Awa'awapuhi Trail Overview
The Awa'awapuhi Trail is about a 6 mile out and back hike through Kokee State Park on the Island of Kauai. The Awa'awapuhi Trail starts at around 4k feet in elevation and guides you through a brillant forest with sweeping views of the Na Pali Coast down to just below 2.5k feet.
The key thing to note on this hike is that you will be dropping about 2k feet in elevation from the start of the hike at the Awa'awapuhi Trailhead to the lookout point, which means to get back to your car you have to hike back out 2k feet in elevation. If you are not prepared to hike round trip 6 miles, with 3 of those miles being a constant climb up 2k feet in elevation, do not attempt this trail.
Elevation and distance is not the only thing to consider when hiking the Awa'awapuhi Trail, weather conditions will also greatly affect your experience on this trail. When we went on this hike, it was a pretty rainy week in Kauai. The day of our hike the weather cleared up, but this trail is on the rainy side of the island and the trail was extremely muddy and slick. The first half of the trail which is all descending down to the lookout can be dangerously slippery.
Awa'awapuhi Trail Map
The Caltopo map above can be viewed and downloaded on Caltopo here.
For the 3D Google Earth map below I rotated it, so North is not at the top, which you can see in the compass in the top right. I rotated the 3D Google Earth map so you can get a grasp of the ridgeline the Awa'awapuhi Trail follows down to overlook the Na Pali Coast.
Driving to the Awa'awapuhi Trailhead
The Awa'awapuhi hike is amazing, but make sure you plan time for some quick stops on either your drive up to the trail or on the way back from the trail. As you drive up the 550, Waimea Canyon Drive there are multiple look outs that you can stop at to take a look down into the beautiful Waimea Canyon.
Our first stop on the way to the Awa'awapuhi trailhead was the Niihau Lookout. The views from here did not disappoint and I took a couple of my favorite pictures from our entire trip to Kauai.
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The second stop we made along the 550 was the Waipo'o Falls Lookout, which was a gorgeous view of the amazing Waipo'o Falls. The Waipo'o Falls lookout was a pit more restricking than the Niihau Lookout due to a big fence there which limited some of my photography, but it is still a view you must at least take a quick stop at!
As you drive up the 550 the Awa'awapuhi Trailhead parking lot will come up on the left hand side of the road. The parking lot is not very big, but we were lucky enough to get a parking lot. With the recent rains there was a big puddle in the parking lot that may have discouraged some people from the one spot we were able to park in. Our rented Jeep Wrangler was paying off!
As you drive into the parking lot the trailhead is on your left.
When we got to the trailhead there was a humbling reminder to not hike or camp alone. Earlier this year Samuel Martinez was hiking and Camping around Kauai and was reported missing. At the writing of this article, he has still not been found. On the Awa'awapuhi Trailhead sign they had a picture of him and some of his gear just in case you saw anything while hiking.
Awa'awapuhi Trail Guide
One of the reasons my wife and I decided on Kauai for our honeymoon was because of all the great hiking on the island. Living in San Diego, we were also super excited to hike in lush green vegetation and we were not disappointed! What creates lush vegetation? Rain....and rain brings lots of mud on the trail.
While hiking we saw a number of people in sandals and they looked absolutely miserable. If you visit Kauai and plan to do any hiking at all make sure you bring good shoes with plenty of traction. We opted for Xero Shoes Aqua X, which we actually purchased for our kayaking adventures, but for a water shoe they have amazing tread on the bottom. A water shoe with good tread ended up being amazing on Kauai because you can also jump into the water with them on!
Ironically right after the super muddy start to the Awa'awapuhi Trail it dried up a bit, right where they installed a small log bridge. The first part of this hike has you crossing a couple of these man made log bridges which I assume were built to take you over spots where water pooled up. Everytime we saw one of these bridges though it was pretty dry, and we never saw one over any of the muddy sections...
But we didn't come to Kauai to just chill on the beach and drink colorful drinks, we wanted a little adventure as well. So if we got a little muddy while hiking the epic Awa'awapuhi Trail to take in incredible views of the Na Pali coast we were 100% ok with that!
Despite all the mud, not much you can do about that; the trail is very well maintained. I always recommend you take a map with you on a hike but this trail does have pretty good mile markers if you keep your eyes peeled for them.
The first 50-75% of the trail were the muddiest sections. As you go deeper into the trail the overhead tree canopy becomes a little less sparse which allows the sun to get through and dry out the trail a little bit.
As the tree canopy opens up the trail also slowly begins to get a little narrower "windows" with views off the trail out towards the ocean begin opening up.
The Awa'awapuhi Trail is pretty straight forward navigation wise as long as you stay on the main trail and do not venture off the trail. There were a small number of side trails that lead to some photo spots, but for the most part it's pretty straight forward.
As you get close to the end of the Awa'awapuhi Trail where the final lookout is, there is one split in the trail which will show up on the left hand side which is the Nualolo Cliff Trail which connects the Awa'awapuhi Trail to the Nualolo Trail. You can combine the two trails for a much longer hike in a loop, but you will have to hike back to your car on the road if you do not have both vehicles if you choose that route.
To stay on the Awa'awapuhi Trail, do not turn left at the intersection and do not go past the sign in the picture above. The map above shows the Awa'awapuhi Trail as the solid red line and the Nualolo Cliff Trail as the dotted red line.
At this point you are getting close to the end of the trail, which is actually the halfway point, since you have to hike back after enjoying the view 😀
With about .3 miles left until the Awa'awapuhi Trail lookout over the Na Pali coast, the next change in vegetation has you hiking through a narrow trail going through what looked like a wheat field.
Near the end of the trail there is one more small split, basically there are two different lookout points. We took the steep one down that goes to a narrow point overlooking the Na Pali Coast. Take it slow down this trail, it wasn't wet when we were there but it was pretty hard packed smooth dirt and you do not want to fall off the cliffs if you stumble.
At the very end of the trail it gets super narrow and there is a small point that some people walk out on. I decided not to myself. We saw a number of spots at lookouts along the trail where it looked like a piece of the cliff just slid off, so I felt perfectly fine enjoying the view from where I was.
Looking down over the Na Pali Coast a helicopter flew below us, and it was at that point everything was put into perspective. The helicopter flying below us looked like a small fly!
As we continued standing there taking it all in, a quick fog was moving in threatening our view. Thankfully it never came in and fully blocked the view but it rolled on along just as quickly as it showed up.
After enjoying the beautiful views of the Na Pali Coast it soon sinks in that it's time to hike back and head home for the day. At this point, I hope you have plenty of water left and some snacks to munch on to refuel. The hike back is a 3 mile trudge uphill.
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