Hiking in Kaua'i

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Hiking in Kaua’i: The island of Kaua’i is lush, green, beautiful and is well known for it’s abundance of great trail hikes. 

What to bring to hike in Kaua’i

When you travel to Kaua’i or any Hawaiian island, your top items will obviously be a couple of bathing suits, flip flops, sunscreen and a hat. If you want to hike you’ll need a few more things to prepare for the  tropical climate. The island is quite rainy and there are plenty of lush and muddy jungle hikes. You’ll need some protective outerwear. 

Ideally take a pair of hiking shoes or trail running shoes that are made with Gore-tex. There are some deep puddles in a lot of the trails, and you’ll be thankful when your feet are dry.

  • Hiking shoes, preferably with gore-tex
  • A backup pair of sneakers you don’t mind getting dirty with jungle mud, it’s very very muddy on some of these trails. Try to get ones made with gore-tex or other water resistant fabric to keep your feet dry.
  • Long, thin and breathable hiking pants to protect your legs during jungle hikes.
  • Long sleeve and short sleeve hiking shirt.
  • A thin windbreaker shell jacket for rain and to protect your arms when hiking. For example, try the Cotopaxi Teca full zip windbreaker
  • Hat.
  • Wool hiking socks. Wool dries quicker and keeps the temperature in your shoes regulated.
  • Hiking poles – very helpful for puddle hopping on some of the many muddy trails on the island.
  • Small backpack. Since you don’t need an excessive amount of gear for day hikes because it’s so warm, a 20L pack full mostly of water and food will be sufficient. Choose a pack with a moisture wicking back to keep your back as dry as possible. Try the Osprey Stratos daypack, it has a breathable mesh back and water reservoir bladder. 
  • Lots of water. The heat is quite dehydrating, and even though it’s humid, it’s hard to drink enough sometimes. It’s a good idea to take a hydration bladder. If you do run out of water, make sure you have a water filter or water treatment drops

Island Water

Though in some high alpine areas it is occasionally safe to drink untreated water, it’s very unsafe to do so on tropical islands like Kaua’i. The tropical climate means all sorts of bacteria and microorganism thrive, including flesh-eating disease in some rivers. You don’t want to go into some streams or rivers if you have any open wounds, never mind drink untreated water from them. Make sure to always treat your water.

waipoo falls hiking kauai lifeoutdoors

The Waipoo falls hike in Waimea canyon.

Recommended guide book

There are a number of good guidebooks written on the island, but our favourite is The Ultimate Kaua’i Guidebook, written by long time Kaua’i resident Andrew Doughty. It has a great personal touch written by someone who actually lives and hikes on the island full time. We like this book because Andrew actually loves to hike and explore and he has hiked most of the trails on the island. His trail descriptions are really honest assessments and very accurate. 

Can I get to the highest point on Kaua’i?

Yes, you can access the highest point in Kaua’i, but it’s not easy.

Created recently by volcanic activity, Hawaiian islands are all quite mountainous, and much of the summits are accessible. On Big Island there is Mauna Kea and on Maui there is Haleakala. In Kaua’i, the ancient, dormant volcano is a actually large crater, known as Waiale’ale. This crater is also known as the Blue Hole, and is completely lush, green, and usually hidden in thick cloud. 

The wettest spot on earth

The highest point on Kaua’i is the old Waiale’ale crater, at 5148 feet (1569 m) is also the wettest spot on earth. What sounds like an exotic, beautiful place is definitely not a glamorous hike. Until a few years ago, it wasn’t even possible to get to the top because it was too hard to navigate. Now a conservation fence makes a nice landmark. In order to orient yourself properly you’ll have find this fence.  Be prepared however, for thick, misty jungle and loads of mud. The trailhead is 4 miles in a forestry road, and you’ll need a 4 WD vehicle to access it. Find a some good information about the hike here.

You won’t be able to find the trail without a map (the smartphone app that comes with the Kaua’i Revealed guidebook is recommended). It’s a slog, it’s wet, muddy, slippery and is a 20 mile long round trip, meaning it would probably take two days to complete. The jungle is thick, and it’s mostly in the rain and clouds so it’s unlikely you’ll get any views either.  Nonetheless, it does sound like a great adventure, and a few people commit to doing it.  The summit is long: it takes two hours to get from one end of the summit plateau to the other. 

waialeale from hanalei

A view of lush Waiale’ale from a beach in Hanalei on the one day of the year where it’s not covered in cloud. Truly a rare sight!

The summit of Wai’ale’ale is so rainy that on the plateau that aside from some scraggly trees, nothing is over a foot tall and it’s blanketed by fern and moss. Few plants are equipped to deal with this much rain and cloud cover.

It is called the wettest spot on earth for good reason, it averages more than 452 inches of rain a year (11,500 mm)! The Wai’aleale crater is one of the many hiking trails on Kaua’i, and definitely the least popular. 

Read more

Kaua’i has many hiking trails, find out about our favourite trails in our article of the best hiking trails on Kaua’i.