Pihea and Alakai Swamp Trail to Kilohana Overlook

Distance 8 mi
Time 4 hrs
Elevation Gain 1920 ft
Season Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Hike Info Hiker Info

When planning our honeymoon, my wife and I knew we would have to pick a place with lots of outdoor activities to keep us from getting bored during our two week trip. With activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, surfing, and of course, hiking, Kauai provided the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure to make our trip an unforgettable one.

We were originally planning on hiking down into Waimea Canyon, but when we stopped at the Kokee Natural History Museum for a trail map, a ranger suggested Pihea Trail instead. I am sure glad we took her advice! Pihea Trail is one of the most awe-inspiring hikes we have been on. So after picking up a nice topo-map of north-western Kauai, we continued up Kokee Road to the trailhead.

From the parking lot, head up the paved walkway to the lookout point. This is where you will have your first of many amazing views of the Kalalau Valley:

Once you are done marveling at the sheer size and beauty of the valley, continue making your way down the Pihea Trail, which has now turned into some pretty cool looking rock formations that must be the product of some ancient lava-flow:

The trail continues along the rim of the Kalalau Valley for the next mile or so, descending a few hundred feet and then ascending again. Along the way there are a few small side trails where you can step through the bushes to get a better view. Just be careful; these side trails tend to end abruptly, and it is a long, long way down:

After one mile the trail will end at a fork, with a small side trail going straight up a hill, and the main trail turning right. If the conditions are dry, you can do some rock scrambling up the side trail. Otherwise, continue on the main trail to the right.

At this point the trail descends into a more forested area. This is the most strenuous leg of the trail, with several hundred feet of descent and ascent within the next few miles. The rocks you have been walking on will lead you to a boardwalk, which you will be on for the remainder of the hike:

The boardwalk has some broken or missing planks, so watch your step. After descending for about a half-mile, the boardwalk will come to a three-way intersection. Continuing straight would keep you on the Pihea Trail. Instead, make a left onto the Alakai Swamp Trail. This trail will continue descending for another half-mile before reaching a small stream crossing. There are some rocks sticking out of the water that you can use to make your way across. After the stream crossing, the trail ascends for the next half-mile, eventually reaching the Alakai Wilderness Preserve.

The next section of the trail, which takes you directly through the Alakai Swamp, is relatively flat and often covered in small puffy white clouds making their way over the island. The bog is peaceful and quiet, with the creaking boards under your feet the only sound breaking the silence. Continue along the trail for about a mile where it ends at the Kilohana Overlook. This is a great spot to break for lunch. The view is often hidden by clouds, but if you hang around for a bit, you may be lucky enough to see the great views of Wainiha Valley and the horseshoe-shaped Hanalei Bay. After taking some time relax and enjoy the view, you can head back the way you came.

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Accommodations near Pihea and Alakai Swamp Trail to Kilohana Overlook

Trail Conditions

Fair. The Pihea Trail contains rock formations that can be slippery when wet, so be sure to bring a good pair of hiking boots. Some sections of the trail are a bit steep and require some rock scrambling. The Alakai Swamp Trail is composed of a boardwalk that occasionally contains broken or missing planks, so watch your step on that section of the trail.

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How to Get There

Take Waimea Canyon Drive (HI-550) from Waimea. After about 7 miles, it will transition into Kokee Road and continue for another 11 miles, where it ends at the trailhead. Be sure to allot extra time in your commute to take advantage of the several Waimea Canyon lookout points along Kokee Road. If you need a trail map, stop by the Kokee Natural History Museum along the way. Parking at the trailhead is limited, so be sure to get there early. The closest alternative parking is at Kalalau Lookout.

Driving Directions

Use the ModernHiker mobile app to download this map and complete trail description for offline access.

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