Honopu Ridge Trail

Honopu Ridge Trail: Nine-Mile Hike With Knockout NaPali Views
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

About nine miles round-trip, the Honopu Ridge Trail is a challenging but hugely rewarding trek on the northwestern coast of Kauai. The final portion of the trail out on the narrow Honopu Ridge delivers sweeping views over Kauai’s roadless NaPali Coast and out to the isle of Niihau. Suitable for fit and surefooted hikers, it ranks among the most scenic hikes on the Garden Isle.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Honopu Ridge is one of a series of narrow divides dropping northwestward from the Kokee highlands to the Pacific along the NaPali Coast. To the west, the Awaawapuli and Nualolo trails follow roughly parallel ridge-crests to similar dazzling viewpoints. But the Honopu Ridge Trail is cool on account of how close it gets you to the actual, immediate, amazingly fortressed coastline.

This is a pretty strenuous trail involving about 1,600 feet of elevation gain, the toughest part being the climb back up to Highway 550. Hikers turn around at various points on the final leg of the trail, but roughly speaking you’re looking at an approximately nine-mile-long hike.

Unlike the Awaawapuli and Nualolo trails, the Honopu Ridge Trail isn’t an officially maintained Kokee State Park hike. Damage from hurricanes (Iwa in 1982, Iniki a decade later) led the park to basically “retire” the trail. But volunteers work to keep it open, and it’s a reasonably popular destination, even though the Kokee visitor center may or may not give you much encouragement to hike it.

Given its status, the Honopu Ridge route doesn’t have a marked trailhead. Nonetheless, the starting point—a short way east of the signed Awaawapuli Trail—is easy enough to find. After the Awaawapuli Trailhead heading east, Highway 550 bends north (left) and then east (right) again. The start of the trail heading north is just past that bend, with a pull-off a stone’s throw east.

The trail begins by easing down through a shady forest. There are spur paths branching off, but the main route is pretty clear. A good map and a GPS course are definitely helpful. Flagging marks the way, but it’s best to verify your progress with those navigational tools rather than just blindly follow the tape.

The middle section of the trail involves passage through extensive thickets of ferns and other shrubbery. Just how much you’ll be thrashing through this stuff depends on how recently the trail’s been maintained. Either way, wearing long sleeves and pants is definitely recommended for this hike, given how sharp the fronds and twigs brushing against you are. 

Eventually, you’ll start nabbing views out toward the ocean. Those views will only improve! After more brushy and wooded sections, the path strikes out onto the open seaward spine of Honopu Ridge, and the vistas become rather mind-blowing.

The farther you go, the narrower Honopu Ridge gets. Just be sure you’re not so distracted by the scenery that you forget to watch your footing, as the slopes falling away to either side are steep.

The nice thing is, you can basically decide where you want to turn around without sacrificing much in the way of scenery: The whole final portion of the Honopu Ridge Trail treats you to glorious sightlines.

To one side (east) plunges the Honopu Valley; to the other (west), the Awaawapuli Valley. The pinnacled, gouged ridges and sheer cliffs of the NaPali are especially unbelievable to the northeast. Their brown-green ruggedness—some of the most severe terrain you’ll ever clap eyes on—is unreal cast against the blue of the Pacific.

Look for the remote sands of Honopu Beach at the foot of those NaPali walls, and Kalalau Beach—the endpoint of the famed Kalalau Trail—beyond. You’ll marvel at the fact that some intrepid backpackers at Kalalau Beach actually swim around an impassable section of the coast to reach Honopu Beach.

In clear conditions, you can also easily see the “Forbidden Isle” of Niihau to the southwest. The Kaulakali Channel separates Niihau, mostly off-limits to visitors, from Kauai.

It’s important to note that all this extolling we’re doing over the views from the home stretch of this trail comes with a caveat. As with any of the NaPali Coast vantages, you may find the vistas obscured by cloud. In fact, you may find yourself in a cloud!

You’ll better your chances of pristine panoramas if you watch the weather forecast and tackle this on a sunny day. And if the views are cloud-swirled, consider waiting around awhile: The mists of the NaPali can clear (and reform) in a flash! 

The return hike up the ridge to the trailhead is the real slog, but it’s a small price to pay for the absolutely world-class scenery you’ve just enjoyed.

Where Should You Park?
About 704 yards past mile marker 17 on Hwy 550, you’ll spot a parking lot. You can park on this curve, a little bit past Awaawapuhi Trail. Can’t park there? Park at the Kalalau Lookout!

Insider Tips:
-It’s best not to try the Honopu Ridge Trail if it’s rained much in recent days. The trail, like so many on Kauai, can become very slippery—even downright dangerous.
-Aim to start your hike on the Honopu Ridge Trail as early as possible in the day. This gives you a decent shot at seeing the million-dollar views before clouds form. Furthermore, if the coastal clouds are hanging over things, this way you’ll have more buffer time to hang out and hope they’ll burn off, at least temporarily.