When we came to Kauai, I had two things I wanted to do. Hang out on the beach and hike as much as possible. Traveling with a six-year-old, I quickly learned I had to manage MY expectations and come to a compromise if we were actually going to ENJOY our vacation.
I tend to get carried away with seeing lots of different beaches and doing lots of different things. And my son wanted to just hang out at his new favorite beach, Lydgate State Beach Park (more on that HERE).
So, we compromised. I cut my list of hikes in half and he came along with (minimal) complaints. Here were our favorites.
Note: Hiking with a kid is subjective. My son was six years old and listens pretty well. Some of the trails were muddy and slippery and some were next to steep drop offs. I definitely had to carry him at some points. So keep that in mind.
Also note: It’s important to protect the ecosystem from non-native plants. Scrub your shoes coming and going and leave no trace behind. That means water bottles, trash anything goes out with you.
Best Hikes in Kauai: Kuilau Ridge Trail (1.5 miles each way to the picnic tables)
One of my goals for this trip is to at least attempt a ridge hike. We did not complete the trail along the actual ridge, but we were able to go far enough along to get some breathtaking views. There is minimal parking at the trailhead, zero cell service and the drive up the mountain was a little nerve-racking, but it was totally worth it.
This trail is located in the Keahua Arboretum. It’s uphill, and moderately challenging. You can see tropical wildflowers, tree ferns for the most part you’re under the tree cover. The mosquitos were brutal, so bring some sort of bug spray if you tend to get bitten (my son and I always do). The trail was very slippery – it rains a lot in Kauai, so it usually is muddier/wetter than some of the other islands. I’d suggest wearing a hiking boot, or at least a sneaker.
It’s a bit humid leading up, but once you get along the ridge, there’s a really great breeze to cool you down. We stopped at the area a the picnic table/cover. You can continue on from there, but even at that point you get great views of the valley below.
If we make it back to Kauai, we’d definitely check this out again and continue along the ridge.
Best Hikes in Kauai: Sleeping Giant Trailhead (1.6 miles round trip, according to AllTrails.com)
Sleeping Giant is a mountain that literally looks like a giant who is sleeping. There are actually two different trailheads, one on the eastern side of the mountain and one on the western side. We did the eastern trailhead. I chose it because it was a little bit shorter in distance, which I thought might work out better with my son.
One of the cool things about the hike, is that it cuts through different types of forest, even though it’s not very big. There’s a grove of Cook Island Pines, which have really distinctive trunks that are just amazing.
The Cook Island Pines are really cool – they’re huge, and you can see clusters of them on the mountainsides around the island. They are so much taller than the trees around them, they caught my eye and I googled ‘huge trees on kauai’ to try to figure out what they were.
The hike gets steeper as you get closer to the mountain. You get some really cool overlooks along the way, and there’s a distinctly slippery spot that I had to coach my son through. The view at the top was totally worth it.
The walk down was actually slippery than going up, so watch your step (and your kiddos).
There’s limited parking at the trailhead, so get there early! I don’t know how this trailhead compares to the western side. I was a little confused on the location, so I relied on the All Trails app to map it out.
Best Hikes in Kauai: Maha’ulepu Heritage Coastal Trail (3.7 miles out and back, according to All Trails.com)
This was probably the most under-rated trail on our list. I was on the fence about this one, but my son chose it over a trip to Waimea Canyon and it exceeded my expectations for sure. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Kapa’a.
It’s a beach hike, and you can walk the whole 3.7 miles or turn around at any point. We probably made it halfway before we decided to turn back. Our pace was less steady and more whimsical – we stopped to enjoy the view, check out wildlife and watch the waves. Almost immediately, you get great cliffside and coastal views. It’s very picturesque.
Make sure you park in the lot for Shipwreck Beach. There are a lot of hotels in the area and you are not allowed to park in their parking lots. Although my GPS directed me to a hotel parking lot when I searched the trailhead, so just make sure you leave your car in the right spot.
The start of this trail is Shipwreck Beach, which has bathrooms and showers, which are nice after the trail. We stuck around at the beach to jump some waves before we headed back to Kapa’a.
What’s your favorite trail on Kauai? Comment below 🙂