For those eager to delve into the heart of Koke'e State Park on the beautiful island of Kauai, we found the exhilarating hiking trilogy of connecting Nualolo Trail, Nualolo Cliffs Trail, and Awa'awapuhi Trail to be an absolute must. These three trails collectively form an awe-inspiring trail network across the most scenic and beautiful ridges, while simultaneously challenging both my body and spirit.
Our adventure began with staging a car at Awa'apuhi Trailhead and then shuttling (or you can hitchhike) to the Nualolo Trailhead. If it's easier, you can also start from the Koke'e Lodge and then walk 0.2 mile down Koke'e Road to the trailhead, it's not that far and there is a lot more parking. From the trailhead, the Nualolo Trail starts with a 3.4-mile descent through lush forests and vibrant mid-mountain ravines.
Once we emerged from the dense tree cover, the views on these trails were nothing short of extraordinary. The Nualolo Trail teased us with glimpses of the distant ocean, fueling our excitement for what lay ahead. This initial leg, while moderately demanding, gave us just a taste of the stunning vistas that awaited. Eventually, the trail delivered us onto a sheer cliff ridge, revealing expansive views of neighboring valleys and the breathtaking Nualolo Kai Beach.
If you are in it for the exercise, this trilogy does not disappoint. The Nualolo Trail presents a descent of around 1,750 feet to the edge of the ridge. There is a slight gain along the way of around 300ft along the way, but we barely noticed this climb compared to the grandeur to come.
Next, back-tracking 1 mile uphill to the Nualolo Cliffs Trail was the route to connect with the Awa'awapuhi Trail. The back tracking portion plus hiking Nualolo Cliffs Trail is truly the beginning of the upward journey, with a gain of roughly 500 feet. One key tip: be sure to bypass the former cliffs trailhead with the fallen wooden sign. Instead, continue hiking past to find the new metal state-sanctioned trail marker further uphill, leading to the official cliffs trail.
The Nualolo Cliffs Trail extends for 1.6 miles and 500ft of elevation gain, guiding us through enchanting forests, across babbling streams, and past a small waterfall before revealing its ultimate reward.
Standing at the edge of rugged coastal cliffs, we were treated to panoramic views of untamed valleys below and a jaw-dropping vista of the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean, a symphony of blue stretching as far as my eyes could reach.
Finally, the 3.3-mile Awa'awapuhi Trail completed the trilogy, leading to an astonishing viewpoint overlooking the Nā Pali Coast, adorned with radiant sheer mountain ridges. This lookout point provided the pièce de résistance—a vista unveiling the Nā Pali Coast in all its majestic glory. The rugged coastline, cascading waterfalls, and verdant green valleys formed a scene straight out of a dream, etching a memory that would remain with me forever.
To fully appreciate the splendor of these trails, it's important to understand the geological forces that shaped this landscape. Kauai itself is the result of volcanic activity, with the island's oldest shield volcano forming the base upon which newer volcanic formations sit. The Nā Pali Coast is a prime example of erosion's artistic touch, as years of wind, water, and time have sculpted the cliffs and valleys into their present awe-inspiring forms. As you hike these trails, take a moment to reflect on the immense power and artistry of nature's hand.
Awa'awapuhi Trail, the climactic conclusion, adds another 1,800 feet of elevation gain. Altogether, conquering this trilogy means scaling a total of around 3,100 feet, a challenge worthy of any intrepid hiker. While hiking up Awa’awapuhi Trail through the forest it invites you to embrace the beauty of Kauai's flora. The lush flora of Kauai is a testament to the island's unique ecosystem and vibrant history.
Along the way we encountered a rich tapestry of native Hawaiian plants. Look out for the iconic 'ōhi'a lehua tree, with its vibrant red blossoms standing out against the green backdrop. The kukui tree, Hawaii's state tree, showcases its distinctive light green leaves and round nuts. Koa trees, the only native hardwood in Hawaii has distinct sickle shaped leaves that, after a light rain, shimmers in the afternoon light. Also, keep an eye out for the native hibiscus, mokihana, and hapu'u ferns that decorate the landscape, each adding to the trail's natural charm.
Embarking on this trilogy is an experience that requires both physical readiness and thoughtful planning. Ensure you have:
Starting early in the day is highly recommended, as this allows you to savor each step without the intensity of the midday sun and have the reassurance that you will make it out before needing to use your flashlight. Remember, these trails demand respect, so stay on marked paths, pack out all trash, and be mindful of your impact on the delicate environment.
As you stand on the precipice of Awa'awapuhi Lookout, gazing out at the majesty of the Nā Pali Coast, you'll feel a profound sense of accomplishment and gratitude for the journey you've undertaken. The Nualolo to Nualolo Cliffs to Awa'awapuhi Trails is a trilogy that challenges your limits, rewards your senses, and connects you with the soul of Kauai. From the diverse native flora to the geological wonders and breathtaking views, every step is a testament to the island's magnificence. So, fellow adventurers, as you contemplate your next epic hike, consider adding this trilogy to your bucket list. Get out there, explore with awe, and make memories that will last a lifetime.
E kūlia i ka nu'u—strive to reach the highest summit!
Remember that the cumulative distance of the entire trilogy is approximately 8.3 miles, with a total elevation gain of around 3,100 feet. These trails provide an invigorating challenge and breathtaking views that are well worth the effort.