highlight of a visit to Waimea Canyon is this last lookout point in Koke’e State Park. All you have to do to find it is continue driving up the road, past the canyon, until the last stop. The view is said to be one of the best in Hawaii, but thanks to the rain and fog, we didn’t get it. See this photo for the same view on a sunny day! Ack!

But in a way, it was cool to see it in this way, too. Rain and fog are an integral part of the geography here, and we appreciated seeing clouds hugging the cliffs and rain providing moisture for the green, green plants all around us.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

Plus, this is one of the wettest places on earth, as the sign lets you know as you begin.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

The one-mile hike down is so fun. The orange lumpy terrain almost feels like walking on another planet. We didn’t go the entire way because of the rain, but I’d recommend walking at least part of it no matter the weather.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

And when we got back to the top, the green hills and ocean of the Na Pali Coast tried to peek out of the clouds for a few minutes, but then were hidden again.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

Maha’ulepu Coastal Trail:

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This was my favorite walk that we did because there was something beautiful to see around every turn. This trail follows an undeveloped stretch of coast on the South Shore. It goes east from Shipwreck Beach for two miles. To find it, take the small road between the Grand Hyatt and the golf course, park at Shipwreck Beach, and look for the trail behind the large rock on the left side of the beach. I think there are actually two or three trails, and they all go the same way; we took the one on the right, closer to the rock:

3 Short Hikes Kauai

We did part of this hike after visiting Waimea Canyon (notice the difference in weather, by the way, between the rain and haze near the canyon and the sunny, hot weather we encountered on the south shore!).

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

One nice feature of this trail is that sometimes there are at least a couple of paths that run parallel to each other, offering an alternative route if you want some variety. Most of the hike is easy, but some of the walking right along the shore involved brief climbing, so be aware of that if you bring kids–the trail that runs parallel just a little bit inland provides a safer option for kids.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

The walk gets hot in the sun, so be sure to bring plenty of water. There are no markers, and while getting lost is not a concern, you may need to ask someone where the trail starts if you’re unsure.

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

3 Short Hikes on Kauai

I loved Kauai! Much more about our stay there is coming soon, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations. Have you done any hikes on Kauai?

More about Kauai here:

30 Things to Do: Kauai

Where to Stay on Kauai

My Pinterest board all about Kauai travel

6 Comments

  • Cindy says:

    What an amazing post! The photos are spectacular and really made me want to return to Kauai and spend the whole time hiking. (When I was there before, it was more about hanging out on the beach and visiting the canyon.) Thanks for sharing your experiences & insights, Jenna!

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you! I think you would have a lot of fun exploring the nature there. I thought of you and your long hikes on the coast of England while we were hiking.

  • So lovely! Kauai is definitely next on my list for Hawaiian destinations. I usually go to Oahy (4x now) and am craving something a little different.

    • Jenna says:

      I think you will love it! I really fell in love with the island and can’t wait to go back, although I’d also like to get to know the other islands better, too.

  • Gorgeous photos, Jenna! This is a Hawaiian island I haven’t been to, Kauai looks brilliantly green and wonderfully uncrowded. Congrats on your anniversary!

    • Jenna says:

      Before this, I had only been to the Big Island (and Oahu, when I was about 10). I loved the Big Island, but Kauai was everything I had hoped and more. So much fun.

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