Awaawapuhi Trail

Awa'awapuhi Trail: A Challenging Trek With a Remarkable Lookout
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Scenic views of Kaua'i on this 6.2-mile hike. A moderately challenging trail, you won't regret stepping through the different landscapes to witness the lookout at Awa'awapuhi! 

- The Local Expert Team

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Hawaii’s touristy spots and explore the Awaawapuhi Trail, which delivers jaw-dropping scenery and memorable thrills in a round trip of 6.2 miles. This trail exemplifies all that is wonderful about Kauai: the views, the serenity, and even the physical challenges.

If you have a few hours to spare, you can tackle this hike and still have time left over for a picnic lunch. A leisurely pace is advisable, however, as the trail packs some noteworthy challenges into its modest distance. Even if you’re in great shape, you may need the extra time to catch your breath.

Compared to similar treks, this trail is well-marked and wonderfully maintained throughout. It’s just busy enough that you can expect to see a few people during your journey but not so popular that you’ll feel as if you’re trapped within a crowd. If there’s a downside, it’s that the views for most of the hike are merely okay.

Still, nearly everybody who completes this journey argues that the final lookout makes up for any lack of scenery on the way there or back. That being said, don’t plan on tackling this trail unless you feel confident that you can make it to the very end — and back — which takes roughly 3 hours round trip.

To begin, the trail might not seem too difficult. While many trails take you uphill first and follow with a downhill return, Awaawapuhi provides the opposite approach: a swift descent to the lookout, followed by a grueling hike back. 

Abundant roots may seem like an impediment to some, but they can actually be helpful when the trail gets steep. While you’ll spend a decent portion of your time watching your footing, you’ll want to pause occasionally to observe the constant changes to the landscape. 

Don’t be discouraged if you struggle to spot the Napali Coast; even on a clear day, it might be tough to see until nearly two miles into the hike. Even when you don’t get sweeping coastal views, the lush surroundings are worth a second look.

The wait for the hike’s penultimate view will prove more than worthwhile when you reach the end of the trail at its elevation gain of 1,180 ft. There, you’ll encounter a ridge top that provides breathtaking views of the sheer cliffs. This overlook isn’t for the faint of heart, however. The 360-degree views can induce vertigo even among those who typically are fine with heights.

Hawaii’s Division of State Parks highlights the importance of remaining behind the safety railing, as it’s meant to protect against unstable footing and a drop of approximately 2,000 feet. No picture is worth the risks of venturing out too far.

Once you’ve gazed at the scenery and snapped plenty of pictures, you are welcome to settle in at the nearby grassy area for a snack or a picnic lunch. Don’t get too comfy, though, as you’re about to trek uphill for the remainder of your journey.

This may require quite a bit more stamina than the initial descent, so you’ll thank yourself if you took your time during the first portion of the journey. If not, don’t hesitate to stop for breaks every few minutes. You may return feeling out of breath, but you’ll also enjoy a major sense of accomplishment.

Insider Tips:
-Keep both current and recent weather conditions in mind when deciding whether to tackle this trip on a particular day. While challenging even in perfect conditions, this trail becomes far more difficult when it’s wet or muddy. If you choose to hike a day or two after a rainstorm, be sure to wear high-quality hiking boots. After all these challenges, you might not even get a decent view, as clouds may obstruct some of the scenery. 
-You can find the parking area by putting it into your GPS: here.
-As with many hikes, an early departure is advisable. Depending on the weather forecast, this might help you avoid fog. An earlier hike may also reduce your exposure to humidity, thereby making the uphill trek during the second half of the expedition a bit easier.