View of the Na Pali Coast
The Kalalau Trail is often considered one of the most scenic and challenging hikes in all of Hawaii.
Starting at the end of the Kuhio Highway on Kauai’s north shore, the Kalalau Trail goes up and down ridges for 11 miles across the otherwise impassable Na Pali Coast.
The trail immediately goes up and within 1/4 mile, you come across a great viewpoint of Ke’e Beach near the start of the trail.
The trail climbs steadily until you reach about 600 feet in elevation, providing amazing views as you look west to the imposing Na Pali Coast. After reaching the top of this first ridge, the trail descends into the Hanakapi’ai Valley until you cross over a stream and see the wide-open Hanakapi’ai Beach stretching out in front of you, about 2 miles from the trailhead.
Hanakapi’ai Beach is the farthest I could get in the time I had, but the Kalalau Trail continues for 9 more miles up and down Na Pali’s ridges. The trail is part of Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, and starting in 2012 camping permits are required for anyone venturing past Hanakoa Valley, 6 miles in from the trailhead. There’s also a 2+ mile spur trail south from Hanakapi’ai Beach to a 300-foot waterfall.
Uluwehi Falls – also known as Secret Falls – is a beautiful 100+ foot waterfall located in Wailua River State Park.
The route to the falls includes a 2.5-mile kayak on the Wailua River, followed by an easy hike of less than one mile. The paddling and hiking are relatively easy, and although it takes a couple hours to complete the journey, the falls are well worth it. And there are scores of people there on pleasant days.
If you have your own kayak, you can make this trip yourself (and if you have your own kayak in the area, you probably already do this on a regular basis). But for tourists, there are a bunch of tour companies offering guided trips down the river to the falls.
The kayak portion, starting at the Wailua Marina just off Highway 56, is an easy paddle down the slow-moving and scenic Wailua River. A high cliff towers over the south side of the river, while traffic on Kuamoo Road flows by on a bluff the north side. At the fork in the river just past the Hawaiian village, head right and the river gets narrow. Your guide will know where to dock your kayak and proceed with the short and easy hike to the falls.
At the falls, there is plenty of room to find a spot in the rocks for lunching, relaxing and gazing at the waterfall. There is a wide pool at the base of the falls to swim in, although the water is often chilly. Be careful as decent-sized rocks can tumble down the falls.
The kayak trip back is with the current, making for a relaxing end to a scenic trip.
View of the Kilauea Lighthouse
Heading from the parking lot to the lighthouse is an easy walk – less than 1/2 mile, almost no elevation change and even features a stop in the gift shop. But what amazing views of the Pacific and the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge!
The most prevalent animal on the day I was there was the nene, the Hawaii state bird. But some visitors are lucky enough to see those, as well as dolphins and humpback whales in the blue waters of the Pacific.
The refuge is only open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on federal holidays. There is a fee of $5 per person for those over 16 (kids are free).
The lighthouse itself is no longer in use. It was built in 1913 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here for more information on the lighthouse.
View from the Sleeping Giant on the Kuamoo-Nounou trail
Some of the best hiking in the Wailua and Kapa’a area on Kauai’s eastern shore leads up to the Sleeping Giant. The Kuamoo Nounou Trail is one of three that winds up to this spot.
The Sleeping Giant got its name because this hill is said to look like a huge man laying on his back when viewing it from the ocean side.
This trail climbs up to the giant and traverses his chest from the southwest. It starts with a wide grassy pathway skirting the edge of the Wailua Homesteads neighborhood. You’ll cross a bridge over the small Opaekaa Stream and start heading up through the forest.
While it’s a moderate hike, the rocky (but easy to follow) trail does have a constant steady incline of a little over 300 feet for most of its 2-mile length. A shelter with a couple picnic tables about 3/4 mile in provides a shady spot for lunch or a quick rest. At the 2-mile marker (there are mile markers every 1/2 mile), the trail joins up with another trail that leads down a different route. We turned around and went back down the way we came.
One note of caution: Mosquitos are present and definitely have a taste for humans. Take appropriate precautions.
Thunder Mountain Trail on Mt. Baldy
Mt. Baldy, the highest peak in Los Angeles County and also known officially as Mount San Antonio, is known for its skiing in the winter. But when the snow melts, those ski runs turn into hiking trails.
If you’re not up to the daunting task of tackling Baldy’s peak at 10,069 feet, a trip the opposite way to Thunder Mountain is a moderate hike that still has fantastic views at just over 3 miles round-trip with a 800-900 foot elevation gain.
The trail is a wide road littered with rocks that serves as a ski run during the winter. Once at the top, a ski shack with a deck is a great place to stop and enjoy the views. The return trip is an easy gradual decline back to Baldy Notch, and the restaurant there is decent but overpriced.
Thunder Mountain is one of the “Three T’s” collected by LA-area hikers, including nearby Telegraph Peak and Timber Mountain.