Kuilau Ridge Trail

The Kuilua Ridge Trail: Easy 4-Mile Walkabout in the Foothills of the Makaleha Mountains
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Kuilau Ridge Trail is an easy, incredibly pleasant jaunt up into the highlands of Kauai’s Makaleha Mountains, with views and lush vegetation aplenty. Kicking off from the Keahua Arboretum and heading north into the vista-rich Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve, this is a fine several hours' hike suitable for families and showing off the Garden Isle’s lushness.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

The broad, well-maintained path—an old roadway, actually—heads north from the trailhead, offering clear-day views to Mount Wailaleale to the southwest. Your starting elevation is about 500 feet. 

Parking can be found at the Keahua Arboretum nearby. (By the way, the parking lot at the trailhead only accommodates about three vehicles. If you can’t snag a spot, you’ll find additional parking just a short, strollable distance down the road.)

The ramble northward up to the ridge crest in the Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve proceeds on a kindly grade. The only real complication with the wide trail is frequent muddiness, but that kind of comes with the territory on Kauai. (And compared to a lot of trails on the island, this one, even when mucky, is pretty darn tame.)

Lush woodlands and glades around the trail make for a serene vibe, and you’ll enjoy fine sightlines over the green, vegetation-cloaked valleys and slopes of the Makaleha range. It’s easy to get Jurassic Park vibes on this ridge walk. (The entrance gates used in the film—or what little remains of them—aren’t all that far away, as the Hawaiian crow flies. The site is past the Keahua Arboretum deeper into the island interior.)

The trail tops out at about 1,140 feet roughly 1.5 miles in. Picnic shelters beckon here for a snack or lunch break amid panoramic beauty. The Kawi and Keahua valleys form luxuriant glens falling from the southern flanks of the Makaleha Mountains. The vistas take in not only the Makaleha heights but also distant Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) and a peek at the Pacific to the east.

Farther on, the Kuilau Ridge Trail descends into a jungly ravine on its final leg. The end of the hike comes marked by a wooden footbridge over the stream and the junction with the Moalepe Trail.

You’ve got options here if you’ve planned ahead. You can turn around at the footbridge for a four-mile hike, or—if you’re just getting revved up—continue eastward down the Moalepe to its trailhead on Olohene Road. Incorporating the Moalepe Trail translates to an 8.5-mile round-trip hike out of the Kuilau Trailhead, unless you arrange a shuttle, in which case it’s 4.25 miles between the two trailheads.

Pretty undemanding, serene, and vista-rich, the Kuilau Ridge Trail is a great choice for a hike in Kauai’s interior highlands: easy enough for children and less-fit grownups, transfixing enough for more gung-ho outdoors enthusiasts.

Insider Tips:
-If you need a rinse-off after your Kuilau Ridge walk, the Keahua Stream makes a handy spot near the bridge in the arboretum just a stone’s throw from the trailhead.
-Speaking of the Keahua Arboretum, definitely consider combining the Kuilau Ridge Trail with a walk through this beautiful parkland. Its rainbow eucalyptus trees are a perennial, crowd-pleasing favorite, and there are excellent picnic spots on hand.