The thing about Hawaii is, almost everywhere you look is beautiful. Made up entirely of volcanic islands, the state has a wonderfully diverse landscape that includes beaches, mountains, rainforests, swamps and canyons. Kauai is the oldest of Hawaii's main islands and it's the fourth largest. There are hundreds of trails to hike and miles of unspoiled territory—a hiker's paradise. We've chosen seven hikes we think are the most scenic.
This is one of the most beautiful hikes in the entire state of Hawaii, with stunning rewards for your effort. The first mile of the two-mile Hanakapiai Trail is a strenuous climb to a 400-foot elevation, but along the way are gorgeous views of the ocean, Kee Beach and the coral reef. The trail crosses beach, valleys, freshwater streams and waterfalls, and finally reaches the the Hanakapiai Valley. It continues through twisted vines, banana and guava plants, crossing boulders and plowing through bamboo forests. At the end flows the stunning 300-foot Hankapiai Falls. Relax and cool off in the pool before making the trek back to Kee Beach.
This is considered "the" hike to make on Kauai. It's an 11-mile trek, but serious hikers should consider bringing a tent and provisions, and plan to spend three to five days exploring the trail, and Kalalau Beach and Valley. Day trekkers will still get a workout and amazing views on the 2-mile stretch between Kee Beach and Hanakapiai Beach. The highest point—about a mile in—is about 400 feet above sea level and affords views of some pretty amazing waves in winter, and calm seas and perhaps kayakers in the summer. The second mile features gorgeous views of the Napali Coast. It is the only land access to this beautiful coast.
Legend has it these twin falls is where Hawaiian men would test their endurance by jumping 80 feet into the 300-foot pool below. Legend also has it many didn't survive the feat. Folklore aside, this stunning waterfall achieved notoriety when it was featured on the popular 1970s and '80s series "Fantasy Island." It's one of the few waterfalls on the island you don't have to hike to see, but hard-core hikers can get to the bottom of the falls via one of two trails—both of which are strongly discouraged by authorities.
From the east, Nounou Mountain looks like a sleeping giant. Native Hawaiians had a legend about a giant who ate too much and fell asleep—and has yet to wake up. Regardless of how it got the name, Sleeping Giant Trail is a moderate two-mile hike that takes you up the giant's "chest." It provides a solid workout and gorgeous views of the oceans, mountains and forests. A careful venture to the giant's "head" will grant a 360-degree view. Enjoy the wildflowers and such trees as ironwood, guava and silk oak along this hike.
It has been called "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific"—Waimea Canyon is about 10 miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep. It is just as stunning a sight to behold as its big sister in Arizona, but with her own personality. Colorful layers of red, brown and green are punctuated by plunging waterfalls and frequent rainbows. The Waimea Canyon State Park boasts several hiking trails ranging in difficulty. The Cliff Trail is a short, easy trail. Keep an eye out for feral goats hanging out on the cliff walls. The much more difficult five-mile Kukui Trail will take you to the canyon floor—a drop of 2,000 feet.
Alakai Wilderness Preserve
This is the world's highest rain forest and is one of the wettest spots on earth. The trail is often shrouded in mist and boasts boardwalks for easier hiking. The preserve encompasses shallow bogs but is a fantastic place to bird-watch and study some of the area's fauna. Though there are boardwalks, the trail is still very wet and often muddy. But hardy trekkers will be rewarded at the end with a vista called Kilohana. Trust us—you don't want to miss the magical views of Wainiha and Hanalei valleys.
This is another trail that promises sweeping views and changing landscapes. The trail starts at 4,120 feet in elevation and descends to 2,500 feet, through rainforests and desert-like terrain. It starts off relatively easy, with marked plants along the way if you're following along in the botanical trail guide. About halfway into the hike it picks up—the Awaawapuhi Valley comes into view at almost two miles. Enjoy those vistas, and look for mountain goats clinging to the cliffs. At the end, take a moment to appreciate the ridges but don't venture past the gates—the drops are severe and can be deceptively slick.