The Scenic Hiking Trails of Kauai’s Kokee State Park

Sep 9, 2021 | General Information

Thanks to the Hawaii State Division of Forestry, the Napali Forest Reserve area is managed as a wilderness. A rich variety of native plant species thrive in the Reserve and along its trails. Of all of the trails high above the Napali Coast, none surpasses the Awaawapuhi Trail. This well-maintained Trail provides a marvelous, albeit strenuous, journey in Kokee State Park. The trail ascends from the 4,120-foot elevation to the rim of Nualolo and Awaawapuhi valleys. Physically fit hikers might consider a marvelous 9-mile hike that follows the Nualolo-Cliff-Awaawapuhi Trails. The Nualolo Trail would be a really good start to the trek near a Ranger Station, ending on a gradual descent down the Awaawapuhi Trail.

The 3.25-mile Awaawapuhi Trail wends through rain forest and high desert terrain to some of the most awe-inspiring vistas on Kauai’s Napali Coast. The trail through tropical forests reveals views of the steep walls of verdant valleys. Views might include feral goats. Awaawapuhi Trail is a continual downhill hike from the trailhead to a grassy clearing overlooking the valleys. Near the trail’s 3-mile marker, the Cliff Trail heads south for several miles to the Nualolo Trail. At the end of the trail, the Awaawapuhi Nualolo Lookout provides spectacular panoramic views and a picnic area.

The 3.8-mile Nualolo Trail ascends through a native forest of Koa trees and then descends to viewpoints overlooking Nualolo Valley. Along various parts of the trail, fruits, berries and rare plants grow. After 3 miles the Cliff Trail opens up as the connection to the Awaawapuhi Trail. From the Nualolo-Cliff Trail junction, hiking the Cliff Trail opens marvelous views of both Awaawapuhi and Nualolo valleys. From the fairly level Cliff Trail, it’s an easy ascent to the Awaawapuhi Trail.

In addition to scenic vistas of Waimea Canyon, the short Cliff Trail connects with the Canyon Trail. The Canyon Trail descends into a gulch and then makes its way to Waipoo Falls. Steep in parts, Canyon Trail offers really good views of Waimea Canyon and the sea. An 800-foot cascading waterfall, Waipoo Falls can be seen from various lookouts along the canyon road. The Waipoo Falls Trail ends at the top of the waterfall high above the canyon floor with a spectacular view of the canyon below. Photo opportunities galore include wild goats that make these cliffs their home.

The Pihea Trail or Kilohana Lookout follows a land bridge 4,000-feet above the Kalalau Valley floor and the Alakai Swamp. Inland views stretch to Mount Waialeale – “The Wettest Spot on Earth”. A boardwalk follows the Pihea Trail through a forest of Ohia, Koa, wild ferns, and other native plants. Many birds make this forest their home, for example, the indigenous Elepaio. The bird’s song sounds like its name.

The Alakai Swamp is the highest swamp in the world. Getting wet and muddy on part of the 3.5-mile hike is likely but worth it. After a mile, the trail continues on a boardwalk that ascends and descends through the swamp. If weather permits, Kilohana Lookout at the end opens a magnificent view into Wainiha Valley. Wainiha Valley extends from the sea to Mt. Waialeale. With the right weather the visual experience extends to Hanalei Bay and even as far as the Kilauea Lighthouse


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