Best of Kauai’s East Side

Best Hikes on East Side Kauai

Gazing at the view on top of Nounou (Sleeping Giant) Mountain Kauai

Nounou Mountain (Sleeping Giant) Trails: In the heart of Kauai’s east side, popularly called the Royal Coconut Coast, is the Nounou Forest Reserve where easy, moderate and more difficult routes ascend to the top. From there hikers see a 20-mile stretch of coastline between the Hoary Head mountain range west of Lihue to Anahola on Kauai’s north shore. The view extends 15 miles inland to Mt. Waialeale, at 5,148 feet, a dominant feature of Kauai. The trails vary in length from three to four miles round trip and are called Kuamoo Trail (easy), Nounou East Trail (moderate), and Nounou West Trail (difficult). The State of Hawaii provides a central source of Kauai trail information called the Na Hele Trail System. Nounou Mountain trail information is found by clicking on the trail numbers 32, 33 and 34. Driving time to each trailhead is about 10 to 15 minutes from the Royal Coconut Coast (Kauai’s Wailua to Kapa‘a corridor).

A small stream at the Kuilau Ridge area, Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve on Kauai, Hawaii, after a rainstorm.

Kuilau Ridge Trail: This 2.1 mile old road, turned trail, gently guides you up to 640 feet to a glorious view of the Makaleha Mountains. At the beginning of the path you’ll catch glimpses of Kawaikini and Mt. Waialeale, the wettest place on earth, to the west. The Makaleha Mountains are to the north. Even though your view for the first part of the trail is blocked by the ridge, you are treated to a smorgasbord of native and non-native plants from guava to the hala tree. This is a great trail for families and many local families bring their young children up here for a picnic on the weekends.  Originally constructed as a road to combat a fire in the area, the Kuilau Ridge Trail is wide and well maintained (although it can be quite muddy if it has been raining). After your hike, you can go for a swim at the Keahua Arboretum which is a short walk from the trail head.  Make sure to use the brush near the sign at the beginning of the trail to remove debris from your boots before and after your hike to help prevent the spread of invasive plants. The Keahua Arboretum is in the Lihue Forest ReserveSource:

Rainbow Eucalyptus at the Kehua Arboretum Kauai

Keahua Arboretum: Hiking around this delightfully cool and magical place is easy, gentle and fun for all ages. Enjoy picnic tables, cooling off in the arboretum’s stream, and the quarter mile hike around the grounds. Rainbow Eucalyptus and Mango trees provide cooling shade. Located at the end of Kuamo’o Road (Hwy 580) past Opaeka’a Falls.





Couple at end of Secret Falls Trail Hike, Wailua River. Credit, Kicka Witte

Secret Falls Hike (and kayak): Take a kayak trip up the Wailua River, turn north on a tributary just before the Fern Grotto and on the north river bank, paddle up a short way and park your kayak (tie it off well) on the left. Follow the stream-side trail, until just before it crosses another small stream, turn up the trail and hike to Secret Falls. Organized kayak and hike excursions are provided by Kayak Kauai or Kayak Adventures, based in Wailua.

Top Water-Sports on the Royal Coconut Coast

Kayaking the Wailua River

Kayaking the Wailua River ©Gelston Dwight

1. Kayak the Wailua River — considered Hawaii’s longest navigable river, Wailua presents extraordinary back-drops of steep mountains, lush vegetation, and a glimpse of river-life along its shores and waterways. Paddle from the nearby Wailua River Park or the Wailua Marina traveling inland almost 3 miles until the depth becomes shallow. Take an excursion with local Kauai kayak companies, Kayak Kauai or Kayak Adventures, or rent your own kayak. This serene river provides a sense of peace, adventure and wonder along the way, including views of significant cultural and historical sites. Excursions include a hike up to an amazing waterfall.

Photo credit: T. Johnston, Kayak Kauai

2. SUP (stand up paddle boarding) — rent a paddle board from Kayak Kauai on the Wailua River, with relatively calm waters and exceptional scenery. Recommended for good swimmers. Take all water-safety precautions.



Photo Credit:

3. Wind or kite surfing. If you’re an avid kite or wind surfer head to the beach just south of Lydgate Park. You’ll find a number of local kite surfers there on a trade-wind day. Turn right off of Kuhio Hwy onto Leho Rd, bear right. Drive just past the entrance to Kaha Lani Resort and turn right, just after the golf course into the park and campground that is the same location as Kamalani Kai. Continue on the dirt road at the end of the park to the beach area where windsurfers and kite surfers park their cars. Wind or kite surfers are also found at Wailua Beach Park and Kealia Beach Park. If you are new to Kauai ocean conditions, arm yourself with knowledge about wind, tide, and current information before you go. Be sure to talk to locals who are akamai (knowledgeable) about ocean conditions.

Photo Credit: The Garden Island

4. Swim laps at the ocean-front Kapaa Public swimming pool and relax afterwards on the lawn areas surrounding this facility.




5. Snorkel Lydgate Park protected ocean swimming area. Staying close to the inside rock wall formation will turn up views of reef fish, urchins, and some coral. Check with the lifeguard about snorkeling conditions before going out. Wear a flotation devices, and stay within the rock wall protected area.

6. Kealia Beach Kapaa KauaiSurfing or Boogie Boarding at Kealia Beach Park is a favorite for local experienced surfers, with wave breaks off and on the beach. Lifeguards are on duty seven days a week. A restroom and some picnic tables are nearby.  Always check on ocean conditions with the lifeguard before going out. Be smart and aware. Not advised for surfing or boogie boarding novices, or the in-experienced.

Exercise Ideas on the Royal Coconut Coast

Looking for ways to fit in some regular exercise while enjoying Kauai’s many amazing wonders and extraordinary food? Here are five ideas if you’re staying in or visiting the Royal Coconut Coast (Wailua to Kapaa).

Kauai Bike Path

Kauai Bike Path ©Gelston Dwight

1. Walk, run or ride Ke Ala Hele Makalai (east side bike path). It starts at Lihi Park in Kapaa and follows the coast north for 3.8 miles ending at Ahihi Point, just past Donkey Beach. There is also a 2.5 mile section about 3 miles west at Lydgate Beach Park  This very scenic path and ocean-front path is available to walkers, joggers, roller bladders, bikers, and is safe for families and strollers. Rent your own bike or enjoy a guided trip.

2. Take a historical walk from Lydgate Beach Park to Kamalanai Kai and beyond, along a popular windsurfing beach. Lydgate Beach Park features a walking (and biking path) filled with historical, cultural and environmental interpretation. The path ends at Kamalani Kai, a magnificent wooden play structure that leads down to a long beach where, on a windy day, watching kite surfers and sailboarders adds a special thrill. When on the beach keep your eye on the wave conditions (never turn your back on the ocean). Stay well above the water. Rogue waves happen.

3. Sleeping Giant TrailTake the more advanced, though shorter route up Nounou Mountain (Sleeping Giant), a hearty uphill jaunt on the West trail. This is a 3 mile round trip hike up through older growth forests to a spectacular 180 degree view of Kauai from Lihue to the North Shore. Wear sports or hiking shoes, a hat and sunscreen. Take water. Remember to hydrate well, at least every hour.


4. Check in at Kauai Athletic Club in Kapaa for a hearty work-out on modern exercise equipment and staffed by knowledgeable trainers. Open from early morning well into the evening. A one-day membership runs $20, or a week for $60.



Major Summer Events on the Royal Coconut Coast

Kauai Culture and Arts

Heiva I Kauai Polynesia Dance Festival, photo by Mike Teruya

Three spectacular events are lined up on the Royal Coconut Coast in June, August and September. First up is the extravagant Taste of Hawaii at Smith’s Tropical Paradise on June 2nd, followed by the colorful Heiva I Kauai Polynesian Festival in Kapaa August 3-4 and moving on to the highly cultural Mokihana Festival, September 22-28 (with two events located in Kapaa). Taste of Hawaii provides what has become known around the islands as the “ultimate Sunday brunch”, offering delectable choices prepared by numerous chefs, an array of beverages, topped off by music and entertainment. Proceeds benefit youth and education. Heiva I Kauai is a Polynesian dance competition featuring dance halaus (dance troops or schools) from Hawaii and the Pacific. The Mokihana Festival features cultural entertainment and practices throughout the week, such as a Hawaiian Church Service, presentations by cultural specialists and several dance and singing competitions. For more information, check individual websites, linked to each event.