Nualolo Trail

The Nu'alolo Trail: 7.6-Mile (Round-trip) Northwest Kauai Hike to Amazing NaPali Coast View
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The 7.6-mile (round-trip) Nualolo Trail ranks among the best on Kauai: a wonderful opportunity for reasonably fit hikers to experience a taste for the island’s northwestern backcountry. The views at the trail’s end of the roadless NaPali Coast are mindboggling, and well worth the return slog uphill.

- The Local Expert Team

This is a rigorous hike with a significant climb back to the trailhead. Bring lots of water—you’ll need it—and wear sun protection.

The trail begins very close to the Kokee State Park headquarters, kicking off at about 3,660 feet in elevation. The opening stretch proceeds under a dense canopy, but as you descend farther along the ridgeline vegetation opens up—and so do the views! There’s a large parking lot in the Kokee Museum if you’re looking for a place to park.

The trail, in dropping down from the Kokee heights, eventually starts hugging an increasingly narrow ridge spine. It passes from the state park into the Kuia Natural Area Reserve and then forest-reserve acreage.

The vistas get spectacular early on, but the endpoint—the Lolo Vista—is the whopper. Just be sure to watch your footing, as there are steep drop-offs and crumbly, slippery soil here. Nothing to mess around with!

Situated at a little more than 2,200 feet, the Lolo Vista offers a stunning look over the deep Nualolo Valley and the steep cliffs and ridges of the NaPali Coast. This 14-mile seaboard stretches between Kee and Polihale beaches, forming the Garden Isle’s magnificent, roadless, ravishingly scenic northwestern margin.

The Nualolo is one of many valleys draining to the NaPali Coast. The topographic relief is spectacular. So is the visual contrast between the plunging, intricately dissected land—which rises thousands of feet straight from the ocean—and the vast Pacific beyond. 

You can nab looks at the NaPali Coast from a few road-accessible places, including the Kalalau and Puu O Kila lookouts not much farther along Highway 550 from the Nualolo Trailhead. But it’s extra-cool to take in this incredible wilderness coast from a viewpoint that itself is far removed from pavement, one you’ve reached through your own huff-and-puff effort.

While you relish the view (and steer clear of the drop-offs), keep in mind this isn’t just one of the world’s most magnificent natural landscapes. It’s also a cultural realm. The Nualolo Valley is part of the traditional Native Hawaiian land division of the Waimea Ahupuaa, the biggest such Ahupua’a on Kauai. 

Once you’ve enjoyed the Lolo Vista scenery to your heart’s content—maybe enjoying a picnic here—it’s time to slog back inland. You’re looking at a climb of more than 1,400 feet to get back to Highway 550. Hopefully, the magnificence of what you’ve seen will power you up the ridge and back to the trailhead!

Insider Tips: 
-While you can do the Nualolo Trail as an out-and-back, the experience is all the better if you incorporate it into a “Grand Loop” of about 12.6 miles. Coming back up from the Lolo Vista, you can turn left onto the Nualolo Cliff Trail for a semi-challenging 2.1-mile connection to the Awaawapuhi Trail. This 6.2-mile (round-trip) trail is roughly parallel to the Nualolo and offers its own eye-popping Kokee/NaPali scenery.
-Doing this loop requires a road walk on Highway 550 unless you arrange a shuttle. We suggest parking at the Awaawapuhi Trailhead and hoofing down the highway shoulder to the Nualolo. That way, you walk the road in the morning, when it’s hopefully quieter, and downhill to boot. Also, this setup means you finish right at your car rather than having to hike 1.5 miles along a roadway after your tiring uphill climb.