Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai, Hawaii
Kalalau Trail

Parker & I traveled 13 hours to Kauai in February 2023. We went in search of island vibes, colorful and exotic hikes, and fresh poke... and Kauai provided all that and more! We experienced a helicopter tour for the first time, swam under a waterfall, and learned the true meaning of Aloha. Our favorite hike of the trip was the 8mi down & back along the Na Pali Coast to Hanakāpīʻai Falls, and we hope to return one day to hike the full Kalalau Trail!

We stayed in Kapa'a in the east, which ended up being the most convenient location for traveling to the rest of the island. With one road wrapping the entire island, it was never more than 90 minutes to any destination. Kapa'a also offered some of our favorite food trucks in the area and local favorite Pono Market for the best poke we've ever had!

Sunrise from our Airbnb

Summary of Trip

Day 1: Helicopter Tour
Day 2: Hike Nu'alolo Trail - Koke'e State Park & Explore the West
Day 3: Hike Hanakāpīʻai Falls via Kalalau Trail (Our Favorite hike on Kauai!) - Ha'ena State Park & Explore the North
Day 4: Luau & Explore the East
Day 5: Hike Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) East Trail & Beach Hop
Day 6: Visit Historic Old Kōloa Town & Poipu Beach
Day 7: Kauai Coffee Company & Waterfall Chasing

Day 1: Helicopter Tour

We started our adventures on the island with the bird's eye helicopter view from Air Kauai. The Doors-Off tour was absolutely the way to go and made the experience so much more exciting! We viewed endless rainbows as we soared over Five Sisters Waterfalls and around the rest of the island, seeing by air what we would soon experience on foot.

Day 2: Hike in Koke'e State Park & Explore the West

Nu'alolo Trail - Koke'e State Park

Difficulty: Hard. Distance: 7.6 miles. Elevation gain: 2,398 ft. Time: 4.5 hrs. Trailhead: Koke'e Lodge Parking Lot.

After waking to a gorgeous sunrise from the beach, we grabbed some poke and set off for Koke'e State Park on the western side of the island. This was a fun trail that takes you down along the ridge and boasts incredible views of the Na Pali Coast at the end and plenty of lush jungle along the way. The steep hills would make for a challenging hike on a rainy day. Fortunately, we had perfect weather and experienced firsthand the magnificent beauty for which the Garden Isle is named! This trail took us 3 hours and 10 minutes with time for a quick lunch at the end of the trail and enjoying the magical views.

We were lucky to only run across a dead centipede on our hike. These 4-8 inch Hawaiian Centipedes are known for their bite that, although is not lethal, will make you wish you were dead.

We stumbled upon this beautiful mushroom - Don't eat this one!

Near the bottom of the Nu'alolo Trail is the Nu'alolo Cliffs trail. This trail connects with the Awa’awapuhi Trail, which runs parallel to the Nu'alolo Trail on the adjacent ridge and creates a loop for 5 extra miles and a total distance of 12.6 miles.

While you're on the western side of the island, you see the incredible Waimea Canyon!

Day 3: Hike in Ha'ena State Park & Explore the North

Hanakāpīʻai Falls via Kalalau Trail - Ha'ena State Park

Difficulty: Hard. Distance: 7.7 miles. Elevation gain: 2,480 ft. Time: 5 hrs. Trailhead:

This hike exceeded all of our expectations- the Na Pali coast is truly a paradise. If you only have time for one hike while you're in Kauai, this is the one! It's decently strenuous, with multiple stream crossings and lots of up & downhills, which would be difficult if the trail were wet and muddy.

Located on the north shore of the island in the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, reservations are required and must be purchased ahead of time (https://gohaena.com/). Permits are also required to hike and camp on the Kalalau Trail but are not for those hiking to Hanakāpīʻai Beach and then continuing on the Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail.

We made an early reservation time to shuttle into the park, which ended up being an experience of its own with the driver giving an impromptu lesson in Hawaiian language and culture!

The hike starts at Ke'e Beach and traverses along the Na Pali Coast Trail for 2 miles. There is a stream crossing at the outlet into the ocean at Hanakāpīʻai Beach, which is a beautiful destination of its own! After turning onto the Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail, there are multiple crossings over the Hanakāpīʻai stream, which make the trail less defined but still pretty easy to follow. There are many scattered patches of bamboo forest and a rock scramble at the end to bring you to the pinnacle of the hike. As we approached the falls, we could feel a sprinkling mist coming from the ~300ft waterfall. Swimming out through the cold water and feeling the weight of the falls was an unforgettable experience!

This hike took us just over 4 hours to complete, with time spent luxuriating in the falls.

After the hike, we noticed a farmers' market happening across the street from the shuttle parking lot. We ate scrumptious Rambutan for the first time, which instantly became a staple grocery item for the week!

While exploring the north, we made sure to stop and grab some Kona Mudslide ice cream and Hawaiian grilled cheese at Pink's Ice Cream Shop in Hanalei!

Day 4: Luau & Explore the East

We spent the day exploring Kapa'a, visiting poke shops, beaches, and a bunch of food spots. Pono Market had the best poke on the island. We tried poke from several places, and Pono had the best taste and value. Their spicy ahi tuna and sesame salmon were our favorite! Also, don't miss their pork lau lau. Locals will line up & down the block, and they usually sell out by mid-day!

The fish tacos at Tiki Tacos were fresh, flavorful, and delicious! We kept coming back for more multiple times throughout the trip.

We went to Smith Family Garden Luau in the evening, located on a 30-acre botanical garden featuring fruit orchards, bamboo forests, peacocks & walking paths. We had a feast of kalua pig, teriyaki beef, ono mahi mahi, and chicken adobo. And we had to try the poi, a traditional food made from taro which is a staple in the Polynesian diet! The array of drinks and fruit juices was also fun to sample (guava being an instant favorite).

The luau itself showcases various traditional songs and dances that have helped shape Hawaiian culture, including the Hawaiian hula, Tahitian drum dance, and the Samoan fire knife dance. The food was good, the gardens were beautiful, and the show was fun.

Day 5: Hike Nounou Mountain & Beach Hop

Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) East Trail

Difficulty: Hard. Distance: 3.2 miles. Elevation gain: 1,256 ft. Time: 3-4 hrs. Trailhead: Sleeping Giant parking lot.

This trail was muddy & slippery & we both slipped and fell...but we had a blast anyway!

Located in the Nounou State Forest Reserve near Kapa'a, the Nounou Mountain Range is also known as Sleeping Giant because that's exactly how the ridgeline looks from afar! Hawaiian legend tells of a giant who partied too hard, fell asleep where he lay, and never woke up!

The trail starts with a series of switchbacks that ascend through a shaded forest of ironwood, guava, and silk oak. On the way up the ridge, the trail is surrounded by lush, tropical greenery and offers breathtaking views of the town of Kapa'a, the Wailua River, and the glittering blue of the Pacific Ocean.

We ate poke at a picnic table on the giant's chest. Just a short trek away is the giant's head, where there were unrivaled 360-degree views of the entire island of Kauai! We spent a good amount of time exploring the rocky terrain around the summit before turning back down the trail. We spent 2 hours and 15 minutes hiking this trail and loved it.

In the evening, we ate at Kenji Burger in Kapa'a for a delicious collision of Japanese & Hawaiian flavors. This restaurant was once featured in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives... and it's not hard to see why! I will forever dream about their Loco Moco Bowl (a Kenji Bowl with an egg).

Day 6: Visit Historic Old Kōloa Town & Poʻipū Beach

We decided to spend the day exploring the south shore of Kauai, starting with Old Kōloa Town. This is a beautifully renovated sugar plantation-era village with a charming assortment of shops, art galleries, and eateries. Plaques are located throughout the town that detail the rich history of the area.

Make sure to check out The Fresh Shave for incredible, authentic shave ice!

We spent the afternoon exploring the famous Poʻipū Beach. This is an extremely popular (i.e. crowded) public beach located on the south shore of Kauai. But the best part was seeing the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles sunbathing on the warm sand!

Although we weren’t lucky enough to see one, the Hawaiian Monk Seal can sometimes be spotted on the beaches if you're in the right place (from at least 150 ft away!) at the right time! However, it is one of the most critically endangered animals in the world, and sightings are rare.

Shipwreck Beach is another beautiful beach located on the south shore. For adrenaline junkies- there is even a perfect cliff-jumping spot! This is also the start of the beautiful 3.8-mile Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail.

Salt Pond Beach is located near Hanapēpē on the west shore of the island. This actually ended up being our favorite beach on the island, with far fewer people, a white sandy beach, and shallow tide pools to swim & explore.

On our way back to our Airbnb, we stopped at Keālia Beach on the east shore near Kapa'a. This short stretch of white sandy beach was fun for watching surfers and boogie boarders.


Day 7: Kauai Coffee Company & Waterfall Chasing

On our final day in Kauai, we started out the same as we had the rest of the week... with Kauai Coffee!

The Kauai Coffee Plantation is the largest coffee farm in the United States and has both guided and self-guided tours of their grand estate (and yes- free samples!). We spent an enjoyable morning exploring the property and purchasing gifts for the coffee lovers in our lives.


We spent the rest of our last day exploring waterfalls and other natural wonders on the Garden Isle- starting with majestic Wailua Falls, a 173-ft waterfall located near Lihue in the east of the island. Although the trail down to the falls is permanently closed (and illegal and unsafe to attempt), the view of the falls from the overlook is worth a trip in its own right.

ʻŌpaekaʻa Falls are equally as gorgeous and are named after the Hawaiian term for "rolling shrimp," which were once abundant in the stream. Located in the east near Lihue, this 151-ft waterfall is one of the most accessible on the entire island and can be reached by car without the need for hiking. Walk uphill from the ʻŌpaekaʻa lookout for more incredible views of the Wailua River Valley.


We finished up a magical trip in Kauai with some 10/10 wood-fired pizza from Scorpacciata in Lihue. It's located directly across the street from Kalapaki Beach, which is where we watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean one last time before making our way back home.


Wish List - Kalalau Trail (Crawler’s Ledge)

On our next trip to the Hawaiian Islands, we would like to return to hike the full 11-mile Kalalau Trail. While we were fortunate to experience the first 2 miles of this trail on our way to Hanakāpīʻai Falls, this only gave us a taste of the breathtaking beauty that the Na Pali Coast has to offer. The fact that it is widely known as one of the most beautiful and dangerous in the world has ascertained our return at some point in the future to conquer the famous Crawler’s Ledge (although preferably during their dry season!). Know that you have to get a permit in advance to venture this entire trail!