Hiking Kauai: Kuilau Ridge Trail & Moalepe Trail


We arrived back from our most recent visit to Hawaii almost two weeks ago.  The adjustment from daily average temperatures of 28°C to around.. um.. -4°C has not been fun!  But at least it gives me an excuse to stay inside and write about some of the fantastic hikes we did on the beautiful Garden Island of Kauai (which is one of our favourite places in the world).  You can also read about other recommended hikes in my previous post Hiking Kauai; Top trails on the Garden Isle.

Kuilau Ridge Trail 

Distance: 3.5 mile round trip

Starting point: 1 3/4 miles past the Kauai Research and Extension Centre, at the end of Kuamo’o Rd

We parked the car slightly further up the road from trailhead and walked back.  You just continue over a small bridge and there is a parking area to your right, near the Keahua Arboretum.

This is a relatively easy trail, with an elevation gain of around 640 feet to the 1.5 mile marker.  It is likely to be very muddy, so proper hiking shoes should be worn.  The day we did it, it had been relatively dry, but after a lot of rain this trail would probably be a different story!

On the 1st mile of the trail, there are spectacular sweeping unspoiled views to be had across the lush jungle valleys.  The colours were so vivid, it seemed like something from a movie.   These have to be some of the most beautiful vistas in the world.

Stunning views along the trail

I overheard one fellow hiker saying he just couldn’t fit everything in his panoramic camera shot!  It’s one of those views you really can’t capture properly on camera – you just have to experience it.

Around one mile into the hike, there is a picnic area & table overlooking the beautiful Kawi Valley, and to the East, views of Nounou Mountain (The Sleeping Giant).  I wrote about the hike to the Sleeping Giant in my previous Hiking Kauai post.

At the picnic area, with stunning views across the valley

When I talked about the Sleeping Giant hike, I made the point that the trail ends at the picnic area, and I wouldn’t recommend going further than that unless you are very reckless (and have good insurance!).

On the Kuilau Trail, however, I recommend definitely continuing past the picnic table, in order to get the most out of the hike and complete it to the end.  Just make sure you take the correct trail!  My husband was eyeing up an unofficial route through dense scratchy undergrowth along a ridge, where one foot wrong would probably mean certain death.  I refused to follow him on this journey of folly, but fortunately we realised there was an actual trail leading away from the picnic area in another direction where we probably wouldn’t die.

Another family had taken the wrong path and turned back, realising the danger.  We pointed them in the right direction.

To help you find the correct path, it’s more or less directly to your right as you approach the picnic table area from the first half of the hike.  

This continuation takes you North, descending all the way to a little wooden bridge over a stream, which marks the end of the Kuilau Trail and the start (or end – depending on which way you do it!) of the Moalepe Trail.

Reminder: I don’t like heights; specifically cliffs or ridges – but I didn’t find this last part of the trail too bad in that respect, and it’s definitely worth it for the impressive views all the way to Kapaa and Lihue.   Again, we did it on a dry day, so it could be slippy if it had been raining.

Beautiful views towards the end of the Kuilau Trail 

Moalepe Trail  

Distance: approx 4.5 mile round trip

Starting point: Intersection of Olohena Rd and Waipouli Rd, Wailua Homesteads neighbourhood.  The hike starts by walking past a gate at the signed trailhead for the Moalepe Trail.

The Moalepe trail starts as a dirt road for most of the first half.  It’s an easy trail, but again, could be very muddy.  It’s used a lot by horse riders and cyclists.  We also saw someone on a dirt bike.  So it’s well trodden!

Flora and fauna along the train, and lush valley views

There are stunning views of the Anatolia Mountains and Makaleha Mountain Ridge along the way, and the trail gets more interesting after around a mile as you wind your way into the Halelea Forest Reserve, a complete environmental contrast.

It started to rain on our way up the trail, which initially was a welcome relief from the very still heat of the day.  However, we soon got very wet – and still had the return walk to do.  We hadn’t thought to put a change of clothes in the car because the weather had been so good.  But it’s always good to remember that Kauai is one of the wettest places on earth.  So probably a good idea to put a hoodie and a towel in the car!

After narrowing to a single track through the forest, the trail ends at the same wooden bridge where we ended the Kuilau Trail.  We then retraced our steps back.

The wet and muddy end of the trail!

I really enjoyed doing the Kuilau-Moalepe trails, and would definitely recommend them if you get the chance.  Whether you decide to do both at once as a longer hike (with a long walk back to your car!), or start them each from different sides, you will experience and incredible array of different landscapes and environments, and some really  unforgettable views of the island.

I hope this post has inspired you to get out there and do some great hikes on the beautiful Island of Kauai!

I’d  love to hear from any of you who have done these or other hikes, and any recommendations you have.

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Safe travels and Mahalo!


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