Hiking in Koke’e State Park can be an unforgettable adventure and will afford some of the best views of the Na Pali. If you’ve never experienced the sight, photographs will highlight the imposing Na Pali cliffs, which stand as 4,000 foot spires dropping dramatically into the valleys and ocean below. Trekking the Awaawapuhi Trail is one of the best ways to explore the island on foot and will reward you with breathtaking panoramic views.
The Awaawapuhi Trail on Kauai is a 6.2 mile out-and-back route that starts at 4,120 feet in elevation and drops to 2,500 feet at the final lookout. While the first half is downhill, there is nothing but climbing on the way back to your car. Combined with the muddy terrain if there’s been recent rainfall and the uphill hike on the way back, this is a difficult hike for many. The start of the trail passes through the forest and gives way to desert-like terrain until the first glimpse of Awa’awapuhi Valley just under two miles in.
The trail ends abruptly on a ridgetop, showcasing panoramic views of both the Awa’awapuhi Valley and Nu’alolo Valley. Hikers should heed railings and warning signs, as the rocky ground crumbles easily and it’s not uncommon for tourists venturing off the trails to need rescue.
Enjoy a picnic lunch in the grassy area and fuel up before tackling the uphill return hike on Awaawapuhi Trail.
An Alternative Route
If you dislike backtracking, it’s possible to turn this into a loop route by linking with the Nu’alolo Cliffs Trail and Nu’alolo Trail. This increases the length to 10.7 miles, including the 1.5-mile walk down Waimea Canyon Drive, adding more spectacular views to the trek.
If you plan on tackling the entire loop, be sure to start early in the morning to ensure that you’ve completed the trek by the time evening descends. The Nu’alolo Cliffs Trail stretches for approximately two miles and connects the Awa’awapuhi and Nu’alolo Trails. Compared to the Awa’awapuhi and Nu’alolo Trails, the Nu’alolo Cliffs Trail is much less strenuous in terms of elevation gain. However, as the name suggests, the trail follows along the sheer cliffs of the Na Pali with steep trailside drop-offs, so extreme caution should be taking on traversing this section. Once on the 3.8-mile Nu’alolo Trail, you’ll want to be sure to venture as far as the Lolo Vista Point, which offers more sweeping Na Pali views. Whether you complete the route clockwise or counterclockwise, the trek back to the road up the Nu’alolo or Awa’awaphui Trails will be a test of endurance, with consistent elevation gain. A mile and a half separate the two trailheads along the highway, so you will need to take this distance into consideration as well when planning to complete the entire circuitous route. For this reason, many suggest parking at the Nu’alolo Trailhead and hiking first along the Nu’alolo Trail with the Awa’awapuhi completing your return trip, so that the final walk back to the car is downhill.
Koke’e State Park
Only fit and experienced hikers should attempt the Awa’awapuhi Trail or Nu’alolo Trail. However, there are many other trails located within Koke’e State Park that are suited for beginners. Be sure to stop by the Koke’e Natural History Museum for trail maps, souvenirs, and informational exhibits on the area. For those who want the thrill of the views without the commitment of a tiring hike, there is still plenty to see from the comfort of your vehicle and from the easily accessible viewpoints throughout the park. Beginning the drive from the west side town of Waimea and heading up Koke’e Road (Hwy 550), pullout points are located all along the route, providing safe stopping points to admire the views. Highlights include the dramatic Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, as well as the striking Waipo’o Falls, which drops 800 feet into the Canyon. Continuing past the Koke’e Natural History Museum, the Kalalau Lookout and Pu’u O Kila Lookout offer the final, most dramatic views of the Na Pali Coast before heading back down the mountain.
Planning Your Hike on Awaawapuhi Trail
As with any hike on Kauai, make a checklist to ensure you come prepared to Awaawapuhi Trail on Kauai. Bring sturdy hiking shoes, more water than you think you’ll need, and prepare for the possibility of rain. The trailhead is at a parking area along the left side of Waimea Canyon Drive near the highway 17-mile marker.
We have nearly 30 rental properties on Kauai’s north, east, and south shores. Staying at one of our south coast properties allows you to enjoy the sunny south side’s beaches and is a good base for exploring the trails in Koke’e. Contact us at 866-922-5642 or [email protected] to book your vacation rental and to learn about things to do on the island.
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