Nualolo Cliff Trail

Nualolo Cliff Trail/Awaawapuhi Trail Circuit in Northwest Kauai: A “Grand Loop” Overlooking the NaPali Valleys & Cliffs
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the big loop hike incorporating the Nualolo, Nualolo Cliff, and Awaawapuhi trails in northwestern Kauai is one of the island’s premier hiking experiences. The scenery you’ll enjoy along the way is stupendous and well worth the physical effort of pounding out this roughly 10.5-mile circuit (which involves some road-walking, unless you shuttle it). It’s hard to imagine ever forgetting the NaPali Coast views of wild ridges and valleys dropping to the Pacific.

- The Local Expert Team

It’s about a 10.5-mile adventure that either requires two vehicles or a 1.5-mile walk along the road. Either way, the logistical planning is well worth it.

If you don’t have a shuttle option, we recommend parking at the Awaawapuhi Trailhead, walking west along the highway to the Nualolo Trailhead, then doing the loop in a clockwise fashion. That way you have a downhill road walk and, if you’re starting in the morning, hopefully, a less trafficky one. It also means you get to finish your hike right at your car after the climb up the Awaawapuhi Trail.

The Nualolo Trail descends from about 3,660 feet around the Kokee State Park headquarters down through forested benches. As the vegetation becomes lower and patchier and the trail proceeds along a narrowing ridge, views open up. The Lolo Viewpoint at the end of the Nualolo delivers stunning panoramas. Here you’re overlooking the steep breaks of the lower Nualolo Valley and the cliff-walled NaPali Coast. (Watch your footing at Lolo and don’t get too close to the edge!)

Return up the Nualolo Trail from the viewpoint to intersect the Nualolo Cliff Trail, which jogs east just a little past three miles from the Nualolo Trailhead. This 2.1-mile connector trail includes a somewhat sketchy sheer traverse not far from the Nualolo Trail junction, and in general, is quite overgrown and hard to follow in places. A good map is essential. The sightlines from the trail of the plunging walls of the Nualolo Valley, though, are thrilling.

The Nualolo Cliff Trail meets the Awaawapuhi Trail, which roughly parallels the Nualolo Trail to the northeast, about three miles from the Awaawapuhi Trailhead. Swing left at this junction to hike to the Awaawapuhi turnaround point’s own lookout. Jagged divides and the mirrored Nualolo and Awaawapuhi valleys striking down to the coast serve up another full dose of Kauai grandeur. 

After soaking up that vista, you’ll complete your circuit by hiking up the Awaawapuhi Trail to the Kokee Road at about 4,120 feet. Altogether you’re looking at close to 4,000 feet of elevation gain on this “grand loop,” though the grade is never truly severe. 

It hopefully goes without saying that you should bring lots of water on this hike, and also wear sun protection for the extended unshaded portions. Allocate five or six hours for this one, and take plenty of rest/snack/water breaks.

The Nualolo/Nualolo Cliff/Awaawapuhi loop provides incredible looks at the Kokee highlands and the NaPali Coast pinnacles and cliffs: unforgettable scenery like nothing else in the world. If you have the time and the stamina, definitely consider tackling this classic Garden Isle trek!

Insider Tips: 
-Exercise caution walking along the Kokee Road, which is quite narrow.
-You can get to know some native plants along the way by picking up the Awaawapuhi Botanical Trail Guide at the Kokee Museum before your hike.
-Bad weather or washouts periodically degrade these trails and may even temporarily close them. It’s always a good idea to check in ahead of time with a ranger at Kokee State Park headquarters to find out what to expect.